China’s Coronavirus Back-to-Work Lessons: Masks and Vigilance

May 12, 2020 · 64 comments
Mixilplix (Alabama)
I will never forgive China. A cruel nation.
Mohan (Bangalore, India)
Something very clear from the article and the comments - the USA has a lot of soft power. It has used the good guys to push this image for a very long time and very successfully. Behind this good guy cover, the USA has perpetrated criminal acts not only on the rest of the world but on it's own citizens as well. Racism is something never associated with the USA, any other country would have been the subject of sanctions by now. While Trump is a personification of the real USA, others before him, including Obama have followed similar policies, all while putting on the good guy act. China is likely to lead the way in reopening its factories safely, but I suspect they might not advertise their failures. It will be the same in India, where Mr Modi has a very vocal bunch supporting him that will play down any failures - it is very useful to have a government propaganda division in democracies to help with running a dictatorship within a democracy. The USA has been a disappointment for the rest of world. Supposedly it is at the forefront of science and technology, and an example for the rest on how to do anything and everything right. We now have new leaders in tackling this crisis - maybe South Korea or even China. It's probably best for the USA and the rest of the world if we regard it as just another nation instead of a superpower. In fact, it is time to consider it a third world country for some races.
JGM (Indianapolis)
Well, as least we’ll all know exactly where we’re supposed to stand in an elevator. So, there’s that. #silverlinings
Pigsy (The Eatery)
It is sad to read the comments here. For all the talk of freedom, democracy and exchange of ideas, it seems that the West remains far from openminded. A sense of superiority based on outdated stereotypes and deeply held bias has maintained a huge blindspot with respect to China and COVID. Sure China obfuscated and denied for a few weeks but when they decided to act, they went all out, with a science based response. The West alternated between expressing disgust at "wet markets" and outrage at China's "draconian"mitigation and containment measures, all the while certain that such a scourge as COVID could never gain a foothold in the advanced, hygiene obsessed West. And so we squandered the time we had to prepare. Then when it looked like China was taming COVID even as it began to ravage the West, we clung to the idea that they fudged and cheated because we could not fathom how they could've actually done a better job. Never mind that much of the West did way too little too late. It's like not studying then becoming convinced that the kid who did well cheated because you believe that you are inherently smarter. China has provided us with a playbook from the day that they began to take earnest action against COVID. Yet even now, we are blinded to a sound, science based approach because of bias and ideological differences. I know that many will reflexively dismiss me as a CCP bot. Understand when you do, that you are making my point.
Kmr (Sebastopol)
@Pigsy Yank in China watched Covid-19 unfold and resulting restrictions and now truly puzzled by the continuing politicization of the process in the US as child’s play with soaring deaths. Wearing a mask an issue of ‘Freedom’? The V.P. refusing one at Mayo clinic? Embarrassing isn’t it?
Arthur (New York, NY)
I love how people still believe that China's numbers are "fake" and the real pandemic there must be 10, 20, 100 times worse. Think about this: in the early days of the pandemic, when only a handful of doctors knew about the disease, all it took was a single doctor, Li Wenliang, to post a message on Wechat to defeat the government's initial attempt at censorship and expose the virus to world wide public. You're telling me now, after months of global public attention being focused on this pandemic, if the "real" situation in China is much much worse than reported and thousands or tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands of people are sick and/or dying from Covid, that the Chinese government is able to conceal the magnitude of the situation, without massive number of people posting on various websites debunking the official story? Do you really think Chinese people are that stupid, or that the CCP is that powerful? Also, numerous WHO doctors and officials have gone to China and seen first hand what the situation on the ground is and none of them have disputed China's numbers. Sure, China definitely handled the situation poorly at the beginning, but once they realized the gravity of the situation, they mobilize the whole country to fight the virus. That's the reason they were able to contain it, they treated it like a serious threat, whereas Western nations didn't, thus people in the West are paying the price.
Nuh (Livonia, MI)
Wake me up when China starts telling the truth! I would be asleep forever. I know. As much as I dislike Trump, China & the WHO should be frowned upon after lies after lies that they had told the world. Since the outbreak, they have no intention of investigatinh the origin of this virus. Why? We know why.
lou andrews (Portland Oregon)
@Nuh- Amen!!
Bruce (Home)
Aren’t most of New York’s Corona deaths in nursing homes? Don’t those deaths outnumber deaths in all other states combined? And didn’t Gov Cuomo order that nursing homes take Corona patients? Huh!
Metaphor (Salem, Oregon)
I enjoy the photo of the employee checking in with his smartphone app (the individual on the left) wearing his face mask improperly, i.e., with his nose uncovered, providing a handy way for particles exhaled from his nose to settle on surfaces potentially touched by others.
lou andrews (Portland Oregon)
@Metaphor yep i 've seen that a lot. i have told several people, kindly, about that and they look surprised when i mention it to them. Even saying why bother wearing a mask if you're going to droop it down and breathe thru your nose. George Carlin: Watch his "stupid people" stand up.. yeas George , there are a lot of stupid people out there.
GDF (novato ca)
All masks are not created equal. It doesn't help to say "wearing masks" . The mask has what percent of filtration? Does it protect self, others, or both? A N95 without an exhalation valve protects both with 95% filtration. If a large number of people wear high quality masks (N95, N99, P100), the virus will have nowhere to go.
KMW (New York City)
Why would any country take any advice on the coronavirus pandemic from China. They kept everyone in the dark for three weeks and said the virus did not transmit from person to person. We now know they were not telling the truth which has spread the virus throughout the world. They allowed their citizens to travel worldwide and which spread the virus even more extensively. We should not listen to them until they apologize to the world for the tremendous death total and devastation.
Pigsy (The Eatery)
I doubt they are trying to give advice. That said, their actions offer guidance as they are largely based on scientific principles. You may dismiss that guidance for ideological reasons at your own peril.
lou andrews (Portland Oregon)
@KMW - nope more like 6 weeks they knew about back in mid- November and allowed their citizens to travel abroad even during domestic lock down much later on.
CK (Georgetown)
The 2009 H1N1 viral pandemic outbreak started in California. There was no lockdown or prevention of people to leave USA. What is the defence in not lockdown USA in 2009 ? The same defence is application to any country that faces new viral outbreak.
S.C. (Costa Mesa)
I liked the pictures! Good idea to tape off the elevator floor, plus having a central location for employees to pick up their food orders so everybody isn't showing up at the entrance. I like a focus on innovative solutions and not obsessing about the problems.
Christopher M Luck (Germany)
Just as a side point - how can we look to China as an example of fighting our way out of this when they fudge the numbers? I think there's a plethora of better and more reliable democracies to analyse before deciding the best course of action moving forward. One thing seems clear: One size doesn't fit all.
lou andrews (Portland Oregon)
@Christopher M Luck numbers are between 100-200x under reported. Wuhan the truth death toll is closer to 40,000 NOT 1,700 as the CCP claims
Kelly (PA)
Once any country starts reopening, they will see a rise in infections and nursing home deaths (if their country has nursing homes, that is). No one has come up with a way to protect nursing homes in the long term, and even under quarantine/isolation conditions they are still getting many deaths from COVID.
Minks (The Bay)
More like a Denmark. Have you seen Sweden’s numbers?
richard addleman (ottawa)
China has still not said how the Virus came about.What goes around comes around.
Mike (Springfield)
@richard addleman NIH paid Chinese scientist to engineer the thing for something called “gain of function” research. Look it up. It’s true.
OneView (Boston)
Because China did not pursue herd immunity, they'll be stuck in this cycle until such a time as a vaccine may become available. Countries that pursued the idea of squashing the virus before it spread have only created the conditions for a wider second wave once the world opens again. In the US, our failed policies have allowed the virus to spread mostly unchecked and, in retrospect, when we don't face a second wave, it will be seen as the correct policy.
Ben (NYC)
@OneView Can't have a second wave if the first wave never stops.
Skippy Golden (NYC)
Why look to authoritarian China for models, when democratic countries with respect for human rights, like Taiwan and Australia, have controlled COVID-19 transmission successfully. Until China opens up to a full investigation of the true death toll in Wuhan and the full impact of steps it took, or didn’t take, the NYTimes should be looking elsewhere for models.
Eddi (US)
@Skippy Golden The infection rates in Taiwan and Australia are very small. It won't work for the US anymore. The way we are China model is the only way. Of course, it won't work in the US. It is not China is "authoritarian." It is we are less discipline as a nation and people.
Apple Tree (US)
@Skippy Golden You seem blinded by your ideological bias. "Authoritarian" is a tag. I care about what they do to contain the virus and whether or not it has any reference value to us. Even if after reading you come to the conclusion that there is none, it doesn't hurt knowing what these measures are. On the other hand, if some are potentially useful but I refuse to even hear what they are, I am missing out. Even if many politicians see China as our competitor, does refusal to learn about our competitor because they are our competitor hurt us more or them? Doesn't hurt them, so far as I could tell.
Skippy Golden (NYC)
@Apple Tree "so far as I could tell"? How far can you tell when there is no free press, those who criticize or complain are arrested and no independent investigation is welcomed? Not every population in China would agree that the way they have managed this "Doesn't hurt them". I agree we need to be humble and open to learn from countries that handled this much better than we did. But learning requires transparency. We can't learn from pure propaganda. This wouldn't be the first time in our history that we struggled with problems and some were blinded by "progress" shown to the outside world by authoritarian governments. This has nothing to do with competitors. We have had to learn many lessons from competitors that are open societies that protect human rights.
Ivan (Michigan)
I think this is a legitimate question any country in the world should be asking now: do we really want live in an American style society today? Or should we move towards a more stable system even though that means if the government tells you “wear a mask” or “vaccine your children” or “no guns in the citizens hands” you must comply or face the consequences?
fsharp (Kentucky)
@Ivan Living in the U.S. you’ve enjoyed a life benefiting from the fruits of a couple hundred years of “American style” free society. Now you’re falling for a ruse of propaganda from an authoritarian state. Pretty sad.
Vincent (W)
I feel the difference between China and the USA is that the Chinese let their Scientist and Doctors set up rules and guidelines for the citizens to follow, and I have rarely seen Xi publicly said much about this Virus. However, in the USA, we have a Trump show everyday and telling you to take Hydroxychloroquin, Injecting Disinfectants and etc, and all kinds of fake news play down this Virus as a common flu. There might be a need for some kind of punishment for spreading all these fake news during an public emergency situation.
Library (London)
@Vincent Do you think economic sanctions might work?
Joey Li (Canada)
here comes the comments saying China faked their numbers, and the real death toll in China is higher by “a factor of 10/20/30”. These are the same people who are urging to reopen the US economy, because the virus is just a bad flu and it’s been “blew out of proportion”. C’mon, you can’t have it both ways. Either China is lying or covid doesn’t kill. They are mutually exclusive. I suppose this shows people twist facts to fit them in what they WANT to believe. In China’s case, China bad therefore it must have lied. In the reopening scenario, they want to work, so they are gonna claim the virus is nothing. Such is human nature. Never will it change. Well just see it replay itself over and over again.
BBB (Ny,ny)
@Joey Li or, some of us actually can see it both ways. Given what we’ve seen in The US, I have trouble believing China had 4000 deaths in total. The virus was circulating there for at least a month unchecked. The severity of their lockdown may have been greater than the one in NY, but I really can’t understand how that alone could result in a fatality and infection rate 15 times that of Wuhan. I could be wrong, and I believe Cuomo and Murphy are doing the right thing. Still don’t trust China’s numbers.
Jason (Chicago)
@BBB The reason is that hospital systems have a limit and when that is overwhelmed, people start dying at a higher rate. Wuhan passed its limit but was quickly rescued by an influx of 40,000 medical personnel and supplies from the rest of China, along with two specially built hospitals. None of that exists for NYC.
Jason (Chicago)
@Joey Li You actually have to multiply the death count in China over 80 times in order to match the per capita death rate in the US. More people die last weekend in the US than over 3 months of the epidemic in China.
ss (Boston)
The entire article is about measuring T in millions ways and at millions places, plus washing / disinfecting hands. Who would be so stupid today to go out with fever? Such people should be jailed immediately. But, let's be reasonable - no virus that is very active, as this one, can be stopped that way. What I am trying to say is that they were very fortunate, I guess, to mostly have got rid of it, I do not know how, luck is certainly an option, and now they maintain sort of status quo. We are not there yet.
Library (London)
@ss They were not fortunate. They learned from previous experience with SAARS. They improved their system of dealing with an epidemic and applied it as soon as they figure out what was going on. The same could be said about South Korea's response.
magalla (oakland ca)
It's easier to impose those rules and have them followed when a country is under strict totalitarian rule. Also, let's not forget that for thousands of years most Chinese people have mainly been serfs/vassals/slaves under the total control of dynastic emperors. And similar treatment has continued since 1949. The only time Chinese citizens were "free" was during the Republic of China govt between 1912-1949. And even during that time, they had to deal with multiple Japanese invasions and occupations. History and culture cannot be ignored.
Library (London)
@magalla Is it possible that it is not about being serfs/slaves but having a different approach to life? Chinese values are based on Confucius' social philosophy, primarily on the principle of "ren" or "loving others" while exercising self-discipline. He believed that ren could be put into action using the Golden Rule, "What you do not wish for yourself, do not do to others." (Lunyu 12.2, 6.30). Christians appropriated the concept but don't really practice it. Individual liberties versus common good? They seem to practice what they preach. What is the name of what we practice?
Neo (canada)
@magalla Can't believe some people in the west still hold such prototype towards Modern China. It is something about culture that people have been brought up with. Don't understand where your feeling of moral superiority coming from, out of ignorant? There are so many videos about "Real" normal Chinese people and way of life by many Youtubers of westerners traveling or living in China that could help with your knowledge gaps just in case you don't bother to check it out by your own eyes. Western media has been so successful in telling you a different China story!
Eddi (US)
It is about time that US stops being arrogant. China succeed in control the virus while the US has not. Saying China is "authoritarian" is really a cop out. East Asian countries like Korea, Japan, Taiwan are all doing better than the US.
rich (nj)
@Eddi "China succeed in control the virus while the US has not.".... Do you really believe that? China reported that new infections suddenly stopped as if they had thrown a light switch. Pandemics don't play out like that. Infections initially surge and then begin to fall, spike again, fall again etc etc until herd immunity and/or effective treatments and vaccinations are found. The continental US and China are roughly the same size yet China has a population that is four times the size of the United States. While China may have implemented measures to control the spread of Coronavirus, their reported infection and death numbers are at best farcical. And this is the same country that claims that the members of the United States Military first harbored the virus and started the pandemic. China succeeded in controlling the media narrative, not the virus.
Mike (Springfield)
Our solution will not be the Chinese solution. We will not give up our freedoms out of fear. This is the land of the free and the home of the brave. Instead, we must abandon the big cities and big institutions. Smaller schools, offices, and communities are the future- easier to quarantine to control outbreaks.
Eddi (US)
@Mike I think people in this country use "freedom" too loosely. Is there a freedom to infect others? It is like as long as we use the word "freedom" we can't be wrong.
Mike (Springfield)
@Eddi Let’s just say- it doesn’t mean a police state like the People’s Republic of China’s. How about that?
An Independent And Honest Observer (On Earth)
The west is always very good at analyzing what others did right & wrong. But increasingly I sense that it’s unable to provide any effective answer itself. The idea that “the end justifies the means” is still powerful, and if China manages to outperform the West in protecting its citizens from the virus(which it already does), then whatever accusation upon China as the origin of the troubles would feel weak and unconvincing. The contrast between what’s happening in China and U.S. now is stark and the world is seeing it very clearly. However democracy might sound great, if it is consistently outcompeted by China’s raw performance in economy, science, or public health, then it will lose.
Jim (Virginia)
Social distancing, masks, hand washing, contact tracing and sanitation let the Germans keep 80% of their factories open from the start with very few infections and no shut down. There's a way out, but it requires giving up hysteria.
Lynn in DC (Here, there, everywhere)
C19-related laws are blatantly disregarded with the government’s approval in the US so strict measures wouldn’t stand a chance here. The salon owner in Texas is the poster child of this phenomenon.
J.I.M. (Florida)
The idea that China is providing an example for us to follow is wishful thinking. There is no parallel between the course set in the US as compared to China. There is little in the Chinese playbook that could offer any clues to a successful reopening given the undisciplined behavior of the US. You could point out that China faltered in the early days of the outbreak but there was no precedent or assurances that the virus would warrant the harsh measures that were eventually taken by the Chinese government. The US had a clear view of the looming threat and did nothing even as the numbers of infected Americans took off like a rocket. China's efforts, however belated, worked. Not only were the US efforts woefully belated, they were halfhearted at best. A large segment of the US population has shown themselves to be childish and unwilling to take reasonable measures for containment, choosing to instead to indulge their petty impulses for haircuts and ice cream.
John Warnock (Thelma KY)
@J.I.M. It is not "wishful thinking" to point out the strict measures that must be taken to assure another outbreak doesn't happen. Even at that the strict measures being taken in China may not be strict enough. The haphazard attitudes and approaches here in the USA will be telling as the days go by. The one thing that seems universal is that masks must be worn, no exceptions.
J.I.M. (Florida)
@John Warnock: Point out the strict measures all you want but you're not going to get the expected response. Experience shows that it only takes one virulent uncontained case to start a major outbreak.
John Warnock (Thelma KY)
@J.I.M. So your solution is to not even try to do anything to control the virus?
Scott Man (Manhattan Beach, CA)
I note that the picture with the employees checking in at work with their QR Codes reflects one of the employees not wearing his mask properly - exposing his nose, thus allowing his respiratory system to inhale possible infected air or exhale viruses directly into the air, should he be sick. It is obvious that governments and media need to do a better job at highlighting how to properly wear a mask - even folks in China do not get this right. Not certain about anyone else but I am personally frustrated by the number of people I see daily who expose their noses or mouths when wearing a mask, wear masks that are lose and therefore useless, or better yet pull their masks down to talk while indoors.
jcl (CA)
@Scott Man Soon you will see surveillance cameras installed in workplace to not just measure worker temperatures but also send alerts for proper face mask placement and maintaining the requisite social distancing etc. Would that work for the freedom fighters in US? NO.
Library (London)
@jcl Freedom fighters = Immature homicidal individuals, who'd rather kill a grandma or immune-compromised fellow American than restrict their precious freedom.
Kat (NYC)
"Inconsistent";"Stricter than workers elsewhere might tolerate" Again with the myth that this country of more than a billion people is somehow a monolith. These "other workers" you speak of would rather protect whatever privacy they never had to begin with than the health of their coworkers.
DrlisT (Moon river)
As for me, an engineer working in a construction equipment corp, i have worked more than 3 months, since locking down eased in China except Wuhan. And we wear masks every day in my office with my colleagues. And every one must measure body temperature as long as you entered any buildings.
James (Chicago)
Again with the headline commentary. Anything China does, whether via official government policy or private businesses, has to be spun with an authoritarian lean. China locked down the cities? “Draconian and strict” even though much of Western Europe later followed suit. China opening back up? “Strict guidelines intolerable elsewhere” even though many are common sense and likely highly effective.
SY (Connecticut)
@James As far as I can tell, in China, the priorities were scientific- all these “draconian” measures, regardless of actual numbers point to a goal of eradication and minimization of spread. Logically, if a virus can’t get into a susceptible body, it can’t spread, and the people and government seem to both understand that. Here, the discourse seems to all be about “trust,” which a virus doesn’t give a fig about. A more scientifically-informed lockdown would have taken less time and been a lot less painful in the long run, both for the economy we are trying to save and for all the families who are adhering to self-quarantine.
mpound (USA)
@James "Again with the headline commentary." Again with China and its apologists obsession with appearances.
Sarah (NY)
@mpound If you disagree with someone's opinion and can't offer any reasoned argument yourself, label them a "China apologist".
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