How can a government fight a deadly virus that takes the lives of some of its own people and others just a few miles away?
To start, it took nearly three years to acknowledge the scope of the pandemic. For years the World Health Organization and Chinese authorities argued about the number of people dying from the Middle East respiratory syndrome, an infection first identified in early 2012. The proper “figure” on the number of patients dying was how much the centers for disease control and prevention could claim, relative to its workforce to bring the outbreak under control. Finally the Chinese government agreed to lower the proper reporting estimate in order to make tracking progress easier.
This sort of fight is the best way to understand the methods the Chinese government is employing in its much-publicized fight against the deadly coronavirus. China has deployed its full force of task forces to analyze the situation and conduct trials to reduce exposure to the disease. But the path to victory is far from straight forward.
Part of the difficulty is the very nature of the virus: China has no native cases, it is catching the disease from travelers who come to enjoy its cultural charms or, increasingly, from both to satisfy their thirst for adventure. By assessing the exact effects of this decline, China is beginning to learn the lessons of previous outbreaks, such as SARS, now 15 years ago, of the deadly respiratory virus that led to one of the largest epidemics in history.
Even as China’s government has tried to manage the spread of the virus to humans with medication and much scientific research, its military has also been active. In less than three years, the military has learned that, in cases of a contact with the virus, it is highly effective to wear gloves while transporting assets. Many cases of the virus have been caught with the help of this approach.
The forces on the ground in the fight against H5N1, which in Chinese gets abbreviated as Noah, also relies on close monitoring of the disease. The government regularly tracks the virus, culling flocks of birds and seeking vaccinations for poultry and pets. The agency that sells drugs for treating the virus has seen a more than 20 percent increase in sales in the past few years, and it has had seven new treatments approved for livestock since 2014. “It’s easier to approach the virus earlier on and figure out where to start the treatment program to really have the best results,” said Jason Dorsett, communications manager for InnovateBio.
Still, the battle against the virus has not always been a smooth one.
After an initial phase when it appeared the government knew what was going on, it’s now clear that the government has been ill-prepared for everything from large-scale epidemics, to the spread of human-to-human transmission of the virus, to the inevitable strains of skepticism within the Chinese population. Critics have accused officials of hiding the extent of the threat so as not to fear outbreaks of epidemics elsewhere, and of worrying more about costs than getting the job done.