Has the internet helped China contain the coronavirus?

A woman wearing a face mask looks at her phone while riding an escalator, following an outbreak of the novel coronavirus in the country, in Beijing, China 23 February, 2020 (Reuters/Stringer).

Author: Mu Li, Sydney University

China is still facing the spread of the novel coronavirus (now known as COVID-19). On 30 January, the World Health Organization (WHO) convened the second meeting of the Emergency Committee under International Health Regulations regarding the COVID-19 outbreak in China and its movement across borders. Following recommendations from the Emergency Committee, WHO Director-General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus declared the COVID-19 outbreak a Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC).

In justifying the PHEIC declaration, the Director-General emphasised the ‘sort of damage this virus could do if it were to spread in a country with a weaker health system’. The PHEIC has put the Chinese government under enormous pressure to contain the spread of the virus. As of 21 February, epidemiological data from China’s National Health Commission showed that there are 53,284 confirmed COVID-19 cases, with 11,477 critically-ill patients and 2345 deaths — surpassing those of the 2003 SARS epidemic. There are 618,915 suspected cases of close contact, among which 113,564 are under medical observation. There are likely to be far more cases than these numbers suggest.

The main transmission mechanism of COVID-19 is respiratory droplets and close contact. The complete travel restriction from the outbreak’s epicentre in Wuhan imposed on 23 January have proven to be crucial and necessary — especially as the timing of the outbreak coincided with the world’s largest human migration event, the Chinese New Year public holidays.

Combining epidemiological and human mobility data, including information on flight and train bookings and mobile-phone use, a preliminary evaluation found that the Wuhan travel ban slowed the spread of COVID-19 from Wuhan to other cities in China by 2.9 days. This delay provided critical time to establish and reinforce disease control and management measures.

Together with the …continue reading