NCoV battle 'a major test' for Chinese officials

By GT staff reporters Source:Global Times Published: 2020/2/5 0:18:42

Local authorities respond to deadly pneumonia in different ways

First group of coronavirus patients were transferred to Huoshenshan Hospital in Wuhan at 9:23 am Tuesday. The hospital with a capacity of 1,000 beds saw its completion in 10 days as China battles the coronavirus outbreak. Photo: People's Daily

Fighting the deadly coronavirus has become a major test not only for frontline doctors and nurses in China but also for local Chinese officials as it has been a crucial moment to reevaluate the effectiveness of urban governance, and major gaps among provinces and municipalities still remain due to the lack of scientific and comprehensive management. 

Over 21 million people live and work in Beijing and about 7.9 million of them come from other regions in China. As the Spring Festival holidays ended, the capital city is now seeing growing numbers of people returning and getting back to work while such massive migration makes virus prevention and control work much more challenging. 

Authorities reported 20,438 confirmed cases of coronavirus infection nationwide as of Tuesday, with the death toll rising to 425. There have been 632 cases of recovery and 2,788 cases in critical condition, official data shows. 

East China's Zhejiang was the first province to enact the highest level public health emergency response, followed by provinces like South China's Guangdong, which all even before Central China's Hubei province - where the novel coronavirus originated from - took the same move. Later, major first-tier cities such as Beijing and Shanghai launched a Level I emergency response, allowing local authorities to regulate essentials and ramp up preventive measures to combat the public health crisis. 

Such immediate response among some provinces and municipalities shows the effectiveness of provincial-level authorities in dealing with the deadly pneumonia. Such divergence in responses to a major public emergency has also become a parameter of urban management and governance, becoming a major test for Chinese officials. 

Yao Gaoyun, mayor of Wenzhou, a city in Zhejiang, the most coronavirus-hit province outside Hubei, became a new internet celebrity in recent days after he showed up at a TV interview with the state broadcaster on Sunday night. 

The 52-year-old official responded to various questions related to the disease prevention and control work in a highly logistical way, providing abundant data and clearly outlining how local authorities should fight this battle. His honesty was in contrast to Wuhan mayor who appeared to know little about the situation, after he was confused with the number of face masks at a daily press conference. 

Fighting the nationwide pneumonia battle has also become a major test for officials in different provinces, which would also redefine the competitiveness of different cities, analysts said.

The novel coronavirus epidemic has turned into a crisis of high uncertainty and complexity, which requires China's emergency management system to set up a top-level organ to coordinate works and provide greater flexibility in emergency management at the local level, Wang Hongwei, a professor at Renmin University of China's School of Public Administration and Policy in Beijing, told the Global Times on Tuesday. 

"Different provinces and municipalities have come up with their own measures to contain the disease. If those policies could adapt to the local situation and work out, they are good policies," he said. 

Diverse measures 

Wei Jie, a villager in Zhoukou, Central China's Henan Province, told the Global Times on Tuesday that her village started to check people who had worked or studied in Wuhan as early as January 22, requiring them to stay at home. Such strict preventive measures were implemented even before the lockdown of Wuhan. 

Authorities in Zhengzhou, capital city of Henan, began sending phone messages to all residents, asking them to reduce going out, cancel family reunions, avoid gathering and wear masks starting January 24. As the epidemic escalates, some residential complexes in Luoyang, another city in the province which is about 140 kilometer from Zhengzhou, adopted a curfew to control unnecessary outdoor activities, especially late returns usually caused by banquets or visiting friends.

Guangzhou, capital of South China's Guangdong Province and the epicenter of the SARS crisis in 2003, was another city that was praised by Chinese netizens during the current epidemic for its quick and practical reaction. Like Beijing and Shanghai, Guangzhou also faces mounting pressure as the return travel rush looms. 

The Guangzhou government issued health guidance to visitors from Hubei including Wuhan as early as January 22, requiring them to register their travel information and wear masks when taking public transport. 

Four days later, Shenzhen, another mega city in Guangdong, issued a similar guidance.  

As of Tuesday, 271 confirmed cases were reported in Guangzhou and 224 in Shenzhen. Although first-tier cities including Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou accounted for a small number of confirmed cases, some analysts predict that they are likely to face growing numbers of infection after people return to work. 

Since January 23, Guangzhou officially started to look for, record and track down visitors from Hubei, especially Wuhan, as local authorities have accumulated experience in dealing with public health crises since the SARS, which first occurred in the province more than 17 years ago.

Analysts also noted that Guangzhou's abundant medical resources are another reason for its outstanding performance, while the overall recovery rate in the province remains relatively high.  

There are 4,598 medical institutes in Guangzhou, 5,298 in Shanghai, 3,806 in Shenzhen and more than 11,000 in Beijing, media reported.

There are more than 3,200 hospital institutes in Wuhan while about 11 million people live in the city, according to media reports.

Improved governance 

Remaining on high alert, Beijing begins the mandatory 14-day work from home for those who return to the capital from Wuhan and other cities in Hubei, while the application of high-tech products has been deployed across the city to check body temperature. And each community enacted inch-to-inch searches and registration of those coming back from Wuhan and Hubei. 

President Xi Jinping said at a meeting of the Political Bureau of the Communist Party of China (CPC) Central Committee on Monday that the epidemic is a major task for the country's governance. 

"We must sum up the experience and draw a lesson from it," Xi said, according to the Xinhua News Agency.  

Liu Yuanju, a research fellow at the Shanghai Institute of Finance and Law, highlighted Shanghai's effort to contain the virus, as the municipality, supposed to be another hotspot of the virus outbreak as it is home to a large number of migrant workers, has not imposed extreme measures which may cause inconvenience to residents, and the number of infected is moderate compared to other large Chinese cities.

He said it is important for different local government departments to keep close exchanges of ideas and experiences during such a special time. "In some provinces and cities, because of prevailing formality for formality's sake and lower-level officials' obedience to their superiors, regional governance relies heavily on certain groups of people, such as the mayor," said Liu. He explained this could lead to a one-sided decision-making process. 

A city's management is about making comprehensive, scientific and consistent policies, said Liu, citing some governments which forbid people who don't wear masks from entering supermarkets. 

"The government should think about those who cannot purchase a mask due to a shortage. What if the person is more in need of food? Some local governments should sort things through before making policies, instead of implementing a policy without considering the consequences," he said.

During the outbreak, Chinese media has been extremely active, while such unusual supervision of traditional and new media has put many prefectural and municipal officials under the spotlight, amplifying their manners, analysts said. Officials in Wuhan and Huanggang have been harshly criticized, and under such pressure of public opinion, it is unlikely that Chinese officials would slack off, and the mounting pressure is expected to play a positive role in helping improve city management. 

In addition, the central government now attaches great importance to local governance, and those who fail to fulfill their duties will be held accountable by the government, which will also help the country catch up to modern governance.

The Hubei Provincial Committee of the Communist Party of China made a critical reflection on Tuesday, looking into shortcomings exposed in the local governance system and governance capacity amid the coronavirus outbreak after President Xi's speech on Monday.

The experiences of other countries also deserve attention, Chinese experts said. 

For example, the US and Japan have set up a disease surveillance feedback system and have made pre-arranged plans for public health emergencies based on the system. Once an epidemic breaks out, a top-down reaction system can be activated quickly to limit the epidemic impact. 


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