Chinese President Xi Jinping knows how to quickly restore international ties and cross-border movements. In his opinion, the global system of QR codes will help in this: every inhabitant of the Earth should receive his own code containing his travel history and health data. The proposal of the Chinese leader looks almost unrealizable within the framework of the European mentality, but China has something to boast about: the QR-code system has become one of the measures that helped China to overcome the coronavirus epidemic.
“China has proposed a global mechanism for the mutual recognition of health certificates issued on the basis of nucleic acid analysis. The test results can be represented by QR codes accepted worldwide. We hope that more and more countries will join this mechanism, ”Xi Jinping said at the virtual meeting of the G20 leaders. Having outlined such an ambitious task, he did not explain the details: how, by whom and in what time frame such a system could be organized.
It is logical to assume that the PRC chairman was talking about a system that can be borrowed entirely from China or created based on Chinese experience. There is every reason for this: China has actually won the coronavirus. For example, on Monday, the country’s authorities reported two new cases of infection in Shanghai – if you add up this figure with the data of the past few days, it turns out that since Friday, November 20, seven people have become infected in the country.
The total numbers of infections and deaths also look negligible at present: for the entire time of the epidemic in the PRC, 86.4 thousand cases of infection and 4.6 thousand deaths were recorded.
And in Wuhan, the city where the virus, apparently, originated and from where pictures of the embodied dystopia with empty streets and residents locked in their homes were spreading throughout the world media, not a single case of COVID-19 has been recorded for almost six months.
The Wuhan Triumph even received a vivid illustrative expression. At the end of August, a large-scale electronic music festival was held in one of the city’s water parks: hundreds of people were having fun in an overflowing pool to cheerful melodies, while in other countries the authorities discussed the severity of the quarantines. As the Global Times tabloid (owned by the Chinese Communist Party’s People’s Daily) wrote at the time, “This is a reminder to all countries affected by the virus that tough restrictive measures are rewarded.”
One of the components of the Chinese triumph is the QR code system, which the PRC chairman spoke about. Starting from February, users are given a personal QR code using the application, which must be displayed in public transport and when visiting public places. If the code is green, its owner can safely travel. Those with a yellow code need to self-isolate for a week, those with a red code – for two. On the official page of the service it is indicated that yellow or red codes can be issued to people who have had contact with an infected COVID-19, visited a viral focus, or themselves reported adverse symptoms. An investigation by The New York Times, however, found that every time the code is scanned, the location of the owner of the phone is transmitted to the servers used by the police, and the newspaper’s interlocutors complained about the lack of transparency in assigning a code of one color or another.
The Chinese triumph, however, is not in doubt. As pointed out in the prestigious medical journal The Lancet, China as a whole was well prepared to deal with the virus, for several reasons.
- Firstly, most Chinese adults remembered the SARS epidemic and its extreme danger, and therefore were ready to take tough anti-epidemic measures.
- Secondly, in China, only 3% of older people live in nursing homes, which in Europe and the United States have become breeding grounds for the disease.
- Third, the authoritarian system of government played a role.
“This was a key factor. The authorities very quickly took countermeasures. Other countries, despite the fact that they had much more time to prepare, were late in answering and lost control, ”said Gregory Poland, head of the vaccine study group at Mayo Clinic (USA).
The first publicly recognized case of COVID-19 infection in Wuhan was recorded at the end of December last year. Already in January, the authorities published the RNA of the virus and began to fight it. Wuhan has gone through a 76-day quarantine, the same measures have been taken in every city in Hubei province. In many cities, quarantines were introduced at once family-by-family: only one family member had the right to go outside to buy food every few days. In a few weeks, 9 million people were checked, and a national contact tracing system was created. For comparison: in the UK, such a contact tracing system crashed almost immediately after the outbreak.
In addition, China, being a large industrial center, dramatically increased the production of personal protective equipment – and they were used. “The level of wearing masks was very high. Compare that to the United States, where people refused to wear masks in June and July when the virus was gaining traction. At the end of September, President Donald Trump believed that (his rival in the 2020 election – “B”) Joe Biden wears a mask, a weakness to be scoffed at, “Yale School of Public Health employee Xi Chen told Lancet.
The streets of Chinese cities were patrolled by drones with loudspeakers, which, recognizing a man without a mask, “attacked” him with accusatory audio messages and demanded to return home, wash his hands and take the mask. In addition, a system of field hospitals was created, where people with symptoms of mild COVID-19 were kept, which allowed them not to isolate at home and not expose loved ones to the danger of infection. If the situation worsened, they were immediately hospitalized in full-fledged hospitals.
Characteristically, China did not abandon its tough and decisive measures even when the acute phase of the epidemic had passed.
On November 22, an emergency occurred at Pudong Airport in Shanghai: it was discovered that several movers and people with whom they contacted had tested positive for COVID-19. As a result, the authorities decided to conduct an emergency mass testing of all airport employees related to the baggage handling service – almost 18 thousand people. For these purposes, an emergency testing point was created right on the second floor of the parking lot – at first the airport plunged into chaos, but in a few hours the task was completed, although many flights were delayed.
Olga Kondrikova, a Russian woman who was flying out of Pudong airport the day before, told Kommersant that the “loader’s case” was not the only reason for the difficulties in the work of a large transport hub. Due to quarantine measures, her flight was delayed for a total of more than 31 hours. “The flight from Shanghai to Moscow was supposed to take off at 8:15, however, shortly before the departure time, they began to postpone it: first by an hour, then by two, then by three. This lasted until 13:00, until they said: there will be no departure today, “the interlocutor of Kommersant explained. According to her, the mask regime is strictly observed at the airport, however, gloves are offered to be worn at will. There are, however, inconsistencies: during the landing passage, it is necessary to maintain a distance of 1 m, although everyone stood in a large crowded group at customs control.
Ms Kondrikova nevertheless noted the high level of discipline of the people of the PRC: according to her, after passing through customs control, almost all Chinese – they were in the majority on the flight – donned plastic protective suits covering the entire body, which began to unfasten only in the middle of the long flight.
Speaking with the Lancet, Gregory Poland, however, reassured that China’s methods may not work everywhere, highlighting the difference between Chinese and Western cultural backgrounds.
“In China, you have a mix of two: a people who are serious about respiratory illness and are willing to take action beyond medication, and a government that can impose more restrictions on public freedoms than are acceptable in most Western countries,” – he stressed in an interview with a correspondent of the publication. According to the expert, in Chinese culture, great attention is paid to the public good as opposed to individualism, in particular American culture. “China does not have this violent anti-vaccine, anti-scientific movement that is trying to undermine the battle with COVID-19 in the United States,” he concluded.