In an extensive interview with The New York Times, Dr. Bruce Aylward, of the World Health Organization, described what he learned from close observation of China’s efforts to contain the coronavirus. Here are seven important lessons.
Aggressive measures work.
New cases have dropped to 200 a day from over 3,000 a day one month ago. After the initial chaos and cover-up in Wuhan, health authorities imposed a lockdown, strict quarantines, mandatory testing and isolation. That prevented what would have been hundreds of thousands of infections.
There aren’t many asymptomatic cases.
Testing of 320,000 samples suggests that the known cases are not just the tip of an iceberg. “What we’re seeing is a pyramid: Most of it is above ground,” Dr. Aylward said.
Be prepared to move medical care online …
To keep the sick and the healthy from mingling in clinics and emergency rooms, online medical consultations and prescriptions became the norm. Two hospitals were erected almost overnight, and open wards in others were rebuilt as isolation units.
… as well as other services.
Students from schools that closed got online lessons. Medications and food parcels were delivered to millions of people who were shut in their homes for a month.
Isolate the infected quickly.
In designated “fever clinics,” medical personnel in protective gear took temperatures, did rapid lung CT scans and gave swab tests that produced results in hours. To protect families, the infected were taken to isolation centers; the seriously ill and elderly went to hospitals.
Having to pay may slow containment.
Testing was free in China, as was all care for hospitalized patients. If Americans delay getting tested for fear of the medical bills “that’s what could wreak havoc,” Dr. Aylward said. “The U.S. has to think this through.”
Civic spirit can make a difference.
More than 40,000 doctors and nurses, many of them volunteers, descended on Wuhan. Highway workers became temperature-takers or delivered food. Hospital receptionists took charge of infection control.
Volunteers, Dr. Aylward said, “really saw themselves as on the front lines of protecting the rest of China. And the world.”