China height­ens ef­fort to per­fect virus con­trol mech­a­nism

► Epi­demic in Wuhan ex­poses loop­holes in de­ci­sion-mak­ing

Global Times - Weekend - - FRONT PAGE - By GT staff re­porters

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.

Lost time

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.

Turn­ing point

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.

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