China's top respiratory disease expert Zhong Nanshan says asymptomatic infections are under control as all anti-epidemic measures are in place across the nation. Photo: Xinhua

The novel coronavirus will be fully subdued in China by the end of this month, according to Zhong Nanshan, the country’s top pulmonologist.

Zhong, who has become the face of China’s academia in the fight against the viral outbreak and who has helped quell rumors and hearsay, assured his compatriots that by the end of this month China’s people can expect their lives to return to normal with the relaxation of domestic travel curbs.

Zhong is a leading authority on respiratory and other communicable diseases with the Guangzhou Medical University and the head of an expert panel advising top policymakers since the virus appeared in Wuhan at the end of 2019.

He said during a TV interview this week that he felt more optimistic than ever, but all nations must steel themselves for a war of attrition as Covid-19 could be here to stay, with a relapse likely coming next winter.

“Now that every country is enforcing aggressive measures like lockdowns and social distancing, they are starting to pay off. I believe the pandemic can be brought under control … My estimate is around late April. And the virus’ activity will certainly wane with the onset of summer,” said an upbeat Zhong.

His optimistic forecast notwithstanding, the contagion continues to tear through Europe and the United States with a resurgence of asymptomatic infections in some parts of China. Zhong could be talking about a sustained lull in the general epidemic situation in China, where those with acute conditions are recuperating and being discharged at a faster pace.

The country that was once ground zero of the now world-engulfing health crisis has 2,692 patients being treated and has already cured 76,791 as of Friday. It has a mortality rate lower than those in Italy, Spain, France and the United States, according to official data. The global tally of infections has hit the one million mark.

Zhong Nanshan is widely respected across China for his professionalism and courage to tell the truth, when local officials were bent on making light of the contagion situation. Photo: WeChat via Guangzhou Daily

But Zhong has still warned of Covid-19 retuning to strike down people when the temperature drops at the end of the year, and said people and governments must seize the warm months to fortify themselves.

Other health scholars including those with the World Health Organization also fear a reoccurrence of the virus each winter, like a flu.

The 83-year-old doctor also added that China’s cluster of silent carriers of Covid-19 without any prodromes warranted attention but not panic. He stressed that the multiple layers of monitoring and quarantine, as well as the “grid-by-grid” community tests and reporting already in place throughout the country, could fend off any second wave of infections, as they had proven highly effective during the worst of the plague in January and February.

In a bid to quash lingering incredulity about China’s official tally, in particular, the fact that asymptomatic patients were previously excluded, China’s National Health Commission has this week started updating the number of infected not suffering from any ailments. That figure stood at 1,027 on Friday.

In a previous interview with Reuters, Zhong hinted that China’s victory over the pandemic was a pyrrhic one, when the initial cover-ups and falsification of figures by local cadres cost the nation dearly.

He also called for more power to be delegated to the centers for disease control, but also cautioned that even although the epidemic first erupted in China, the pathogen might not have originated in the country.

The 83-year-old Zhong takes a nap in a dining car seat on an overnight train to Wuhan in January, when he rushed to the city to gauge the situation. He warned the nation of interpersonal transmission following his visit. Photo: WeChat
Zhong became a member of the Chinese Communist Party in February. Photo: Xinhua
Zhong heads an expert panel advising top policymakers, including Chinese Premier Li Keqiang. Photo: Handout

Zhong also shed tears for Li Wenliang, the physician with Wuhan’s Central Hospital who died in February from a Covid-19 infection after being reprimanded by the city’s police for “fear-mongering,” after he alerted his friends on WeChat about the emergence of a mysterious infectious disease at the end of December. 

Zhong is revered nationwide for his leading role in fighting off two viral scourges – the other was the SARS outbreak of 2003. He took an overnight train to virus-ravaged Wuhan in early January to gauge the situation on the ground.

He subsequently sounded the alarm on human-to-human transmission, when local officials in the city were still seeking to muzzle any talk of such risks. Wuhan was placed under a total lockdown on January 23, but with the situation improving, the citywide curfew and isolation will be lifted next Wednesday.

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