The current health emergency in China, distressing as it is for those families in Wuhan and elsewhere who have lost their loved ones to the coronavirus, has at the same time brought to the fore the resilience and cohesion of Chinese society when it comes to tackling disasters of this magnitude.
At the time of writing, the virus has claimed the lives of over two hundred people in China, mostly in Hubei province where Wuhan is situated. There have so far been about 10,000 reported infections. There have in addition been 98 reported cases in 18 other countries, but as yet no fatalities.
To put these figures in perspective, an article on the Global Research website points out that Canada, whose population is roughly equivalent to that of Shanghai alone, has had more than 20,000 reported cases and 85 flu deaths so far this season. And in the United States there have so far been 140,000 flu victims hospitalised and around 8,500 deaths this season.
So it is well to keep in mind the global epidemiological context within which this new viral strain has emerged. (China’s coronavirus: A global health emergency is launched by Larry Romanoff, 31 January 2020)
That said, it is clear that the Chinese authorities are addressing the current problem with full seriousness, recognising that what makes the novel coronavirus especially dangerous is its high infectivity, and the likelihood that around 20 percent of people infected will develop into a critical condition.
China is collaborating closely with the World Health Organisation (WHO), sharing technical information and the genome of the new viral strain. Chinese embassy staff abroad are in close contact with foreign governments, keeping them up to speed on the latest developments in the fight against the disease, and it is noteworthy that many of the precautions China is taking far exceed those required by international health regulations.
WHO director general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus has said he has full confidence in the preventive measures China had adopted to curb the spread of the illness. In particular, the WHO has advised against overreacting and withdrawing foreign nationals from Wuhan – advice that has been ignored by Britain, France, Germany, Japan and the US for reasons that probably have more to do with creating panic than with genuine health concerns.
Miracle of state planning
The speed and scale of China’s response to this natural disaster has been astounding, and cannot but invite adverse contrast with the US foot-dragging over Hurricane Katrina.
The most striking example of China’s ability to mobilise all its forces to deal with the crisis has been the construction in Wuhan, in just ten days, of a custom-built hospital to tackle the virus.
Millions of Chinese were able to follow the construction of the Huoshenshan hospital blow by blow as it was live-streamed by state media. From Monday 3 February, about 1,400 medics seconded from the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) began work in the hospital.
It came as no surprise that the PLA should be in the vanguard of efforts to overcome the virus, given the close historic bonds between the liberation army and the civilian population.
The scale of the new hospital is breathtaking. It measures 365,000 square feet and is kitted out with 1,000 beds. Not content with this, work is already far advanced in the construction of a second new hospital in Wuhan, this one with 1,500 beds.
A mass effort
The construction of Huoshenshan hospital involved the collaboration of thousands of experts, construction workers, engineers and others, many of whom worked round the clock to get the job done.
Xinhua press agency explained: “When Fang Xiang knew he and his team had to finish the hospital in Wuhan in 10 days, he thought it was ‘mission impossible’. ‘For a project of this scale, it usually takes at least two years,’ said Fang, project manager of the Third Construction Co Ltd of China Construction Third Engineering Bureau.
“‘It takes at least a month to construct a temporary building, not to mention a new hospital for infectious diseases.’ In addition, with a big number of migrant workers partaking, it is difficult to provide adequate food and shelter on-site.” (China builds new hospital in 10 days to combat coronavirus, 2 February 2020)
All sectors of Chinese society are pitching in to assist in any way possible. The state-owned telecom providers established emergency responses to facilitate communications in Hubei, and the state-owned pharmaceutical companies have pulled out all the stops to develop vaccines against the virus and speed up the production of test kits and medical equipment.
And even some privately-owned hotels in Wuhan are offering free accommodation to any medical staff who might be finding it difficult to get transport home at the end of the shift.
The spirit of patriotism and comradeship was perhaps best captured in the words of one middle-aged Wuhan resident, Ma Jiaqiang. Ma, who volunteered to operate a digger for eight hours a day on the construction site, summed up the feelings of many when he explained simply: “I have been working in Wuhan. It is my home. I just had to take part. I feel honoured to be able to be part of this.” (Xinhua, op cit)
Sadly, the same spirit was not animating the French and US superstore chains Carrefour and Wal-Mart, now facing heavy fines for using the opportunity of the health crisis to jack up prices and defraud customers, despite having been warned about this shystering practice. (Global Research, op cit)
How wide is the gulf that separates imperialist values from those held dear by the Chinese people! Speaking of the progress that had been made since the earlier experience of the Sars crisis in 2003, China’s foreign minister, Comrade Wang Yi, noted:
“With the strong leadership of comrade Xi Jinping and the advantage of the socialist system, as well as the experience from Sars, we are more resolute in tackling this epidemic with more forceful and quicker action.”
We have every confidence that China will rise magnificently to the challenge.