In recent weeks, China has faced an unprecedented public health challenge. The novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19 has taken more than 3,000 lives and infected more than 80,000 people on the Chinese mainland.
Confronted with the sudden outbreak of the previously unknown virus, the Chinese government, led by President Xi Jinping, moved ahead with the most comprehensive and rigorous public health effort ever mounted in response to an epidemic. Despite disruption to economic activities and personal life, the Chinese people came together to contain the spread of the virus.
Stringent quarantine measures were imposed in many cities, including a complete lockdown of the city of Wuhan, the epicenter of the outbreak. People were required to stay at home to minimize the risk of virus transmission. Great efforts were made to identify all the suspected cases, enhance treatment of the confirmed cases and reduce the fatality rate. In Wuhan, two hospitals were constructed within two weeks, and a number of public facilities were converted into makeshift hospitals to admit all those patients with a positive diagnosis.
These efforts have yielded positive progress. Over the last few days, new confirmed cases and suspected cases have begun to decline both inside and outside the epicenter. The latest report, issued on Thursday, showed no new infections in 26 out of 31 province-level regions in China. Overall, the daily number of patients cured and discharged now surpasses that of new confirmed cases.
China’s actions were not simply to benefit our own people. By imposing stringent and forceful measures at home and working closely with the international community, including the World Health Organization, China served as a strong line of defense against the rapid spread of the epidemic, buying precious time for other countries to enhance preparedness. By providing timely updates on the epidemic and sharing information about our sequencing of the virus, we made it easier for other countries to tackle the virus on their shores. WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus commended China for “the extraordinary measures it has taken to contain the outbreak” and for “setting a new standard” for epidemic response.
New viruses like this one are a reminder that in the globalized era, epidemics know no borders. As Tedros noted, “This is time for solidarity, not stigma.”
Yet despite our need to work together, there have been disturbing reports from around the world about discrimination and stigmatization of the Chinese community. Xenophobia has gone rampant on social media. People who appear to be of Chinese descent have been physically and verbally attacked, and patients have shunned doctors of Chinese descent. And despite its unparalleled response to the crisis, the Chinese government has been attacked by some people out of ideological prejudice. The virus is understandably a source of concern, but it should not be exploited as an excuse for xenophobia or advancing a political agenda. At a time when the world is working hard to contain the spread of the coronavirus, we should guard against the spread of political and racist viruses as well.
What is gratifying is that there has also been an outpouring of support. We have received messages of empathy as well as donations of money and medical supplies, and these things have warmed the hearts of Chinese people and boosted the strength and confidence of those fighting at frontline.
At present, with about 90 countries reporting confirmed cases of COVID-19 and some still seeing a rapid increase of new infections, the global situation remains grim. It continues to demand international coordination and cooperation.
The outbreak is a reminder that, in the globalized era, we all live in a community with a shared future. China is committed to cooperating across borders on a worldwide response to the virus. While continuing to fight the epidemic at home, we will do as much as we can to assist those countries and regions experiencing a spread of the infections. We will further participate in global health governance and work together with international community to better address non-traditional security challenges.
COVID-19 won’t be the last international health crisis, and the bonds we forge today in coping with it will serve us well in the future.
Zhang Ping is consul general of the People's Republic of China in Los Angeles.