SCIO briefing on China's regular prevention and control of COVID-19

The State Council Information Office held a press conference Friday afternoon in Beijing on China's regular prevention and control of COVID-19. May 16, 2020


There have recently been media reports saying that on Jan 14 the NHC predicted an outbreak would occur. Six days later, on Jan 20, China publicly confirmed the existence of the human-to-human transmission of the novel coronavirus. What's your comment on this? Some American officials have claimed that China didn't share materials and data about the virus in a timely fashion. What's your response? Thanks.

Zeng Yixin:

I'd like to make an introduction first. The term "human-to-human transmission" you just mentioned is a simplified way of describing this phenomenon. The accurate and scientific way of saying this should be 'the abilities and means of the virus to spread among people.' Technically, bacteria and viruses both have the potential to spread among people, but they spread with different abilities and in different ways. Some of them indeed work in very different ways. For example, tuberculosis is a disease caused by bacteria that easily spreads through the respiratory system. Norovirus is highly contagious and commonly spreads through the fecal-oral route. Hepatitis B is an infectious disease caused by a virus that can be passed on through blood and from a mother to her child. AIDS is also caused by a virus, and it can be transmitted through sex and blood contact. The latter two diseases are not easily transmitted from one person to another. I want to first be clear about these distinctions.

At the earlier stage of the virus outbreak, it was hard to ascertain the causative agent, incubation period, spreading abilities, transmission ways and origin of the virus. The NHC immediately organized experts from multiple disciplines to study the etiology and epidemiology with limited clinically diagnosed cases to find out the manifestation of the disease and offer a scientific solution for outbreak control and prevention.

On the evening of Dec. 30, 2019, the NHC learned that there were patients with pneumonia of an unknown cause in Wuhan city. The leading Party members' group of the NHC attached great importance to this information. In the wee hours of the morning of Dec. 31, the NHC sent a working group and an expert team to Wuhan to conduct an investigation and guide the epidemic response.

On Jan. 1, 2020, the NHC set up a leading group to determine the emergency response strategy for the epidemic, carry out research and make arrangements. The NHC led experts and workers to provide guidance and urge Hubei province and Wuhan to carry out epidemic prevention and control along with relevant medical treatments.

On Jan. 3, the NHC organized scientific research institutions to carry out parallel laboratory testing of the samples for pathogen identification.

On Jan. 5, laboratory test results ruled out respiratory pathogens, such as the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome coronavirus (SARS-CoV), influenza, avian influenza and adenovirus. On Jan. 7, the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention (China CDC) succeeded in isolating the first novel coronavirus strain. On Jan. 9, the expert team from the NHC made public research result of the pathogen, saying a new type of coronavirus was initially identified as the cause of the pneumonia of unknown cause.

On Jan. 10, testing kits were developed, which were then improved over almost seven days. Wuhan city organized tests of the relevant cases that had been admitted at hospitals in the city. On Jan. 12, the NHC shared with the WHO the genome sequence of the novel coronavirus in order to help other countries quickly diagnose patients and ring the alarm bell to the world.

On Jan. 13, Thailand reported the first imported case from Wuhan city. The NHC paid great attention to this development and requested that Wuhan city further intensified epidemic prevention and control. This firstly involved handling 'the entrance.' Wuhan strictly managed farmers markets and wildlife. Secondly it involved handling 'the exit.' Wuhan further strengthened body temperature monitoring of people at airports, train stations, bus stations and ports. Thirdly it involved reducing crowd gatherings. In addition, the NHC standardized local authorities' reporting and releasing of the information on the epidemic, meanwhile explaining to the public relevant policies and measures and providing them with knowledge on disease prevention.

We held a teleconference on Jan. 14 to deploy epidemic prevention and control efforts and stressed that there was huge uncertainty when it came to the emerging infectious disease caused by the novel coronavirus. Further in-depth research was needed to know the human-to-human transmission capacity of the virus and the way the virus passed between humans. The possibility of further outbreaks could not be ruled out. We also made clear requirements for Wuhan city and Hubei province. At that time, we were still in the process of further understanding the virus. There were many unsolved questions, and we were working hard to get answers.

We got a relatively accurate understanding of the human-to-human transmission capacity of the virus on Jan. 19 thanks to the unremitting efforts of expert groups and local medical workers. On Jan. 20, the executive meeting of the State Council classified COVID-19 as a Category-B infectious disease and took preventive measures against it on the level of a Category-A infectious disease. After that, the nationwide situation with respect to epidemic prevention and control became better known to all.

Now, when we look back, it was the first time in human history that we have faced COVID-19. In the early stages, under the strong leadership of the CPC Central Committee and the State Council, we accumulated evidences as fast as we could, deepened our understanding of the virus and explored methods of prevention and control. At the same time, by sticking to bottom-line thinking, we were highly aware of risks and focused on people's safety and health. We made prevention and control policies in accordance with the law and science and performed our duties to strictly implement them.

You mentioned the communication and exchanges with the United States. Mr. Li Mingzhu has offered some descriptions just now. I should say that we started communicating with the U.S. very early. We communicated in multiple ways and with high frequency. There were communications between health ministers, the ones between directors of the CDCs and those between experts and professors of the two countries. We had no reservation or hesitation in communicating. We did our best to share information and boost pandemic prevention and control efforts in the two countries and all over the world.

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