Last updated 11 March 2020.
- A series of strict lockdowns restricted people’s movements.
- Social media apps were used to control how people moved around.
- New infection rates are now lower than in around 15 other countries.
The first reports of an outbreak came on 31 December 2019. A week later it was confirmed a new coronavirus was spreading. At that point, there had been no deaths linked to the virus. But that soon changed.
Within weeks, the number of fatalities was rising rapidly, and China became the epicentre of global coronavirus concerns. But now, with the World Health Organization calling coronavirus a pandemic, its falling rate of new infections could make the country a case study on how to bring COVID-19 under control.
"China has done an incredible job at slowing the spread of the virus," explains David Aikman, Chief Representative Officer, World Economc Forum, China. "I'm impressed to see the delicate balancing act the Chinese government is doing between getting the economy growing again and protecting public health - and I believe many countries could learn from China's experience."
But, how did it move to contain the virus?
On 23 January, Wuhan and 15 other cities in Hubei province were placed under strict quarantine after the area was inundated with coronavirus infections. Healthcare workers were drafted in from all over China to help, and two hospitals were built in just over a week to care for the rising number of patients.
The lockdown affected more than 50 million people. Public transport services were shut down, including buses, railways, flights, and ferries. In Wuhan, the airport, railway station and metro transit system were closed too – and no one could leave the city without permission.
Soon after, the doors to factories, offices, and schools also closed. And authorities used popular social platforms and apps to monitor movement, with a green, yellow and red traffic-light system on people’s mobile phones helping officials determine if the user should be allowed past guards at train stations and other checkpoints.
These measures were certainly strict – but it’s an approach that appears to be paying off.
"Some of the most effective steps China has taken are around reducing the transmission rate by encouraging work from home, closing schools and prohibiting large gatherings," explains Aikman.
But the work of ordinary citizens has also been significant - washing hands, reducing travel and not overburdening health systems: "The combination of top-down policies and bottom-up commitment from ordinary people to fight the spread of the virus is proving really powerful."
China is now experiencing its lowest rates of COVID-19 infection since December, with fewer new cases than 15 other countries. Across the nation, people are getting back to work, and President Xi Jinping has visited Wuhan for the first time since the outbreak began.
What is the World Economic Forum doing about the coronavirus outbreak?
Responding to the COVID-19 pandemic requires global cooperation among governments, international organizations and the business community, which is at the centre of the World Economic Forum’s mission as the International Organization for Public-Private Cooperation.
Since its launch on 11 March, the Forum’s COVID Action Platform has brought together 1,667 stakeholders from 1,106 businesses and organizations to mitigate the risk and impact of the unprecedented global health emergency that is COVID-19.
The platform is created with the support of the World Health Organization and is open to all businesses and industry groups, as well as other stakeholders, aiming to integrate and inform joint action.
As an organization, the Forum has a track record of supporting efforts to contain epidemics. In 2017, at our Annual Meeting, the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) was launched – bringing together experts from government, business, health, academia and civil society to accelerate the development of vaccines. CEPI is currently supporting the race to develop a vaccine against this strand of the coronavirus.
China isn’t the only Asian country to have had success in suppressing coronavirus.
Singapore wasted no time in cracking down on COVID-19 and has all but stopped it in its tracks. There are just over 150 confirmed coronavirus cases there. Infection rates have been modest and recovery rates impressive. A total of 93 people have fully recovered and discharged from hospital.
Like China, the authorities in Singapore have not been wary of taking firm action when necessary. Being an island state offers a number of advantages when it comes to tracking points of access and departure. Citizens who returned to Singapore from affected countries were immediately placed under quarantine conditions. Anyone lying about where they had been risked getting into trouble with the authorities.
In February, the Ministry of Health announced that two Singapore residents had been charged under the Infectious Diseases Act for giving false information about their health and travel details. Such offences can carry fines of more than $7,000, six months in prison, or both.
Another man, who breached a 14-day quarantine order, has lost his Singapore Permanent Resident status and been barred from reentering Singapore by the Immigration & Checkpoints Authority.