Gao Junya Correspondent
I was at the National Social Security Authority of Zimbabwe (NSSA), paying contributions to my housekeeper’s pension. The lady who was attending to our documents and doing the calculations looked solemn and eerily silent.
After a while, she broke the silence and popped up a question: “How is the coronavirus epidemic going on in China? Honestly, I feel a little uncomfortable with you being here.”
I told her I work in Zimbabwe on a long-term basis. She continued to ask: “But haven’t you been to China for a holiday recently for the New Year?”
I said I didn’t have any time off during the New Year and the last time I went back to China was last July. Then she was relieved and began chitchatting with me. But I have to admit that it’s my turn to feel uncomfortable and a little bit cross.
Well, I totally understand why she was worried. At that time, the 2019 novel coronavirus (had not been named COVID-19 yet) was exacerbating in China and had spilled over to several countries.
Therefore, it’s understandable that Zimbabweans tend to panic or get worried when they meet someone from China.
But this tendency reveals that most people here do not have a clear understanding of the epidemic or its conditions in China.
Here are some facts that I want to stress.
COVID-19 not as dangerous as you think
Like influenza, SARS and MERS, COVID-19 belongs to the coronavirus family. It can result in an acute respiratory disease and can be transmitted from human to human.
Though COVID-19 is more infectious compared to SARS, its fatality rate stays at two percent, way lower than the fatality rate of 9,6 percent for SARS. For your record, the fatality rates of MERS and Ebola are 35 percent and 90 percent, respectively. So the new epidemic is not that scary.
Wuhan, capital of Central China’s Hubei Province, is the origin and epicentre of COVID-19. It has a population of 11 million.
Over 60 percent of confirmed cases across China are in Wuhan. And Hubei Province takes up more than 80 percent of the Asian giant’s overall confirmed cases. So generally speaking, the epidemic in other parts of China is not that severe.
Now it’s easy to understand why the Chinese government took decisive measures and put Wuhan and later the whole Hubei Province under lockdown.
It seeks to isolate the origin of coronavirus and better contain the spread of the epidemic.
Moreover, the Chinese government restricts the movement of its people in other provinces. People are advised to stay indoors to avoid contact with other people as much as possible. Till now, considering the continuous decline in new cases outside Hubei, those strict measures turn out to be very effective.
As I wrote this story, the latest figure I got from China’s National Health Commission was that the number of newly- confirmed cases across China on February 22 is 648, among which 630 is from Hubei Province.
This marked the fourth day that the daily number of new infections remained under 1 000. The number of deaths is 97, among which 96 are from Hubei Province. This is a considerable decline compared to the early days when coronavirus broke out.
Meanwhile, the number of newly-cured and discharged patients on February 22 stood at 2 230, surpassing that of newly confirmed infections for the fifth consecutive day.
These figures show that China has made significant progress in containing the spread of the epidemic.
I want to reiterate that the effective control measures have been recognised by the World Health Organisation (WHO).
WHO says the serious measures China has taken not only protect Chinese people, but also prevent the spread of the virus to other countries.
If it weren’t for China’s efforts, the number of cases outside China would have been much higher.
WHO is calling on all countries to invest in preparedness and not panic to manage the epidemic.
What I want to point out is that all of these measures are taken under huge economic pressures.
China is known as the world’s factory. However, the lockdown of Hubei as well as discouragement of people’s movement in other provinces have brought many industries to a halt, leading to business disruptions.
With the situation improving, the Chinese government is rolling out measures to encourage companies to resume operations and boost market activities.
For example, the government is smoothing travels and logistics channels and lifting cargo transport bans to push all links in the industrial chains to resume work and production in a coordinated way.
Since February 22, delivery services of China Post, SF Express and jd.com resumed full operations, while 66,7 percent of other delivery companies have restarted delivery services.
About 30 percent of China’s highway and waterway transportation have resumed operations, while 28 percent of road transport companies and 41 percent of waterway transport companies have resumed work.
To solve the problem of getting employees back to companies that are ready to reopen, eastern China’s Zhejiang Province hires cars, buses, trains and even planes to transport employees.
The resumption of work is being carried out in the amazing “Chinese speed”.
And many more companies are on their way to reopen.
China is the engine of the world economy. It contributes a third of the world’s economic growth.
The impact of the epidemic on the Chinese economy is also being felt across the world and the resumption of operations under such difficult circumstances shows China’s sense of responsibility as a major power.
It is widely believed the negative impact on the Chinese economy and the world economy as a whole is just temporary and the Chinese economy is due to rebound swiftly.
China’s Ministry of Commerce says the country still has the advantages in attracting overseas investment as the impact of the ongoing epidemic would not be lasting.
The outbreak has not undermined the confidence of most multinationals in investing in China, neither has it altered their investment strategy.
On the other hand, International Monetary Fund (IMF) managing director Kristalina Georgieva said on February 22 that she expected China’s economy to return to normal in the second quarter.
Tendekai Tandi, a Zimbabwean sculptor, tells me that two shipments of his works to China have been delayed due to the epidemic.
And the number of Chinese tourists visiting his workshop has also plunged. But he’s quite positive that it’s just temporary. The delay of the shipments does not bring about any losses.
Zimbabwean nationals in China doing fine
Martin Chedondo, Zimbabwe’s Ambassador to China, suggests that around 600 t0 800 Zimbabweans are now living in China’s Hubei Province.
They are all safe and sound.
The embassy urges the Zimbabwean community in China and those at home not to panic, encouraging them to follow all measures put in place by the Chinese government to ensure their safety and health.
I spoke to a 27-year-old Zimbabwean who’s a drama teacher in Wuhan.
She’s staying in a rented house at a complex in the isolated city. She says there is a fruit and vegetable market at the complex which has solid supplies and finds no problems buying groceries. She urges other people in Wuhan not to worry too much. They will be safe as long as they’re indoors. She says with the improvement of the situation on the ground, there is hope that the epidemic will be over and soon she will be able to move freely.
The Zimbabwean Government and its people have voiced and offered their support for China in its fight against COVID-19.
President Mnangagwa says he’s impressed with China’s swift and comprehensive response to the outbreak of coronavirus.
He reiterates that Zimbabwe stands with China and was willing to offer any support.
Vice President Constantino Chiwenga expressed his confidence in the Chinese economy.
He believes the impact of coronavirus is just temporary setback. The Chinese economy will soon get on track.
Munyaradzi Gurure, who’s volunteering in the epidemic-struck China, has been making headlines both in China and in Zimbabwe.
The 21-year-old student from Zimbabwe works at a railway station in southern China’s Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, checking passengers’ temperatures and disinfecting the public space of the railway station. He’s doing what he can to stop the spread of coronavirus.
There are many people like Munyaradzi and many countries like Zimbabwe are standing behind China, helping to fight coronavirus together.
With help and support from abroad, and its own unremitting efforts of prevention and control at home, China is bound to contain the epidemic in the near future.
Gao Junya is a Harare-based correspondent for China Media Group.