This is the translation of a key article evaluating the current situation of the coronavirus epidemic both in China and internationally by one of China’s most followed and influential Chinese foreign policy commentators, Zhan Hao.
Zhan Hao’s early article on the coronavirus threat on 29 January, ‘In response to the Wuhan epidemic,’ had 19 million hits in China. He has over four million followers on Weibo, the Chinese equivalent of Twitter, and his daily WeChat newsletter has 3.9 million followers. In summary, outside the official state media, Zhan Hao’s analysis is one of the most followed and influential in China.
The key conclusion of Zhan Hao’s analysis on the coronavirus situation is that the extremely strong measures taken by China against the coronavirus are containing the epidemic in China. But there is a great threat that the failure of Western countries to take similarly strong measures will allow the virus to spread outside China.
This is literally a life and death question for hundreds of millions of people in ‘the West.’ As the data and analysis in the article is compelling, and widely followed in China, it is very strongly recommended to all those concerned with the coronaviruses’ grave threat of humanity. The latest developments, the spread of the virus in Italy and the report of high numbers of deaths in Iran strongly confirm the analysis in the article.
Introduction by John Ross
Published on Learning from China, Feb 25, 2020
Japan, South Korea, Iran … Will the epidemic spread globally?
The situation with the coronavirus in China is getting better. Let’s look at some data first: There were 397 new confirmed cases nationwide on 21 February, of which 366 new cases were confirmed in Hubei and 314 new cases were confirmed in Wuhan the capital of Hubei province. The previous recent increase in cases across the country was mainly due to the sudden increase in confirmed cases of the prison system – which had not previously been included in the reporting system. In fact, the data on 21 February reflected that, stripping this factor out, the newly confirmed diagnoses declined across the country, in Hubei, and Wuhan. The data on 21 reflected again. At the same time, we saw 2,393 new cured and discharged cases on 21 February, far exceeding the 397 newly confirmed cases. The number of existing confirmed cases in Hubei Province has also begun to decrease. Nationwide, on 20 February there were zero new cases in 14 provinces and cities.
It can be seen that, with the situation of the epidemic in the country continuing to improve for more than half a month, the epidemic situation in Hubei, especially Wuhan, has also seen (reversable) changes in the past three days. The only worrying data is that there are still more than 1,000 new suspected cases every day. Although the number of new cases has been greatly reduced, the absolute number is still large. Of course, not all of suspected cases are actual infections. Under normal circumstances, the data will be getting smaller and smaller.
In the future, with the passage of time, the number of newly diagnosed cases nationwide in China should soon drop to below 100, and the number of provinces with zero declarations will continue to increase, and the country is accelerating to return to normal. From the perspective of the present author, we need to pay great attention to the fact that with the continuous resumption of work in all walks of life across the country, cluster-like infections like those in the prison system must be eradicated, otherwise the epidemic may come back to life locally, the cost of repeated outbreaks is very high.
The development situation of the epidemic in Wuhan has now been reversed, and the epidemic situation in China is moving towards a manageable state. We are not far away from defeating the epidemic. As long as we continue to persist and do not relax, we will be able to overcome the epidemic in the near future.
However, although the epidemic situation in China is becoming more and more controllable, and the situation continues to improve, on a global scale, the situation is showing signs of deterioration.
In East Asia, the outbreaks in Japan and South Korea have deteriorated to varying degrees, and the situation in Iran in the Middle East is worrying.
In Japan, the passengers on the cruise ship Diamond Princess were diagnosed with a large number of infections. As of 20 February, the number of confirmed infections in Japan has reached 712, and infected persons in which the origin of their contact with the virus is unknown have appeared, which has significantly worsened the uncontrollability of the epidemic. Compared with the standards for diagnosis and treatment in China, the diagnosis in Japan is much more limited and no centralized isolation and control measures have been taken.
According to Kyodo News Agency, Japan ’s Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare requires that people with cold symptoms and fever above 37.5 degrees for more than four days, or who feel very weak and have difficulty breathing, should contact consultation centres located in health facilities all over the country. This general standard is set to prevent the influx of mild patients into medical institutions and to therefore prevent damage to the diagnosis and treatment functions. It is also intended to detect and treat critically ill patients as soon as possible. According to the published general guidelines for consultations and medical consultations, if a cold or other symptoms such as fever occurs, the person is required not to go to school or work, to avoid going out, and to take a daily temperature record. Obviously, under such limited standards, it is difficult to prevent and control the situation once an outbreak occurs.
Moreover, compared with the Chinese government’s great attention to the issue, the Japanese government’s attention is weak in all aspects and the efficiency of epidemic prevention is much lower. Japan at present relies mainly on the public’s awareness of epidemic prevention, and the government only plays the role of supplying information. From the perspective of the present author the Japanese government has taken this position for two reasons: one is that the Japanese government lacks large-scale social mobilization capabilities, and the other is that the Japanese government is worried that public opinion will become too tense and this will affect the Tokyo Olympics.
On the specific protection of commuting to work, the Japanese government has left the specific measures to companies, and companies let individuals directly decide on protection measures. This is completely different from the concept of epidemic prevention pursued in China. Moreover, until just a few days ago, Japan still permitted large scale gatherings of people. The Tokyo Metropolitan Government has just decided that in the next three weeks, in principle, all major indoor events and catering activities that had originally been planned to be hosted by Tokyo will be postponed or cancelled.
Compared to Japan, South Korea’s situation is even more worrying. According to the Yonhap News Agency reported on 22 February, there were 142 newly diagnosed cases in South Korea, to make a total of 346 cases. Although this was less than Japan in absolute numbers, the number of newly diagnosed diagnoses in South Korea is increasing rapidly.
The outbreak in South Korea suddenly and sharply worsened on 20 February due to the emergence of super-spreaders. Moreover, the situation is not good in terms of the place of transmission. The place where the epidemic has spread is Daegu, which is only about 300 kilometres from the capita Seoul. At the same time, a case of collective infection occurred in a hospital in Gyeongsangbuk-do, South Korea, and a cross infection was caused by multiple medical staff.
Currently, most of the newly confirmed cases in South Korea are concentrated in Daegu and Gyeongsangbuk-do. After more than 100 new cases were confirmed on 20 February the number of newly confirmed cases on 21 February increased to 142. Whether this spreading momentum can be contained in the future needs further observation. Fortunately, the South Korean government attaches great importance to this issue and has started a large-scale prevention and control measures, but the overall situation is not too optimistic.
Even more worrying is the situation Iran. According to Iranian official data, as of now, a total of 18 people in Iran have been diagnosed with new coronavirus pneumonia with four deaths. Although the number of confirmed cases is still small, people feel that the situation is even more serious. Iran does not know the method of transmission of these people, but it can be confirmed that they have no direct contact with Chinese people. This situation means that although there are still few officially confirmed cases, the actual situation may be that the virus has already spread. As the traditional channels are not in control once the epidemic has spread it would be very difficult to control.
According to the latest news, an Iranian Ministry of Health official said that as the 13 newly diagnosed cases have come from four different cities in Iran this indicates that the virus has spread to multiple cities, even to all Iranian cities
According to a report from Naharnet, Lebanon, the first confirmed case of new crown pneumonia occurred in Lebanon. The patient was a Lebanese citizen who returned from Iran by air, which means that the epidemic has begun to spread to Iran’s neighbouring countries. Furthermore some of these – Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria all are in the midst of war. In such a situation where is there any prevention capability against epidemics? In addition, in Pakistan and India epidemic prevention capabilities are also fragile, and medical conditions in African countries are even worse.
Japan and South Korea are both very developed economies and very densely populated countries. If they are not well controlled, the epidemic will likely spread rapidly. Especially in countries like Japan, where crowds gather, once a super communicator appears, it is easy for the situation to get out of control.
Of course, the situation in Japan and South Korea is not so bad. On the one hand, the epidemic has not yet spread on a large scale. On the other hand, both countries belong to the group of developed economies. The information level of the population is high and protection awareness is strong. The government and the citizens need to pay attention to it in a timely manner. It is still relatively easy to control the situation, so the probability of good control of the epidemic situation is still large, and you must take effective measures in a timely manner, especially personal protection.
The situation in Iran is even more dangerous. After all, medical conditions are too poor. Once it spreads, I am afraid that the people have no basic self-protection ability. Not only that, because the entire Middle East is in turmoil and medical conditions are relatively backward, once the epidemic spreads widely, considering that the new coronavirus virus is highly contagious it will soon enter an uncontrollable situation.
Some have claimed that the toxicity of the new coronavirus has decreased. There is no evidence proving this. The decline in the speed of transmission in China is not due to changes in the virus, but because China has adopted very strong protective measures and has been prepared to pay a great price to do so.
In fact, in this world, the countries that are willing to pay such a high price as China to prevent and control the epidemic are rare. The fact is that even the United States will not do that. At the time of the 2009 H1N1 epidemic, the United States took measures only six months after its development. Singapore is a developed country with a per capita GDP approximating that of the United States, but Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong has made it clear that Singapore cannot prevent and control the virus in the way that China dids. Moreover, no country can mobilize the entire population to cooperate in prevention and control as China has. Economically backward countries cannot even carry out basic protection.
Based on this reality, we have to judge whether the epidemic is spreading globally. The key depends on whether it will spread in developed countries such as Japan and South Korea. Once it spreads in Japan and South Korea, it will be difficult for Europe and the United States to completely avoid it.
As for the Middle East, Central Asia, and Africa, from the perspective of the present author once a country like Iran, or a country that is even less developed that Iran, has an outbreak which is out of control it will quickly spread to neighbouring countries. Since other countries cannot achieve strict prevention and control, the epidemic can easily get out of control. After the outbreak in China, China adopted extremely powerful measures to prevent and control the virus. The virus did not spread uncontrollably from China to the whole world, but some countries still cannot achieve timely prevention and control measures, which gives the virus an opportunity. At present, we can only hope that developed countries such as Japan and South Korea can curb the widespread spread of the virus, and on the other hand, countries such as Iran are able not to have a widespread epidemic. At present, the situation doesn’t look great.
In fact, in some countries, there is no control at all at present, and even the work of testing and diagnosis is not carried out. If the epidemic spreads the situation will become uncontrollable and it will only be able to out naturally.
In addition, according to Japanese media reports, in the United States among previously counted influenza data, there are actually cases of nova coronavirus. This report has not been confirmed by the US. If this information is true, the situation in the United States may also be worse than expected. However, this news is not necessarily true, because with the high US detection capabilities, if a large-scale epidemic occurs it should not be undetectable. The number of confirmed cases should not be so small. The Japanese media’s reports may be to assuage domestic sentiment in order to avoid affecting the Olympics.
The nova coronavirus is mainly transmitted by droplets, so the core of epidemic prevention lies in isolation and protection. Protection is divided into state-level organized protection and personal self-protection, and especially the personal self-protection of citizens is very important. This is why countries with higher population information and education such as Japan and South Korea can relatively easier prevent and control the spread of the virus than developing countries.
However, from the perspective of the present author, isolation needs to be carried out by the state’s medical facilities, and it needs to be completed as early as possible to avoid large-scale spreading of the virus. Because if the virus really spreads on a large scale, no other country will have the ability to mobilize the entire population like China and to mobilize medical personnel and medical supplies on a large scale to centralize the epidemic. Without that ability, and with an inability to prevent the spread of the epidemic, then you can only rely on luck.
The epidemic in China is becoming controllable, but the risk of the spread of the epidemic worldwide is increasing. In the future, it will be a critical stage for us to observe whether the epidemic will erupt globally. Preventing and controlling the epidemic is a matter for the whole world, and nations around the world need to unite and respond together!