IN the wake of the coronavirus (Covid-19) outbreak, which has triggered a wave of deaths in China, while sparking panic across the globe, Zimbabwe Independent (ZI) senior reporters Tinashe Kairiza and Bridget Mananavire last week spoke to the deputy secretary-general of the International Department of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China (IDCPC), Dong Weihua (DW, pictured), who said the global economic powerhouse has spent over US$12,8 billion (90 billion yuan) to contain the disease. Dong said developing nations like Zimbabwe should bolster their health delivery systems to deal with the epidemic. Below are excerpts:
ZI: What is the coronavirus and when was the first case detected?
DW: The pathogen that causes the pneumonia epidemic in China is a novel coronavirus. On February 11 2020, the World Health Organisation (WHO) named it Coronavirus Disease 2019 (Covid-19). The first case was found in Wuhan City, Hubei Province, China, in late December, 2019.
A week later, 27 more cases were detected in Wuhan. From December 31, 2019, the Chinese National Health Commission organised experts and concluded that the pathogen causing the pneumonia was a novel coronavirus (later named Covid-19) within just a week.
ZI: What did China do to ensure that the virus did not spread once the first case was detected?
DW: Since the outbreak of the epidemic, the Chinese party and government have attached great importance to it. General secretary of the Communist Party of China (CPC) central committee and President Xi Jinping took the command, and has held meetings, inspected local communities, listened to reports, and made important instructions on many occasions. Xi stressed that we must resolutely win the people’s war against the epidemic.
We have resolutely prevented the epidemic from spreading. For Wuhan and Hubei Province where the situation is severe, extra-conventional measures such as suspension of local public transportation in Wuhan and temporary closure of transportation channels out of Wuhan have been adopted. The flow of people in and out of Hubei Province was also under strict control. Hubei Province and Wuhan City in particular, is at the centre of this epidemic. The reason for doing so is to strictly control the source of transmission, block the chain of transmission, effectively prevent the spread of the infectious disease to large areas and reduce the number of cases exported to other parts of China and abroad.
As a result of these measures, no major epidemic has taken place in China other than in Hubei Province. As of February 24, China had accumulated 77 269 confirmed cases, of which Hubei Province accounted for a large proportion (64 287, about 83%). Most of the newly confirmed cases every day also come from Hubei.
To our relief, outside Hubei, the newly confirmed cases have been declining for 20 consecutive days, from nearly 900 newly diagnosed cases to 11 daily. We have constructed “fangcang (square cabin) hospitals” for collectively receiving and treating patients with mild symptoms. From the evening of February 3rd to the 22nd, Wuhan has built and opened 16 fangcang hospitals with more than 13 148 beds. A total of 9 274 mild patients are being treated there.
ZI: How much has China spent so far to contain the spread of the virus?
DW: To win the fight, we ignore the cost, act swiftly and implement orders with force. After the epidemic happened, the party’s central committee and the state council took the matter very seriously, allocated fiscal funds many times, and worked to ensure that the financial support for epidemic containment is sufficient and is used in the right place.
By the end of January 2020, 4,4 billion yuan of subsidies had been pre-allocated for Covid-19 epidemic containment. On February 14, the second batch of epidemic containment subsidies of US$1,1 billion (8 billion yuan) was pre-allocated. Meanwhile, governments at all levels spared no efforts in guaranteeing the supply of epidemic containment funds.
As of February 14, financial departments at all levels had arranged US$12,9 billion (90,15 billion yuan) for subsidising epidemic containment, of which 25,29 billion yuan was arranged by the central government.
ZI: Outside China, what measures has China put in place to contain the spread of the virus?
DW: At present, public health and safety issues have transcended national borders and become a common challenge for the international community. After the outbreak, China immediately notified the World Health Organisation of the outbreak and shared the viral gene sequence and published data and shared information. President Xi Jinping engaged with the leaders of numerous countries on the phone, and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of China also established a special coordination mechanism to timely release epidemic information and Chinese containment measures to various countries.
It can be said that China has performed its international responsibilities in an open, transparent and responsible manner in the field of epidemic containment. China is not only fighting for itself, but also for the rest of the world.
ZI: There are reports China is understating figures of the victims, what is the death toll and the exact figures of those affected in China?
DW: The suspicion of the authenticity of China’s release of the epidemic data is groundless and wrong. We have noticed some rumours with ulterior motives circulating in the international community. Rumours stop at the wise.
As of 9pm on February 24, according to reports from 31 provinces (autonomous regions, municipalities) and the Xinjiang Production and Construction Corps, the current number of confirmed cases is 49 721; a total of 24 952 patients have been cured and discharged, 2 596 Covid-19 patients have unfortunately died, and the accumulative number of confirmed cases is 77 269. This data is updated daily and released regularly.
ZI: How are you collaborating with other countries to contain the coronavirus?
DW: The epidemic has no borders. Public health security is a global problem that requires a global response and needs to be addressed collectively by the international community under the thinking of a community of the shared future of mankind.
The first step is to inform relevant parties of the epidemic situation in a timely manner, release the epidemic information and the containment measures adopted by China. We are working closely with the WHO. WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus has already visited China, and WHO experts have travelled to Wuhan for field inspection. We have shared the viral gene sequence with the rest of the world and strengthened cooperation in clinical diagnosis and treatment, and jointly developed drugs.
ZI: How has the virus affected business in monetary terms?
DW: In the short term, the epidemic may cause some fluctuations in the Chinese economy. However, the epidemic will not change the long-term trend, and it will not change the position of the Chinese economy in the global economy.
The 2003 SARS epidemic lasted for up to eight months, and China’s GDP growth rate still reached 10% that year, which was basically the same as the previous year in 2002. At this current stage, China’s economic strength, material basis and response capacity to emergencies are significantly enhanced than in 2003.
Not only that, after the epidemic, the suppressed demand during the epidemic will strongly rebound, and the pace of China’s economic progress will not stop. At the same time, network technology, e-commerce, big data, artificial intelligence will usher in a new round of widespread application, and will provide strong momentum to China’s continued economic growth.
All state-owned enterprises have basically resumed work and production. Capital flow into new industries is accelerating, and new growth momentum is being formed. The contribution rate of high-tech manufacturing industry to the overall manufacturing industry is about 60%-80%, mainly including electronics, telecommunications, computers, pharmaceuticals, aerospace, and instruments and meters.
The investment growth rate in these areas is as high as 14,8%, meaning their ability to support and guide economic development has significantly increased. In particular, the investment space for new infrastructure construction is large. It is expected that operators’ main investment on 5G will not be less than US$142 billion (1,23 trillion yuan), which will drive the transformation of traditional industries and lead to accelerated development of new industries. The potential for growth is amazing.
ZI: How much has been set aside to find a vaccine?
DW: After the outbreak, the central committee of the CPC attached great importance to the R&D (research and development) of Covid-19 vaccines, and arranged sufficient funds for the R&D of vaccines. The specific figures for vaccine R&D funds have not been announced by relevant departments, but financial departments of local governments at all levels have provided robust funding support for the containment of the epidemic.
As of February 14, the actual expenditure for epidemic containment in all parts of China has reached US$5,8 billion (41 billion yuan), and sufficient funds have been reserved for vaccine R&D. At the same time, China’s financial system has also provided financing guarantees for anti-epidemic companies, especially vaccine R&D companies.
According to preliminary statistics, credit supply in this area has reached more than US$29,8 billion (210 billion yuan). In addition, driven by market demand and social responsibility, many enterprises have also invested a lot of funds in vaccine R&D. For example, the Jack Ma Foundation donated US$14 million (100 million yuan) to help in accelerating the development of Covid-19 vaccines.
ZI: How best can developing countries such as Zimbabwe guard against the virus?
DW: China is the largest developing country in the world. Our fight against the epidemic, regardless of cost, is to safeguard the overall interests of developing countries and gain time and experience for other developing countries to respond to the epidemic.
I personally believe that from the perspective of national and social governance, improving the medical and health system, strengthening response mechanisms for major emergencies, strengthening social mobilisation capacity, continuously improving the social governance capacity of the ruling party and government, and improving the research and production capacity in the field of public health, medicare and pharmaceuticals, should all be the goals for developing countries as a whole, including China, to achieve.
ZI: What lessons can the world draw from this experience?
DW: The epidemic is a big test of our country’s governance system and capacity. We must sum up experiences and learn lessons. To this end, seeing the shortcomings and deficiencies exposed in the response to this outbreak, we are improving the national emergency management system and enhancing the ability to handle urgent and dangerous tasks.
ZI: How far are we in terms of research and finding a cure?
DW: To overcome the epidemic, scientific and technological support will be indispensable. Since the outbreak of the Covid-19 epidemic, we have organised and mobilised nationally leading scientific and technological forces to tackle the problem. WHO director-general Tedros said on February 11 that the Covid-19 vaccine is expected to be ready within 18 months. Some Chinese companies predict that their vaccine R&D will enter the clinical stage in four to six months.
At present, China has opened green passages for all vaccine R&D. Many tests are progressing simultaneously. Some vaccines have been designed, and are being tested on animals. The immune effects tests and safety evaluations of the vaccines are also being conducted. On February 15, the Chinese National Medical Products Administration officially approved a drug developed by a Chinese pharmaceutical company.
ZI: How soon do you think the Chinese government may fully win this battle?
DW: In the face of this epidemic, one of China’s experiences is that panic cannot eliminate the epidemic. Confidence is important.
On February 23, President Xi Jinping delivered an important speech in Beijing. He stressed that the Covid-19 outbreak is a major public health emergency with the fastest spread, widest infection and hardest prevention ever since the founding of new China. Through strenuous efforts, the positive trend in the containment of the epidemic is expanding. The effect of the containment work has once again proven the prominent advantage in the leadership of the CPC and the socialist system with Chinese characteristics.
At present, everyone in China is united as one. Hubei and Wuhan are taken as the decisive place to win the battle against the epidemic. If Wuhan wins, Hubei will win. And if Hubei wins, the whole country will win. The epidemic containment in China has already entered a critical stage.
As of February 23, 21 provinces saw zero increase of new cases and the number of newly confirmed cases daily in Wuhan decreased from over 2 000 to 300. Victory against the epidemic is imminent and soon.