SARAH SHARPE WRITES — The coronavirus, recently named COVID-19 by the World Health Organization, has completely dominated international media outlets and caused hysteria and travel paranoia. The fast-spreading virus has been documented in countries beyond China such as Japan, Germany, and the U.S. With (at this writing) more than 1,000 reported deaths in mainland China and more than 60,000 cases globally, this outbreak is one for the history books.
However, China’s aggressive response to the coronavirus is a stark contrast to that of the SARS outbreak, which Beiing in retrospect acknowledged was far too slow.
Scientists have been comparing the break out of the coronavirus to that of SARS, severe acute respiratory syndrome; not surprisingly, the emergence of the SARS in 2002-2003 in Hong Kong sparks comparison to the current coronavirus outbreak. However, the SARS virus affected fewer people and was more isolated, and the actions the Chinese government has taken to combat the coronavirus are much more drastic than that taken during the SARS epidemic. In 2002, China was on the rise as a world power, but today, it is a global economic powerhouse.
Accordingly, the capabilities of the Chinese government have widened greatly, and this is why China has been able to battle the coronavirus in a more swift and aggressive manner. Not only has China strengthened quarantine policies, but great efforts have been made to accomodate rising levels of medical care demands. Hundreds of independent companies have contributed to donating medical supplies and construction supplies in order to build medical facilities. As well, China learned the lesson of battling epidemics in 2002.
The devastating outbreak of the coronavirus gives China an opportunity to rebuild public trust, as well as to demonstrate that the central government is capable of caring for its own people in times of crisis. This is surely Chairman Xi Jinping’s greatest leadership challenge yet. Every day, it seems, the epidemic widens and the infected and casualty count increases. And, at this writing, no end is remotely in sight.