COVID-19 Prequel

The outbreak of COVID-19
APR 2020
Zhenshu (Stan)
W.
Chemical Engineering

Unlike a lot of MIT community members, who were only affected by the coronavirus outbreak starting in March 2020, I was paying attention to the outbreak since the very beginning on 12/31/2019. This was because one of my high school classmates - also my best friend - worked in Wuhan, the epicenter of the outbreak.

Back on 12/31/2019, some Chinese media have reported the COVID-19 as SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome)-like pneumonia which brought lots of people’s attention due to the devastating experience in 2003. However, fearing that announcing a new epidemic would negatively affect the local economy, especially right before the Lunar New Year (a holiday as important in China as Thanksgiving or Christmas in the U.S.), the government chose to treat the initial patient only, without further measures. Moreover, the local government officials chose to restrict the media disclosure, a move that was strongly criticized later by the general public. When I look back today, I definitely condemn the local officials' ignorance and wrongful actions. However, I do not think other politicians would have done a much better job than the former Wuhan mayor. (The mayor was dismissed in early February after a public impeachment). 

We now know that this novel coronavirus is very contagious and the mortality rate is one order of magnitude higher than that of the common flu: more than half a million people around the world got infected and more than 27,000 people passed away due to this virus. Back in 12/31/2019, no one knew it was a novel coronavirus and no one could predict how contagious or how lethal this illness would be. With limited information, you can only make limited decisions.  

Eventually, Wuhan was completely locked down on 1/23/2020 after three groups of researchers were sent to investigate how severe the COVID-19 was. Even though 1/3 of the U.S. population and most European countries are currently experiencing lockdowns, it is not comparable with the Wuhan’s lockdown. All the flights/trains/buses from or to Wuhan were cancelled; local subways and buses were cancelled; even personal vehicles were prohibited to drive in or out the city. The lockdown decision was not easy to make at the time, even though most countries in the world are now using this strategy to slow down the COVID-19 transmission. 

For people who do not know Wuhan well, locking down Wuhan was a huge sacrifice. Wuhan has 11.1 million population and it is the Chinese high speed train center. To make an analogy, Wuhan is China’s Atlanta, except with twice as much population. Here is a picture of Wuhan street view posted on CNN back in 2/9/2020; from it, can you realize this is a city with 11.1 million population?


Image source: CNN, www.cnn.com/2020/02/09/asia/coronavirus-china-deaths-sars-intl-hnk/index...

After the lockdown, Chinese government fully supported Wuhan to combat the coronavirus. Two major hospitals were built in 15 days; 12 mobile cabin hospitals were established to facilitate non-severe patient isolation. More than 30,000 doctors and nurses in other provinces were sent to Hubei province (where Wuhan is located) to help save lives. In addition, the whole nation was locked down. People were not only encouraged to stay at home, but were also limited in the number of times they could go out, even for groceries. 

Thanks to these extreme actions, China started to restrain the COVID-19 spreading and eventually hit the milestone of no new local infections reported on 3/18/2020. The whole process took roughly 2 months with tens of thousands of doctors’ and nurses’ hard work, millions of volunteers’ help around the whole nation, abundant support from other countries (Korea, Japan, U.S. etc.), and cooperation of 1.4 billion Chinese people. 

As I am writing this blog, the U.S. has become the country with the most confirmed cases. Needless to say, the U.S. has the world's most advanced medical technologies and well trained doctors and nurses, however, they will be overwhelmed if millions of people get infected. To prevent that, we should stay at home and keep social distance to contribute our part to fight in this war towards COVID-19.     

My best friend, who was stuck in Wuhan since the outbreak, not only survived, but also managed to get a six-pack thanks to the three hundred sit-ups he did every day for the past 2 months. As John Lennon once said, “Everything will be okay in the end. If it’s not okay, it’s not the end”.