GT Yearender: Three years’ hard effort to fight COVID-19 ‘worthwhile’
With better public services, people’s solidarity, China could avoid debacle of death the West experienced
Published: Dec 21, 2022 10:42 PM
A pedestrian strip in Beijing on December 7, 2022. Photo: IC

A pedestrian strip in Beijing on December 7, 2022. Photo: IC

A pedestrian strip in Beijing on December 7, 2022. Photo: IC

A pedestrian strip in Beijing on December 7, 2022. Photo: IC

Editor's Note:

After three years' hard effort to keep the COVID-19 at bay, China has optimized its virus responses recently. The Global Times has talked with front line medical workers, grass-roots community workers and others about their experience in the three-year battle. These people believe that the three years' effort that has traded time until the variants became less lethal and has helped prevent most people from being exposed to dangerous variants, was worth the wait.

During China's three-year fight against COVID-19, everyone from this country contributed their fair share to build an exquisitely designed giant machine. Powered by top-down mobilization, coalesced into effort of people from all walks of life, be it medical workers or grass-roots community workers, the machine has worked effectively for three years to shield the country's populace against an onslaught of the virus. 

Now that China has optimized its COVID-19 responses and the hope of returning to pre-epidemic normalcy is in sight, Chinese people believed the three years' fighting was not in vain, as they have been shielded until COVID-19 variants became far less dangerous, and they are optimistic of the future and that they are sure the final shock from COVID-19 will be weathered smoothly and orderly. 

Now that China is placed in what experts believed a short-lived quandary of "exit wave," Western countries, who suffered far worse exit wave after reckless re-opening, are sparing no effort in attacking China's policy change. Yet many Chinese believe, with a well-coordinated strategy, public's selfless contribution and Chinese people's solidarity, China will walk out of the COVID-19 shadow safely, and the debacle of death tsunami seen in the West will not happen in the China. 

Frontline fight 

After China announced to optimize its COVID-19 responses, cases began to surge, especially in major cities such as Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou. At this crucial moment, frontline medical employees are the first to bear the burnt, as hospitals nationwide have begun to increase staff and are ramping up resources to cope with the ballooning caseload. 

Yin Yong, director of respiratory department from Shanghai Children's Medical Center, who also led the medical team in the fight against COVID-19 in friendly makeshift hospitals for children this spring, is one of them.

Yin told the Global Times recently that to steel for the coming wave, his hospital has reshuffled resources, and set up fever clinics, quarantine outpatient services for positive cases; and different areas for COVID-19 patients with severe symptoms. 

All the equipment that are needed, including ventilators and monitors, are already in place; doctors with abundant experience in dealing with COVID-19 patients are also ready, said Yin, noting that their focus is on the vulnerable groups. The only problem, according to Yin, is the shortage of medicines. 

Governments, pharmaceuticals and logistics companies are running against the clock to guarantee amply supply of medicines since December 14. 

In retrospect, Yin said the current palpable urgency resembles that of three years ago, when COVID-19 first hit Chinese city of Wuhan. The Shanghai doctor said the initial victory against the outbreak in Wuhan had paved the way on how to fight future outbreaks, including the arduous one in Shanghai this spring.

When striving to curb the fast spreading of Omicron in Shanghai, Yin and his colleagues were also faced with emergency tasks which needed to be done in only 24 to 48 hours, including stockpiling materials and personnel arrangements. 

No one chickened out, said Yin, describing it as a chance for everyone to grow, and a proud moment that their effort finally traded over victory against Omicron in Shanghai in a few months. 

Medical workers in China, after three years' toil over treatment and prevention of COVID-19, once again stood at the frontal line of the battle against coronavirus and in a bind as many were infected with Omicron. Yin said they are trying to shun away from being infected. "Not because we are afraid of getting the virus, but because we don't have time to [get infected]. There's simply too much to do."

Yin is optimistic that the current quandaries will be overcome. He said he saw a message on China's messaging app WeChat a few days ago. The message said the country has protected its people for three years, during which the original deadly strain had degraded into less harmful Omicron; and that the government has done much to protect most people from suffering severe diseases, "I totally agree with this view," said Yin.

Recently, a woman in Wuhan posted her experience of being infected back in 2020 and her recent battle with Omicron in December. Three years ago, her high fever lasted seven days and it took her two whole months to fully recover. In comparison, she recovered quickly the second time after only seven days of resting at home, and symptoms disappeared fast. Her post has been viewed more than 4.4 million times as of press time. 

Efforts worthwhile 

China's three-year battle with COVID-19 can be seen as an exquisitely designed machinery, where not only medical workers, but every part of the whole society are essential for the machine to clank away. Grass-roots community workers, who count cases, enforce quarantine and ensure people's lives during lockdowns, are one plank that keep the machine moving.

One neighborhood community office, consisting of a dozen workers, usually need to manage up to hundreds of households. It is wrong to think that they can finally catch a breath after the government allowed home quarantine and dismantled mass lockdowns earlier this month. 

Wang Xia [pseudonym], a community worker at Beijing's Wangjing area, told the Global Times on December 15 that they are still buzzing around to provide daily necessities to those under home quarantine, and send elderly people to hospitals.

"For at least two years I dare not mute my phone, because there were calls to me day and night, some called to report their journeys back to Beijing [from some COVID-19 hot spots], or asked us for help during lockdowns, or consult current virus prevention policies," said Wang. 

Yet she believes her efforts were worthwhile. "Virulence of the virus only deceased to so low until now. And the country waited for this moment to change policies… For three years, we did our utmost to prevent the majority of people from being infected."

The Three-year Road to Overcome COVID-19 Graphics: Chen He, Tan Tengfei, Xia Qing/GT

The Three-year Road to Overcome COVID-19 Graphics: Chen He, Tan Tengfei, Xia Qing/GT

Different coping of "exit wave"

Ever since China optimized its COVID-19 responses, Western politicians and media began to bark at this change as "sudden" "irresponsible" and "ill prepared." In the latest case, US state department spokesman Ned Price said at a briefing on Monday that US is concerned China's COVID-19 outbreak might spawn new mutations of the virus.

Han Peng, a CGTN reporter who was stationed in the US since the beginning of 2019 and returned to China this December, experienced and is experiencing both countries' coping of "exit wave." He said China's opening-up differs in many grounds compared with US' "lying flat."

Admitting similarities such as empty streets following the opening-up, strained medical resources and the impact on supply chain, Han pointed out that the differences are, China waited until the highly deadly variants ebbed away, to avoid debacle in the US, such as hundreds of thousands white flags representing Americans who have died of COVID-19 placed over National Mall in Washington DC. 

Public services of China's key sectors, such as medical sector, are public-owned, so there is no sudden strike of medical employees as occurred in the US, said Han. 

In January 2022, medical workers across the US staged protests against working conditions that they say have rapidly deteriorated as hordes of COVID-19 patients push hospitals to the limit. 

In early 2020, the year of US presidential election, former US president Donald Trump draw outcry after suggests injecting disinfectant as treatment of COVID-19; and he constantly shunned donning of masks in public, in an attempt to downplay the severity of the coronavirus to shift attention on his mishandling of the pandemic and push economic activities back on track to win votes. 

As a result, US premature and chaotic reopening resulted more than 1 million deaths as of December 7, 2022, according to statista, a portal specialized in data.

Optimizing at right time

Wang Guangfa, a respiratory expert from Peking University First Hospital, told the Global Times on Tuesday that China's relaxation of its COVID-19 policies is not the same as Western countries' "lying flat" in previous years. "They gave up because they didn't have our system of keeping the virus at bay by mass testing and static management. Omicron transmits faster, but it has relatively low pathogenicity. If we still used the old way to cope with the Omicron wave, the price will be unbearable," Wang said.

"We have waited for three years to reopen with abundant backup plans to cope with the 'exit wave,' Wang said. "They were forced to surrender in face of much dangerous variants such as Delta." 

Wu Zunyou, chief epidemiologist of the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention, told a conference on Saturday that China has waited long enough for the public to get vaccinated. After three years, the rate of severe cases in China has been diminishing gradually, from 16.47 percent in 2020 to the current 0.18 percent. 

China's COVID-19 response has undergone gradual tweaks, the decisions are scientific, correct and in accordance with China's situation, said Wu. He also believes the three years we had earned, during which virulence of the virus weakened and more people got inoculated, has created chance for optimizing virus prevention, and helped the country to avoid large numbers of deaths.