OPINION / OBSERVER
Previous disasters prepare China for COVID-19 fight
Published: May 12, 2020 08:53 PM

Medics from hospitals in Wuhan attend a Monday ceremony where China Post issued a set of stamps to commemorate Chinese people's solidarity in fighting the COVID-19. The collection depicts military personnel, medics, scientists, community workers, police officers and volunteers. Photo: cnsphoto



May 12 marks China's 12th national day for disaster prevention and relief, which also commemorates the 2008 Wenchuan earthquake that left more than 80,000 people dead or missing. The day was established in 2009 to raise public awareness of disaster prevention and to improve society's capabilities to cope with disasters so that losses can be minimized. At a time when the COVID-19 pandemic continues to wreak havoc globally, exerting a huge impact on social order, people's lives and the economy, this day of special significance has become even more meaningful. 

China has been among the first countries to have gotten a grip on the epidemic. Why is the country able to flatten the COVID-19 curve and prevent its rebound? Understanding China's attitude toward disasters can provide an angle to help outsiders grasp the real picture. 

"There is no great historical evil without a compensating historical progress," said Friedrich Engels. A Chinese four-character idiom goes duo nan xing bang ("difficulties rejuvenate the nation"). China is a country that has undergone many disasters and sufferings, but this sad fact has shaped the country's strong mentality and resilience toward disasters. China faces difficulties squarely, respects the rule of nature and science, has the strong capability of mobilization and is able to unite people amid difficulties. 

Each and every time when China manages to emerge from disasters, it has become increasingly experienced in tackling disasters and overcoming difficulties and obstacles. China reemerged from various disasters such as the 1998 China floods, the 2003 SARS outbreak, and 2008 Wenchuan earthquake. There is no exception with the recent coronavirus epidemic.   

China has also drawn lessons from each disaster it overcame to prepare for future threats. If there weren't China's anti-SARS experience, or should there not have been strong political determination in the face of disasters, it's very likely the country wouldn't have made the right decision to lock down Wuhan, a city with a population of more than 11 million.  

China has done a better job in tamping down the coronavirus. The outcome didn't come out of nowhere, given the country's political decisiveness in the face of disasters, its governing system's great ability of mobilization, the public's trust in the government accumulated from past successful disaster control and relief experiences, and the government's strong sense of responsibility for people's lives.  

When Wuhan was in dire need of medical staff and supplies, other  provinces, municipalities and regions across China were quick and ready to help despite also being hit by the virus. Putting collective interests beyond individual interests, the Chinese people, especially those in Wuhan and Hubei, were willing to follow the tough quarantine measures, even staying at home for months without complaining. 

More importantly, China has been enhancing its emergency management capabilities. The theme of this year's national day for disaster prevention and relief is "improve the grass-roots emergency response capabilities and build a defensive line of disaster prevention, mitigation and relief for the people." 

China has in general put the epidemic under control at the national level. Now, local governments and lower-level institutions have assumed a greater role in preventing a second wave of outbreak. Shulan, a city in Northeast China's Jilin Province, quickly reacted and declared a wartime control mode in its COVID-19 fight after one infected patient spread the virus to 11 others recently. Given such swift and responsible reactions of local governments, one can be assured that China has the confidence and capability to prevent an epidemic rebound. 

The effectiveness of China's epidemic prevention and control work has been proven in the first phase of China's virus fight. There is no doubt that China will sustain the anti-virus outcome, and achieve success in defeating the virus while resuming work and production. 


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