If winter comes, spring cannot be far behind

2021-01-12 12:16:17

A medical worker prepares to take swab samples from residents for coronavirus tests in Shijiazhuang, Hebei province, on Jan 6, 2020. [Photo/Xinhua] Editor's note: North China's Hebei province reported 82 locally-transmitted confirmed COVID-19 cases and 49 asymptomatic cases on Sunday, the provincial health commission said Monday. In terms of how to contain the spread of the pandemic when Spring Festival is around the corner, and how to plug the loopholes in the rural areas of Hebei, three experts share their views with China Daily. Excerpts follow: Guard against pandemic shouldn't be lowered Hebei has attracted wide attention as COVID-19 cases resurge in the province, with one high-risk and 39 medium-risk areas having been designated. China is the first country that has largely contained the pandemic. But the resurgence in Hebei has once again reminded people that epidemic prevention and control is of great significance, and it should be far from relaxed, or else it may ravage the social and economic development. Some cannot help asking whether the Hebei outbreak will deal a blow to China's economy as Spring Festival is around the corner. Spring Festival is the most important Chinese festival for family reunions with massive domestic migration, as well as a gala for consumption. Undoubtedly, only by effectively controlling the pandemic can the nation have a relatively stable environment to facilitate the new development paradigm. In recent years, China has made successful strides to alter and upgrade its economic structures. Statistically, the dependence rate on the export sector has declined from 60 percent to nearly 30 percent, while domestic demand has contributed to more than 90 percent of economic growth. Since April 2020, as China began to effectively control the epidemic at home, it has spearheaded production resumption, readjusted normalcy on social order and gained positive economic growth. Virus control and injecting momentum into consumption have an inextricable relationship. Before conducting mass vaccinations, public health networks as well as community and traffic workers must take major responsibility to prevent and control the virus. While such stringent measures do cause inconvenience to public life, Chinese people choose to prioritize the public interest in the face of the pandemic. By contrast, some Western countries allow their people to protest against similar measures such as lockdowns. Moreover, thanks to the rapid development of the digital economy, online shopping can provide adequate daily necessities when people stay at home.Besides, the majority of Chinese families have kept the habit of saving money, which enables them to support themselves in the face of unpredictable risks. Therefore, besides the strong Chinese leadership and effective governance, the traditional values and new living trends allow China to control the pandemic at a relatively fast pace. Regarding the present epidemic situation, the authorities should weigh in on different approaches in different regions. So when Hebei is focused on controlling the resurgence, other provinces and regions should attach the same, if not more, importance to economic development, as prevention and control of the COVID-19 pandemic. As Spring Festival is approaching, migrant workers are asked not to travel during the holiday travel rush and instead encouraged to spend Chinese New Year in the areas where they work. In some provinces, local governments and enterprises have begun to ponder bonuses to encourage workers stay where they are. The authorities could also think about whether to reward people with a holiday after the pandemic is controlled and more people get vaccinated. Such a policy will encourage people to stay as well as tap into people's potential for consumption, which will help fuel domestic economic growth. Tang Jun, a social policy researcher at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.    Rural loopholes should be plugged to check spread The sudden resurgence of the COVID-19 pandemic starting from rural areas of Hebei province has fully proved that one can never be too vigilant to keep an eye on the possibility of a resurgence at home as well as imported cases from abroad. More importantly, the loopholes in the countryside should no longer be ignored. As the pandemic has been largely controlled in China, many rural people have let their guard down since there were no new cases reported. For instance, some of them have not worn masks for a long time. And the more severe aging in rural areas means that the majority of rural residents are senior citizens who are more vulnerable to the virus, making it more difficult to slow the spread. The weak public health service in rural areas should be strengthened from now on. Based on the reported cases, many patients just took medicine they could get in pharmacies nearby or went to small clinics at villages. The village doctors who lacked expertise and training could hardly recognize the suspected COVID-19 cases, not to mention not reporting the cases in a timely manner. The government should invest more in rural health services and provide more guidance to village doctors. It's imperative to strengthen the prevention and control system for infectious diseases in rural areas. Apart from the progress made in recent years like rising subsidies and upgrading medical facilities for rural clinics, the government should attach a greater importance to country doctors by increasing their professional skills with training or dispatching doctors from upper-level hospitals to take turns working in the countryside. Such loopholes must be timely plugged. Vigilance regarding the infectious virus should become a new norm no matter when or where. Especially as Spring Festival is approaching and many people will begin to return to their hometowns, the pandemic control work should never be relaxed, including in villages. Li Guoxiang, a researcher at the Rural Development Institute, Chinese Academy of Social Sciences. This is an excerpt of his interview with China Daily's Yao Yuxin.   Integrated development can help Hebei improve governance After reports of the COVID-19 outbreak in Hebei, Beijing, Tianjin and other adjacent regions made a quick response in joint prevention and control so as to get the pandemic transmission under control. The physical integration set a solid foundation that helped the Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei region to withstand the challenge of the pandemic. The two municipalities and the northern province have been accelerating "integrated development of the Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei region" since 2014. However, though Beijing, Hebei and Tianjin have respectively leaped ahead in development, the coordinated development should have been better promoted. The Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei region has not developed as well as the Yangtze River Economic Belt and Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao Greater Bay Area. The Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei region is at a development juncture as 2021 marks the beginning of the 14th Five-Year Plan.During the 13th Five-Year Plan that ended in 2020, the regional coordinated development was in a 1.0 mode, making significant progress in administration integration; transportation integration, such as highway, railway and infrastructure connectivity; as well as environmental integration, including the decline of Beijing’s PM 2.5 particulate matter. But Hebei still has a lot to catch up on with Beijing and Tianjin in terms of economic development and governance. Taking the pandemic response as an example, when Beijing had an resurgence in June 2020, the first confirmed case helped the authorities to locate the Xinfadi market within 16 hours. Since 2021, the region should seek innovation to upgrade integrated development to a 2.0 mode, which will be a challenge because there is little precedent for reference. In addition to increasing policy support to Hebei and regional coordination, the region needs to strengthen the implementation to ensure equal access to basic public services, which was stressed in the 14th Five-Year Plan. If more public opinion and collective wisdom can support it, the regional integrated development is very likely to make a breakthrough on the concrete foundation, and Hebei will have a brighter future. Wang Hui, an associate professor at the School of Urban Economics and Public Administration, Capital University of Economics and Business. This is an excerpt of his interview with China Daily's Pan Yixuan.