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China Daily Global / 2020-02 / 28 / Page004

Expert: Control of virus within reach

By ZHOU WENTING in Shanghai | China Daily Global | Updated: 2020-02-28 00:00

Shanghai team leader says foreign cities can learn from its approach

The global spread of the novel coronavirus should come under control within six months as most infection cases in foreign countries are imported and China has gained experience in coping with the outbreak, a leading Shanghai expert told China Daily in an exclusive interview on Wednesday.

Zhang Wenhong, the leader of the Shanghai team of experts in the treatment of cases of the novel coronavirus pneumonia, added that other factors include researchers having a better understanding of the disease.

Zhang said the key to controlling the spread of the virus lies in preventive measures as well as the scaling back and cancellation of public gatherings in major cities.

"Any city with imported cases of the virus faces a high risk as the transmission capability of the virus is fairly strong-much stronger than the SARS virus-as seen from what has happened in Wuhan, where the number of confirmed cases soared to around 48,000 after the first patients were identified in December," said Zhang, who is also director of the department of infectious diseases at Shanghai Huashan Hospital Affiliated with Fudan University.

To date, the novel coronavirus has infected people in more than 40 countries and regions. Earlier this week, at least 11 towns in northern Italy were locked down, with residents told to isolate themselves at home after the number of confirmed cases surged within a few days.

Zhang suggested that all foreign countries and regions with imported cases take precautionary measures "to run ahead" and prevent a large-scale spread among the community.

"When there's a considerable number of secondary and tertiary infection cases or those with unknown origins in a city, the situation will become dangerous as it's difficult to conduct tracing. Plus, very few countries can adopt a containment strategy that is as aggressive as China's," he said.

Shanghai sets an example

Zhang advised that some foreign countries could follow Shanghai's approach to controlling the spread of the virus. He noted that Shanghai, one of China's largest cities with a population of nearly 25 million residents, only has 337 confirmed infection cases as of Thursday-much lower than what some foreign scholars have predicted. In addition, there are no patients whose sources of infection were unclear.

He pointed out that the municipality has done an "excellent job" in preventing the spread of the virus by mandating that those who have returned from regions severely affected by the virus isolate themselves at home for 14 days. Shanghai authorities have also been swift in prohibiting public gatherings and shutting down scenic spots and public venues.

"We've witnessed epidemic outbreaks in some foreign countries where public gatherings are not suspended," he said. "Such an outbreak is closely related to the fact that the operations of a city or country are going on as usual."

The establishment of a hospital and social system that can quickly identify suspected patients has also proven pivotal in Shanghai's fight against the spread of the virus, Zhang said. He explained that this system involves having designated fever clinics for those who suffer from typical symptoms such as fever or difficulty breathing, and quarantining sick individuals and those they have come in close contact with for 14 days.

"Early prevention and containment of the spread of the disease has contributed to a desirable prognosis for the patients. The rate of coronavirus cases who have recovered and been discharged from hospitals in Shanghai has exceeded 80 percent, and the mortality rate is less than 1 percent," he said.

WHO comment supported

Zhang said that entry bans on Chinese citizens or those from the epicenter imposed by some countries were fully understandable, as they may be concerned about the capacity and capability of their healthcare systems to handle the potential patients.

"And therefore, from this perspective, we could say that China's healthcare system stood the test. Dozens of provincial-level regions reported no new infection cases for consecutive days," Zhang said, adding that though the outbreak in Hubei was mainly due to the lack of knowledge about the disease, its spread in the rest of the country was vigorously controlled.

He suggested that it was unnecessary for China to implement border restrictions on other countries before the World Health Organization declared the outbreak a public health emergency of international concern in those countries.

Zhang refuted some critics' doubts about the WHO's impartiality regarding its recent positive comment on China's countermeasures against the spread of the virus.

"The WHO's comment was based on the substantial recent slowdown of the novel coronavirus spread in most parts of China. If there were still small-scale outbreaks or disease clusters, I don't think the organization would have drawn such a positive conclusion," he said.

As work gradually resumes, he reiterated that the country still needs to pay close attention to the contagion for the next one to two months and reduce large-scale gatherings.

Measures such as those requiring a 14-day quarantine of people returning to big cities should continue, he said.

"If we properly implement such preventive measures, and the number of new infection cases remains zero for a certain period of time, in one or two months it'll be time to take off masks," Zhang said.


People go sightseeing wearing masks at Shanghai's Pudong New Area, which is usually a crowded place of interest due to its panoramic view of the Bund, earlier this month. GAO ERQIANG/CHINA DAILY



A couple buys groceries in Shanghai on Monday. It was the second time in the past month they had left home. GAO ERQIANG/CHINA DAILY



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