The example of Wuhan, epicenter of the coronavirus epidemic in China where no new case of local origin has been recorded since Thursday, is a “hope” for the world, said Friday the director general of the WHO .
After a chaotic start, China has reversed the curve of contagion by the coronavirus in a few weeks, arriving Thursday at zero new cases of local origin, according to the official balance sheet.
The epidemic is now more deadly in the rest of the world than in China, but the Chinese experience is not necessarily transferable everywhere and its long-term effectiveness remains to be proven.
Here is an inventory of the Chinese arsenal against Covid-19 disease:
On January 23, Wuhan (center) was de facto quarantined, followed by almost all of its province, Hubei, where the Covid-19 made its appearance at the end of 2019. More than 50 million inhabitants were cut off from the world.
However, the closure of Wuhan only delayed the spread of the virus in the country by four days, according to a study published on March 6 in the American journal Science. To the rest of the world, stopping flights from Wuhan would have slowed the contamination by two to three weeks.
From the start of the crisis, train traffic was considerably reduced and interregional coach traffic limited. Objective: delay the return of migrant workers who have gone on the long Chinese New Year holiday to their homelands. Travel abroad is also prohibited.
Containment at home
Across the country, residents are strongly encouraged to stay at home. The structure of housing facilitates this policy: hundreds of millions of Chinese live in closed residences whose neighborhood committees can limit exits to the strict minimum.
Schools, universities and tourist sites are closed.
“Containment works”, Sharon Lewin, professor of medicine at the University of Melbourne, told AFP, “two weeks after the closure of Wuhan, exactly the incubation period, the numbers (of contamination) started to drop.”
“Before these measures, experts estimated that each infected person transmitted the coronavirus to more than two other people,” the British journal Nature wrote on Tuesday. “Between January 16 and January 30, the period including the first seven days of confinement, this ratio fell to 1.05”.
No more outings, home deliveries
Confined, the Chinese continued to order their meals at home, a habit already widely adopted in recent years. The delivery men are no longer allowed to go to the apartment and most often leave the meal at the door of the residence. Impact: outings to the supermarket are considerably reduced.
The temperature of citizens is checked several times a day at the entrance to buildings, shops or public places. “If you exceed 37.3 degrees, you are put in isolation”, warns a guardian of a park in Beijing. Problem: a simple fever does not distinguish a coronavirus infection from a cold.
Wearing a mask is essential
The mask quickly established itself in large cities and is required in many places. The mask “may be necessary, especially when so many carriers of the asymptomatic virus are at risk of infecting other people,” says Professor Zheng Zhijie, of the School of Public Health at Peking University.
According to the new China agency, daily production in the country of N95 masks, considered to be the most effective, increased during the crisis from 200,000 to 1.6 million units.
Difficult however to check if the masks are changed regularly and remain effective.
Screening is considered crucial by WHO but the Chinese government does not provide any data on the number of people tested. As an indication, the city hall of Wuhan publishes daily figures which reveal that in February, at the height of the epidemic, around 20,000 people were tested every day.
The figure has halved in recent days. By mid-February, the number of infections had suddenly increased by 15,000 after an extension of the screening method.
Mobilization of caregivers
No less than 42,000 doctors and medical personnel have been sent to reinforce Hubei, according to new China. “Important and necessary given the collapse of the local health system,” said Zheng Zhijie.
According to the authorities, 3,300 health workers had been infected throughout the country until the beginning of March and 13 died.
With a lot of patriotic propaganda, the country built in 10 days in Wuhan two hospitals with 2,300 beds in total.
The city has converted factories, stadiums or conference centers into 16 field hospitals.
Disinfection of streets and transport
Spectacular images showed tankers spraying the streets of Wuhan with disinfectant. But this cleaning “may not be necessary because there is no evidence of its effectiveness“observes Professor Zheng.
On the other hand, disinfecting closed public places and means of transport are “important and necessary” for him.
The communist regime has put its arsenal of propaganda at the service of the fight against the virus. Looping messages in the media and banners in large letters in the streets call on residents to respect hygiene rules, to go out as little as possible and to ventilate their homes.
An “essential” criterion was “to convince people to take the necessary actions”, according to a spokesman for the WHO.
Big Brother to the rescue: software lets you know if the user of a mobile phone has passed through a risk zone or has traveled on a train near a carrier of the virus. Each citizen thus sees himself, on his phone, with a colored QR code which he may have to produce to the authorities: green, orange or red. Orange is worth quarantine for seven days, red for 14 days.
In the end, screening, confinement and limitation of transport made it possible to avoid multiplying by … 17 cases of contamination which would then have reached around 8 million at the end of February, according to a study cited by Nature.
It remains to be seen whether these measures are applicable in the long term, notes Imperial College London, in a study published on March 16, stressing the “enormous social and economic costs which can themselves have a heavy impact on health”.
However, “we expect the transmission to rebound quickly if these measures are relaxed”.
The spokesman for the WHO calls for “to remain vigilant even if the number of new cases announced decreases” because “it is much too early to say that this epidemic is under control”.