China heightens effort to perfect virus control mechanism
► Epidemic in Wuhan exposes loopholes in decision-making
The nightmare of a SARS-like coronavirus returned to China, causing over 63,000 infections and killing more than 1,300 so far. The outbreak has also raised questions about what should have been done by the provincial-level government to prevent such a huge crisis and what challenges it has brought to re-examine the country’s top-down emergency responding mechanism by fixing loopholes.
Two top officials from Central China’s Hubei Province, where the epicenter Wuhan is located, have recently been removed from their positions after a series of problems occurred amid the outbreak of the novel coronavirus pneumonia, officially known as COVID-19, which started from a local seafood market in early December but spread to not only all the provinces and municipalities in the country but also outside China.
Chinese President Xi Jinping urged on Friday to work on shortcomings exposed amid the outbreak, improve the prevention and control system against major epidemics as well as the country’s public health emergency and management system.
“The outbreak exposed problems embedded not only with our governing mechanism but also the mentality of officials that has been falling behind the requirement of a modern country’s development,” Jiang Shigong, a law professor at Peking University, told the Global Times on Friday.
From December 31 to January 17, the local health authority neither reported the fact that the disease
could be transmitted human-to-human nor the number of new infections.
Gao Fu, head of Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), suggested at an earlier stage of the outbreak that the virus did not show any sign of human-to-human transmission, but he said in research papers there was a case of human-to-human transmission in mid-December. Such contradictory claims sparked public doubts about whether top-level experts sent by CDC hid the facts or were too conservative to make the correct judgment.
“That is a retrospective analysis, we don’t know what the disease was in mid-December,” Gao was quoted as saying in local media reports.
The crisis was not caused by certain people but triggered by a decision-making mechanism, as local policymakers abandoned the principle of seeking truth from facts, delaying a response and stressing other factors over sticking to the scientific and fact-driven evaluation, experts said.
“Amid a national outcry of accountability, we also see how experts from the CDC at the Wuhan city level as well as Hubei provincial level pass the buck to each other,” Jiang said.
The top CPC discipline authority has urged strict law enforcement in the COVID-19 battle, and officials who fail to fulfill their duties must be held accountable.
Zhang Ouya, a senior reporter from official Hubei Daily, called for a reshuffle of the top officials in Wuhan on January 24 on his Sina Weibo account.
He told the Global Times that the reshuffle of officials in Wuhan and Hubei has encouraged local residents in Wuhan.
More local residents in Wuhan and Hubei began realizing the seriousness of the problem on January 20 after Zhong Nanshan, the central government’s medical adviser, said that COVID-19 has human-to-human transmission, which was widely seen as a turning point.
Three days later, Wuhan authorities enforced the city lockdown. But local residents, doctors and nurses, as well as other frontline employees, faced a lack of supplies, which also reflected incompetence, bureaucracy and formalism. Some grassroots officials were pushed to submit files repeatedly.
The Xinhua News Agency made a public commentary recently, claiming that “filling forms can’t scare away the virus.”
At the meeting of the Standing Committee of the Political Bureau of the CPC Central Committee, Xi, general secretary of the CPC Central Committee, stressed that in epidemic prevention and control work, we must resolutely oppose formalism and bureaucracy.
Fighting the battle remains the top priority for the central government. A central government team was dispatched to Hubei to study the situation, probe issues exposed and hold derelict officials accountable. Provincial-level administrations have been mobilized to offer support to Hubei cities, reflecting the country’s solidarity amid the crisis, analysts said.
Once the central-level decision-making is initiated, China’s institutional advantages, such as the power of mobilizing, will play out, which also shows that its decision-making mechanism has the ability to adjust quickly in correcting mistakes, holding officials accountable and fixing the loopholes, analysts noted.