Infectious Diseases

How to Stop the Spread of Coronavirus? Lesson from China’s Battle Against COVID-19

10 March 2020

China has been the epicentre of the coronavirus outbreak, and still hosts the vast majority of global cases (Over 80,000). However, the number of new cases has been declining from the 100’s per day, to roughly 46 per day. In a country of 1.4 billion people, this is a truly astounding feat.

If we want to understand how powerful an opponent SARS-CoV-2 (COVID-19) is, lets take a look at what has been required to stop it in China. The Chinese government has essentially used a social nuclear weapon in its effort

Nicholas A. Christakis. Prof. of Social & Natural Science at Yale.

What Professor Christakis is referring to here is the extreme measures that the Chinese government have put in place to mitigate the rate of infection within its population.

On January 23rd, in a strategy called ‘closed-off management’, officials implemented restrictions on the movement of people in provinces containing over 930 million people. In areas such as Chongqing, only a single person per household was permitted to leave the house to go shopping.

Map and timescale of imposition of the closed-off management strategy.

Over six weeks on, many of the cities affected are still imposing these quarantines, depending on the risk of infection within that area.

As well as imposing nationwide mitigation strategies, authorities have also been exploiting surveillance data at a community level. A short video article published by Wall Street Journal shows the extent to which this is happening.

Amongst a number of different strategies, including; disinfection of vehicles, regular body temperature checks, the Chinese police force have also been deploying drones armed with high resolution cameras and loudspeakers to monitor and disperse those with no face mask or those who have gathered in a group.

Source: STR/AFP via Getty Images

Many of China’s 300 million surveillance cameras are equipped with facial recognition capabilities, giving the authorities the ability to track anyone they may believe carries risk of carrying the virus.

Combining this information with big data from public transport history and national ID has allowed the government to develop an app, which tells the individual whether they have come into close contact with someone who has tested positive. So far there are well over 200 million reported users of the app.

Whilst the Chinese government insists that this data is being collected and utilised to stop the spread of Coronavirus, there are major questions over the ethicality of this practice. However, Yanzhong Huang, a senior fellow on the council of foreign affairs in the US studying global health, stated:

When they were given the choices of protecting their health and protecting their civil liberties, they (the Chinese public) would probably would choose the former even to the detriment of the latter.

Yanzhong Huang, Senior Fellow, Council on Foreign Affairs

As a result of these management strategies, the effective reproductive rate (this is the expected number of cases directly generated by one case in a population where all individuals are susceptible to infection) of COVID-19 in Wuhan, the origin of the outbreak, has dropped from 3.86 to 0.32.

Despite the relative success of the Chinese management plan, the next question that will be posed is: what will happen once the social fallout has subsided and business returns to normal? Will we continue to see a drop in new cases? Or will COVID-19 rise again?


References

  1. Evolving Epidemiology and Impact of Non-pharmaceutical Interventions on the Outbreak of Coronavirus Disease 2019 in Wuhan, China. doi: https://doi.org/10.1101/2020.03.03.20030593
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