Masks, hand sanitizer and temperature controls three times a day.
It’s the average day for millions of schoolchildren in China, as the country where Covid-19 was first identified has all but declared victory over the coronavirus.
Strict supervision helped more than 240 million students from kindergarten to college return to class in September.
“For the students, they all understand that this is the practice that we use to keep them safe at school, so they all follow it,” said Li Hailong, an English teacher at an elementary school in Beijing.
Restrictions in China are similar to those in place across Europe and the United States, but widespread levels of public acceptance appear to be making a difference.
A system of health codes that assigns color-coded designations based on a person’s state of health is woven into the fabric of daily life. Masks, temperature checks, and mass testing are ubiquitous.
The Chinese government has been criticized for its lack of openness and for downplaying the severity of the outbreak in its early stages. The country has also been accused of mismanaging the initial phase of the epidemic and silencing whistleblowers.
President Donald Trump has been one of the harshest critics, accusing Beijing of early failures that allowed the virus to spread faster.
But 10 months after the virus first appeared, life is approaching pre-pandemic normality in China, to an extent unheard of in most other countries.
“They have done an incredible job controlling the virus,” said Ali Mokdad, professor of global health at the University of Washington and former head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s international health program.
But such success is only possible through restrictions on individual freedoms, he said, that would not be tolerated in the United States and other democracies.
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During the strict lockdown of Wuhan, the city in central China where the virus first emerged in January, authorities took drastic measures to prevent people from entering or leaving.
“The reports indicated a very strong compliance with the measures that were being demanded of the population,” said David Harper, senior researcher with the Global Health Program at London think tank Chatham House.
“The system that exists in China allows this central political directive to be enforced to be implemented with enforcement at the local level in a way that does not exist in many other countries around the world,” Harper said.
China, a country of 1.4 billion people, has not reported a single death from Covid-19 since April 26, according to the country’s National Health Commission – the only official source of information on the rate of coronavirus infection in China. NBC News was unable to independently verify the reported figures.
It reported 86,115 confirmed cases [AS OF NOV.4] and 4,634 deaths since the start of the pandemic. In contrast, more than 9 million cases and more than 230,000 deaths have been recorded in the United States alone, according to the NBC News tally. Globally, the virus has killed more than 1.2 million people, with more than 48 million confirmed cases.
“China intrigues everyone,” Mokdad said, adding that several factors could be at play.
The memory of the 2002 SARS epidemic, which killed nearly 800 people and caused economic damage, made Chinese people more likely to wear masks and socially distance themselves at the start of this year’s epidemic, did he declare.
Since the fear of SARS, the country has reorganized its public health system, said Qifang Bi, who holds a doctorate. candidate at the Bloomberg School of Public Health at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, which has conducted research on Covid-19 in coordination with researchers at the Shenzhen Center for Disease Control and Prevention.
“While the CDC still faces many challenges, its success in reducing cases amid a global pandemic shows that the public health system has come a long way since SARS,” Bi said.
At the start of the Covid-19 epidemic, she said, an early and strict lockdown in Wuhan played a crucial role in buying up precious time from other parts of China to activate their public health responses. , thus avoiding an outbreak of cases.
But most important, Mokdad said, was a government response that involved clear and consistent messages.
“There was a national mandate and everyone adhered to it,” he said.
As Europe and the United States continue to face a massive surge in new cases, China is eager to show its success in containing the virus.
The famous Beijing auto show, which was postponed to April, opened in September, becoming the first major auto show to have done so since the pandemic. It was packed with people, with almost everyone wearing masks.
In Wuhan, a sports arena that was used as a makeshift hospital during the height of the pandemic hosted a basketball game in front of 7,500 fans last month, local media reported.
In the country’s largest test to date, more than 600 million Chinese traveled the country in the first week of October to mark the Mid-Autumn Festival, a traditional occasion for families to reunite and to mark the national holiday celebrating the founding of Communist China.
At the end of the holiday week, the state newspaper Global Times reported on crowded tourist spots and said people were sharing messages about being stuck in traffic again – calling the congestion “happiness.” Which other countries want but “cannot have at the moment. ”
But China is far from being out of the woods, and the vacation trip was a big test for the country, Mokdad said.
While domestic travel during the first week of October does not appear to have led to any new cases, a cluster of cases has been reported in Qingdao, eastern Shandong Province, prompting nearly 11 million residents to get tested. Prior to the cases in Qingdao, China had not reported any locally transmitted infections since August 15.
At the end of October, after testing 4.7 million people, authorities locked the westernmost city of Kashgar on lockdown after a new cluster of cases was discovered.
China is also protecting itself closely against the arrival of the virus from abroad.
On Thursday (November 5), it banned non-Chinese travelers from Britain, France, Belgium, the Philippines and India, imposing some of the tightest entry restrictions of any country.
“If they don’t maintain the right demeanor and start letting their guard down, they’ll see a surge again,” Mokdad said.