Jun 04, 2020 06:54 PM

Jim Yong Kim and Zhang Wenhong on Fighting Covid-19

On June 2, 2020, Caixin held a live roundtable “Fighting Coronavirus: Policy Analysis and Practical Experiences”, which was joined by former World Bank president Jim Yong Kim and Chinese infectious diseases physician Zhang Wenhong. Key points are summarized as below.

News coverage of this event:

U.S. Needs to Spend Big on Contact Tracing, Former World Bank Chief Says

Hong Kong Extends Quarantine Restrictions for Incoming Travelers

More articles about Dr. Zhang Wenhong:

Zhang Wenhong: ‘No Chance’ Pandemic Will End This Summer

Countries Must Learn To Live With Disease Controls, Zhang Wenhong Says

Interview: Zhang Wenhong Warns of Second Wave of Covid-19 Pandemic


Key points by Jim Yong Kim, Vice Chairman and Partner of Global Infrastructure Partners, former President of the World Bank

More active approaches

• In the U.S., the current situation is that Americans are on the defense, sheltering at home and waiting. It is needed to go on offense with active public health approach, by going after every transmission through active contact tracing.

• In the campaign to eradicate smallpox in India, Indians managed to do contact tracing with much less technology. There’s really no contact tracing job that looks too difficult, especially in the richest country in the world.

Public health problems

• In the United States, if people were to put together a full testing contact tracing isolation quarantine program, it will cost hundreds of billions, if not a trillion dollars. But that is nothing compared to letting the epidemic go.

• The United States just spent 3.5 trillion dollars on fiscal stimulus. But that is just treating the symptoms.

• So when people ask, you have to make the tradeoff between economics and public health. The answer is no. If you don't fix the public health problem, the economic problem will just continue.

Situation in the U.S.

• The U.S. is so late to the game; it's going to be so difficult. A lot of places needs to be worried, all the developing countries, although some of them are doing better than many countries in the OECD.

• Brazil, Peru and Chile is worrying. But the United States is the country needs to be worried the most.


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Key points by Zhang Wenhong, Director of the Department of Infectious Diseases, Shanghai Huashan Hospital

Contract tracing in China

• Shanghai has already passed the darkest period, and now has only five active cases.

• Contact tracing is very important in the early stage, and it is an incredible challenge, but even as it grows tougher in the later stage, we should never give up on it. It is also the most cost-effective strategy.

• China may have a high GDP, but it does not have a lot of medical resources per capita, so it was even more important to employ a maximal contact tracing and social distancing program.

Reopening for China and East Asia

• It will be a great challenge to bring life back to normal, and China wants to control the disease at zero cases. So if there is opening of travel between east Asian countries, if airlines start flying between Singapore, and Hong Kong, and South Korea, then China may reopen, but it will maintain its tight screening and quarantine regimen.

• Countries will still need to work together and fight the virus together until there is a vaccine, and hopefully rapid testing and strict virus control measures will allow for at least an East Asian reopening.

Public health system enhancement

• As discussed at the Two Sessions, China hopes to take its experience from Wuhan and other places to strengthen and enhance its public health system.

• Therefore in the future, China will strengthen its public health system on one hand, and take a strategy to control the disease at the very stage on the other hand.


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Key points by Michele Geraci, former Undersecretary of State of the Italian Ministry of Economic Development

Situation in Italy

• Italy is now in the process of reopening its economy and society, but is a bit stuck in the middle because it did not do early testing and doesn’t even have an app for contact tracing. That may be due to lack of consciousness about the virus that Asian societies have after experiencing SARS.

• Taking one step towards preventing spread of the disease and then one step backward on the economy and going back and forth, has prevented progress given lack of a clear plan.

• There is a struggle over policy between wealthier northern regions that have been hit harder by the virus and poorer southern regions that have not, and the geographic asymmetry over whether and how to open lockdowns remains an unsolved challenge.

Global collaboration and solidarity

• While this is a health problem, and not a political problem, it does lead to an economic problem that creates social issues. These viruses can actually divide society, and hurt the poorest.

• Europe and the West need to be more humble in the face of the virus, and not get hung up on the mistakes of the past. This is not the first time, and it will not be the last time we face a pandemic, so we cannot get tangled into where the virus started.


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Key points by Vernon Lee, Director of Communicable Diseases of Singapore Ministry of Health

Experience from Singapore

• Hot weather will not help contain the virus. The weather in Singapore is constantly hot and yet it has not slowed down the spread of the virus. So hot weather alone might not affect the virus spread as the summer comes in the northern hemisphere.

• Many layers of measures have been put in place, in a so-called Swiss cheese approach, where no single measure is totally effective. But multiple measures will provide a safety net where it goes through one layer; another layer will hopefully catch the virus.

• The normal life will soon return, but it is not going to be the normal as in the pre-Covid-19 normal, but a new normal where people live with the virus and stay ahead of the virus in terms of disease spread and to contain it so that economy can go back to as normal as much as possible.


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Questions by Lin Yanjun, Executive Director of 9F Inc. and CEO of 9F International

• As we're talking about going back to normal, business normal. When do Dr. Kim and Dr. Zhang expect life will go back to normal globally so that people can travel to the U.S. and Europe?

• Since Asian countries should be doing a better job, when do we expect that people can travel to Singapore, to Southeast Asia? When can I travel to Japan? When can that happen?

• Government of Hong Kong SAR just extend the travel ban for another month to going back to mainland China. Since Hong Kong has been doing a very good job in terms of containing the virus, so is this an overreaction and when do you expect the travel between HK and the mainland can go back to normal?

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