China shows COVID-19 Coronavirus can be ‘stopped in its tracks’
While more than 153,00 cases of the respiratory illness have been recorded globally as of Sunday, it is on the decline in China, demonstrating that the course of the outbreak there has been altered, according to WHO Representative in the country, Dr. Gauden Galea.
“It is an epidemic that has been nipped as it was growing and stopped in its tracks. This is very clear from the data that we have, as well as the observations that we can see in society in general”, he told UN News in the capital, Beijing, on Saturday.
“So that’s a big lesson: that the natural course of the outbreak does not need to be a very high peak that overwhelms health services. This lesson in containment, therefore, is a lesson that other countries can learn from and adapt for their own circumstances”.
Understanding ‘a pneumonia of unknown cause’
COVID-19 is the most recently discovered of the coronaviruses which are known to cause respiratory infections such as MERS and SARS.
WHO has been on the case since 31 December, when it was first informed that “a pneumonia of unknown cause” had been detected in Wuhan, the largest city in Hubei province in central China.
Dr. Galea reported that there were three main questions to understand during this initial phase: How the virus was being transmitted, its severity, and control measures.
“In a way, the first three weeks were very deeply involved in looking into the local epidemiological investigation, in asking questions of the national investigators, seeking interpretation by international networks of experts, developing risk communications around the information that we had, sending out the message across the media, reaching out to partners in the UN and in the missions in China based in Beijing”, he said.
Dr. Galea and colleagues travelled to Wuhan from 20-21 January, just days before the city was subjected to a lockdown. At the time, there was no overwhelming demand on the health services, though the situation had changed when Chinese and international health experts conducted a joint mission a month later.
Dr. Galea understood that while there were shortcomings at the time, creating an “alternative history” would have been difficult.
He highlighted the “high price” paid by Wuhan’s citizens with the lockdown, thus “buying time” for the rest of China and the world.
“But that containment was effective and did allow the rest of China to be able to contain the outbreak in a very effective manner. The shape of the epidemic and the small number of cases that were seen outside Hubei are a testimony to the success and the effectiveness”, he said.
“It’s very important to realise that such shortcomings are not unique to China, and that very few countries are manifesting any greater speed in action”.