On September 8, China held a national ceremony at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing to honor those fighting against the Covid-19 epidemic, where President Xi Jinping delivered a speech applauding China’s triumph.
The Covid-19 epidemic was considered a major public health emergency with the fastest spread, the widest range, and the severest prevention and control requirements since the founding of the People’s Republic of China in 1949.
However, China successfully contained it in just three months, while many other countries are still struggling desperately. How did China accomplish it? There were three key pillars underpinning its success, namely strong leadership, a comprehensive mechanism, and broad support.
First, strong leadership ensured the right direction and strategy in the Covid-19 war. Although some may not be willing to admit it, the fact is there was strong leadership from the Communist Party of China (CPC).
In comparison, the US under President Donald Trump’s administration has according to some metrics become the country worst-hit by Covid-19.
To study the epidemic, 21 ad hoc meetings were convened at the CPC’s top decision-making body.
Premier Li Keqiang was appointed to head the Leading Group of the CPC Central Committee on the Response to the Covid-19 Outbreak. The CPC Central Committee also sent a dedicated Central Guidance Group (CGG) led by Vice-Premier Sun Chunlan to Wuhan city and Hubei province.
From January 27 to April 27, the CGG stayed in the epicenter for three months and directly steered the battle on the frontline. More than 4.6 million grassroots party organizations led the fight on the ground across the country.
Second, only a comprehensive mechanism could fully cope with the Covid-19 crisis. The pandemic is not only a serious public health issue, but also a complex economic, social, and political problem, which needs systematic responses.
In January, China set up the Joint Prevention and Control Mechanism of the State Council (JPCMSC) at the central government level, consisting of 32 agencies and covering disease prevention and control, scientific research, publicity, foreign affairs, logistics support, and frontline work.
Under the JPCMSC, the whole Chinese society was mobilized and integrated into the centralized mechanism. Local governments, communities, enterprises, hospitals, research institutions, schools, military forces, and non-governmental organizations not only performed their own duties but also cooperated with one another smoothly.
One outstanding evidence of the effectiveness of such comprehensive mechanism is that two makeshift hospitals (Huoshenshan and Leishenshan) and 16 mobile cabin hospitals were built within just a couple of days. China also established a seamless and effective process to find and test, isolate, and treat Covid-19 cases.
Third, without broad support, the Covid-19 battle would have lost ground. The Covid-19 battle had to be a “people’s war” in which everybody played a role. Mask-wearing, social distancing, self-isolation, and quarantine are effective ways to reduce the spread of the virus that causes Covid-19. However, those practices need individuals’ discipline to be fully obeyed, but are seen outside China as against so-called “personal freedom,” especially in the West.
With the understanding and cooperation of its people, the Chinese government was able to implement the most comprehensive, strictest and most thorough prevention and control measures to battle the epidemic. By contrast, many Western countries have been facing policy failure as their residents are not so supportive.
In particular, if it had not had broad support from the whole nation and overseas Chinese, the epicenter Wuhan would have not recovered so quickly. When Wuhan was devastated by the Covid-19 outbreak, more than 40,000 medical workers across China and numerous items of personal protective equipment (PPE) mainly donated by overseas Chinese were generously sent to the city. Besides government aid, Chinese people voluntarily supported one another during the crisis.
From chaotic panic to a comprehensive response and systematic recovery, China has demonstrated remarkable resilience, adaptability, resourcefulness, and self-reliance. Dr Bruce Aylward, who led a World Health Organization team to China, stressed that the country’s counterattack could be replicated, but it would require speed, money, imagination and political courage. Unfortunately, many countries lack them.
Sun Xi, a China-born alumnus of the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy at the National University of Singapore, is an independent commentary writer based in Singapore. He is also founder and CEO of ESGuru, a Singapore-based consultancy firm specializing in environmental, social and governance issues.