China stands strong in the face of Covid-19

In this photo released by China’s Xinhua News Agency, medical workers in protective suits help transfer the first group of patients into the newly-completed Huoshenshan temporary field hospital in Wuhan on Feb 4. (Inset) The hospital was just a site full of bulldozers as recently as Jan 24. — Xiao Yijiu/Xinhua/AP

AS an observer of international relations based in Beijing, I would like to present to Malaysian readers China’s perspective on the battle against Covid-19.

China is a civilisation with a history that goes back 5,000 years – years in which there have been many trials and tribulations, naturally. And through it all, the country has always emerged strongly.

Today, with the Chinese people united as one, with China’s institutional strength in mobilising resources for major undertakings, with strong material and technological capabilities, and with rich experience, China has more confidence, capacity and determination than at any other time in history to win a battle like this.

The country’s first and primary task in contributing to the global efforts against the spread of Covid-19 is to control China’s own epidemic. All the people, governmental departments, regions, cities and villages have been mobilised. The government implemented – painfully but resolutely – serious traffic-restricting measures in Wuhan, where the virus originated and the most infected city, and similar self-quarantine policies at different levels in almost every city and village. Also, the Chinese New Year holiday season was extended control spread of the coronavirus even though this might strongly affect the economic growth.

The world marvelled as the authorities erected Huoshenshan (Mountain of Fire God) Hospital and Leishenshan (Mountain of Thunder God) Hospital, two temporary facilities specifically for Covid-19 patients, in 10 days, from nothing and nowhere.

Research on and development of the vaccine is progressing. Men and women in uniform – hundreds of military medical experts and doctors – selflessly rushed to the Wuhan frontlines on the eve of Chinese New Year, the most important family reunion time for the Chinese people. Following along were thousands of doctors and nurses from almost every province and region of China in subsequent days.

Through a series of unprecedentedly strict and comprehensive prevention and control measures, the Covid-19 epidemic situation has been gradually improved. China is effectively controlling transmission across the country, as well as a big range of the spread throughout the world. Facts prove that China has been doing a good job: The number of confirmed cases in other countries accounts for well under 1% of that in China.

A Bloomberg report said that China sealed off Hubei province, where Wuhan is located, to save the world from the novel coronavirus outbreak – but I don’t totally agree with that. My understanding of what China has been trying to do is to use all government means and all the nation’s resources, with all the people’s backing, to save Wuhan and Hubei; by sealing off Wuhan and Hubei, we can save China; and by saving all of China, we can save the whole world.

Working with the world

China has had timely and comprehensive exchanges and cooperation with the world.

A month ago, President Xi Jinping met with Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director-general of the World Health Organisation (WHO), and exchanged information on China’s epidemic prevention and control measures. Xi has also been keeping in touch with many leaders around the world – including then Malaysian Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad – through meetings and phone calls.

Wang Yi, the Chinese State Councillor and Foreign Minister, also spoke with his counterparts, including Malaysia’s then Foreign Minister Datuk Saifuddin Abdullah and other senior officials from more than 20 countries in just around 10 days to communicate the progress of the fight against the epidemic, and to sincerely thank them for their support.

In a record-short time, China identified the pathogen and shared the genetic sequence of the novel coronavirus with the world to facilitate the search for a vaccine.

“China’s measures are not only protecting its people but also protecting the people in the whole world, ” said WHO’s Dr Ghebreyesus. Multiple international experts on disease control and prevention agreed, paying tribute to their Chinese colleagues.

China was quick to invite experts from WHO as well as Hong Kong, Macao and the Taiwan region to carry out field studies in Wuhan. Observers from some key virus laboratories across the world quickly arrived to do research.

China’s National Health Commission and the Wuhan health authorities hold daily briefings to keep the local public updated. And the Foreign Affairs Ministry began holding online press conferences for the first time, striving to deliver information to the world in this unusual time. China has also been maintaining communication lines with other countries, and have regular exchanges and discussions with the WHO.

Some don’t help

China attaches great importance to the wellbeing of not only Chinese citizens overseas but also foreign citizens inside China. With the joint efforts of China and Malaysia, on Feb 4,133 Malaysian citizens returned home from Wuhan, and as far as I know, a second batch of Malaysian citizens also returned home.

Now it’s time for the world to consolidate broad consensus and strengthen common confidence. If the international community joins hands in brotherhood, it would be easier to win the battle against this epidemic as soon as possible.

However, there are those who take advantage of this difficult timing with ulterior motives and try cloud the situation with other issues -- some say that the Covid-19 outbreak in China will help bring jobs back to their domestic industries; one publication infamously called China the “Real sick man of Asia”; some ascribe the problem entirely to China’s political system, deliberately instigate social conflict, and even conspire to launch “colour revolutions”.

There are those who attempt to add insult to China’s injury, like looting a burning house. They have taken the opportunity to blatantly interfere in China’s internal affairs by passing malicious China-related legislation. They also ignored scientific facts, evacuated personnel from their consulate in Wuhan and partially withdrew embassy staff first, banned the entry of the Chinese and foreign nationals who have been to China in the past 14 days, and raised the China travel warning to the highest level.

These behaviours are far worse than simply watching a fire burn across the river. Perhaps the leaders of these countries need to think of this: Do they want to be treated the same way when something bad happens to their country someday?

There are also those who trim their sails and behave like blind followers – we don’t know if it is due to panic or not – taking extreme measures such as suspending direct flights and pulling all their nationals out of China. These countries perhaps need to calm down and reassess the situation in a more objective, scientific and rational manner, and look back on the measures they took when similar epidemics broke out in other countries in the past.

No one denies that every government must take responsibility to protect its citizens, but protection measures should be made in the proper way. Certain countries’ overreactions are “customised” for China. They deviate from scientific standards, go against convention, do nothing for epidemic control, and are only increasing irrational fear among the public. Discrimi-nation, a Cold War mentality and reliance on rumours should have no place in the 2020s.

The WHO has stressed many times that it does not recommend unnecessary travel bans and has called on the international community to combat the spread of rumours and stick to the science. The International Civil Aviation Organisation also strongly urges all countries to follow WHO recommendations.

Working on the science

However, the Chinese have always believed that they must follow the path of self-reliance, so while they sincerely thank countries that have offered support, they will never slack because of a lack of external support. It has not stopped them from racing against time to tackle the key problems of epidemic prevention and treatment.

One such area is in thoroughly identifying the Covid-19-causing novel coronavirus. Chinese researchers have completed sequencing its gene and got the virus strain isolated as quickly as possible. This laid a solid foundation for global research in developing effective vaccines.

Researchers are now working on updating the speed of nucleic acid testing and identifying and researc-hing drugs that have an inhibitory effect on coronaviruses. Great expectations have been placed on Remdesivir by the public, but many experts caution that there is still scientific verification to be finished, and there is, thus far, no “miracle drug”.

Top Chinese medical scientists, including Zhong Nanshan, Li Lanjuan, Major General Chen Wei, and large numbers of leading Chinese experts and laboratories have devoted themselves to the front line of prevention and clinical treatment.

Pushing production

China has a strong sense of responsibility for the safety of the world supply chain. The country is racing to resume production in full gear, ensuring enough supply for controlling the epidemic and sustaining world industry.

As the factory and market of the world, China plays an essential role in the global chain. Many companies in the world have been severely affected since the virus outbreak. For example, the car manufacturers such as Nissan, Ford, Peugeot and Renault have temporarily shut down their factories in China; Ikea has closed its Chinese retail stores; and Starbucks recently announced a severe financial hit.

In the meantime, the spread of the virus is also exerting heavy pressure on the global medical supply chain. WHO says the whole world is facing a long-term shortage of personal protective equipment such as surgical masks and gloves, with current demand at 100 times of normal times.

People all over the world anxiously worry and wonder whether China’s production capacity can meet the demands in the face of the epidemic. The country is taking practical actions to respond to the concern.

China is the world’s largest mask producer, with over 20 million masks made daily in normal times, accounting for a half of the global supply. By Feb 7, about 73% of the country’s mask production capacity had been recovered; for medical masks, the rate rose to 87%; and as work resumption quickens, China’s mask production will fully recover and even reach higher numbers, according to the National Develop-ment and Reform Commission, China’s top economic planner.

In a move to encourage production of key medical supplies, including masks, the Chinese authorities have reassured producers that the government will be the ultimate buyer if the market cannot consume all the products. At the same time, local officials accelerate the approval of epidemic-prevention related enterprises register. Moreover, the country’s enterprises also actively shoulder their social responsibility in the way of speeding up on producing medical supplies.

For example, some mask manufacturers are now working three shifts a day – they even worked all day and night during Chinese New Year, the country’s most important holiday when the Chinese people enjoy a week off in normal times. Some diaper producers switched to manufacturing masks and protective suits, and some petrochemical enterprises introduced mask production lines as they have the essential raw materials for their production. It is believed that after the domestic relief of the Covid-19 outbreak, medical production in China will continue powering the global fight against the epidemic.

Apart from encouraging production recovery, the Chinese government is also taking measures to help medium and small enterprises to withstand risk due to the outbreak. New economic growth points are under plan. Policies on industry, finance and trade are going to be upgraded. A better business environment is in sight. They will take time but will gradually produce results.

Only with the normal and smooth running of the “China-brand Machine” can the global production and supply chain keep going. This is not only for China’s sake but also for the global economy.

International support

A friend in need is a friend indeed. Some in the international community have offered tremendous aid to China. Leaders from more than 160 countries and 30 international organisations have rendered support to China – including Malaysia, of course. And people all over the globe have enthusiastically donated medical supplies and equipment through all kinds of channels to China, especially to Wuhan, the most severely-hit city.

Some friends provide technical support. On Feb 5, a Russian medical expert team arrived in Wuhan to join their Chinese colleagues on vaccine development. On Feb 6, the clinical tests of the antiviral drug Remdesivir started in Wuhan. As a potential specific agent, a lot of people are hoping it will deliver a dazzling performance. And the drug was provided by its American patent holder free of charge for the research.

Some friends offer friendship and encouragement. “Keep on fighting, Wuhan” in Chinese has been a trending hashtag online globally. The four Chinese characters expressing this spirit are neither a fashion icon nor a luxury brand, yet they are much more valuable because they are the best wishes from every corner of the world.

Here, as a Chinese citizen, I would like to express my sincere appreciation to the lovely Malaysian people for their enormous help. Among all governments, Malaysia was one of the earliest to donate medical supplies and support, including the significant donation of 18 million clinical gloves.

China is receiving kindness from Malaysia and many other parts of the world. As a Chinese citizen, I appreciate from the bottom of heart every single supply, donation, blessing and tear of sorrow. Thank you, my friends! Such support makes the Chinese people stronger and draws the world’s people closer. It is strange but encouraging that all of sudden so many people in the world seem to subscribe to the belief of the German humanitarian philosopher Albert Schweitzer, namely, that sharing weal and woe is the only way to invest meaning in our lives.

“Mountains and rivers on different lands, with wind and moon under the same heaven stand/ You said you have no armour to wear/ Mine is here for us to share.” These lines are from Chinese poems written 1,000 or 2,000 years ago, but are so appropriate today to describe the many supporting China’s fight against Covid-19. It sends the message that the rest of the world is standing with China, and that the only way to resolve big, common challenges is for the world to act as a whole with the spirit of “Berat sama dipikul, ringan sama dijinjing”.

With our joint endeavours, beating Covid-19 is not a question of “yes or no”, but a question of “how soon”. We all know – there is no winter that will not pass. And there is no spring that will not arrive.

Dawn GC Zheng is a Chinese observer of international relations based in Beijing.

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