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"Stay calm, rest assured, stay confident and stay patient"
--The Big Interview with H.E. Ambassador GUO Wei
2020/02/10

As the novel coronavirus continues to spread across China at an alarming rate, the rest of world stands in solidarity with China as the most populous country in East Asia works tirelessly to find a cure and halt the escalating epidemic, an incident already declared as an international emergency by the World Health Organisation (WHO)

TODAY in Seychelles met with the charismatic Ambassador of the People's Republic of China, H.E. Mme. GUO Wei, as we discussed the latest developments, the challenges and impact caused by the virus and how China is coping during this extremely difficult crisis.

by N. Esparon

Your Excellency, what is the latest update on the epidemic in China?

China is now in a critical period of epidemic control. As of 12:00 on 7 February, the Chinese National Health Commission had received 31,774 reports of confirmed cases (mainly in Hubei province with 24,953 cases and 13,603 cases from Wuhan), and 722 deaths in 31 provincial-level regions on the Chinese mainland and in all, 2050 patients have been cured and discharged from hospital. One important reason for the rapid increase in confirming infected cases is that China has developed an effective coronavirus-detection reagent in a short time, so we are able to quickly identify infected people. With China's unremitting efforts, the fatality rate of the virus nationwide has been controlled at about 2.1 percent, far lower than the rate of any other epidemic such as Ebola, SARS and MERS, and lower than the 17.4 fatality rate of the H1N1 outbreak in the US in 2009. The fatality in Chinese provinces and cities other than Wuhan is merely 0.8%, even lower than that of ordinary pneumonia. Fatality rate outside Hubei is 0.14% and the number of cases cured started to exceed the number of deaths. There are only 170 or so cases of infections worldwide, less than 1% of the total cases in China.

What are the key protection and control measures taken by Chinese government?Is the situation getting better?

Since the outbreak, the central and local government have built an all-round and multi-level prevention and control system focusing on Wuhan city and Hubei province as core areas. The 1.4 billion Chinese population from the different sectors and the Chinese nationals overseas are making great efforts on mobilisation and deployment of epidemic control. And we are advancing the battle in an open, transparent, scientific and orderly manner. We are now strengthening treatments to reduce severe and fatal cases. We have set up a national expert group on scientific research to speed up the development of vaccines whilst accelerating the approval and clinical use of drugs proven to be effective against the virus. Dr Tedros, Director General of the World Health Organization (WHO), said China is setting a new standard for outbreak response. Many of the measures have far exceeded what International Health Regulations (IHR) required. We have mobilised personnel from all over the country to support Hubei province. It took less than 10 days to build the first specialised hospital named Huoshenshan Hospital in Wuhan. The hospital has 1,400 PLA medical personnel and 1,000 beds, which will play an important role in controlling the epidemic. The construction of another specialised hospital named Leishenshan Hospital is going to be completed soon. The city has converted its sports stadium and two convention centers into three mobile cabin hospitals in less than three days to provide medical treatment for patients tested positive for coronavirus but show no severe symptoms with a total capacity of 3,400 beds. From 5 February, the cabin hospitals started receiving patients.

The measures put in place to prevent and control the virus are working and achieving positive results; cured cases have exceeded fatal ones by a significant margin, and the increase of suspected cases is slowing down. The epidemic is generally preventable, controllable and curable. We have full confidence and capability to win the battle against the epidemic. China is fighting the outbreak for the sake of the health of its people as well as the rest of the world. We are using actions to contribute to global public health. With its all-out efforts to fight the epidemic at home, China is in fact reducing the risk facing other countries around the world and the danger to people in other parts of the world.

What did China do in the field of international cooperation in fighting the epidemic?

We quickly identified the virus and shared its sequence with the WHO, relevant nations and regions in a timely manner. Chinese diplomatic missions overseas also keep close communication with the host governments to brief them on our prevention and control efforts in a timely manner. "The speed in which China detected the outbreak, isolated the virus, sequenced the genome and shared it with WHO and the world was impressive. So is China's commitment to transparency and to supporting other countries. That reflects not only on China's high sense of responsibility for the lives and health of its own people, but also its strong support for global disease prevention and control," stated Dr Tedros. He also mentioned specifically that declaring a public health emergency of international concern is not a vote of no confidence in China. On the contrary, WHO continues to have confidence in China's capacity to control the outbreak. There is no reason for measures that unnecessarily interfere with international travel. We hope all countries will see the epidemic and China's efforts in an impartial and rational manner following IHR provisions and the professional, authoritative advice by WHO; and taking proper measures that won't unnecessarily interfere with international travel. We are glad that China is not fighting alone in this battle. The international community has expressed its support to us, H.E. Mr. Danny Faure, the President of the Republic of Seychelles has addressed two letters to H.E. Mr. Xi Jinping, the President of the People's Republic of China, to express sympathy and support in fighting the epidemic. And we stand ready to work with all parties to work through the current difficulties and triumph over the epidemic so that we safeguard the health and safety of the people and build a community with a shared future for mankind.

The lunar celebration is a tradition and means a lot to the Chinese communities, tell us a bit how the virus has affected this year's celebrations? And what does the disruption to the celebrations mean to the people of China?

The Lunar New Year is a big moment of reunion that Chinese people have been looking forward to for the year. It is a golden season for visiting relatives and friends, consumption and tourism but the unexpected novel coronavirus epidemic this year has forced most people to stay at home. In order to contain the spread of the virus, China has taken the lockdown measures on many cities, has put in place the suspension of public transport and outbound tour groups, the cancellation of the celebration events, the postponement of the resumption of work and school openings. However, no one has complained about it. The Chinese people kept paying close attention to the epidemic and supported the fight against the virus in different ways. In the meantime, they cherished more than ever their families and friends. Thanks to the joint efforts of the whole country, the prevention and control work has not only progressed in a transparent, scientific and effective way, but also achieved important positive results. I believe the Chinese people will remember the lunar New Year of 2020 forever.

Do you think the virus has impacted or is likely to impact trade between China and Seychelles and China and the rest of the world?

The virus knows no borders. The epidemic is temporary, but cooperation lasts. Faced with the public health crisis, countries should work together to achieve the same goal. It serves the common interests of all. There could be a short-term impact of the epidemic on China's economy. But I think there is no need to be pessimistic about the Chinese economy. First, the fundamentals of the Chinese economy remain unchanged and China's internal resilience is growing. The Chinese government has ample resources and policy tools to cope with economic volatility. Second, the long-term positive trend of the Chinese economy will remain, with economic creativity and the quality of growth improving. Third, China has rich experience in successfully dealing with SARS and the international financial crisis. This time will be no exception. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) Managing Director Kristalina Georgieva recently expressed confidence that the Chinese government has sufficient policy space to stabilise economic growth. China and Seychelles have a good economic and trade cooperation. Given this cooperation is mutually beneficial and serves the fundamental interests of both sides, I am confident that it should not and will not be hindered by short-term difficulties. We should not suspend but expand the economic and trade cooperation between the two countries. We also call on Seychelles and other countries to follow WHO's recommendations and refrain from trade restrictions.

There's unconfirmed report that the whistleblower doctor who posted the video on YouTube has now succumbed to the virus, are you in a position to confirm this?

The doctor is Li Wenliang, who released warning messages about the novel coronavirus when it first emerged in Wuhan in his online WeChat group. He passed away at the Central Hospital of Wuhan, Hubei province, at 2:58 am on Friday, succumbing to pneumonia despite all medical efforts. We express our deep condolences and sadness and pay our tribute to him for fighting on the frontline against the epidemic, and show our sincere sympathy to his family. Since the outbreak, Chinese medical workers, regardless of personal safety, have been bravely fighting the virus on the frontline, and they have made great contributions in protecting the safety of the public. We show great respect for them.

There are international media reports that the origin of the virus was from the wild and exotic animals' market in Wuhan, and there has been called to ban these activities, what can you tell us about that?

According to the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention, wild animals sold at a seafood market in Wuhan could be the source of the outbreak, but the exact animal carrier is still being investigated. I personally believe that illegal hunting and trading of wild animals should be resolutely and immediately stopped. This is exactly what the Chinese government has always emphasised: strengthen the construction of ecological civilization. In fact, illegal hunting and trading of wild animals is not allowed because China has Wild Animal Conservation Law and the rules are clear. The State Administration for Market Regulation, Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs, and National Forestry and Grassland Administration has jointly released a notice that China bans all trading of wild animals at markets, restaurants and e-commerce platforms to control the spread of the novel coronavirus epidemic from 26 January 2020.

There's quite a large community of Chinese nationals working and living in Seychelles, some of them are unable to go to China and those in China are not able to enter Seychelles due to the travel advisory ban, is this causing a challenge for them? How are they coping with the situation?

The travel advisory ban has had a great impact not only on Chinese nationals working and living in Seychelles, but also on the potential Chine tourists to Seychelles. Many Chinese technicians and workers are on leave for the Spring festival in China and are not able to return to Seychelles on time due to the entry restrictions, which will delay the progress of many bilateral projects undergoing. I would like to point out that Wuhan and Hubei province are the core area of epidemic prevention and control, where China has taken the most stringent and thorough measures in order to curb the spread of the epidemic to other provinces and to the world. So far, there is 0 case confirmed in Seychelles, there's no need to panic. The WHO and International community highly praised what China have done and made it clear that it does not recommend any travel or trade restrictions on China. We understand that some countries take reasonable and necessary measures, but oppose practices of overreaction even panic-creation. There is no reason for measures that unnecessarily interfere with international travel. For now, the Chinese embassy is reminding Chinese visitors to respect the travel advisory of Seychelles, but we sincerely hope that Seychelles will take measures consistent with the WHO's recommendations, maintain a rational, calm, scientific judgment and response, and ensure normal exchanges of personnel between the two countries. China is ready to further strengthen international cooperation on public health with the international community including Seychelles.

The Chinese authority played a major role in facilitating the release of the Seychellois students from the heart of the epidemic in Wuhan whilst still in a lockdown. The people of Seychelles are indebted for your assistance, did you encounter any challenges whilst working with the Seychelles authorities to make this happen?

Since the outbreak of the epidemic, Chinese authorities have been in close contact with Seychelles to keep the latter informed of the epidemic development and China's prevention and control efforts. The Chinese embassy attaches great importance to the Seychellois students in China, especially those in Wuhan. In the first instance, we contacted the Chinese Ministry of Education and the universities to follow up on the situation constantly to make sure the students were all in good health and assisted them with any issues. We kept in close contact with the Department of Foreign Affairs and the ANHRD to inform them accordingly. China respects the willingness of the two Seychellois students and helped in facilitating their safe movement. There was good coordination from both sides when handling this delicate issue. I would also like to stress that all foreign nationals are safe in China. For the other students staying in China, there is no need to worry about them. The Ministry of Education in China has launched the public health emergency contingency plan and a 24-hour hotline number for foreign students in China. Various campuses provide students with psychological support and daily health monitoring, and disinfect high-traffic areas on campus.

The virus is not showing any sign of slowing down, have you thought about what if we are unable to contain this virus, is there a plan in case of that kind of eventuality?

In the face of the serious and complicated situation of the epidemic, I would like to stress 4 key words, stay calm, rest assured, stay confident and stay patient. Firstly, stay calm. The Chinese government has taken forceful measures that any other country can hardly take, and will continue to resolutely make sure that measures are effectively implemented. Secondly, rest assured the Chinese government will fulfill its international obligations to address the legitimate concerns of the foreigners in the country in a timely manner so as to protect their safety with a responsible attitude. Thirdly, stay confident. With China's institutional advantages and previous useful experience, and with the strong scientific, technological and material foundation accumulated by the People's Republic of China over the past 70 years, the Chinese government has the determination, confidence and ability to win this battle of preventing and controlling the epidemic. Lastly, stay patient, the virus will not be defeated in one day. On the one hand, ensure sound protection, follow the situation while leading a normal life. Clouds will never block the sun and there will always be light at the end of the day.

There are loads of misinformation online and on social media regarding the coronavirus creating unnecessary panic and confusion, how is this affecting the ongoing work being carried by the Chinese authority to tackle the virus?

In the battle against the virus, China has strengthened cooperation with the WHO and the international community in an open, transparent and responsible manner. The WHO Director-General Dr. Tedros said this is moment for truth but not for fear. The virus is fearful in itself. But what is more fearful are rumours and panic. It also undermines mutual trust and cooperation between China and relevant countries. We hope that the international community can view the epidemic in a rational and calm way and make a science-based and measured response. China will continue to work more closely with other countries in an open, transparent and highly responsible manner to safeguard the life and health of the Chinese people and contribute to regional and global public health security.

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