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Covid-19: The Coronavirus and China. What Can We Learn From Their Experience?

Updated on March 22, 2020
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I'm a therapist, yogi, and expat living in Asia. I love to write about psychology and meditation, two of my greatest passions.

China Containing the Virus.

On Thursday, the Chinese government announced that the peak of the epidemic in mainland China had been reached and the situation was now rapidly improving. In the last couple of days, new cases of coronavirus have fallen off across the nation, going down to single digits in most cities. Moreover, as I mentioned in another article, the Chinese president Xi Jinping visited the epicenter last Tuesday, for the first time after the onset of the outbreak, and many have seen this visit as a sign that Beijing was touting victory over the coronavirus.

This article was first published on March 14, updated on March 22 to make the links open in a new tab.

The Outbreak in China. A Comparison Between Cases of Coronavirus a Month Ago and Today.

Outbreak map
Outbreak map | Source

The Chinese Victory.

The Chinese government has a track record of politicizing major events, like the present virus crisis, and crafting the media discourse in their favor. They will surely embrace the image of a strong and competent government, celebrate their ability to successfully curb the spread of the virus, and use this victory to feed their image of an international superpower. However, the victory does not belong to the politicians sitting in their offices far away from the virus, but to the flock of volunteers, the common people, who struggled with the virus first-hand, alongside medical and military personnel.

An Example.

In the compound where I live in Shanghai, there are 2 or 3 people guarding the entrance 24 hours a day (some of whom are volunteers), checking residents' temperature and residential passes, which serve as proof that we in fact live inside the compound; all outsiders are barred from entry. At the zenith of the epidemic, there were 3 to 5 people guarding almost all compounds in the city. These volunteers, are local people, neighbors who participate in residential committees.

The Unsung Heroes.

Here are other examples of how volunteers have helped during the outbreak in China. Sources of this information are my personal experience, Chinese social media, and news outlets.

  • Local volunteers posted at the gates of residential compounds, together with security guards, checked the temperature of all residents going in and out of the premises, every single day, 24 hours a day.
  • Restaurant owners provided meals to overworked medical staff in Wuhan, free of charge.
  • In some areas, it was the volunteers who carried out disinfection work, walking around the streets with sprayers strapped to their backs.
  • Locals volunteered as drivers to transport medical supplies in the city of Wuhan during the worst days of the epidemic, when many services had stopped and there was no easy way of delivering the much needed goods.
  • Other locals volunteered as taxi drivers, in and around the city of Wuhan that had been placed under lockdown. These temporary drivers provided service not only to other residents in need of help but also to medical staff during a time when public transportation had completely halted.
  • Recently, legions of volunteers constantly sweeping through Wuhan have been publicizing information about prevention and control measures, and combing through residential buildings ensuring that confirmed or suspected patients of the coronavirus were not being left unattended.

A volunteer spraying disinfectant.
A volunteer spraying disinfectant. | Source

Isolation Time.

I believe it is thanks to the contributions of the common people that China managed to curb the virus within a relatively short period of time. However, you don't have to volunteer in order to help out, you could also contribute by staying safe. Remain calm, observe the hygiene and safety recommendations coming from experts at all times, and don’t be afraid to stay at home if travel or other movement restrictions are imposed in your city. I know that staying at home for long periods can be stressful, but it can also turn out to be a productive period in which you can work from home on countless of projects. I have been in the Chinese mainland since the virus began up until now when everything has returned to normality, so for a while, I was locked up in home like many others; trust me, it was not that bad.

People's Attitude.

One of the key factors in the fight against the virus is people's attitude. As reported by a resident of Wuhan, the most affected city, there were many who were optimistic, brave and willing to help others. Panic is obviously one of the least helpful things, so staying calm is important.

Some Useful Tips for Those in High-Risk Areas.

I would like to share a couple of things that helped me during isolation:

  1. Listen to the government’s instructions.
  2. Constantly use hand sanitizer or other disinfectant. At home, we used atomizers filled with isopropyl alcohol which is cheap and effective. Use it often, specially if you are in a high-risk area.
  3. Stay at home if you can. At the height of the epidemic, we would go out every two days to buy food, and after that, we would disinfect everything, i.e., hands, shoe soles, clothes, grocery bags, and every single item that had been bought. During the riskier days, after returning home we would immediately take a quick shower with disinfectant soap.
  4. Wear a mask. Here we had people who would even protect their eyes with a visor or some makeshift protection, like swimming goggles. Personally, I did not go to such lengths, but then again, I stayed at home most of the time, and laughs aside, cops in Shanghai would patrol the streets wearing both face masks and visors, so covering the eyes was deemed to be important.
  5. The clothes we wore when going out for supplies were aired first and then sprayed with some alcohol before taking them into the apartment any further than our entryway.
  6. Finally, exercise while at home, drink plenty of water, eat well and keep up the good mood.

The Alternative

Even though the Chinese government is extolling its victory, we shouldn't ignore their errors. For instance, at the onset of the outbreak, local officials covered information and downplayed the seriousness of the disease. Also, the first doctors who tried to alert the public about the virus were reprimanded by local police and then accused of spreading rumors by the media.

On the other hand, there is the example of South Korea, one of the most affected countries together with Italy, Iran, and Spain. The South Korean government's response to the virus is said to be the opposite of the Chinese: they are emphasizing transparency and avoiding lockdowns, while also relying heavily on public cooperation. One of their main tactics against the outbreak is the extensive testing for coronavirus.

Public Cooperation.

Despite governments handling the crisis in different ways, there is a common factor: people's cooperation and contributions.

We Can All Help.

I know that most people are not used to wearing a surgical mask, using hand sanitizer, or staying at home for long periods. Also, a lot of people might think that there is no need to worry, the virus poses little risk, and that if you are young the virus may not even harm you in the least bit, but please remember: if you have the virus and you are strong and healthy, you will most likely be fine BUT, you will also most likely pass it on to someone else who may not be in the same situation and with a compromised immune system or in advanced age, will be put at risk of dying.

I heard in a BBC report the comment of a British doctor saying that one would expect the governments of most European countries to have the capacity to contain an epidemic like the one engulfing parts of Italy today, but I think that this view is not helpful. It is more useful to think that governments can only do so much, and that the true power to contain the virus lies in all of us.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2020 Lou Ungar


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