INTERNATIONAL

Can China’s model work for the West?

Two medical workersin Wuhan on completionof relief work.AFPSTR

Two medical workersin Wuhan on completionof relief work.AFPSTR  

Its top-down COVID-19 approach may be hard to replicate

The head of the World Health Organization believes China’s battle with COVID-19 offers a beacon of hope, but others question whether Beijing’s strategy can be followed by other countries — particularly Western democracies.

China has reported only one new local infection over the past four days, a seemingly remarkable turnaround given the chaos that surrounded the initial outbreak in the city of Wuhan. While some experts caution against accepting Beijing’s figures at face value, WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus insisted China’s success “provides hope for the rest of the world”.

But China is a particular case — a centrally-controlled, top-down, one-party authoritarian state that allows no dissent and can mobilise vast resources on a single issue. In January, China effectively shut down Wuhan and placed its 11 million residents in effective quarantine — a move it then replicated in the rest of Hubei province, putting 50 million people in mass isolation. Hundreds of millions of Chinese live in closed residential complexes where neighbourhood committees can police movement in and out — meaning compliance could be closely monitored.

“Containment works,” said Sharon Lewin, professor of medicine at the University of Melbourne. “Two weeks after the closure of Wuhan, which is exactly the incubation period, the number (of infections) started to drop.” In cities, it quickly became necessary to wear a mask as apartment blocks, businesses and even parks barred entry without one.

During the crisis, China produced up to 1.6 million N95 respirator masks per day, according to the official Xinhua news agency. To boost detection rates, temperature checkpoints were installed outside buildings and shops, or in public places. And in the high-tech country where privacy is limited, many localities require citizens to show a QR code on their phone that rates them as “green”, “yellow” or “red”.

This assessment — based on tracking of whether they visited a high-risk zone — is now an entrance requirement for many businesses.

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