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Learning from the best practices, not scapegoating, will save lives

By Chen Weihua | China Daily | Updated: 2020-04-03 07:19

A health researcher shows a program, newly launched by Shanghai East Hospital of Tongji University and Stermirna Therapeutics Co, to develop an mRNA vaccine targeting the novel coronavirus, in Shanghai, Jan 29, 2020. [Photo/Xinhua]

China has long been a favorite bogeyman for some Western politicians to divert attention from their own failures. But playing such a game in the midst of a pandemic is deflecting attention on the real issue of saving lives. It will kill people, possibly many of them.

The politicians, especially government leaders, should instead heed the advice of the scientists and doctors associated with the World Health Organization and other medical and public health institutions. They should learn from the experiences of China, the Republic of Korea and some other East Asian countries and regions which have largely contained the novel coronavirus outbreak at home.

This is important for the United States and Europe given that they are the new epicenters of the pandemic, and the respective death toll in US, Italy and Spain has all exceeded that in China.

Much of Europe and the US have been in lockdown mode for the past weeks. Yet most measures were not taken as early as required, nor are they as decisive, comprehensive and stringent as those taken by China.

WHO experts have repeatedly warned that social distancing alone is not enough, countries also need to aggressively pursue testing, isolation and contact tracing, which China has been doing during the past months to control the virus.

Watching CNN, I was shocked to find that some healthcare workers in New York still are not as well-shielded by personal protective equipment as their Chinese counterparts combating the outbreak.

Of the more than 42,000 Chinese medical professionals from across China who went to Wuhan to help fight the epidemic, none was infected. Which speaks volumes about China's success in protecting its front-line healthcare workers. By contrast, in European countries and the US, there have been reports of healthcare workers being infected, and even dying of novel coronavirus.

With the number of confirmed cases still rising in the US and some European nations, no one seems sure when will the infection curve peak there. This is deeply disturbing.

For the past two months, I have been wondering why wearing a face mask is not even recommended, let alone being made mandatory, in places where social distancing is not possible, such as supermarkets, elevators, narrow hallways and sidewalks in many US and European cities.

Austria's decision on Monday to make mask-wearing in supermarkets and some other public places mandatory is encouraging. So far, Austria, the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Bosnia-Herzegovina are the four European countries that have made wearing a face mask in public compulsory to prevent the spread of the virus.

With a population of 11 million people, similar to that of Belgium, the Czech Republic has only 3,604 confirmed cases and 40 deaths on Thursday, which are much lower than Belgium's 13,964 cases and 828 deaths. Making face masks mandatory in the Czech Republic, I believe, helped keep the number of confirmed cases as well as the death toll low.

Robert Redfield, director of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said this week that his agency is taking another look at the data on the use of face masks by the general public. On Wednesday, the WHO said it is also reviewing the issue. At present, though, both the CDC and the WHO say only people who are sick or are caring for someone who is sick need to wear a face mask.

The recent warning by Gao Fu, director general of the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention that the US and Europe are making a "big mistake" by not making mask-wearing compulsory should be a wake-up call for them.

It is things like these that the government leaders should focus on, because they help save lives. Scapegoating does just the opposite.

The author is chief of China Daily EU Bureau based in Brussels.


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