Chinese hospitals overflowing with COVID-19 patients a few weeks ago now have empty beds. Trials of experimental drugs are having difficulty enrolling enough eligible patients. And the number of new cases reported each day has plummeted the past few weeks.
These are some of the startling observations in a report released on 28 February from a mission organized by the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Chinese government that allowed 13 foreigners to join 12 Chinese scientists on a tour of five cities in China to study the state of the COVID-19 epidemic and the effectiveness of the country’s response. The findings surprised several of the visiting scientists. “I thought there was no way those numbers could be real,” says epidemiologist Tim Eckmanns of the Robert Koch Institute, who was part of the mission.
But the report is unequivocal. “China’s bold approach to contain the rapid spread of this new respiratory pathogen has changed the course of a rapidly escalating and deadly epidemic,” it says. “This decline in COVID-19 cases across China is real.”
The question now is whether the world can take lessons from China’s apparent success—and whether the massive lockdowns and electronic surveillance measures imposed by an authoritarian government would work in other countries. “When you spend 20, 30 years in this business it’s like, ‘Seriously, you’re going to try and change that with those tactics?’” says Bruce Aylward, a Canadian WHO epidemiologist who led the international team and briefed journalists about its findings in Beijing and Geneva last week. “Hundreds of thousands of people in China did not get COVID-19 because of this aggressive response.”
— Martin Enserink (@martinenserink) March 2, 2020