International media and public attention have recently focused on China’s epidemic situation amid the novel coronavirus outbreak. The United States, soon followed by other countries, even began restricting entry by Chinese nationals. All this even though, according to the Washington Post, the outbreak of flu in the U.S. is a much bigger threat for the American people than the spreading coronavirus in China.
The coronavirus outbreak in China has indeed become a pandemic, particularly in view of people’s unfamiliarity with this new virus and the mode of its transmission. Although the early response to the epidemic in Wuhan was questioned by the public, unified action by the whole government and society was quickly launched across the country.
At the central level, a new Central Leading Group on Responding to the Novel Coronavirus Pneumonia Outbreak, chaired by Chinese Premier Li Keqiang, was convened in the Central Political Bureau Standing Committee Meeting on January 25, 2020. Two days later, Chinese Vice Premier Sun Chunlan, leading a central government group, arrived in Wuhan to guide the epidemic control work in Hubei province. And to fight the epidemic, the model of “counterpart support” (对口支援) that appeared after the 2008 Wenchuan earthquake is being applied again. Under this model, 16 provinces will provide one-to-one support to the cities outside Wuhan, meaning that one province will be partnered with one city. The Chinese government’s response is also reflected in the high-speed construction of the two hospitals – Huoshenshan (Fire God Mountain) Hospital and Leishenshan (Thunder God Mountain) Hospital – in about 10 days. These new hospitals will specialize in treating thousands of novel coronavirus patients.
It is also notable that many cities in China have begun to implement strict control measures to minimize personnel travel and exchanges. Undoubtedly, while necessary, this is a very heavy, difficult decision, especially at a time when people usually would have started to return to work after the Spring Festival. Besides those in their key posts like government agencies, hospitals, and city infrastructure networks, numerous local community employees and volunteers have played a huge role in the tedious work of daily health-checks and providing accommodation and supplies.
Meanwhile, to address public concern, China’s National Supervision Commission has sent an independent investigation team to Wuhan to conduct a comprehensive investigation into the case of Dr. Li Wenliang, widely seen as an early “whistleblower” in this epidemic, who unfortunately died of coronavirus himself a few days ago.
So far, it is still too early to tell when the epidemic would start to subside. But it is obvious that the fight against this epidemic must be implemented with a “whole-of-government” and “whole-of-society” approach. This includes not only a strong, efficient, and transparent role for the government, but also the conscious and rational participation and involvement of the general public.
Despite the extreme complexity of the epidemic, the outbreak of novel coronavirus did expose some deficiencies in China’s current mechanism for giving early warnings regarding major events such as public health crises. These concerns may raise issues to be addressed by China’s “modernization of the national governance system and governance capability,” which was emphasized in the fourth plenary session of the 19th Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party in October 2019.
Nonetheless, we have enough reasons to believe that the series of decisive actions taken by the Chinese government in recent days and the spirit of solidarity, courage, and dedication of the whole nation shown in this crisis would definitely help China to fight the virus and overcome the crisis, and more importantly, to further implement and realize “modernization of the national governance system and governance capability,” particularly based on what has been lost and gained in this crisis.
Currently, Jin Kai is a visiting fellow at the Sigur Center for Asian Studies of Elliott School of International Affairs, George Washington University, Washington, D.C.