China’s expert optimistic coronavirus will peak soon

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The man who dealt with the SARS virus in China nearly two decades ago is “hopeful’ the coronavirus would be similarly dealt with by April. Investors and a lot of Australian and other business people will be hoping he’s right. But Zhong Nanshan is now 83 and still head of the National Health Commission team tackling Covid-19.

In a series of reports in the HSBC-backed ‘Week in China’ publication last Friday (February 14) it was confirmed that within China itself, 1,426 people have died and, in the Hubei province where it all began 36,719 patients are still receiving treatment in hospital. A probable 1,685 of them are in a critical condition.

But at least China can build large hospitals very quickly. Back during the SARS crisis, in 2003,  the country threw one up in seven days. This time around, it provided a new 1,000-bed hospital in 10 days. We, in Australia, couldn’t find 300 ‘quarantinable’ beds in our whole hospital system – hence the need for the under-utilised refugee facilities on Christmas Island.

‘Week in China’ is not a financial publication, despite being funded by HSBC. It is much broader than that and provides an independent view of political, cultural and financial developments on the mainland, from the previously safe haven of Hong Kong.

WIC says: “Based on recent events, as well as forecasts, government action and AI-assisted data assessment, Zhong predicts that the number of con- firmed cases could peak in mid or late February, followed by a flattening off in new infections, and then a gradual decline.

“But in a separate conference call with the Global Times (a Government-owned tabloid newspaper) this week [last week], Zhong qualified his more optimistic tone with a warning that the situation in Wuhan was still very challenging.

“Indeed, on Thursday [February 13] dramatically bigger numbers were released for newly confirmed cases of infection as Hubei changed its di- agnostic criteria (to be more in line with that used in the rest of the country). The new method saw suspected patients added – i.e. those that were clinically diagnosed based on symptoms but who’d not yet tested positive using lab kits – and this added 14,840 new cases on Wednesday alone. (This morning Hubei reported 4,823 new cases, a fairly steep drop.)”

China does more than build hospitals quickly. It also replaces party officials quickly if they appear to falter in a crisis such as this. The mayor of Shanghai, Ying Yong, was last week appointed as the new mayor of Hubei, replacing the unfortunate Jiang Chaoliang. Wuhan’s party chief, Ma Guoqiang, was also removed from his position.

– G.B.

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