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How China’s authoritarianism ‘aided’ its fight against coronavirus

A Yale sociologist has noted how China’s authoritarian approach may have helped it quickly reduce the number of new cases despite having the widest outbreak.

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New Delhi: In the time of a virulent epidemic, China’s collectivist culture and authoritarian regime may have been best suited to coordinate the enormous efforts to contain the spread of novel coronavirus that broke out in Wuhan, a noted Yale University sociologist has said.

In a Twitter thread explaining how the Chinese government’s efforts were essentially ‘a social nuclear weapon’ against the spread of coronavirus, Nicholas Christakis wrote that its success in fighting Covid-19, while deeply impressive, will not be easy to reproduce elsewhere.

Christakis attributed this success to the authoritarian government which was able to restrict over 930 million people from travel, even locally.

He added that the collectivist culture — the principle of prioritising the welfare of a group over an individual — also played a role in reducing the rate of new cases from hundreds per day a month ago to about 46 per day now — in a country of over 1.4 billion people.

China has seen over 80,000 coronavirus cases so far — the most in any country. The epidemic has now touched over 100 countries and more than 1 lakh people worldwide.

Also read: Coronavirus cases rise to 60 in India as fresh cases surface in Delhi & Rajasthan

Unprecedented scale

Working with Chinese students at the Human Nature Lab at Yale University in the US, Nicholas Christakis said that he was able to “quantify what the Chinese government has been able to achieve”.

“Beginning January 23, they imposed movement restrictions (typically with people staying at home, leaving just once a week) on provinces with >930M people!” he wrote, noting that the imposition of such public health measures on this scale have never been seen before.

The government has employed what is known as “closed-off management”, which includes issuing millions of licenses for personal travel inside China, some of which have the slogan, “It is everyone’s responsibility to fight the virus”.

For over six weeks, restrictions on local travel and food deliveries, screening for vehicles, and testing body temperatures at the community entrance and exits have been implemented, depending on the severity level of the situation in their cities, wrote Christakis.

“In many cities, workers have been organized on a vast scale to deliver food to homes; residents can only go out to shop if they have a permit; & shops are open at limited times. In Chongqing, for example, only one person per household can go out shopping, only occasionally,” he added.

While most of these restrictions are now being lifted, there are other measures — such as not allowing more than four people to get into an elevator — that are still in place.

Shoppers waiting in a line at a distance of 1.5 metres away from each other, before entering grocery store, is another instance of social distancing.

Christakis noted how such measures, which curtail individual freedom, are not reproducible in most other countries.

However, it is also important to note that the Chinese government reportedly tried to hide the outbreak and silence whistleblowers in the early stages, which may have worsened the crisis in the first place.

Also read: Why rational people are panic buying as coronavirus spreads


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