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Unity against Coronavirus

Friday, 06 March 2020
This is an opinion article by an external contributor. The views belong to the writer.
Quiet streets in the city of Shenzhen, in southeastern China.

Since 24 January, our lives and those of the people of China have changed. One month has passed since and the whole planet has been shaken.

From the end of December, we read in the Belgian press that a strange disease had appeared in Wuhan, a city about 1,200 km away from where we live, Shenzhen (I am in China for a holiday since December 2019). The disease was not SARS, but a new type of pneumonia. It was the speech of President Xi on 20 January that drew our attention and made us realise that something big was happening.

When on 24 January it was announced that the Forbidden City and numerous other tourist attractions would close, we knew that the situation was serious. Where we live, all the celebrations for the Year of the Rat were cancelled to prevent any type of large gatherings.

At first, the measures caused a panic both with the local population and with the foreigners, including myself. But common sense quickly returned and everyone, locals and foreigners alike, joined forces.

Gradually the measures became more restrictive, as theatres, theme parks, shopping malls and museums were closed, followed by restaurants, bars and places of worship like temples and churches. Everything was closed, except for some restaurants and fast food chains that only work with takeaway food.

In solidarity the people avoided unnecessary contact, knowing that limited social contacts is the first measure to contain the spread of a disease. Wearing a mouth mask is in fact not obligatory, but you wouldn’t see anyone without it on the street.

Thanks to the local authorities who keep control over the crisis very well, we are reassured, notwithstanding the succession of temperature checks at the entrance of supermarkets, at the entrance and exit of highways and even before you enter your house. Knowing that the majority of the infected people come from Wuhan, the epicenter of the epidemic, these people are tracked down.

In our building, three households that came back from Wuhan were put in quarantine. During 15 days, all members of the households were prohibited from leaving and seals were attached to the door of the apartments. Every day, a doctor came by to check up on the condition of the isolated people and to resupply them.

It is evident that thanks to the central government and the draconian measures that were taken, we were protected and the epidemic did not spread that far here and in the rest of China. Our city, Shenzhen, being the third biggest city in China and almost one and a half times bigger than Belgium, counts no more than three dead.

Guangdong Province with its 110 million inhabitants only lost 7 people. We were spared. The epidemic is now reaching the major Asian countries and Europe. Thanks to the measures taken by the Chinese government and the relentless fight of the medical staff, with the aid of 30,000 volunteers who went to help their colleagues in Wuhan, the countries who are now confronted with the virus have had the time to organise themselves and find solutions to prevent an overflowing of the system.

The governments and authorities of those countries would benefit to take lessons from the way in which the Chinese central government handled the crisis. They should observe how the Chinese have carried out the confinements and the closure of public spaces, restaurants and others in order to limit and slow down the spread of the disease.

Hospitals were organized and prepared to receive a large number of patients. We all know that it would be impossible for most countries to build two hospitals in about ten days as China did, but they should foresee a large number of beds and an increased number of emergency places, materials for medical care and respiratory equipment.

In these kind of epidemics, the caring staff is especially vulnerable. For the medical staff and caretakers that works in contaminated areas with infected people, adequate protective equipment should be foreseen.

While I was fighting the epidemic in China, my friends in Belgium held a small private talk on March 1st. Belgians, Dutch, Spanish and Chinese, doctors, businessmen, politicians, journalists, professors, IT engineers, designers, etc. gathered together to listen to Prof. Dr. Zhang Weihong at Ghent University, an expert in public health, to explain what the COVID-19 virus is: how it is transmitted and how to prevent that from happening.

Coincidentally, March 1st is the Zero Discrimination Day. Dr. Jordy Vanpoucke, the Belgian President of Volt Europa said that Belgium is a multicultural country. People respect, tolerate and accept differences, which makes all ethnic groups living in Belgium feel free and appreciated.

When facing the virus, everybody is equal, regardless of nationality, color, religion or gender. The Member of European Parliament, Mr. Frank Schwalba-Hoth, said that to overcome the virus, all that we can do is to understand each other, trust each other and help each other because we are one family after all.