Counter COVID-19: China’s Experience and Perspectives

Counter COVID-19: China’s experience and perspectives


Harry H. Shiao
Allbright Law Offices
Shanghai, China

The COVID-19 pandemic is wildly spreading across the globe. The United Nations has called the pandemic the “most challenging crisis” the world has faced since World War Two. This pandemic first outbroke then was first curbed in China. China’s experience, the approaches and measures of the government, and the underlying perspectives of the country provide important references for other countries seeking to overcome the rising pandemic.


Experience and Approaches


How the COVID-19 pandemic transpired in China

China, in general, has experienced four phases throughout the crisis:

Phase 1

The pandemic originated from a wet market in Wuhan, a megacity in central China. Initially, the local government of Wuhan tried to cover up the virus spreading, denying the virus ability to transmit from person to person. Li Wenliang, the whistleblower and an ophthalmologist who exposed the emergence and person-to-person spreading of the deadly virus to his medical school classmate through social media, was rebuked publicly by the local police and ordered to stop spreading “rumors”.

Phase 2

Around January 23th, after 3 weeks of the whistleblowing and immediately before the week-long traditional Chinese Spring Festival holidays starting on January 24th, as the virus began to spread nationwide and the crisis escalated, the central government finally intervened. The city of Wuhan was locked down and stay-at-home guidelines were issued nationwide.

The whole country was put in quarantine. Public gatherings were strictly forbidden, unprecedentedly, leaving Chinese people without family reunion during a Spring Festival. Wearing a mask was required everywhere, free masks were instantly distributed to communities and households. Temperature testing and identity registration became a must before entering any buildings, shops, markets, condominiums, etc. Clinics were closed to avoid cross-infection, only emergencies remained open. The whole society was frozen.

At the end of this phase, the mayor of Wuhan and the governor of Hubei Province where Wuhan is situated were both removed from their positions by the central government.

Phase 3

The pandemic was quickly put under control. After three weeks of quarantine, the number of new cases of infections fell rapidly nationwide except the epicenter, Wuhan. From February 12th, businesses were allowed to be reopened gradually, and the workforce began to flow. Most facilities were reopened, though access was quite limited. Mask wearing, temperature testing, and identity registration were still required. Novel technology was also applied to identify likely virus carriers – a QR health code produced by mobile carriers, Wechat and Alipay, the most frequently used apps in China, that tracks a person’s locations of previous 14 days via mobile usage, was newly required to verify that person had no reach into Wuhan or other hot spot areas.

Phase 4

After mid-March, China ended the “containment phase”, entering into a new “mitigation stage”. New infections eventually dropped even in Wuhan. Travel bans to and from Wuhan were lifted. People began to take off masks on private occasions. Life went back to normal gradually though slowly. Only schools were still closed. At this stage, the focus of virus countering efforts shifted to preventing overseas input risks as the pandemic had outbroken and escalated globally.

China’s approaches and measures to counter the pandemic

Chinese government’s approaches and measures to counter the pandemic include:

  1. Instantly covered the pandemic with free medicare, providing free testing for likely infections, free treatment for confirmed infections and free masks for all citizens.
  2. Held up the hospital system. Patients were concentrated at designated hospitals for isolation and treatment. When the city of Wuhan’s hospital systems collapsed, other provinces deployed doctors, nurses and sent ventilator machines and other medical equipment to hold it up and keep it functioning. Tent hospitals were instantly established to accommodate ever-increasing patients.
  3. Strictly enforced social distancing and universal mask-wearing to prevent further spreading and the crisis escalating.
  4. Managed local authorities promptly, holding them accountable for or correlating their promotion with the results of prevention and control of the pandemic within their jurisdiction.
  5. Extensively utilized mobile communication, e-commerce, big data and artificial intelligence (AI) technology to track the spreading path of the virus, to identify priority populations, and to ensure medical and household supplies.
  6. Kept tighter control of press and freedom of speech was reduced to a minimum throughout the curfew. Any negative news reporting was strictly forbidden, and any speech contradicting the government’s statements on social media was deleted instantly.

International comparison and conclusions

In China, the pandemic is already under control, and society is reviving. Today (April 5th, 2020), the total number of infections in China is around 83 thousand, and the death toll 3.3 thousand. In the US, the number of infections is close to 333 thousand, and the death toll 9.4 thousand. As the international community doubts the credibility of numbers coming out of China, we will calibrate them on a double basis. Even so, the numbers in the US are significantly higher than those in China. And the US numbers have not reached its peak yet and are anticipated to spike even higher shortly. Given that the population base of the US is the only ¼ that of China and the population density is much lower than Chinese, the infection and death rate in the US is disproportionately higher than in China .

In Britain, the virus has invaded the core of society. Prince Charles has confirmed coronavirus infected, and Prime Minister Boris Johnson was hospitalized 10 days after testing positive for the virus. In the US, both President Trump and Vice President Pence is at risk of infection, after contacting with persons carrying the virus. In Canada, Sophie Trudeau, wife of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, has tested positive for coronavirus, forcing the Prime Minister into self-isolation. Such invasion of the virus might paralyze the prevention and control of the pandemic and threaten the functioning of these societies. On the other side in China, the higher layer of society stayed safe throughout the pandemic.

As noted, it is from the scratch that China began to fight against the pandemic, when little was known about it. While the other parts of the world began to handle the pandemic, much was already known or could be learned from China.

Based on international comparisons, it is fair to say China has  been efficient in countering the pandemic, and the Chinese government did a fairly good job. In general, the Chinese government was responsive, responsible and efficient in containing the pandemic, and its countermeasures were effective.

Analysis and perspectives

Political perspective

The Chinese government is an authoritative, omnipotent government that manages every aspect of social life and assumes universal responsibility. The government penetrated communities, and government agents entered into households to check likely infections and distribute masks. The government also controls almost all the resources of society. Almost all political, economic, military, technical and media resources, even private assets or individual freedom, are subject to the government’s control and even could be taken away to fight the pandemic.

With superpower vested in the government, it took full responsibility fighting against the pandemic. With nearly unlimited policy tools, the superpower theory also explains where the efficiency and effectiveness come from of the government’s policies, actions or measures.

Economic & technical perspective

China is called the world’s factory, having huge capacities for manufacturing. When the demand for face masks, testing kits, and other medical supplies went crazy, the production could be added up in short term to ensure supplies.

Universal covering and extensive application of mobile communication, online shopping or e-commerce, and efficient logistics and delivery system, made it possible for the whole society living “stay at home” lives. Big data and AI technology were increasingly utilized to predict and track the transmission of the virus and help relieve the overloading demands for social services.

In the prolonged two-month quarantine, many workers lost their jobs or income. Thanks to the tradition in Chinese society to maintain a high household savings rate, even lower-income populations made their household ends meet.

The legal point of view

China’s practice also aroused controversy as individual privacy and other human rights were sacrificed in the countering of COVID-19.

Violation of privacy. Individuals’ travel history, locations, and other privacy data were collected and integrated on a QR code to help evaluate their likeliness to contract coronavirus. The code has to be shown to verify an individual’s clear track before he or she gets access to facilities.

Discrimination of likely coronavirus carriers. If records show a person has come from or has travelled to Wuhan or other hot spot areas, he or she will be rejected to check-in at a hotel. His or her access to any facilities or public transportation will be rejected. Many people thus became homeless through the pandemic.

Violation of the right to life. When hospitals were closed to prevent cross-transmission within the hospitals, ordinary patients’ rights to receive medical treatments were also deprived. Many patients died of medical treatment disruption.

Violation of business rights. All nonessential businesses were ordered to shut down and special permits were required to be reopened. The economic losses private businesses sustained were huge.

Social perspective

Traditional Chinese society is relatively conservative in social etiquette. Ordinarily, people do not kiss or hug on social occasions, which significantly reduced inter-personal touch and accordingly the likelihood of coronavirus transmission. The reduced inter-personal touch in social etiquettes partly explained why the virus transmission was contained quickly in east Asian countries like China and Korea that share similar social traditions.

Also correlated with social norms, the obedient tendency in social tradition in east Asian countries, partly explains why east Asians tend to wear face masks for self-protection, which is a very effective way to stop the virus transmission, though the WHO did not issue mask-wearing guidelines.

Global collaborations

To summarize China is the first major country to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic and is among the first major countries capable of aiding other countries’ countering pandemic efforts. The Chinese government has deployed medical teams to Italy, supplied face masks, ventilator machines, testing kits, protective equipment, and other medical supplies to France and other countries. China is also opening up its coronavirus data for international use, and Chinese scientists are actively involved in international collaborations to develop anti-coronavirus vaccines and drugs. China’s most important legacy is its explorations, experience, and perspectives, which, with its pros and cons open for comments, provides a frame of guiding reference for other countries seeking to overcome the pandemic.