China calls for emergency stockpiles, lesson learned from fighting virus: experts

▲Photo: Xinhua

China is mobilizing families to build up stockpiles of emergency supplies this winter ahead of a possible new COVID-19 epidemic engulfing the country, a lesson learned from previous outbreaks. However, military experts shrugged off rumors that said this was a preparation for war.

The scheme of “expanding domestic demand and boosting consumption” recently released by the National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC) orders Chinese cities to make “a proposed list of stockpiles of emergency supplies for families in autumn and winter.” 

The NDRC said that health departments, emergency departments, and development and reform commissions will work together to make a basic national-level list of emergency supplies needed by families, “given the possible epidemic risks in autumn and winter.” 

“China has a mechanism to mobilize supplies in an emergency but it is not systematic. The epidemic reminded us of our country’s deficiency in emergency supplies’ production and stockpiling,” Xue Lan, a professor and former dean at the School of Public Policy and Management of Tsinghua University in Beijing, told the Global Times. 

“Chinese cities are heavily populated. It would be no surprise to see that critical materials cannot be transported and distributed right after an emergency,” Xue said.

Wang Hongwei, a professor at Renmin University of China’s School of Public Administration and Policy, said that China is building a system of material storage for emergencies, and household stockpiles are an essential part of that effort. The system also requires enterprises to have certain production capability in an emergency.

“The building of such a response system would not only meet the basic needs of Chinese families in a COVID-19 epidemic but also natural disasters, and accidents as well,” he said.

As the overseas pandemic is on the rise and winter is coming, China cannot rule out a new wave of the epidemic engulfing cities, so stockpiling emergency supplies will serve as a short-term buffer against an epidemic, experts said.

However, Wang Guangfa, a respiratory expert at Peking University First Hospital, told the Global Times that “China will not experience a similar lockdown as Wuhan had in early January.” 

“Regional closing up is possible, but not a citywide lockdown,” Wang said, noting that “China has accumulated vast experience in combating the COVID-19 epidemic.”

Building up stockpiles of emergency supplies is one of the biggest lessons that China learned from the COVID-19 epidemic. Mobilizing every household to reserve certain amounts of supplies is a key part of China’s system of emergency preparations, public management analysts said.

When the epidemic first broke out in Wuhan, Central China’s Hubei Province, early this year and soon engulfed other cities, China went through a period of shortages of medical supplies such as masks.

In February, authorities from the Standing Committee of the Political Bureau of the Communist Party of China (CPC) Central Committee stressed the importance of increasing the production and supply of key medical prevention and control materials, strengthening the deployment of medical personnel and developing drugs against the novel coronavirus.

In a response to online rumors that said requiring Chinese families to reserve supplies at home might hint of a coming war to unify the island of Taiwan, Song Zhongping, a Chinese military expert, dismissed such a possibility. 

“It is crucial to have necessary family supplies in wartime, but a war is not going to happen within the next few years,” Song said, adding that the move is a measure to cope with natural disasters and epidemics, and a way to cultivate public awareness of emergencies.

Speculations of a war between the Chinese mainland and the island of Taiwan came after the police department in the island released a guideline telling people to take refuge in basements with yellow signs or check the addresses of shelters online if they hear air raid sirens during the war. 

Beside the national list of family supplies, the NDRC advised cities to make customized lists that are suitable for local needs.

As of press time, many cities including Beijing, Shenzhen in South China’s Guangdong Province, and Jinan in East China’s Shandong Province had released their local lists. Supplies mostly include first aid kits, flashlights, water, cash, credit cards and emergency contact forms.

Chinese leaders have repeatedly emphasized the importance of ensuring a sufficient supply of daily necessities for people during epidemics, as they said such stability is the key to win the war against COVID-19.

Prominent Shanghai-based Chinese infectious disease expert Zhang Wenhong said that China’s strong logistics and express delivery system, mutual assistance among communities, and the use of volunteer teams to provide water, food and other daily necessities to people quarantined at home is an important basis for the nation to achieve 100 percent containment of infectious diseases and eliminate them within a short time.

Before effective vaccines and medications for the novel coronavirus come out, non-medical intervention is essential in curbing the virus’ spread, Zhang said.

Newspaper headline: Time for home stockpiles

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