There were reports yesterday that a cluster of six new cases had been identified in Wuhan. Unlike previous new cases in the area, the people identified this week were not foreigners who had imported the virus from somewhere else, they were a group of Chinese people living in the same Wuhan apartment building:
“An 89-year-old Wuhan man tested positive for COVID-19 this week,” NPR’s Emily Feng reports from Beijing, adding that the man’s wife and several other people who lived in the same residential community also tested positive — although they had displayed no clinical symptoms of the disease.
“The rise of such hard-to-detect asymptomatic cases has alarmed public health authorities in China, who have ramped up contact tracing and testing efforts,” Feng says.
A local Communist Party official was swiftly fired over the new cases in Wuhan, with officials accusing Zhang Yuxin of “poor management over the closing-off and control of the Sanmin residential community,” according to the state-run People’s Daily.
The immediate response of the Chinese government, after firing the local guy in charge, was to announce plans to test all 11 million residents of the city in 10 days. In fact, they are calling this a “10 days of mass battle” to test the entire city. Yahoo News reports that several million of them have already been tested which leaves about 6-7 million more to go. What’s most interesting about this is that the doctors Yahoo News spoke with don’t seem to think this is necessary or helpful [emphasis added]:
Peng Zhiyong, director of the intensive care unit of the Zhongnan Hospital of Wuhan University, told the state-run Global Times that he has not received the details of the testing plan…
Yang Zhanqiu, deputy director of the pathogen biology department at the Wuhan University, expanded the scale of its testing in April and tested targeted groups of people.
‘About three to five million residents have been tested and proved healthy, and thus Wuhan is capable to test the remaining 6 to 8 million in 10 days.’ Yang believes the city-wide test may be unnecessary as ‘you’ll never know if people were infected after testing negative.’ So ‘It’s essentially an epidemiological investigation to determine the current situation.’ Wu Zunyou, an epidemiologist from the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention, said that large-scale screening and testing is unnecessary. Wu told state television CCTV that he believes the main battlefields are in key communities and certain groups of people.
But the Communist Party person in charge of Wuhan, who is not a doctor, things it’s very necessary:
Wang Zhonglin, the head of the ruling Communist Party unit in Wuhan, said learning from recent new cases will prevent a rebound and is the best way to ensure people’s health and safety.
Testing 7 million people because of 6 new cases in one apartment building seems like overkill. So why is China going all in on an expensive plan like this now? I’m going to speculate so take this with a big grain of salt.
Yesterday, President Trump was asked about why he often frames testing as a competition among nations. He responded by saying the reporter should “ask China” that question. The reporter in question, who was born in China but grew up in the U.S., made a point of suggesting his response was racist, something which CNN’s Brian Stelter and many others were quick to amplify. This was everywhere on Twitter yesterday afternoon. Trump had set up a kind of competition between our testing and testing everywhere else, especially in China.
And today, China announced “10 days of mass battle” to test every resident in a city of 11 million people in 10 days. Remember the hospital they built in 10 days? That was an early PR coup for the government. Now there is a new 10 day mission to demonstrate China’s testing superiority.
At first glance it seems odd that the doctors in Wuhan don’t know what the testing plan is yet and seem to think this is unnecessary even after it was announced. But this isn’t primarily about public health, it’s about PR. This is coming down from above. The doctors will soon be told to fall in line or else.
If you’ve ever seen those displays of thousands of tightly-choreographed dancers in North Korea who are dancing for the glory of the regime, well…this is the same thing but with health professionals. This is China showing off and making the case that they are the world’s leader on coronavirus testing. And when it’s done they’ll release a video with swelling music…