China successfully fights epidemic, Europe only learns from blockade but ignores more important measures

While much of Europe is taking another round of epidemic closures in anticipation of a potentially painful and deadly winter, China is growing stronger, CNN reported on Oct. 20.

The report mentions that data released by China on October 19 showed two consecutive quarters of gross domestic product (GDP) growth, underscoring the speed with which the world’s second-largest economy is recovering. This follows the National Day Golden Week holiday, when a large number of Chinese tried to travel in the country, apparently with success.

For many Europeans, China’s response to the new coronavirus was dominated by Wuhan’s initial harsh 76-day blockade. While other Chinese cities imposed similar lockdowns in the early days of the outbreak, they were not as stringent as Wuhan’s. However, CNN reports that China’s response to the new coronavirus was not as strict as Wuhan’s.

However, the CNN report notes that much of China’s success in containing the new coronavirus is not the result of these early measures (although they have been used effectively to contain regional outbreaks), but rather the way in which China has handled the situation once it has allowed people to move again. In particular, in the unlikely event that new signs of community infection are detected, China’s ability to track cases nationwide has allowed the government to respond quickly and contain the outbreak locally.

As a result of measures such as “health codes”, local governments in China have been able to close down specific areas in the event of a new outbreak or, if necessary, conduct mass testing. The latest example was in Qingdao, where more than 10 million people were tested for the virus in about a week after 12 local cases were reported.

CNN reports that strict quarantine monitoring is being adopted between China’s provinces and regions, which can restrict or completely suspend public transportation between locations in the event of an outbreak. Entry into China from overseas is also strictly regulated, with strict quarantine measures in place upon entry. In addition, China has adopted measures for the widespread use of masks and strict adherence to public health regulations, which have also helped to contain the outbreak. These methods have also proved effective in other Asian countries.

East Asia experienced a SARS outbreak in 2003, which made it easier for people to accept wearing masks or taking other precautions. In parts of Europe and other Western countries, especially the United States, the issue of wearing masks, which had proved effective a few months earlier, was still controversial.

CNN also said that China’s rapid and decisive response in the early stages of the epidemic was different from the hesitancy in Europe and the United States, even though those countries were already aware of the possibility of a global pandemic.

CNN also noted that even as it returned to normal, China remained on high alert and was able to respond quickly to newly discovered clusters of infection and track down anyone who might have been infected. Similar measures have been taken in South Korea and other parts of Asia. By contrast, virus tracking in much of Europe remains a mess, and many countries lack the capacity to conduct large-scale testing. The timely testing that does take place also tends to squander the usefulness of the results, as the infrastructure for tracking and quarantine is still lacking there.

At the same time, European borders remain largely open, despite the EU’s power to close normally open borders in the name of public health. The World Health Organization (WHO) noted back in February that “large parts of the international community are not ready, intellectually or materially, to implement those measures that China has taken to contain the epidemic. Fundamental to these measures are very proactive surveillance, immediate detection of cases, very rapid diagnosis and immediate isolation of cases, strict tracking and isolation of close contacts, and a high level of public understanding and acceptance of these measures.”

CNN concludes by noting that, unfortunately, in the months that followed, even though the Chinese response has proven effective and similar models have been successful in South Korea, Japan, and other parts of Asia, Europe has lagged behind.