Caixin
Jan 28, 2021 07:52 PM
CHINA

Use Pandemic ‘Peacetime’ to Prepare for Outbreak ‘Wartime,’ Shanghai Health Expert Says

A medical worker in protective gear disinfects a residential community in Shanghai on Wednesday.
A medical worker in protective gear disinfects a residential community in Shanghai on Wednesday.

A public health expert in Shanghai has called on the city government to adopt a “combination of peacetime and wartime measures” to control Covid-19 outbreaks over the coming months, as the country’s top financial hub works to control minor flare-ups.

Hu Weiguo, deputy chief of a major hospital affiliated with Shanghai Jiao Tong University, told a key municipal government conference that the city’s medical institutions should aim to emulate Wuhan, the Chinese city where the coronavirus was first detected, and build their expertise to rapidly increase or reduce hospital capacity in response to local rates of disease.

“Future disease outbreaks will very likely occur in urban areas, so Shanghai cannot solely rely on health clinics in the suburbs with a few hundred beds,” he said.

Shanghai has remained largely unscathed from the Covid-19 crisis, although officials have had to move quickly to control several locally transmitted infections in recent weeks. Hu’s “wartime measures” militaristic language channels the official term in China for mass lockdowns.

Instead of doing mass testing during the latest outbreak in Shanghai, the local government only tested some 41,000 people and used precise counter measures to bring infections under control, Mayor Gong Zheng said in a press conference on Wednesday.

The megacity conducted active monitoring and closed-loop control to swiftly cut off the chain of transmission. As of Thursday, Shanghai had reported 16 local confirmed cases since Jan. 20.

To further improve Shanghai’s Covid-19 prevention capacity, major downtown general hospitals should develop a forward-looking contingency plan, Hu Weiguo told the annual Shanghai Municipal Committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) which ended Wednesday.

The plan should include how to swiftly turn underground parking garages and general wards into infectious disease wards, he said. Also, doctors and nurses should undergo routine precautionary training during the “peacetime” to prepare for the pandemic “wartime.”

Apart from improving the current medical system, 21 members of the Shanghai CPPCC also proposed the establishment of an additional public health clinic center in Pudong New Area. This would be similar to the existing center in southwest suburban Jinshan district and would tackle suspected and confirmed cases imported from Pudong International Airport.

The current Jinshan health facility, the only designated center for coronavirus treatment, was not enough to safeguard China’s most international city and financial center, CPPCC members said. They suggested Pudong and Jinshan districts should jointly establish an infectious disease and prevention system, based on current medical resources in Pudong. However, the proposal failed to find a consensus among members.

Zhu Tongyu, director of the Shanghai Public Health Clinical Centre and a CPPCC member, said the Jinshan center should have many medical staff and researchers doing health treatment and medical research to maintain operations. Otherwise, it could not achieve the desired “combination of peacetime and wartime measures.”

“When there are no infected patients, it is hard for a single public health center or infectious diseases hospital to maintain operations without a high level of medical or research capacity,” he said.

Jinshan public health center mainly focused before the pandemic on scientific research to generate hospital revenue. It was about to expand to an area of 5.8 square kilometers, Zhu said, and more quarantine hotels might be built nearby to transfer confirmed patients more easily.

Shanghai was also considering stepping up its recruitment in the public health area and to improve the salaries of disease center staff to attract more professionals. At least 52 Shanghai CPPCC members also proposed to strengthen individual privacy protection related to Covid-19 prevention and control work.

Contact editor Michael Bellart (michaelbellart@caixin.com)

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