Special Feature: Modelling the Intangibles that Worked in Defeating the COVID-19 in China - THE BUSINESS PACKAGE


Saturday, May 30, 2020

Special Feature: Modelling the Intangibles that Worked in Defeating the COVID-19 in China

The global community is facing an indomitable common enemy in the new coronavirus and the disease it causes: COVID-19. 

As the world continues to push back against this common enemy and global scientists intensify efforts on finding a cure and a vaccine for the COVID-19, a look into how China, the earlier epicenter of the outbreak, handled and overcome this lethal foe will enable us understand some latent factors and the intangibles that contributed to the early victory recorded over the virus. Indelible in the memories of the Chinese people are the untold stories in the global mainstream media of the various acts of solidarity, love, sacrifice and unity displayed by ordinary people in China, including foreigners living in the country as the outbreak laid siege on the entire country. 

The actions of these ordinary people inspired unusual national resilience which significantly helped them in overcoming the public health challenge in record time.

From the onset, when the virus was detected, authorities in China clearly identified it as public enemy number one which must be defeated. Saving life became the primary mission of the frontline workers and every citizen. Therefore, when the country was placed under compulsory lockdown, the action was not put into the court of public opinion for deliberation or argument on its legality or otherwise. However, global mainstream media and opinion leaders outside China labelled the lockdown as “draconian” and “crude” with no proven record of success against a pandemic like this. They condemned the lockdown as a flagrant abuse of people’s human rights. However, instead of being drawn into arguments on the media landscape, China refused to be distracted and undauntedly pressed on with the war against the virus. 

While the lockdown continued, China indirectly paid the initial sacrifice on behalf of the rest of the world in using the lockdown to buy time for the rest of the global community to prepare preventive and countermeasures against the virus in advance, an opportunity which China did not have. Unfortunately, this precious time bought was wasted on the altar of spinning conspiracy theories and unnecessary criticism of China. 

The consequences of this waste of precious time now stares us in the face with not only staggering figures of infection but that of avoidable loss of precious lives. 

As China was fighting the war against the virus, other “wars” were bombarding the country at the same time in the area of misinformation and possible economic slump. 

So vehement was the war of misinformation in the midst of the outbreak that a wave of global resentments against China and the citizens of the country was triggered in unprecedented ways. However, worthy of note is the resolute mindset of the government and people of China to win the war against the virus than be distracted by the misinformation going round. 

Under intense pressure to meet local and global demand for medical materials needed for the fight against COVID-19, Chinese manufacturers heeded the government directive to resume partial production activities to meet up with the demands. In no time, the media was washed with negative reports that China was deliberately exporting fake medical materials to other countries. 

However, investigations later revealed that the products were produced to different standards from the countries of destination. 

To those that understand, the manufacturing sector was under intense pressure and such errors could not be entirely ruled out at that time. Immediately the manufacturing sector picked up in production, stricter measures were adopted in quality control checks which subsequently led to delays in the export of goods. Instead of understanding the complexities of adherence to quality control measures, new allegations started that China was deliberately hoarding export of medical equipment needed by other countries. It was a trying period for China, but records from the World Trade Organization showed that the country has not in any way hoarded medical supplies as claimed. .

What did China and her people do to conquer and emerge stronger in the face of a deadly virus outbreak that could be a model for others? At the base of the Chinese victory is the commitment to saving life which superseded every other considerations including economic or political. Every available resources (the drafting of military medical personnel, coalition of over 40000 medical personnel from all the provinces in China converging on Wuhan- the epicenter, local courier services public and private working extra time to ensure no breakdown in the supply chain) was mobilized to achieve this purpose the inconveniences notwithstanding.

 Significant is the level of trust in leadership by the citizens which is also vital to the success of any measure being adopted or rolled out by any government worldwide. The Chinese people trusted the government’s ability to do everything possible to defeat the virus, so when they were asked to stay at home indefinitely, the measure was accepted as a civic responsibility towards winning the war instead of an infringement on their human rights. Behind the trust are years of government’s transparency and accountability which can be seen in the lifting of some 800million members of the population out from poverty into prosperity within three decades and the continued efforts to wipe out poverty from among the population by the year 2020, which the government is almost accomplishing earlier than planned.

In order to contain the spread of the virus, the government shut down public transportation, barred residents from leaving, implemented strict physical distancing measures, and mandated the wearing of face masks in public in Wuhan, the epicenter of the outbreak.

 The measure was soon replicated with some modifications across the country, but the stringent measure remained unchanged at the epicenter and bordering provinces. The lockdown period was effectively used for the testing, isolation and treatment of infected individuals as well as rigorous tracking and tracing the contacts of the infected individuals. 

Emergency laws were passed to make it a crime against the state to hide or evade being tested when already in contact with infected person(s). During the outbreak, the government made use of technology with support from the private sectors to provide real time daily digital and scientific data dissemination of the state of the outbreak in terms of the number of infections, deaths and recoveries, a reporting system that has now become a global standard in the fight against the virus. 

Apart from this, the building, in less than two weeks,  of 2500 beds capacity dedicated emergency hospitals with over 30 fully equipped Intensive Care Units (ICU) and dedicated 5G driven high-tech video link remote consultation platform was not just seen as a global feat by the people, it registered in the minds of the citizens the extent to which the government places emphasis on saving lives over every other thing especially considering the fact that the feat was done at a time when Chinese health officials had reported only 361 deaths from the disease, confirmed more than 17,205 cases and cured 328 cases respectively. This was a classic case of “a stitch in time saves nine”, just that hundreds of millions were saved on time in this case. In addition, an unnamed Chinese tech company donated to the dedicated hospital medical robots which can deliver medicines and test samples around the hospital. Similar robots were seen delivering food to people sheltering in some isolation centers to avoid human-to-human contacts that could lead to further spread of the virus. 

The uninhibited mobilization of national resources to fight the virus and providing palliative supports to the population triggered a strong sense of nationalism with volunteers actively subscribing for participation in the fight against the virus at the frontline not minding the risk of paying the ultimate price in the frontline. 
China’s ability to mobilize resources and see its plans through has been put to play severally in the past in emergencies and in normal times; especially in the country’s poverty eradication project which has yielded globally acknowledged results. 

Unlike in other climes where such programmes ended up as mere slogan and a platform for political gladiators to curry people’s acceptance in order to maintain their political domains, the poverty eradication programme was a solemn national goal made by the leadership and followed by comprehensive planning and concerted efforts by all stakeholders involved. During the outbreak, government’s transparency and accountability to the people was unprecedented as the social media, such as WeChat and Weibo, played a significant role of reflecting public opinion, which met with the Chinese government prompt response in adjustment of policies accordingly. It was a unique demonstration of mutual relationship between the government and the people. 
Also strengthened by the government’s response during the outbreak was the public-private partnership. Enterprises responded with capabilities and a willingness to contribute more to public goods like never before. Apart from financial contributions from businesses and individuals, many of whom preferred not to be identified publicly, technology industries made freely available their products and platforms for public good during the breakout which helped in the effective analysis of the outbreak’s development and providing support for disease prevention and control. 

The use of big data helped in no small way in prompt identification of high-risks areas, optimized-allocation of scarce public resources and providing the people the opportunity to monitor the trend of the outbreak as well as the rate of recoveries online through various media in real-time. The use of the Artificial Intelligence (AI) technologies also enhanced the government’s screening ability and improved detection efficiency with accuracy thereby preventing further transmission of the virus. 

The synergy that existed between the government, the industries and the people had a strong impact on the speed with which the virus was brought under control in a short time..

Individuals and societies around the world must keep alive the spirit of unity, love and resilience as demonstrated in China, and as replicated in some countries which have recorded impressive results of victory over the virus. Significant factors responsible for the record success in China against the deadly COVID-19 were the synergies of the intangibles including value for life as primary over other considerations, focus on mission accomplishment, mutual trust between the government and the people, the adoption of compulsory lockdown as civic responsibility while government carries out its own responsibilities of testing, isolation, treatment and contact treatment quickly and early to curb spread, as well as the uninhibited mobilization of national resources to defeat the common public enemy. Virus outbreak has no geographical identification or allegiance, so we must all arise and work together with every resources available to defeat the common enemy of humanity. Blaming, buck-passing, playing politics, engaging in misinformation and outright lies will only compound our weakness against the virus making it a difficult foe to overcome. But when we unite, engaging in people-centered development and not being economical in speaking the truth, we will build a globally resilient community too invincible and indomitable for any deadly virus to overcome.

Aaron Adeyemi

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