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A Guangzhou Medical University team led by respiratory specialist Zhong Nanshan is among those who will receive the National Award for Excellence in Innovation. Photo: China News Service

China recognises scientists and medical experts on front line of coronavirus pandemic

  • Awards for innovation will be given to teams who treated patients in the initial epicentre of Wuhan and scientists on the ground
  • Observers see it as a way to boost morale and support for Communist Party, as Beijing seeks to ‘show the world it can bring a solution to the crisis’
As researchers around the world race to develop treatments and a vaccine for the new coronavirus, Beijing is recognising the medical experts and scientists leading efforts to fight the pandemic in China.
A team at Guangzhou Medical University led by respiratory disease specialist Zhong Nanshan and experts at the makeshift Leishenshan Hospital in Wuhan – where the first cases of the new virus were reported late last year – are among those who will receive the National Award for Excellence in Innovation.

Backed by Beijing, the awards for more than 300 teams and individuals were announced on Monday by the China Association for Science and Technology, a non-governmental organisation of industry professionals.

Also on the list are medical teams from the General Hospital of the People’s Liberation Army and the Peking University Third Hospital, which were sent to help treat Covid-19 patients in Wuhan. At the time, hospitals and medical staff were overwhelmed and struggling to treat people with the pneumonia-like illness.

Leishenshan Hospital was built at speed in January to treat Covid-19 patients. A team of medical experts at the hospital will receive an innovation award. Photo: Xinhua

Scientists fighting on the virus front line will also be honoured. They include Zhang Boli, president of the Tianjin University of Traditional Chinese Medicine, who led the TCM treatment programme in Wuhan and is one of 29 award winners who will receive a medal as higher recognition of his achievements. Bin Cao, a respiratory expert and vice-president of the China-Japan Friendship Hospital in Beijing, will also be recognised for helping to lead the battle in Wuhan.

Prominent epidemiologist Li Lanjuan is one of four female scientists who will receive a medal. She went to Wuhan in January as part of an advisory group that confirmed the virus could be transmitted between humans and looked at how the new strain was mutating.

Epidemiologist Li Lanjuan was part of an advisory group in Wuhan that confirmed the virus could be transmitted between humans. Photo: Xinhua

Researchers worldwide are trying to find a vaccine for the virus, which has infected more than 4 million people globally, with over 286,000 deaths. Chinese institutes are involved in five of the eight vaccine candidates undergoing clinical trials at present, according to the World Health Organisation.

So far, more than 70 separate clinical studies on Covid-19 have been carried out in China, according to a coronavirus research index put together by Finbold, a financial information provider based in Britain. The United States tops the list with 209 studies and France is next with 174.

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Observers said recognising people who contributed to the virus fight was a way to boost morale and political support for the ruling Communist Party, and it was also an incentive to continue the work.

“Those who can make breakthroughs in developing a vaccine and/or treatment will no doubt be considered leaders in the worldwide fight against the virus,” said Tang Wenfang, head and chair professor of social science at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology.

“This is a huge political benefit for any government,” he said, noting that research on the virus was a worldwide race.

“China feels the need to take the lead in the Covid-19 research and show the world that it can bring a solution to the crisis, particularly under the current coordinated media attacks in the West that blame China for the problem,” Tang said.

Beijing is under mounting international pressure, particularly from the United States, to allow an inquiry into how the pandemic started and whether it was linked to a laboratory in Wuhan. The two countries have engaged in a blame game over the virus and traded accusations over its origin.
On Monday, US President Donald Trump told a Chinese-born American reporter to “ask China” in response to her question about why it mattered that the US was doing “far better” in coronavirus testing than other countries when many people were losing their lives.

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Recognising doctors and research teams for their work was not an unusual move, according to Nitin Agarwala, a research fellow at the National Maritime Foundation in New Delhi, who has studied China’s science and technology policy.

“It is just another way of saying thank you to the people at the forefront and has no relationship with the future of intended research into Covid-19,” Agarwala said.