No introduction needed, except for names. The first is Bruce Aylward, assistant director of WHo and director of the joint WHO-China joint mission. The second is Bill Brown, professor of Xiamen University’s School of Management, who has been a permanent resident for almost 30 years.
The systemic dimension of Chinese economic resilience may be known by many, but there are also many features at the local and household level that make a distinct difference during the time of an epidemic, or indeed any other disaster.
This article by Liang Xiaomin in the China Daily (here) explains in more detail:
Most Chinese people are staying at home and avoiding contact with others to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus amid the outbreak. Economic activities are suspended nationwide. However, the negative impacts on people’s daily life are relatively limited. Here are the reasons.
First, the timing of outbreak overlaps with the Spring Festival, reducing the negative impact on income. The Spring Festival is a 7-day national holiday in China and most companies are temporarily closed except for those in tertiary sectors like retail, accommodation and catering. Most of the employees get their payments before the holiday, while those in informal sectors have prepared cash flow in advance. For example, migrant workers who are paid on daily basis usually return home to gather with their family two weeks before the Spring Festival and get back to cities two weeks after the holiday. The overlapping period between self-quarantining and family gathering during the holiday alleviates the impact of the epidemic on their incomes.
Second, the characteristics of rural communities where most Chinese live during the outbreak alleviate their financial pressure. As of 2018, the proportion of rural population was 42.1 percent in China, much higher than that in the US (18.0 percent), South Korea (17.3 percent) and Japan (5.7 percent). The percentage remains quite high even excluding migrant workers. In China, an acquaintance society is a feature of rural communities, where rural residents benefit from interpersonal trust and intra-family transfers. Rural communities are also geographically and economically independent and can support residents’ daily life even during a lockdown for weeks. For those who plant most food by themselves, the damage of the temporary isolation is also limited.
Third, the high saving rate in China cushions the economic blow from the virus outbreak. According to OECD data, the household saving rate in China was 36.1 percent in 2016, much higher than the average level in OECD countries. These savings provide a buffer for Chinese residents against the income cut-off.
Fourth, the vulnerable are supported by the social security system. At the end of 2018, fiscal expenditure on minimum living allowances reached 146.25 billion yuan with a coverage of 45.28 million people. During the epidemic period, most vulnerable people within the system could subsist on the allowance. In the meantime, facing the temporary hardships suffered by some low-income people, the government adopted a flexible process and raised allowances with an extended coverage immediately.
Fifth, a sound internet infrastructure allows employees to work from home. As of April 2018, 95 percent of villages and 99 percent of the population have access to 4G. The fiber broadband network covers more than 95 percent villages in China. Major telecom operators in China have been cutting down internet costs in recent years. With accessible, affordable and high-speed internet, employees can work from home and get paid amid the outbreak.
Last, with the government’s strong actions to counteract the downward pressure on growth, the expectations concerning economic and employment factors remains stable. Attention is now paid on maintaining the normal economic and social order as the COVID-19 outbreak is being contained. Fiscal policies and monetary policies are adopted in a timely manner. Actions to lower the operating cost are taken in order to support enterprises. An array of aid policies stabilize expectations in regard to economic development.
Home quarantine during the Spring Festival has not led to severe blows to residents’ incomes in China. However, it should be admitted that the lockdown of Wuhan and Hubei has brought about some problems and the suspension of economic and social activities will lead to declining growth rate and increasing unemployment rate. This is also the reason why the Chinese government has adopted differentiated measures to resume production right after the outbreak is contained.
A series of long reads for the day.
First, a piece in China Daily called ‘Efficient measures key to containment’ (here).
Second, a detailed timeline has been published by the State Council Information Office, called ‘Timeline of China releasing information on COVID-19 and advancing international cooperation on epidemic response’. The full text is available on multiple platforms, but I am using one on Xinhua News (here).
Since many of you probably have long hours at home, it is well worth taking your time with these texts. But here are some of the key points:
Efficiency of the socialist system
Alongside the most noticeable features – Wuhan lockdown, massive testing, strict quarantine regulations and timely treatment－there are some other crucial features: swift national mobilization, especially assistance to Wuhan on a huge scale; cooperation from the public, which made various isolation and social distancing policies a reality; and the country’s strong command system with President Xi Jinping as the core, which ensured efficient and synchronized policies in various regions.
A careful read of the ‘Efficient Measures’ piece will show how dire the situation in Wuhan was at the beginning of the outbreak, with shortages of medical staff, equipment, and hospital beds. This experience is now being seen in other countries.
The massive difference was the way the whole of the country and whole of society responded in a highly coordinated manner. Manufacturers rapidly set up supply chains for medical equipment, the system of governance meant that teams of medical workers from each province in China were despatched to Wuhan, hundreds of locations were converted for quarantine and treatment, and two specific-purpose hospitals – Huoshenshan and Leishenshan – were built for severe cases at typical ‘Chinese Speed’. There were many, many more examples.
The key text is the timeline, but let me quote from an article published in The Lancet (here), already on 7 March, 2020:
Health authorities there have been working tirelessly to respond to and control the COVID-19 outbreak within China, providing countries around the world precious time needed to prepare for the possible arrival of the virus inside their borders. Importantly, health authorities in China have paved the way for the international scientific community to join the fight.
China’s doctors laid the foundation for this mobilisation of scientific and research muscle by rapidly identifying the new coronavirus in the middle of the influenza season. Chinese scientists lifted obstacles to researching the virus by sharing its genome sequencing publicly. The fact that this information was shared with networks worldwide is accelerating the design of vaccines and drugs targeted at the new coronavirus.
Wang Zhen, from the Shanghai Mental Health Center, said … traditional Chinese culture emphasizes collectivism, rather than individualism. “For us, the nation is the biggest collective, and collectivism will be activated when the nation faces a major disaster, so that we can carry out various disease control measures better than people in some Western countries.”
But this is not some vague concept:
Liu Jinlong, a professor of agriculture and rural area development at Renmin University of China, said, “Communities are at the frontline of epidemic control this time, and our efforts to improve community management in recent years have paid off.
“In places where more progress has been made in community management, such as the Pearl River Delta and Yangtze River Delta, epidemic control measures appear to be more timely and effective.”
Post-epidemic containment: a universal health ‘app’
To conclude: what does the China Model indicate after the pandemic is contained and before a vaccine is available?
One notable feature is a universal health ‘app’, which enables someone with a ‘green’ clearance to move about. The app also includes a map that identifies where the most recent infections have been in your area, with colour coding for how long ago such infections occurred. It uses AI logorithms to ensure real-time updates. In China, it is often attached to Wechat or Alipay apps, but it is noticeable that South Korea quickly followed the Chinese model and also uses such an app.
I notice an increasing number of calls in other places for such an ‘app’ (see here), but this development is fascinating, since it indicates profound cultural differences in understandings of the state, science and technology.
In those states that derive from the ‘Western’ liberal tradition, there are deep-seated suspicions of the state, science and technology. The reasons are many, but a major one is that the regimes in question have a long history of surveillance of the population. Couple this reality with the primacy of the individual (who is, as Marx already pointed out, in a profound contradiction between being a private individual and citizen of a state) and you have situation that leads to resistance to any universal health app as an ‘invasion’ of privacy.
By contrast, as Domenico Losurdo pointed out, in the countries that have been colonised or semi-colonised in the past, the state is generally seen in a good light. To be sure, it has to be a competent, transparent and thus trustworthy state (see here). Why this trust? A strong and capable state is the guarantee of freedom from (neo-)colonial interference, but it is also necessary for ensuring improved education, healthcare, care for the elderly, a robust economy, and so on. A comparable sensibility applies to science and technology (already with Deng Xiaoping), which are seen as productive forces in their own right and must be developed to improve the wellbeing of all.
For these reasons, a universal health ‘app’ is widely approved in a country like China. Simply put, it is necessary for the common good.
Traditional Chinese Medicine has played an important role in treating COVID-19 patients in China. As part of the socialist system’s mobilisation of all its resources to contain the epidemic, the largest number of TCM specialists – 4,900 – ever mobilised went to Wuhan at the height of the outbreak.
The focus was primarily on ensuring that mild and moderately ill patients did not progress to more severe stages and that they recovered more rapidly. But TCM is also used alongside other medicines for those in Intensive Care, and it continues to be used for the rehabilitation (see here) of those who have recovered.
I am also told by a specialist in China that TCM was used by medical staff working in Wuhan, ensuring very minimal transmission of the virus to the staff.
The article copied below was published in Xinhua News on 23 March, 2020:
Clinical observation showed that traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) has proven to be effective in the treatment of over 90 percent of all confirmed COVID-19 cases on the Chinese mainland, said a TCM official on Monday.
A total of 74,187 COVID-19 patients, or 91.5 percent of the total confirmed cases on the Chinese mainland, have received TCM treatment, said Yu Yanhong, Party chief of the National Administration of Traditional Chinese Medicine, at a press conference in Wuhan, capital of the hardest-hit province of Hubei.
In Hubei, TCM treatment has been given to 90.6 percent of COVID-19 patients.
All TCM prescriptions have effectively relieved symptoms, slowed the progression of the disease, improved the cure rate and reduced mortality and boosted the recovery of patients, said Yu.
Over 4,900 medics from TCM hospitals and institutions across China have been sent to aid the epidemic fight in Hubei, accounting for about 13 percent of all medics dispatched to the province.
“The scale and strength of the TCM aid team are unprecedented,” said Yu.
Zhang Boli, an academician of the Chinese Academy of Engineering, said at the press conference that TCM treatment has significantly lowered the proportion of patients whose conditions turned from mild to severe.
“None of the 564 patients at the TCM-oriented temporary hospital in Wuhan saw their health condition deteriorating into severe,” said Zhang. “We have therefore applied TCM treatment to over 10,000 patients in other makeshift hospitals, and the rate of patients developing into severe conditions were substantially reduced,” said Zhang.
XuanFeiBaiDu Granule can increase the lymphocyte recovery rate by 17 percent and the clinical cure rate by 22 percent in the controlled observation, according to Huang Luqi, an academician of the Chinese Academy of Engineering.
Liu Qingquan, head of the Beijing Hospital of Traditional Chinese Medicine, said that two TCM drugs — Jinhua Qinggan Granule and Lianhua Qingwen Capsule/Granule have proven to be effective in the treatment of mild COVID-19 cases, while Xuebijing Injection can help treat inflammation and coagulation dysfunction.
Yu added that China has worked out a unique “Chinese plan” to combine traditional Chinese medicine with western medicine, and several effective TCM drugs and prescriptions have been discovered to treat the disease.
“The epidemic knows no borders, and the virus is the common enemy of mankind. China is willing to share its experiences and effective treatment methods with the world,” said Yu.
A signature feature of China ‘smashing the curve’ of the COVID-19 epidemic is that no one is left behind.
This including hospitalising all people who have this type of coronavirus and then locating them in a hospital (or section thereof) in terms of whether they have mild, moderate, severe or critical symptoms. At the height of the outbreak and especially in Wuhan, tens of thousands of patients were all hospitalised.
Further, the socialist system in China was able to mobilise 42,000 medical professionals from across China to go to Wuhan. These ranged from crucial nurses to leading medical academicians, and included a massive mobilisation of the military’s medical resources. Most of them have returned home now, to heroes’ welcomes (for example, see here).
However, a few hundred critically ill patients remain in Intensive Care Units. A few thousand nurses, doctors and leading medical experts (for a description of the key experts, see here) remain in Wuhan and are focused on ensuring as many patients as possible recover.
As this article points out, ‘most ICU patients had underlying conditions and have been hospitalized since January’. The approach is to develop specific programs of treatment for each patient, combining ‘Western’ and Traditional Chinese Medicines.
The result: ‘The recovery rate of patients in severe or critical condition has increased from 14 percent to 88 percent’. At the peak in Wuhan, there were 9000 patients in critical condition. Not all could be saved, since about 3000 of them died. As I write, there are 265 critically ill patients remaining. In the last 24 hours, 30 have recovered and only one has died.
Instead of capitalist eugenics, this is socialism’s ‘no one is left behind’ in action.
Today – the Qingming Festival – was a national day of mourning in China for those who have died from the COVID-19 epidemic.
At 10.00am, 1.4 billion people all stopped and bowed their heads for 3 minutes. Sirens, car horns, ship horns – you name it – all wailed for the full 3 minutes.
Many around the world mourned with them, myself included.