China leads by example in containing the new coronavirus

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The epicentre of the pandemic, the Chinese city of Wuhan, took action in mid-January, just over a month after the first cases of a mysterious new coronavirus (later named SARS-CoV-2) were reported. On January 22, with 500 people affected in a city of 10 million, Wuhan declared a citywide quarantine. Two days later, classes at all levels of education were suspended. The Hubei region, of which Wuhan is the capital, had recorded 5,000 affected by January 30. It was then that a colossal engineering project was set in motion: the construction of a hospital with a capacity of 1000 people in just 10 days.


Through the social networks, many residents of Wuhan have been counting how their day-to-day life is: packages of commodities for which they only go down to the street on rare occasions; drones to control that all citizens wear their masks; records of entries and exits in the subway through QR codes throughout China, with colour codes: green if there is no danger, orange for those who have visited safe areas during the previous 14 days and red for those who must remain in quarantine. Leisure facilities such as bars, discos, cinemas, gyms and sports centres remain closed, and workplaces and even residences are restricted to visitors. In addition, to access certain public places, such as parks or restaurants (and even some private places, such as housing estates) the police take your temperature, identify you and report your situation.

Do you think these measures are excessive? There is an undeniable fact: the number of people infected is decreasing and, in addition, those recovered from COVID-19 are increasing every day, as we can see in the following table, from Johns Hopkins University.

What can we learn from China?

In Europe, Italy, France and Spain are the countries with the highest number of infections (12,462, 2,284 and 2,277 respectively). The declaration of the pandemic that the WHO issued yesterday was accompanied with some words that can be interpreted as a 'reprimand' to the countries that are trying to contain the new coronavirus. The WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said he was "concerned, both by the alarming levels of spread and by the alarming levels of inaction". That word, 'inaction', is what leads us to compare ourselves with countries like China, which in 2002 suffered another outbreak of similar characteristics, SARS (with a mortality rate of 10 %, although a lower capacity of propagation), and which allowed them to 'train' themselves to mitigate an epidemic.

So, what can we learn from China? The answer is not clear. Interestingly, if we look at the Global Health Security Index (GHS Index), China is less prepared to face global health challenges than other European countries, such as France and England; or even Thailand, Russia, Australia and the United States. From a ranking of 195 countries, it is in 51st place, below Spain (15th); Mexico (28th), Argentina and Chile (25th and 27th). However, China is very close to countries like Peru (49th) and Colombia (65th). The United States leads the ranking, followed by the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, Thailand, South Korea, Sweden and Finland.

The GHS is a global index that analyses the potential of the countries of the world in health safety in six categories: prevention, detection, rapid response, health system, capacity to collect data and risk to the environment. However, as a measurement system, it has its shortcomings: it only analyses the health information that each country has published in its official channels.

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