China defeated the coronavirus with science and strong public health measures, not just authoritarianism
I live in a democracy. But as Thanksgiving approaches, I find myself longing for the kind of freedom I’m seeing in China. People in China can move freely at this time. Many Americans may believe that the Chinese can enjoy this freedom thanks to China’s authoritarian regime. As a scholar of public health in China, I think the answers go further. My research suggests that the control of the virus in China is not the result of an authoritarian policy, but of a national prioritization of health. China learned a hard lesson from SARS, the first coronavirus pandemic of the 21st century. How China flattened its curve Less than a year ago, a new coronavirus emerged in Wuhan, China, with 80,000 cases identified in three months, killing 3,000 people. At the end of January 2020, the Chinese government decided to blockade this city of 11 million people. All transportation to and from the city stopped. Officials further blocked several other cities in Hubei province, eventually quarantining more than 50 million people. In early April, the Chinese government limited the spread of the virus to the point where they were comfortable opening Wuhan once again. Seven months later, China has confirmed 9,100 additional cases and recorded 1,407 more deaths due to the coronavirus. People in China travel, eat in restaurants and go to theaters, and children go to school without much concern for their health. Juxtapose that to what we are experiencing in the US To date, we have confirmed more than 11 million cases, with the last million recorded in the last week alone. In September and October, friends from China sent me photos of food from around the country as they traveled to visit friends and family for the mid-autumn festival and then the seven-day National Day holiday week. I envied you then and I envy you even more now as Americans brace themselves and wonder how we will celebrate Thanksgiving this year. What China Learned from SARS Americans are told that the freedoms the Chinese enjoy now come at the expense of being subject to a draconian set of public health policies that can only be instituted by authoritarian government. But they also have the experience of a similar epidemic. SARS broke out in November 2002 and ended in May 2003, and China was not prepared for its emergence. It did not have the public health infrastructure to detect or control such a disease, and initially decided to prioritize politics and economics over health by covering up the epidemic. This did not work with a disease so virulent that it began to spread throughout the world. After being forced to accept SARS, China’s leaders finally enforced the quarantine in Beijing and canceled the May Day 2003 holiday. This helped end the pandemic in just a few months, with minimal impact. SARS infected approximately 8,000 worldwide and killed approximately 800, 65% of which occurred in China and Hong Kong. The Chinese government learned from SARS the important role that public health plays in protecting the nation. After SARS, the government improved the training of public health professionals and developed one of the most sophisticated disease surveillance systems in the world. While it caught him off guard by this next major coronavirus outbreak in December 2019, the country swiftly mobilized its resources to stop the epidemic within its borders within three months. What can the United States learn from China? Knowing that there were no safe or proven treatments or an effective vaccine, China relied on proven non-pharmaceutical interventions to defeat the epidemic. The first and foremost thing was to contain the virus by controlling the sources of infection and blocking transmission. This was accomplished by early detection (testing), isolation, treatment, and follow-up of close contacts of any infected individual. This strategy was supported by the three field hospitals (fancang) that the government built to isolate patients with mild to moderate symptoms from their families. Strict quarantine measures were also essential to prevent the spread of this epidemic, as happened with the SARS epidemic in 2003. This was combined with the mandatory use of masks, the promotion of personal hygiene (hand washing, household disinfection , ventilation), body temperature monitoring, mandatory universal stay-at-home orders for all residents, and universal symptom surveys conducted by community workers and volunteers. What else could the United States have done to be prepared? SARS exposed serious weaknesses in China’s public health system and prompted its government to reinvent its public health system. COVID-19 has exposed similar deficiencies in the US public health system, yet to date, the current administration has taken the exact opposite approach, devastating our public health system. The Trump administration made significant cuts to the budgets of the National Institutes of Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The last budget presented by the Trump administration in February 2020, when the pandemic began, called for an additional reduction of $ 693 million to the CDC budget. This affected our ability to prepare for a pandemic outbreak. In the past, this preparation included international partnerships to help detect diseases before they reached our shores. For example, the CDC established partnerships with China after the SARS epidemic to help contain the emergence of infectious diseases from the region. At one point, the CDC had 10 American experts working on the ground in China and 40 local Chinese employees, focusing primarily on infectious diseases. Trump began cutting these positions shortly after taking office, and when COVID-19 broke out, those programs were cut to a minimum staff of one or two. [Research into coronavirus and other news from science Subscribe to The Conversation’s new science newsletter.]The Declaration of Alma Ata guaranteed health for all and not just health for the people governed under a specific type of bureaucratic system. The United States has been, and can be, as dedicated to protecting the health of its people as China under its authoritarian rule. We demonstrated this during the Ebola epidemic, with the launch of a government effort coordinated by Ron Klain, who has been appointed Chief of Staff of the White House under President-elect Biden, an effort that included a coordinated response with both nations African as with China. , improved preparedness within the US and ultimately helped save hundreds of thousands of lives around the world. A reduction in funding for our public health infrastructure, under the Trump administration, was a divestment in the health of the American people and should not have happened. I hope that a new administration that puts public health in command, once again, will show us that health is not only something that can be protected under authoritarian rule, but that it is indeed a right for everyone. Conversation, a non-profit news site dedicated to sharing ideas from academic experts. It was written by: Elanah Uretsky, Brandeis University. Read more: * Poor response to a US pandemic will affect health care policy for years, health experts warn. * Experts agree that Trump’s response to the coronavirus was poor, but the US First of all, Elanah Uretsky does not work for, consult, own stock or receive funding from this article , and has not disclosed any relevant affiliations beyond his academic position.