- Chinese hospitals overflowing with COVID-19 patients a few weeks ago now have empty beds.
- They learned that about 80% of infected people had mild to moderate disease, 13.8% had severe symptoms, and 6.1% had life-threatening episodes of respiratory failure, septic shock, or organ failure.
- Two widely used mobile phone apps, AliPay and WeChat in recent years have replaced cash in China.
Hospitals in China that were previously overcrowded with COVID-19 patients now have empty beds as reported by Science.
Trials of experimental drugs are having difficulty enrolling enough eligible patients.
And the number of new cases reported each day has plummeted over the past few weeks.
The findings surprised several of the visiting scientists.
“This report poses difficult questions for all countries currently considering their response to COVID-19,” says Steven Riley, an epidemiologist at Imperial College London.
There’s also uncertainty about what the virus, dubbed SARS-CoV-2, will do in China after the country inevitably lifts some of its strictest control measures and restarts its economy.
The report comes at a critical time in what many epidemiologists now consider a pandemic.
Just this past week, the number of affected countries shot up from 29 to 61.
Several countries have discovered that they already have community spread of the virus—as opposed to cases only in travellers from affected areas or people who were in direct contact with them—and the numbers of reported cases are growing exponentially.
Two weeks later, when the foreign experts packed their bags, that number had dropped to 409 cases.
The epidemic in China appears to have peaked in late January, according to the report.
Ambitious, agile, and aggressive
The team began in Beijing and then split into two groups that, all told, travelled to Shenzhen, Guangzhou, Chengdu, and the hardest-hit city, Wuhan.
They learned that about 80% of infected people had mild to moderate disease, 13.8% had severe symptoms, and 6.1% had life-threatening episodes of respiratory failure, septic shock, or organ failure.
Much of the report focuses on understanding how China achieved what many public health experts thought was impossible: containing the spread of a widely circulating respiratory virus.
Schools extended breaks that began in mid-January for the Lunar New Year.
Anyone who went outdoors had to wear a mask.
Two widely used mobile phone apps, AliPay and WeChat—which in recent years have replaced cash in China—helped enforce the restrictions, because they allow the government to keep track of people’s movements and even stop people with confirmed infections from travelling.
Deep commitment to collective action
How feasible these kinds of stringent measures are in other countries is debatable.
“There are plenty of things that would work to stop an outbreak that we would consider abhorrent in a just and free society.”
The report does mention some areas where China needs to improve, including the need “to more clearly communicate key data and developments internationally.”
“To me, as somebody who has spent a lot of time in China, it comes across as incredibly naïve—and if not naïve, then willfully blind to some of the approaches being taken,” Phelan says.
The report doesn’t mention other downsides of China’s strategy, says Jennifer Nuzzo, an epidemiologist at the Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health, who wonders what impact it had on, say, the treatment of cancer or HIV patients.
That’s like suppressing a forest fire, but not putting it out.
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