US, WASHINGTON (ORDO NEWS) — For the first time in several months, the Chinese province of Hubei, where the coronavirus first appeared, attracted attention for a good reason. The number of COVID-19 diseases there fell almost to zero, and last week the authorities lifted the ban on entry and exit from this province, which was in strict isolation for 60 days.
But now scientists and the rest of the world are closely watching her, trying to understand if these concessions will lead to the emergence of new cases of the disease. As preliminary analytical data show, these fears are not unfounded.
“The time has come to ease isolation measures, but we need to be vigilant because a second wave of infections could arise,” says Ben Cowling, an epidemiologist at Hong Kong University who oversees the situation in China. If the second wave comes, then it should be expected by the end of April, says Cowling.
How the situation will develop in Hubei and throughout China is relevant for many European countries and some American states that have limited movement within their borders, closed most of the companies, schools, universities, and ordered the population to stay home to stop the spread of the virus.
The development of the outbreak simulated in Britain showed that social distance measures, including the closure of schools and universities, would have to be maintained for almost two years, so that the number of seriously ill patients with COVID-19 who were admitted to hospitals remained at an acceptable level.
But if the experience of China shows that when the strict isolation mode is canceled, the COVID-19 flash does not repeat, such long-term restrictions may not be necessary.
In the Chinese provinces, they will now conduct universal testing and track contacts to identify new infections. In addition, to prevent a new outbreak, the country will maintain some rules of social distance. China also closed its borders to all but its own citizens, so that they would not bring infection into the country. Residents returning to the country will be quarantined for 14 days.
But some scholars say that the situation in China is different from other countries, as his government acted decisively, using contact restriction measures to slow the spread of coronavirus, and also extensively tested the population and isolated the infected in order to eliminate potential sources of infection.
Such a strategy has helped China contain the epidemic. However, other countries, such as Italy and Spain, have focused mainly on slowing the spread of the virus through social distance, without resorting to measures of universal verification and tracking of contacts. Cowling believes that these countries will have more problems when they try to return to normal.
However, the risk of new outbreaks in China is very high, because the virus is easily transmitted from person to person, and some cases of infection remain undetected. This is evidenced by the specialist in infectious diseases from Hong Kong University Gabriel Leung (Gabriel Leung). It is possible that quarantine alone will not be enough, and harsh measures will again be needed to suppress the virus.
“The contradictions between the need to protect health, maintain the economy and fight for the emotional balance of people will create problems for every government in the foreseeable future,” he says.
Relaxation of restrictions
Life in Hubei, where about 60 million people live, has not yet returned to normal, but people are gradually leaving their homes and returning to work. Factories and factories are reopening. Universities, schools and kindergartens are still closed, because authorities say that first you need to “conduct a scientific assessment of the epidemiological situation.”
Entry and exit from the provincial capital of Wuhan is limited until April 8th. Before this date, departing and arriving must be tested for the virus. After March 18, only one new case of the disease was recorded in Hubei.
A group of British scientists built a model to understand whether a new outbreak would result in the removal of restrictions on movement in the six Chinese provinces with the largest number of infected COVID-19. These are the provinces of Hubei, Beijing, Guangdong, Henan, Hunan and Zhejiang, where strict isolation measures have helped reduce the number of new diseases to almost zero.
This group, led by infectious disease scientists Neil Ferguson and Steven Riley from Imperial College London, found that although human movement and economic activity in these regions increased at the end of February (with the exception of Hubei), the number of new infections remained close to zero. Hubei was opened in March, but even there the number of new diseases remains low. Scientists came to the conclusion that having restrained the virus with harsh isolation measures, “China has achieved some success in implementing a strict policy of social distance.”
“So far, so good,” says Andrew Tatem, a researcher at the University of Southampton, at the University of Southampton. However, he notes that these findings should be treated with caution. In the six regions where scientists made their calculations, the volume of displacement and economic activity was half that before the epidemic, with the exception of Zhejiang, where it reached the level before the pandemic.
In addition, there may be a time lag between the increase in activity and the reporting of new cases. “We are at the stage of“ expectation and observation”. It will be very interesting to look at this picture when life comes back to normal and activity increases, ”says Tatem.
According to Leun, the virus is difficult to recover among the population, a significant part of which (50-70%) have already been ill and received immunity. But even in Wuhan, which accounts for more than half of all those infected in China (81,000), the number of people who become ill and become immune from the virus is less than 10%. This means that many more people are vulnerable to infection. Vaccination could increase the proportion of people with immunity, but the vaccine may not appear earlier than in a year. “This data does not allow us to breathe a sigh of relief,” says Leun.
To understand how risky the weakening of tough measures is, one does not have to go far. “Just look at Hong Kong and it will immediately become clear what can happen if the infection resumes,” says Tatem. Hong Kong, as well as Singapore and Taiwan have restrained the spread of coronavirus through active virus checks and contact tracing. But last week, a new leap occurred in all three regions, and the number of infected people increased. All three regions have temporarily banned the arrival of guests from abroad, and returning residents are placed in quarantine for two weeks.
Containment measures should be lifted “gradually, with great care, very carefully monitoring the consequences,” says Tatem.
Check and track
China continues to monitor COVID-19 nationwide. The provinces give all residents a QR-code that looks like a barcode, which contains information that is read during scanning. There are all the details about the state of human health and about his movements. If a person was in areas that are considered safe in China, if he was quarantined, passed the test, and the test result was negative, then he is assigned a “green status”, that is, he is included in the least risk category.
This gives him the opportunity to cross the boundaries of the provinces, go to hospitals and residential areas, as well as use the metro and trains.
This measure allows you to separate infected people from the rest. Moreover, if a new case of infection is detected, the authorities will be able to trace the movement of the sick person and pinpoint those with whom he came into contact. Cowling calls this an “advanced form of verification and tracking,” which allows China to quickly identify the maximum number of infected people and then isolate them.
The main question is whether this is enough to prevent a new outbreak. Cowling believes that it would be difficult for other cities to carry out the same number of tests as in Wuhan, where at the peak of the disease 10,000 tests were performed per day. “There is a danger in over-focusing on testing and isolation,” he says, adding that social distance measures are still important.
It seems that Chinese cities are afraid of weakening tough measures to limit contacts, considering it premature. Shanghai’s museums and tourist attractions, which opened 18 days ago, are again closed today. Closed and movie theaters. True, the city also made some concessions: now people do not need passes to leave their homes, and couriers delivering parcels can freely enter these areas.
The city also canceled the requirement to wear masks in some public places, although before the police monitored compliance with this rule with drones and robots.
Most countries where the virus is rampant today, including Italy, Spain and the United States, rely on social distance measures and home isolation. China also introduced these measures, but in addition to them, he built new hospitals and actively conducted testing.
Inspectors walked around the apartments and measured the temperature in people. Anyone with whom she was elevated was tested. If the test gave a positive result, such a person was isolated. “The extra work allowed them to stop the virus,” Cowling says. “People are taking an example from China, but not quite as it should.”
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The article is written and prepared by our foreign editors from different countries around the world – material edited and published by Ordo News staff in our US newsroom press.