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Our Nation's War Against the Epidemic

By Chen Fang, Dong Ruifeng, Chen Cong, and Tian Xiaohang Source: English Edition of Qiushi Journal Updated: 2020-07-15

The 1.4 billion Chinese people are engulfed in an extraordinary war against the epidemic. 

The 2020 Spring Festival vacation was extended in an unusual move, life in Wuhan was put on pause, and the movement of people traveling around the country for the holiday was brought to a dramatic halt…. 

This epidemic, known as the COVID-19 epidemic, is the most challenging public health emergency that the PRC has faced since its founding 70 years ago due to the unprecedented rate and scale of the virus' spread. 

This is a crisis, and a major test.

There is no gun smoke on this unusual battlefield, but lives hang in the balance. There is no distinction between the front and the rear, because this is already a battle that has embroiled all of the people. 

Even in this dark hour, our great nation has not lost its tenacity and vitality. The lights glowing through the night in the Zhongnanhai compound have given the people the strength and confidence to keep going. As General Secretary Xi Jinping has said, "The more dangerous the situation, the more necessary it is for those in charge to remain calm and exercise unified management." 

Xi Jinping has taken the coronavirus epidemic very seriously since it began, personally giving commands and formulating plans that have strengthened centralized and unified leadership over prevention and control efforts. On January 7, he put forward requirements for work to counter the epidemic at a meeting of the Standing Committee of the Political Bureau of the CPC Central Committee. On January 20, he gave special instructions on anti-epidemic efforts, mandating that Party committees, governments, and relevant departments at all levels put the health and safety of the people first and take practical steps to contain the virus' spread. On January 25, the first day of Chinese New Year, he presided over another meeting of the Standing Committee of the Political Bureau where new efforts were made to study, plan, and mobilize prevention and control work. At this meeting, the decision was made to establish the Central Leading Group for Novel Coronavirus Prevention and Control as a direct response, a central steering group was dispatched to Hubei Province, and the Joint Prevention and Control Mechanism of the State Council was tasked with providing coordination. In addition to the above, Xi Jinping has presided over multiple meetings of the Political Bureau and its Standing Committee focusing on prevention and control and efforts to get people back to work and restart production. On February 23, he delivered an important address at a meeting to coordinate efforts for COVID-19 prevention and control with economic and social development. 

On February 10, Xi Jinping inspected anti-epidemic efforts in Beijing and gave on-the-spot instructions. He was in contact with officials on the front lines in Hubei and Wuhan via video link, and listened to reports from the central steering group and the Hubei command center. He also chaired meetings of the Central Commission for Comprehensive Law-based Governance, the Central Cyberspace Affairs Commission, the Central Commission for Comprehensively Deepening Reform, and the Central Commission for Foreign Affairs, where he gave instructions on coronavirus prevention and control in different angles and with different emphases. Meanwhile, the CPC Central Committee released the Notice on Strengthening the Party Leadership to Provide Firm Political Guarantee for Winning the Battle Against Novel Coronavirus. 

Xi has put constant focus on epidemic prevention and control, delivering oral and written instructions on a daily basis. The Central Leading Group for Novel Coronavirus Prevention and Control has planned out efforts in a timely manner, the central steering group has actively carried out its work, and the Joint Prevention and Control Mechanism of the State Council has enhanced coordination. Party committees and governments at all levels have taken action in a race against the clock, and formed powerful synergy to combat the virus. 

In a speech delivered on February 23, Xi Jinping said, "We the Chinese nation have never been crushed by any of the ordeals we have gone through, and we have always emerged ever stronger and more resilient from adversity." 

With an incredible sense of duty and determination, countless brave warriors from across the country, from the banks of the Yangtze River to the distant northeast, and from the central plains to the eastern shores, have rushed to Wuhan to fight against the epidemic on the front lines. 

The entire country has been called to fight against the epidemic in an all-out people's war. We must continue to put the health and safety of the people first, and make prevention and control the highest priority. Under the firm leadership of the CPC Central Committee with Xi Jinping at the core, the Chinese people numbering in the hundreds of millions have found strength in unity, and used this strength to fight the virus together. 

Warriors in white suits:

medical workers coming forward to serve in the most dangerous places

At 10 PM on January 29, 2020, the fifth day of Chinese New Year, hospital director Zhang Dingyu limped back and forth as he talked on the phone at Jinyintan Hospital in Wuhan. 

"Pick up the pace, we need to hurry, the patients can't wait!" 

Within less than an hour, Dr. Zhang had answered 8 phone calls. The patients his hospital was admitting were almost all confirmed as infected with the coronavirus and in critical condition. With no time to care for his wife, who was herself infected, Dr. Zhang worked day and night in a race against the virus. 

After the first group of seven coronavirus patients was transferred over on December 29, 2019, Jinyintan Hospital became a frontline battleground for two months, with Dr. Zhang leading the fight. It was at this time that many people finally learned that Dr. Zhang was suffering from ALS, a rare disease with which he had been diagnosed three years earlier. 

In order to identify the pathogen, Dr. Zhang took the initiative to order the collection of samples through a procedure called bronchoalveolar lavage for testing. When additional wards were set up for patients, he went two days and nights without sleeping. 

"I have to be faster so that we can save more patients from the clutches of this virus," Dr. Zhang said with steely determination. 

Draped in their white fatigues and ready to do battle, 80,000 of Wuhan's medical workers wasted no time rushing to the front lines, because no one understood better than them how important each minute and each second could be to their patients. 

And on this strange battlefield, time indeed became counted by the second. 

Multiple hospitals in Wuhan took urgent action, immediately setting up emergency command groups and specialist teams, carrying out pre-screening to separate patients, launching fever clinics, and creating isolation wards. 

Under the leadership of the CPC Central Committee and the State Council, medical teams from all over the country rapidly assembled to assist Wuhan and the rest of Hubei Province. More than 40,000 of these warriors in white medical suits battled against the epidemic on the front lines. A medical team from Nanfang Hospital in Guangzhou, which was once dispatched to Xiaotangshan Hospital on the outskirts of Beijing to combat the SARS outbreak, requested an assignment, pledging, "If there is a battle to be fought, we must answer the call, and we must win!"


Hospital director Zhang Dingyu walks to the wards at Jinyintan Hospital in Wuhan on January 29, 2020. PHOTO BY XINHUA REPORTER XIAO YIJIU

Between the protective suit, the rubber shoes, the gloves, the mask, and the goggles, and the adult diaper, the outfit that medical workers wore was very difficult to take off. Once they were fully geared up, they would be dripping with sweat, but the sweat would later evaporate as their bodies heated up from hard work. This is something that medical workers had to go through over and over again. 

Wu Xinjuan, head of the nursing department at Peking Union Medical College Hospital in Beijing, noted, "When you're flustered, you can't tend to patients well. Even though we are anxious to save people, in this situation it is vital that we follow procedures step-by-step and make sure that we don't make any mistakes." 

The wards for COVID-19 patients are simultaneously a sanctuary and a battleground where patients must fight for their lives. 

The coronavirus must be diagnosed through a throat swab. When performing a swab, the nurse faces the patient directly, asks them to open their mouth and breathe in, and then collects saliva. This process is extremely dangerous. 

At Tongji Hospital in Wuhan, nursing department head Wang Hui took the lead, going into the fever wards to supervise the care of severely ill patients and demonstrating how to collect swabs on these patients. She said, "The other nurses will only have the courage to get to work if I am there with them. If I don't set an example, how can I expect the younger nurses to do what is needed?" 

On the front lines of epidemic prevention and control, medical workers are constantly up against mortal danger. 

On February 18 at 10:54 in the morning, Liu Zhiming, director of Wuhan's Wuchang Hospital, passed away at a branch of Tongji Hospital. He had fought on the front lines since the beginning of the outbreak, and gave his life to fulfil his duty. 

At the moment of his passing, a screen at Wuchang Hospital's epidemic prevention command center where Dr. Liu once worked displayed the number of patients who had recovered and been discharged: 408. A nurse stared at the figure for a while before mumbling, "More and more people are being discharged, but our director is never coming back." Although Liu Zhiming is gone, his name is forever engraved on Wuhan's long list of heroes. 

On February 16, as the year's first snowfall blanketed Wuhan, medical staff at Huoshenshan Hospital worked in an intense yet orderly manner. 

With their hands cracked, their faces covered in marks left by masks, and their clothes drenched with sweat, the doctors and nurses were devoting every ounce of their energy just to give their patients a glimmer of hope.

Early that morning, the chief nurse Zhang Feng brought the nurses into one of the wards to celebrate the birthdays of two of their patients, Mr. Qian and Mr. Zeng. By sheer coincidence, these two men who occupied neighboring beds shared the same birthday. 

This was an unusual birthday party, but even though there were no flowers, no candles, and no cake, the atmosphere was still happy and warm. "The ward is pumped with oxygen, so we can't have candles," said nurse Zhang, "but we can still sing happy birthday!" Hearing the nurses sing for him, the elderly Mr. Zeng couldn't help tearing up. 

Though the epidemic has forced us to isolate ourselves physically, we remain connected through our emotional bonds to each other. This intense feeling has been shown through the countless letters from people asking how they can help, saying, "I've cancelled my vacation, I'm ready to go anytime," and, "Sign me up!" 

On January 24, the Chinese New Year's Eve, many people were whisked away from celebrating with their families after receiving urgent orders. Without a second to spare, they grabbed their backpacks and rushed to the airport, on the way to aid Wuhan. Time was of the essence, because every minute saved was a minute less for the virus to spread. The medical teams participating in the relief effort were made up of doctors and nurses, civilian and military personnel, and experts in both Western and Chinese medicine specialized in multiple disciplines including respiratory illnesses, infectious diseases, and intensive care. Collectively, they incorporated essentially all of the key forces and resources related to the prevention and control of contagious diseases. These teams worked around the clock in an intense battle against the specter of death.

For the military, beating back the epidemic was also a task of the utmost urgency. On Chinese New Year's Eve, each of the military's branches, regional commands, and major departments commenced emergency mobilization. After the rapid arrival of three military medical teams in Wuhan, patients in critical condition were immediately diagnosed and treated. On this unusual battlefield, the 450 brave members of these teams were able to make quick progress through their willingness to fight tooth and nail, demonstrating the fierce determination of our military personnel. 

Meanwhile, the heads of numerous hospitals in Beijing including Beijing Hospital, Peking Union Medical College Hospital, Peking University First Hospital, Peking University People's Hospital, China-Japan Friendship Hospital, and Peking University Third Hospital personally led intensive care teams that took charge of a number of designated hospitals in Wuhan and provided treatment for critically ill patients. These teams worked around the clock in shifts, fighting against the virus with brave and selfless devotion. 

As epidemic prevention and control work reached its most intense and crucial stage, saving critically ill coronavirus patients became one of the most pressing tasks. 

Patients were categorized according to the severity of their symptoms, with critically ill patients treated in designated hospitals. Meanwhile, top experts were assembled to take charge of intensive care units. Roughly 10% of the entire country's medical workers specialized in intensive care were sent to provide relief to Hubei including Wuhan, while 15 cities and 1 prefecture in Hubei Province other than Wuhan were provided with assistance by 19 provinces. This launched an unprecedented push to eradicate the virus. 

On February 20, the number of patients that had recovered and been discharged throughout the country broke 2,000 for the first time, and in the last week recovery rates have continued to rise in Wuhan and other areas of Hubei as well as in other provinces across the country. It is important to recognize that we owe these uplifting figures to collective efforts that have been made throughout society, and especially to the hard work, dedication, and sacrifice of our medical workers fighting on the front lines. 

President Xi has made a point of repeatedly stressing the importance of taking good care of our medical workers, since they form the backbone on which our victory against the epidemic depends. 

Xi's important instructions have not only guided the introduction of policies aimed at supporting medical workers across the country, but also provided these workers with inspiration and encouragement as they fight against the epidemic. 

As this unusual battle has waged on, we have seen images circulated on social media of families saying emotional goodbyes to loved ones leaving to participate in relief efforts, of messages sent between parents and children practicing their shared medical skills long distances from each other, and of the heart-wrenching faces of nurses covered in creases left by their masks, weary but determined to keep fighting. One post dedicated to medical workers, which attracted millions of likes, said simply, "1.4 billion people are behind you." 

Starting on February 19, care packages were delivered to the families of nearly 20,000 frontline medical workers in Wuhan, including a note that read, "Our guardian angels on the front lines are worried most about their families, and we share their concern. We will do everything we can to help you." 

Our heroes need our support. 

According to statistics released by the National Health Commission, more than 3,000 medical workers throughout China had been infected by February 24, with some having died in the line of duty. 

When epidemic prevention and control efforts were in the most critical phase, medical workers were vexed by issues including overwork, remuneration, and protective equipment. Therefore, new measures were needed to provide greater care and support for our medical workers to alleviate the constant pressure put on them.


Head of intensive care Peng Zhiyong (left) exchanges Spring Festival greetings with Huang Shuli, a patient whose condition had improved, in the isolation ward at Wuhan University Zhongnan Hospital on January 24, 2020.


In response, multiple government ministries and commissions jointly launched seven major measures to provide more vigorous support to medical workers fighting on the front lines against the epidemic, including specific steps to improve the conditions for work and rest, promote physical and mental health, guarantee remuneration, and raise subsidies for anti-epidemic work, as well as more general steps to generate social support, create safer working environments, and commend outstanding professionalism. On February 22, the Central Leading Group for Novel Coronavirus Prevention and Control issued an additional notice regarding the implementation of ten measures to provide further support for medical workers.

According to Ma Xiaowei, chief of the National Health Commission, our fight against the epidemic is a "war without gun smoke, as well as a major test of the will and determination of our medical workers." He also stressed that the interests of the people must be put before all else, and that the more critical the situation became, the more important it was that we not gave in to fear. 

Scientific researchers:

pushing to the front lines to fight against the epidemic

As the epidemic was spreading, Zhong Nanshan, an academician at the Chinese Academy of Engineering renowned for his work during the SARS outbreak, sent out an urgent message warning the public not to travel to Wuhan. Meanwhile, Dr. Zhong was going against his own warning as he rushed toward the front lines of the fight against the epidemic.


Academician Li Lanjuan reveals her crease-covered face after taking off her mask. PHOTO BY CHINA NEWS SERVICE REPORTER AN YUAN 

With his head of gray hairs, stern expression, and calm composure, Dr. Zhong helps many people feel at ease when he appears in front of the cameras. At the age of 84, he was entrusted with an important mission at this time of crisis, taking charge of the National Health Commission's team of high-level experts. Many were moved by an image of Dr. Zhong that circulated online in which he is seen catching a few moments of rest in a seat in the dining car of a train on an urgent trip to Wuhan. 

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