It’s not easy keeping the pandemic in check in Guangzhou, a Chinese megacity with more than 18 million residents and a vibrant global hub for trade. Yet Guangzhou has experienced fewer COVID-19 cases overall than many global cities see in a day.
Guangzhou Mayor Wen Guohui
Guangzhou Mayor Wen Guohui says that outcome is the result of an approach based on the principle of “putting people first and giving top priority to saving lives” and the practice of early detection, early reporting, early isolation and early treatment. At the same time, keeping the virus under control has allowed Guangzhou’s booming economic growth to continue.
As part of a series of interviews with mayors of leading global cities and regions, The World Association of the Major Metropolises (Metropolis) spoke with Mayor Wen, who is also President of Metropolis, to learn more about his city’s approach. These interviews are published in partnership with capitaltribunenews.com.
What is the biggest lesson you’ve learned during the pandemic?
The biggest lesson learned in pandemic prevention and control is that we must uphold the principle of people first and life first, and make scientific and targeted efforts with unity and cooperation. The virus knows no borders and ethnicity. In the face of mother nature and major crisis, we all look immensely small and fragile. But as long as we uphold the principle of putting people first and giving top priority to saving lives, mankind will win the fight against the virus.
Regarding the medical prevention and treatment of the COVID-19 pandemic, Guangzhou has always put our people’s life and health as our top priority. We insist on practicing the mechanism of early detection, reporting, isolation and treatment, and treating the infected in designated facilities by senior medical professionals from all over the city and with all necessary resources.
A total of 13 hospitals, 1,478 doctors, 3,702 nurses and 7,200 beds were dedicated to the fight against the virus, and the best professional teams assigned to work in a full cycle including reception for patients, hospitalisation, consultation and scientific research to save lives at all costs. By July 31, 2021, Guangzhou had reported 992 imported confirmed cases and 523 locally transmitted confirmed cases. Guangzhou’s case fatality rate is lower than 0.1 percent. Only one patient, whose COVID-19 test turned negative after treatment, died from multiple underlying diseases.
At the same time, Guangzhou has made great efforts to assist other countries and regions affected by the pandemic. We have sent 22 medical experts in four teams to help fight the virus abroad, donated over 6 million face masks, 2,000 sets of medical protective clothing, nearly 10,000 infrared thermometers and forehead thermometers to 63 COVID-stricken sister or friendship cities in 47 countries.
What has surprised you the most during the pandemic? What has been the most difficult decision for you?
Just like many, I was surprised at the speed the virus spread, the scope it affected, the time span it lasted, the difficulty in prevention and control, and the deep impact it brought to the whole society. But I was utterly moved by the strength, speed and efficiency exhibited by the people of Guangzhou during the fight against the pandemic.
After the outbreak of COVID-19, we established a full-category industrial chain system of emergency supplies ranging from protective suits, protective goggles, forehead thermometers, medicine and medical equipment, test reagents and vaccines. Within a mere three months, the city’s daily output of face masks increased from 130,000 at the beginning to 30 million, and daily output of protective suits increased from 2,000 to 95,000. The nucleic acid test kit developed by a bio-pharmaceutical company in Guangzhou was among the first group of test kits certified by the national authorities. A medical testing company in Guangzhou conducted over 50 million cases of testing nationwide, making itself the number one testing service provider worldwide.
The most difficult decision that Guangzhou had to make during the pandemic was to declare and implement the Level 1 Public Health Emergency Response in late January 2020, which literally pressed the “pause button” for the city to curb the spread of the virus. Under this circumstance, citizens were required to wear a mask when going out, while production, business and schools were put to a halt. Crowded public venues were temporarily closed, traditional flower markets were ended days before schedule, some sightseeing spots were shut down, and international cruises were suspended. It was a difficult choice to take such tough measures at that time. But we, as the city administrators, must be clear-minded. We were obligated to protect the life and health of our people.
What does Guangzhou’s recovery from that look like?
With painstaking efforts, Guangzhou has made major strategic achievements in pandemic prevention and control. Since February 12, 2020, all of Guangzhou’s newly confirmed cases were identified through active screening. By late February 2020, 90 percent of production and business resumed operation, and Guangzhou recorded year-over-year GDP growth of 2.7 percent in 2020.
Since late May this year, when some communities of Liwan District were affected by the Delta variant, we have deepened our understanding of the virus, strengthened prevention and control efforts in a timely manner, and implemented targeted prevention and control measures by level and type. In response to the actual pandemic situation, we put three sub-districts, or towns, under isolated management, and six under closed management. With the implementation of relevant management and control measures, the detected COVID-19 cases were exterminated right on the spot without spreading or spilling to other parts of the city. People’s life and work in most of the city’s 176 sub-districts were not affected. With strenuous efforts, we exterminated the pandemic quickly within 28 days with zero new locally transmitted cases. Within 49 days, we reduced the hospitalised infected cases, close contacts and secondary close contacts, and medium-high risk areas to zero with no death cases or spread of the virus outside the province.
At present, Guangzhou is making efforts to consolidate its achievements in pandemic prevention and socioeconomic development. We are strictly enforcing the strategy of “preventing imported cases from abroad and resurgence at home”, proactively conducting vaccine R&D and production, and speeding up the efforts of vaccination. By July 31, a total of 27,520,000 doses of vaccine had been administered for 15,970,000 residents, of which 11,720,000 were fully vaccinated. By now, the situation in Guangzhou is stable and trending for the better. The economy maintains a growing trend of recovery, major economic indicators go up by a large scale, and social order is going back to normal in an expeditious manner. In the first half of this year, the GDP of Guangzhou had year-over-year growth of 13.7 percent.
What gives you hope? What worries you?
What gives us hope is that, with global efforts to fight the virus, the effect of medical treatment continues to strengthen, the number of vaccinated people is increasing, and the foundation of public health is consolidating. I am firmly confident that Guangzhou will see an even more stable situation in pandemic prevention, more prosperous and orderly economic and social development, and international exchanges going back to normal. The world will further share the victorious results of the fight against the virus.
At the same time, I was alarmed by the facts that new COVID variants continue to emerge, vaccination coverage of certain populations still lags behind, and there is still a long way to go to build the immunological barrier. I believe we should uphold the idea of building a shared community for all mankind, look out for each other and press ahead with international cooperation in pandemic prevention. We firmly support the World Health Organization in playing a leading role in global cooperation on pandemic prevention efforts, fully share the lessons and experiences in pandemic prevention and treatment, continue to provide assistance for countries and regions which are vulnerable in the face of the pandemic, so as to build a community of health for all mankind.
What’s an example of a public health precaution you’ve had to take while keeping life going on more or less as normal?
During the college entrance examination from June 7 to 9 this year, we mobilised nearly 1,000 taxis to provide a one-to-one closed-loop shuttle service for students in affected areas in response to the situation of prevention and control against the Delta variant. We also arranged two isolation wards in a designated hospital as examination rooms for two COVID-19 patients to take the college entrance examination, one in each room. In this way, we ensured that no one missed the college entrance examination due to the pandemic or got infected during the examination, and that all the examinees completed the examination safely.
COVID-19 is a remarkable example of a challenge that crosses municipal boundaries. What tools do you have at the metropolitan level to address the pandemic and coordinate with other levels of government?
In the cross-boundary joint response to the pandemic, metropolises should make full use of modern IT means for comprehensive data connectivity.
Since the outbreak, Guangzhou has taken the lead in launching the Sui Kang applet, used for registering health information and providing health code that is used in two modes, showing and for scanning. Sui Kang collects and analyses pandemic-related information in real time. It provides reference for the national “Pandemic Prevention Health Information Code” and works towards the realisation of “access with one code”. So far, the applet has a total of more than 40 million registered users, over 1.35 billion visits and health codes showed over 630 million times.
Guangzhou is the only city in China to establish a pandemic prevention and control command system at municipal level. A big data platform covering all people in the city was built to automatically visualise the pandemic information in real time. Therefore, we manage to monitor the pandemic risks in the city, districts, and sub-districts, or towns, on one map.
In the next steps, Guangzhou will implement the national initiative on the mutual recognition of international health codes by enhancing the coordination and cooperation with other cities around the world. On the premise of protecting personal information, mutual recognition of information on nucleic acid testing and vaccination will be realised to jointly respond to the pandemic risks and bring the economy and society back to normal.
What, if any, lasting impacts will this crisis have on metropolitan governance in Guangzhou?
First, we will improve the public health system. We have established the system of public health commissions at municipal, district, sub-district and village level, and strengthened coordination, guidance and supervision over the city-wide efforts in improving the public health system. We will optimise the disease prevention and control system, establish dedicated departments in charge, and strengthen functions including monitoring and early warning, risk assessment, epidemiological investigation, testing, and emergency response. We will establish a public health investment mechanism with steadily increasing budget, improve basic infrastructure for disease control, and strengthen the public health system at community level. We will improve the mechanism aimed at monitoring, early warning and handling of public health emergency, enhance the building of laboratory testing networks, optimise the medical treatment, scientific support and material logistics system, so as to enhance our capacity in responding to public health emergencies.
Second, we will conscientiously launch a mass health campaign. We will adhere to the philosophy of prioritising prevention, and improve health promotion policies for citizens. We will launch a “fitness for all” campaign on a city-wide basis, so as to improve citizens’ physique and immunity, and promote health at an earlier stage. We will strengthen health education, promote health knowledge, and champion a healthy lifestyle among all citizens. We will contribute to the patriotic public health campaign by strengthening the construction of public health and environmental infrastructures, improving environment and sanitation in both urban and rural areas, and tightening vector control.
Third, we will improve the emergency response administration network. We will work to establish an emergency response administration system which is under unified command, prepared for both regular and contingency situations, responsive and well-coordinated between different levels. We will strengthen system-building of urban emergency response capacity, and improve capacity in disaster prevention, mitigation, and relief. We will build up the coordination capacity of cross-region disaster and emergency response, and conduct disaster risk screening and treatment. We will develop a regular stock plan of disease prevention and control supplies, readjust the category, scale and mix of emergency materials on a scientific basis, and improve the capacity of fast distribution and emergency transport. We will establish an information and comprehensive monitoring and warning network for emergency command, and strengthen capacity building of communication support for rescue operations under extreme conditions.
Fourth, we will promote the building of a “digital government”. We will deepen the development of the “Internet + government services” model, and improve functions of the online service platform which integrates the whole business processes. We will speed up the establishment of a mechanism to assist government decision-making with digital technology, strengthen the application of digital technology in responding to public health, natural disasters, accidents, social security and other public emergencies, and comprehensively improve our capabilities for early warning and emergency response.
This interview has been translated from Chinese and edited for length and clarity.
Image: Loegunn Lai on Unsplash
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