• Naomi Head

One Unit, One Family: How the coronavirus is affecting China and what it means for you

Originally published on February 20 2020 for Red Unit

A response to the COVID-19 outbreak

Photo credit: Allen Cieong/Unsplash

News headlines around the globe have been dominated by the outbreak of the Novel Coronavirus, now officially named COVID-19. The virus originated in the Chinese province of Hubei and is believed to have spread from bats to humans at an open-air food market in the provincial capital of Wuhan.

Origins of the outbreak

The first cases of COVID-19 were reported on 31 December 2019 by Doctor Li Wenliang. Dr Li was an ophthalmologist at Wuhan Central Hospital, who contracted the virus and passed away on 7 February 2020 causing national mourning across Weibo and WeChat. Doctor Li has been called a hero and his death has sparked debate regarding freedom of speech amongst Chinese netizens.

Chinese citizens have long been using Weibo and WeChat to call out their government and encourage change. The death of Doctor Li is no different and as the country remains at a standstill, discussion surrounding freedom of speech will no doubt remain at the top of the agenda.

The spread of misinformation

The volume of misinformation surrounding the COVID-19 outbreak is at an all-time high. An unclear timeline of the outbreak, restrictions on publicly accessible information, and several international governments calling the disease an ‘imminent threat’ have led to the spread of rumours across the world.

The World Health Organization (WHO) is trying to debunk these rumours with daily reports on the virus, myth busting infographics and online training raising awareness of how to detect and prevent the spread of COVID-19. As the situation progresses it is important to note that the number of patients in recovery outweighs the death toll as China and the rest of the world fights to contain the spread of the virus.

The WHO count of confirmed cases across the globe stands at 75,197 across 26 countries including Singapore, Japan, Australia, the US, and the UK. The WHO daily incident reports indicate there have been three fatalities outside of China.

What’s going on in China?

The large-scale quarantine within China’s borders is unlike anything ever seen in human history with the most extreme containment measures enacted in Hubei, where travel to and from the province has ceased. The Chinese government is protecting its citizens, trying to curb the spread of COVID-19, and avoid panic similar to the SARS epidemic of 2003.

Almost 20 years after the SARS epidemic, citizens are keeping calm and letting the world come to them with internet shopping and food delivery services becoming a lifeline for some. The increase in delivery services over the last 20 years has given China the ability to expand and has created a somewhat symbiotic society, where online consumers and couriers have been driving the local economy.

This model has been key during the quarantine as volunteer couriers have been delivering medicine and supplies, as well as robots being deployed across the country in hospitals and for delivery to minimise infections.

Driverless cars have been widely used in various scenarios to prevent people from having physical contact.

Though delivery services are still operating, online shopping platforms Alibaba and JD.com are suffering as couriers remain trapped in the quarantine too. The delay in services and a lack of supplies is hitting these giants hard, with average daily sales for some sellers dropping by up to 80 per cent. Amidst worries about the Chinese economy, Alibaba is offering to protect online merchants who are suffering due to slower delivery and production times.

Is there an end in sight?

The number of newly confirmed cases of the virus is declining thanks to containment protocol including the closure of schools and offices, temperature checks in public spaces, and limited movement within the country. The COVID-19 outbreak is predicted to be under control by April with life slowly returning to normal as people go back to work and schools reopen. Several major cities are now reporting no new cases, including Nanjing, while dozens of others are sending patients home after successful recovery.

Though the impact of the quarantine is still unknown, Chinese citizens continue to patiently wait for the end of their New Year holiday posting memes, videos and words of encouragement to their country fellows, including Wuhan’s COVID-19 volunteers.

Videographer and Weibo users Spider Monkey Bread (蜘蛛猴面包) and LinChen Hearing (林晨同学 Hearing) has been monitoring the situation on the streets of Wuhan, dispelling rumours of widespread panic and chaos with their videos.

Lending a helping hand

Organisations across China have responded with an unprecedented level of support sending aid and relief teams to Wuhan to help overworked medical staff. Tsinghua University, Renmin University and Peking University were among the first to send emergency response teams from their associate hospitals, with most volunteers leaving Beijing without saying goodbye to loved ones or knowing when they will be able to return home. One young doctor hitch hiked her way across the country to help relieve her colleagues who had been working non-stop for 10 days.

The Chinese government has erected several temporary hospitals in Wuhan to combat the volume of patients and take strain off the city’s already overwhelmed medical centres. Construction workers have been praised for their fast action and determination to help combat the spread of the virus and provide a safe space for treatment and recovery. While several other cities have been working around the clock to prepare their own infectious disease centres to analyse samples and treat any cases in their vicinity.

What is Red Unit doing?

In response to the ongoing outbreak, Red Unit is joining forces with a group of UK-based Chinese graduates to provide aid to frontline medical staff in Wuhan and Greater China.

The collective, known as 大爱创业人 (dà’àichuàngyèrén), is a group of Chinese students and alumni from universities across the UK including the University of Edinburgh, Heriot-Watt University, the University of Glasgow, Strathclyde University, the University of the West of Scotland and Imperial College London, with additional support from Compassionate Entrepreneur Volunteers from Edinburgh Napier University, Warwick University and Aberdeen University.

The group is aiming to raise 10,000 pounds to provide protective gear for hospitals in Hubei. They will use the funds raised to send goggles and body suits to frontline medical staff in Wuhan and around Hubei. Any additional funds or supplies will be sent to other affected areas. Their JustGiving page can be found here.

As One Unit and One Family, Red Unit wants to pass on our respect and admiration for the frontline medical staff and individuals who are contributing to the protection of the public and aiding the recovery of patients at this time.

Stay strong, China! Stay strong, Wuhan! 中国加油!武汉加油!

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