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Global Times

Get used to COVID-19 being around for long term, warns virologist

Global Times

By Wang Qi Source:Global Times Published: 2020/6/29 16:58:22

A community health expert and virologist has said that people should be prepared for long-term coexistence with COVID-19, and Beijing's precise prevention and control measures represent a trending strategy in the future, as the virus might be with people for decades to come.

Wu Hao, Beijing's chief community health expert and also a member of the National Health Commission expert group, told media that although many people have asked him when the epidemic can be completely contained, human beings need to accept and be prepared for the long-term existence of COVID-19. Therefore, precise prevention and control is the key strategy both at the present and in the future.

Beijing reported seven new confirmed COVID-19 cases on Sunday, bringing the total number to 318 since the resurgence of the disease at Xinfadi wholesale market on June 11.

Wu guided the anti-epidemic work at community level in Wuhan for more than 50 days, and is now playing a key role in confining the virus in Beijing. Beijing has conducted nucleic acid testing, set up isolation sites and applied closed-off management to 11 residential communities near the Xinfadi market, under the guidance of Wu and other experts.

Since the latest outbreak, Beijing has marked all 152 subdistricts by COVID-19 risk level, rather than imposing a complete lockdown. Beijing had five high-risk areas and 37 medium-risk areas as of Sunday. The epidemic has had a limited impact on the work and lives of most residents in low-risk areas.

"Although we have gained experience from Wuhan, we cannot simply copy it," Wu said, adding that community transmission had already occurred in Wuhan, and it was difficult to distinguish infected people from healthy people. Knowledge of the virus and nucleic acid testing ability were still weak at that time, so it was appropriate to lock down the entire city and impose community containment.

The early detection of the first confirmed case in Beijing's latest outbreak made precise prevention and control possible. "The high-risk areas were quickly blocked, and almost all the people exposed in Xinfadi market were identified," he noted.

Lei Haichao, director of the Beijing Health Commission, said the symptom onset was concentrated between June 9 and 15, and reached a peak on June 13, accounting for 61 percent of the total number of cases. He noted that Xinfadi-related infection numbers are declining.

In a telephone interview, Wang Guangfa, a respiratory expert at Peking University First Hospital, also mentioned the reality of the long-term existence of COVID-19 and importance of finding a balance between responding to the epidemic and restoring the economy.

Wu said the aim of the precise hierarchical management measures is to minimize the inconvenience and impact on the economy and people's lives caused by excessive prevention measures.

Wu noted that with the improvement of testing capabilities, big data technology, and the deepening understanding of the virus, it may be appropriate to focus on blocks, communities and even buildings in the future, rather than subdistricts.

Yang Zhanqiu, a deputy director of the pathogen biology department at Wuhan University, told the Global Times on Monday that the coronavirus may coexist with humans for decades. It might wane at some stages, but it will be hard to make sure an outbreak never occurs again.

"Only with the help of a vaccine can the epidemic be put under complete control, and humans need to keep calm and learn to live with the virus," said Yang, noting Beijing's precise prevention and control represents the strategy of the future.

Yang said that after Wuhan lifted its lockdown, the city tried to curb the spread in a precise way. "Communities or even the buildings were strictly managed if confirmed cases were reported in the subdistrict, but most of the Wuhan residents were not affected," he noted.

Yang also stressed the importance of public participation, whether it is dealing with public health emergencies or maintaining public health in daily life. "The more precise the prevention and control, the lower the cost to society."

In Wu's view, people should pay attention to their own protection and take the initiative to report and seek medical treatment once they show symptoms. People should also form the concept that "zero cases does not mean no infections," and cultivate good public health habits.

"The outbreak might be helpful in cultivating people's public health awareness, and make people pay attention to public health issues often ignored in the past… After all, public health work is by no means only done by health authorities," Wu said.



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