How China got to zero new domestic COVID-19 cases

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On Thursday, China National Health Commissionn reported that there were zero new domestic cases of the coronavirus in the country, including the Wuhan epicenter for the outbreak in China, a monumental shift from months ago when new cases gathered in the thousands. The claim was bold to make, and not surprisingly drew much skepticism from observers who refused to take it seriously.

While this does not of course mean potential "end" of COVID-19 in China or a total "victory statement" given how random and swift cases may emerge, but there is substantial evidence to claim that the country has made serious and undeniable progress against the virus , prevented a national pandemic, and it is simply not fair to continue to dismiss this even if one chooses to be cautious in the battle that remains.

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First, China's quarantine and locking methods were successful. These provisions, which were strictly enforced, quickly reduced the extent of the virus's spread and had extremely effective results outside Hubei. The travel ban in this area worked. From January to March, the vast majority of new cases remained in the epicenter, and cases in the rest of the country were declared on the right track almost every single day.

While pockets of cases appeared in certain areas of noteworthy problems in Guandong and Zhejiang provinces, the travel ban made these original numbers small, but local closures further strengthened this and medical authorities were able to contain and stifle the spread. The outbreak as a whole was held in one regional location that allowed for more adequate governance elsewhere. The containment in Hubei itself, in the long run, stifled its spread by eventually cutting human-to-human transmission when testing and relief were eventually captured.

In addition, China pursued an "all-community" mobilization against the virus. The country's hierarchical governance allowed each level to pour all its priorities and resources into a unified effort to combat the outbreak. This ensured a comprehensive strategy. As mentioned above, quarantine and locking measures were properly observed, thus ensuring social distancing worked.

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A customer has checked her body temperature before entering a hotpot restaurant in Jiangbei District, southwest of China's Chongqing Municipality, March 14, 2020. / Xinhua
A customer has checked her body temperature before entering a hotpot restaurant in Jiangbei District, southwest of China's Chongqing Municipality, March 14, 2020. / Xinhua

The containment of the virus outside the epicenter allowed surplus resources and personnel to administer to Hubei and speed up relief efforts. Hospitals were built very quickly, and testing was also followed on a rapid scale. China ranks second in the world in terms of per capita testing only behind South Korea (and it doesn't consider the huge difference in population between the two), with Guangdong alone doing 300,000 COVID-19 tests.

In addition, China's technological advances also helped to stifle the spread, the technology was maximized. Railway stations, subway stations and other hubs were equipped with infrared scanning technology to identify temperatures, artificial intelligence allowed rapid contact identification and mapping of individuals, smartphone apps kept individuals informed of infected areas and establishments.


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Furthermore, the Chinese themselves were also vigilant. They wore masks, they practiced appropriate social distancing, they followed the direction of the authorities and all the appropriate advice that some in Europe have fought for.

When all this is taken into account, is it really so unrealistic to say that there are zero new cases in China? Of course, people will continue to be skeptical anyway and not least because of the nature of this virus. This does not mean that the virus is "gone for good" as the incubation period of COVID-19 easily means that more can still emerge, and it is correct to say that there will be more cases here and there with imported cases becoming the biggest threat.

In any case, it is not reasonable to state that tremendous progress has been made and it is quite clear that the country has recovered. So if one continues to be skeptical, one should also be fair and acknowledge the progress made because in some way the evidence suggests that cases in China have been drastically reduced, and if one looks at what has been done, it will not be hard to see why.

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Tom Fowdy is a British political and international relations analyst and educated at Durham and Oxford universities. He writes on topics related to China, the DPRK, the United Kingdom and the United States. The article reflects the author's opinions.

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