Covid-19: Why it will be difficult for India to emulate Hubei lockdown
China deployed thousands of volunteers who signed up to help communities during the lockdown of Hubei province.Updated: Mar 25, 2020 21:11 IST
As India goes into a 21-day lockdown to keep around 1.3 billion people at home, it’s important to note that not even China where the novel coronavirus first emerged in late December and then rapidly spread tried to put all of its 1.4 billion people behind locked doors.
It locked down one province, Hubei, with around 60 million people, and implemented tough restrictions on movement and banned mass gatherings and closed down schools and tourist spots in the rest of the country.
Beijing, the sprawling capital of more than 21 million, for example, was never under a lockdown – it put in place restrictions on residential communities including not allowing outsiders from coming into apartment complexes, made wearing masks mandatory and urged people not to mingle.
(Those restrictions are still in place as of Wednesday though signs of normalcy are now more evident on the streets of Beijing.)
Beijingers, and the residents of other regions and cities in China were not stopped from stepping out, buying essentials, and returning home.
Public transport including the subways and buses and taxis operated.
The delivery systems including couriers operated unhindered too – only residents had to step out of their homes to pick up delivery as courier personnel were not allowed inside apartment complexes or homes.
But in Wuhan, a city of 11 million, it was a different story.
In that city, where the virus first emerged last year, communities were sealed off, internal transport was suspended and people were not allowed outside their homes.
How did Wuhan sustain the lockdown for weeks?
Thousands of volunteers who signed up to help communities were deployed.
At the peak of the lockdown, one member of each family was allowed to step out of their homes to pick up the deliveries of essentials, which were brought to the gate of the community by registered volunteers.
According to official statistics quoted by news agency Xinhua, the city has 1.5 million registered volunteers.
“From medical aid, food, and goods assistance and psychological support to transport and community services, thousands of volunteers responded quickly after the city was locked down to curb the spread of the deadly virus,” Xinhua reported earlier this month.
Until the first week of March, the Communist Party of China’s (CPC) Youth League had trained thousands of volunteers to “…serve as deliverymen, drivers, coordinators and community workers in grocery stores, neighborhoods, designated hospitals and makeshift hospitals to receive infected patients”.
By that week, 7148 communities in Wuhan had implemented “closed-door management”.
Clothed in protective clothing and armed with loudspeakers, community workers were deployed daily across Wuhan to publicly announce new information about the rapidly evolving epidemic situation.
Besides volunteers, a developed online system in China helped locked up residents in Wuhan – and the not-so-locked up all over China – to buy what they wanted on the internet.
However, the system of deploying community workers and volunteers at a short notice will be difficult to emulate in India as it is, maybe uniquely, a Chinese phenomenon – drawing its origins and nourishment from the authoritarian nature of the Chinese system.
“As the coronavirus spreads around the world, other countries must be careful about looking to China for examples of how to manage it. Cities in other countries do not have a political culture that would allow them to replicate what China has done, or the same governance structures,” Toby Lincoln, an expert on Chinese urban history with the University of Leicester recently wrote for the London-based New Statesman.
Lincoln wrote that Chinese urban governance – and the current coronavirus lockdown – is overseen by local residents’ committees.
“These have their origins in the 1950s, when the CPC established control over cities. Urban districts were sub-divided into residents’ committees, made up of several hundred households, and residents’ small groups, composed of fewer still. They were staffed by CPC officials and local volunteers, and were responsible for keeping order, putting up propaganda posters, and running political campaigns,” wrote Lincoln.
The implementation of that tried – and now seriously tested -- granular tradition was aided in China, and especially in Wuhan, by the seriousness of the epidemic situation.
“At the individual level, the Chinese people have reacted to this outbreak with courage and conviction. They have accepted and adhered to the starkest of containment measures – whether the suspension of public gatherings, the month-long ‘stay at home’ advisories or prohibitions on travel,” the WHO-China Joint Mission report said after completing its two-week mission in February.
It’s important to remember that Wuhan has reported more than 50000 cases and over 2500 deaths – by far the most in China – until now.
The residents knew they were up against a deadly outbreak which had not only severely disrupted their lives but had the potential to ravage it further.
There was no other option for Wuhan but to be locked down.