China’s COVID-19 fight offers lesson for foreigners

▲A big data center in Pudong, a district of Shanghai displays cloud service to store various data including local residents information, logistics, transport as part of online city management. Photo: Yang Hui/GT

Fighting the novel coronavirus epidemic has become a process in which some foreigners see China from a fresh perspective, especially when their homelands are struggling in dealing with a second wave. In Shanghai, the use of big data is one of the secret weapons to win this battle. 

When Tomas Kuta came back to China in March as the country gradually lifted lockdowns for resuming business and production, he did not believe that the world’s most populous country could get the epidemic under control, and he expected to witness a chaotic situation. 

However, a detailed social structure and the public mindset not only impressed him but also gave him a new way of understanding the country. 

“I think nobody could imagine that you can organize a country of 1.4 billion [people], it’s actually [like] science fiction,” the Swedish businessman, who works for Volvo Construction Equipment in Shanghai, told the Global Times on Monday. 

Grid-based community management, strict social distancing and mask-wearing mandates turned out to be effective in containing the virus’ spread in China, and more importantly, it was the willingness that Chinese people had in following the rules and thinking about others, Kuta noted. 

Compared with those who protested over epidemic lockdowns in some Western countries, there is such a huge difference in thinking that makes “learning from China’s experience in COVID-19 response” unlikely, he said. In addition, a multi-party system in the West sometimes leads to less effective responses as politicians use the epidemic as an excuse to attack each other, he added. 

While Kuta said he feels much safer in China now as some European countries have been recording resurgences in coronavirus infections, seeing how China contained the epidemic “was a huge lesson for me.”

European countries like France, Germany, Belgium and Greece have become the latest countries to announce second lockdowns, while Spain and Italy also unveiled tougher measures, Sky News reported on Sunday.  

When looking at the experience in handling the epidemic, local officials in Shanghai – a city where many foreigners live – see the use of big data as a strong weapon in helping screen suspected cases and close contacts, cutting off possible transmission routes. 

In a big data center in Pudong district of Shanghai, a dashboard displays a real-time tracking system that can identify every resident in local communities and report spontaneously various individual information including name, location of residence, ethnicity and so on. 

“This helped local community workers a lot during the anti-epidemic battle,” Xu Jinlun, director of the e-governance department of Pudong district government, told at a briefing on Monday. 

The system has been used in covering other industries such as finance, food and restaurants, and education to enhance management and fend off potential risks. 

For instance, to prevent growing risks from imported frozen seafood that carries coronavirus, a tracking system on the frozen imported products has been integrated into the big data system, Yuan Yang of the market supervision office of the local government told the Global Times. 

Chinese inspections have detected COVID-19 on the packaging of frozen food, indicating that live coronavirus can be imported through the cold chain and infect food industry workers in the sector who do not have effective protection, according to guidelines issued by the country’s top health authority on November 27. 

 “The system can identify abnormal conditions and report them so we can intervene as soon as possible,” he said. 

As of the end of 2019, China’s big data industry exceeded 800 billion yuan ($119.6 billion), and it is expected to pass 1 trillion yuan this year, according to media reports. 

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