China’s experience shows coronavirus second wave need not be a disaster
- The good news is Beijing’s experience shows we can tame second waves in a way that minimises disruption through greater preparedness and understanding
- In the next stretch of the battle against the coronavirus, global anti-pandemic efforts need to be smarter and more collaborative
By early June, life in Beijing had largely returned to normal. Roads and restaurants were full again. Almost two months went by without a locally-acquired infection.
It is a reminder that Covid-19 spreads silently and can reappear at any time. Complete eradication is virtually impossible, a fact underlined by the re-emergence of clusters around the world, from Australia and Germany to Israel and South Korea.
What if Covid-19 is here to stay? Why we may need to prepare for the coronavirus becoming endemic
The first difference is our level of understanding and preparedness. During early outbreaks, we knew little and were ill-equipped to deal with the virus. Facing uncertainty, sweeping lockdowns were the only way to avert potential catastrophe.
These new conditions change the calculus of pandemic management. Saving lives remains the priority, but we can and must think holistically about actions we take to suppress the virus.
Coronavirus: Inside a Chinese lab joining global race to find a vaccine
Decisions to shut down cities are often framed as a direct trade-off between health and wealth. The longer the pandemic goes on, though, the more blurred this distinction becomes.
For one, lockdowns also kill people by disrupting health care and livelihoods. Avoidable non-coronavirus deaths from diseases such as cancer and measles are mounting, as are concerns about domestic violence and mental health.
Optimising our strategy for this new, prolonged phase of the pandemic means considering its health, economic and social dimensions together. Rather than sweeping measures, efforts to deal with each new cluster should be targeted according to risk. A calibrated approach allows us to focus resources on critical areas and replenish strength when possible for the uphill struggles to come.
Beijing tested nearly 2.3 million residents within a week and notified at-risk citizens by text message. Each of the city’s 300-plus subdistricts were categorised by risk, with 41 deemed medium or high risk at the peak of the outbreak. Forty communities were isolated. Elsewhere in the city, life and business could go on with certain precautions.
Responsive social mechanisms are the second ingredient of a calibrated response. Government, the private sector and non-profits collaborated to gather, disseminate and act on data. Grass-roots teams applied relevant measures for individual neighbourhoods, buildings and organisations.
This will cause local suffering and create reservoirs of potential reinfection for other countries. Each country will have to design their own systems by adapting best practices to local conditions, but the international community should do more to make relevant tools and expertise available.
Wang Huiyao is the founder of the Centre for China and Globalisation, a Beijing-based non-governmental think tank