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China Could Be Beating the Coronavirus, at a Painful Price


BEIJING — As the brand new coronavirus races world wide, tanking markets, reducing off world journey and suspending faculty for lots of of thousands and thousands of youngsters, governments are determined for methods to comprise it.

China, the place the place it first appeared, says it has the solutions.

To the shock of some, the nation that hid and mismanaged the preliminary outbreak seems to be bringing it beneath management, not less than by its personal official figures. The variety of new instances reported has fallen dramatically in latest days at the same time as infections are surging in different nations. The World Well being Group has praised Beijing’s response.

Officers reported solely 99 new instances on Saturday, down from round 2,000 a day simply weeks in the past, and for the second day in a row, none had been detected in Hubei Province exterior of its capital, Wuhan, the middle of the outbreak.

China says the development proves that its containment measures — which embrace a lockdown on practically 60 million individuals in Hubei and strict quarantine and journey restrictions for lots of of thousands and thousands of residents and foreigners — are working. And it has begun attempting to advertise its efforts as profitable in propaganda at residence and overseas.

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The remainder of the world, a lot of it fearfully confronting its first instances, has taken observe. However there may be additionally concern that China’s numbers could also be flawed and incomplete. The actual check will likely be whether or not the virus flares once more when youngsters return to school rooms and staff to factories, and commuters begin taking buses and subways.

China’s blunt pressure technique poses deeper questions for different nations. Its marketing campaign has come at nice price to individuals’s livelihoods and private liberties. Even nations that would copy China nonetheless must ask whether or not the treatment is worse than the illness.

By comparison, Italy reported 49 deaths from the virus on Friday.

Outside of Wuhan, the spread has effectively stopped, according to the official figures. All but one of the 99 new cases reported on Saturday were in Wuhan or were people who had traveled to China from abroad.

The World Health Organization says China’s containment measures may have saved hundreds of thousands of people from infection. Its efforts show that uncontrolled spread of the virus “is not a one-way street,” Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the group’s director general, said on Thursday.

“This epidemic can be pushed back,” Dr. Tedros said, “but only with a collective, coordinated and comprehensive approach that engages the entire machinery of government.”

W.H.O. experts sent to China have also highlighted clinics that could diagnose hundreds of cases a day with CT scans and laboratory tests, and the mass isolation centers in stadiums in Wuhan that separated people who had mild infections from their families.

“There’s no question that China’s bold approach to the rapid spread of this new respiratory pathogen has changed the course of what was a rapidly escalating and continues to be a deadly epidemic,” Dr. Bruce Aylward, the leader of the W.H.O. team that visited China, told reporters in Beijing late last month.

The numbers suggest that aggressive quarantine measures, when fully enforced, could choke the spread of the virus, said Dr. William Schaffner, an infectious disease specialist at Vanderbilt University.

“This is the largest public health experiment in the history of humankind,” Dr. Schaffner said. “They can’t turn it off, but they did turn it down. And it did provide the rest of the world with some extra time.”

Still, the total number of infections in China, at more than 80,000, is staggering. And there are reasons to doubt the official figures.

In the early days of the outbreak, a shortage of test kits and hospital beds meant that many were not able to get tested. Many mild infections are likely going undetected. The government has changed how it counts cases several times in recent weeks, prompting large fluctuations in the reported figures, though experts say such adjustments are not unusual.

Medical experts say that there have been few signs that the government has aggressively tested for the coronavirus outside of medical facilities in Hubei. Until they broaden the scope of testing, experts say, it will be impossible to determine the true extent of the epidemic because those who have mild infections might not see a doctor.

“At the moment we are focused on the tip of the iceberg,” said David Hui, the director of the Stanley Ho Center for Emerging Infectious Diseases at the Chinese University of Hong Kong.

The ruling Communist Party hails the slowdown of the outbreak as a sign of the superiority of its authoritarian, top-down political system that gives officials nearly unchecked power. But its heavy-handed measures are testing the patience of its citizens, many of whom think such a clampdown could have been avoided if officials had not first hid the scale of the outbreak and silenced whistle-blowers.

The impact of the restrictions has been felt most acutely in Hubei, where 56 million people have been effectively penned in since January. For more than five weeks, the typically bustling hub of universities, commerce and transportation has been transformed into a collection of ghost towns as the virus has ravaged communities, ensnared entire families and infected thousands of medical workers.

China’s experience combating the virus has also highlighted the risk of family transmission if hospitals run out of beds and testing kits, as they did in Wuhan, where for weeks, many who were sick were sent home and infected their relatives.

Relationships are also fraying as families are forced to live for extended periods in confined spaces. Guo Jing, a feminist activist in Wuhan, said she and other volunteers had fielded a number of requests for help from residents reporting physical abuse by their family members at home.

“Under these circumstances, it’s really difficult for them to find help during the epidemic,” said Ms. Guo. “It’s so difficult to leave the house.”

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