Virus Update from China, Personal Impressions

There has been significant social media on this Corona Viris problem here in China.  I have heard that there is a survival rate of about 98 percent, with the deaths occuring in vulnerable sub-populations like old people, very young people, and pre-existing conditions. I was here in China 17 years ago when SARS hit and I must say that the Chinese response has been impressive this time. The only criticism I have heard is that the government should have told the people how serious it was earlier.  In fact, if the government had done so, it would have encouraged everybody to get out of Wuhan, spreading the viris,  and probably limiting the effectiveness of the quaranteen. It is amazing how fast they can shut down a city of 12M people. That is bigger than any US city. It was very impressive.

Unlike the SARS epidemic seventeen years ago, the authorities seem to be in lock step with the World Health Organization (WHO). I understand there has been a shakeup in the Health Officials in Wuhan. I actually have some contacts with the Airport in Guiyang. It has very recently become certified by the WHO as an “International Sanitary Airport”. They proved to WHO that they had up to date procedures in place for exactly this kind of event, and many others.

In contrast to 17 years ago, those of us with access to Western News watched a lot of concern about SARS in China.  At that time China was in denial, still telling tourists that SARS was fully contained. Come to China, it’s safe! Then, just a little later, the new President, Hu Jin Tao, took office and had a press conference. He said that he knew there had been a coverup and from now on they would do exactly what the WHO told them to do. A Western news reporter asked the first question . . . “If there was a coverup, who was responsible and what are you going to do about it.” (Good old Western Media). President Hu said: “We are looking into that right now.” The next day the Mayor of Beijing was canned along with the leader of the Health Department. Wow.

The next day the news in China changed. Instead of denials, everything was all about SARS. I happened to travel between cities at that time and the police stopped the bus in the countryside. Two nurses got on the bus and  tested everybody’s body temperature. The response seventeen years ago was first telling us not to worry and then in a day it turned into SARS information everywhere and total commitment.

Now we are told to stay out of crowds, wear masks, and wash hands, a lot. I had trouble finding a mask to wear so I used a scarf when I went out. The police called to make sure I was where the records said I was and said to call them if I had any trouble.  The next day I did call them about how to get a mask. They took care of it.

I understand that the police are taking inventory of all foreigners here. That is a good thing. This event took place at perhaps the worst possible time, with Chinese cued up for Spring Festival. Spring Festival is like Christmas Vacation on steroids. It is a family time and people leave the cities to visit the parents, the largest human mass migration in the world. Maybe the vacating of many cities is a blessing, with Chinese getting out of harm’s way just in time. Anyway, people are staying put. With a gestation period of 10 to 20 days (I am told) we should be getting results about the effectiveness of the measures in a couple weeks.

During the SARS epidemic Guizhou Province didn’t get a single case. Locals attributed it to the relative isolaition of the Province, the widespread use of Moutai (the preferred spirits of 108 proof) and the local favorite medicinal tree root which  they put in everything.Although Guizhou appeared on the Viris maps early in the spread of the disease, it didn’t seem to spike like other outbreaks around China. This might be attributed to the lack of people in town. During Spring Festival people left and seem to be staying away.  We now have about ten known cases in a city of 5M people. Nevertheless, I plan to stay away from both bats and snakes, which were the original culprits in Wuhan.

John S. Porter  (AKA: Jack)