Ambassador NI Jian's Interview with WAM

1. Can you please talk about the latest efforts taken by China to contain novel coronavirus?

Since the outbreak of novel coronavirus (COVID-19), the Chinese Government has taken, with a strong sense of responsibility for people’s lives and health, the most comprehensive, stringent and professional prevention and control measures, many of which far exceed the requirements of the World Health Organization (WHO) and the International Health Regulations. The details are as follows:

First, China’s Central Government is directing and coordinating joint efforts nationwide, in a unified manner to prevent and control the epidemic. Chinese President Xi Jinping has been leading and directing the outbreak response in person; Premier Li Keqiang went to Wuhan to guide the work on epidemic prevention and control; and the Central Leading Group on Responding to the epidemic has been set up. With a focus on Wuhan City and Hubei Province, we have established a top-down, all-dimensional prevention and control system. The Chinese Ministry of Finance has invested 6.7 billion US dollars to support outbreak response. At the local level, all provinces, autonomous regions and municipalities in China have activated the “Level 1” emergency responses to deal with the major public health emergency. At the community level, people are standing united to wage a “people’s war” against the invisible enemy.

Second, patients infected with the virus have been concentrated for quarantine and treatment. The epicenter Wuhan, a city of more than ten million people, has been put under lockdown, with all exit channels temporarily closed. The local government is now doing its best to concentrate all confirmed patients for unconditional treatment, keep all suspected patients in quarantine for treatment, and concentrate all the people with fever or close contact with infected cases under medical observation. All potential cases have to be taken care of, and every effort must be made to save lives. By February 18, apart from military medical staff, more than 32 thousand medical workers from across China have been dispatched to Wuhan, among which are 11 thousand intensive care specialists. Three mobile P3 (biosafety level) laboratories have also been deployed to help. In just 10 and 12 days respectively, Huoshenshan Hospital and Leishenshan Hospital, with altogether 2,600 beds, were built and put into operation. In addition, stadiums, convention and exhibition centers and other facilities have been or are being converted into 13 “makeshift hospitals” which could provide over 12,000 beds. Some university and college dormitories in Wuhan are now being transformed to provide 7,000 more temporary beds. All these efforts are easing the pressure on medical resources and starting to achieve good results.

Third, strict measures have been taken to halt the further spread of the epidemic, including extending the Spring Festival holiday nationwide, putting off the beginning of the new semester for schools and universities, suspending all outbound group tours, calling a large-scale halt to public transport, restricting gatherings and dinner parties, surveying every single household to find potential patients, and disinfecting all public areas, in an effort to contain the secondary transmission of the virus.

Fourth, efforts have been stepped up to research and develop vaccines and therapeutics. The Chinese Government has arranged top medical experts nationwide to focus on related work.

Fifth, China is actively engaged in international cooperation. Acting with openness, transparency and a strong sense of responsibility, China has been sharing information about the epidemic and genome sequence of the virus in a timely manner with the WHO and relevant parties. We have strengthened cooperation with other countries in clinical diagnosis and treatment as well as collaborative research and development of medicine, so as to enhance their preparedness and prevent the epidemic from spreading outside China.

This coronavirus is novel, and our prevention and control measures are also unprecedented. Wuhan in Hubei Province remains the main battlefield of our outbreak response. By February 18, more than 12 thousand patients in China have been cured, far exceeding the number of mortality. Newly confirmed cases in China outside Hubei have seen a 14-day consecutive drop. China’s vigorous efforts to control the epidemic are robust and effective. We are doing so not only to safeguard the health of Chinese people, but also to contribute to global public health. A victory for China is a victory for the world as well.

2. Reports suggest that China’s efforts to develop a medicine for coronavirus are progressing. A report said a pharmaceutical company would test an experimental drug in a group of 270 patients at China-Japan Friendship Hospital in Beijing. Can you please tell us the progress in this regard?

I think you are referring to the clinical trials of the anti-viral drug Remdesivir, currently in progress headed by Vice President Cao Bin of China-Japan Friendship Hospital.

This coronavirus is novel, and there is currently no specific drug for COVID-19. For that reason, the Chinese Ministry of Science and Technology has launched 16 contingency projects in 3 batches to prompt science-based response solutions. The Ministry is also actively encouraging major recent scientific and technological achievements on new drugs and epidemic control measures, amongst others, to be utilized on the frontlines against COVID-19. Now researchers from various teams are conducting large-scale, systematic screening on drugs that are already on the market or under clinical trials, according to their knowledge on the virus, and they have found Chloroquine Phosphate, Remdesivir, Favipiravir etc. to be of great potential. Most recent clinical trials suggest they can effectively inhibit the infection. With the support of Ministry of Science and Technology, National Health Commission, National Medical Products Administration and other Chinese authorities, the clinical trials, registration and approval procedures of multiple promising drugs are fast-tracked.

China’s group of experts has developed the Diagnosis and Treatment Protocol for COVID-19 based on their clinical experience, which is updated to its fifth version. An expert from the National Health Commission explained that as the patient’s immune system has a vital role to play, the combined therapy of Chinese and Western medicine is a specialty in the treatment of COVID-19, with more than half of the confirmed patients in Hubei taking Chinese medicine. With regard to severe or critically ill patients, treatment plans such as anti-viral therapy, oxygen therapy, combination of Chinese and Western medicine, and plasma therapy have been adopted. We have emphasized recently on assisted ventilation, as the early use of ventilator would restore the patient’s blood oxygen saturation and reduce mortality rate. Good effects are gradually showing.

3. A news report mentioned that China has already started testing vaccine for new coronavirus. Can you please tell us the progress in this regard?

Chinese researchers have successfully isolated high-quality virus strains, paving the way for vaccine research and development, anti-viral medicines and rapid test kits. Multiple teams in China are vigorously advancing vaccine and medicine development. I believe China will be among the first countries to develop a vaccine and specific drug for COVID-19.

Nevertheless, China’s top epidemiologist Dr. Li Lanjuan projected that it would take at least three months to develop a vaccine for COVID-19. WHO Director-General Dr. Tedros also mentioned on February 11 that the first vaccine could take months to be ready, so we have to do everything today using the available weapons to fight this virus.

4. Reports suggested that Chinese authorities have found indications that the new coronavirus stemmed from wild animals on sale at the seafood market in Wuhan. Are there any further findings in this regard? Do these findings help China’s efforts for prevention and control of the disease and researches for vaccine and medicine?

To identify the source of COVID-19 has been high on the scientists’ agenda since the beginning of the outbreak. A latest paper published on Nature by a team led by Dr. Shi Zhengli of Wuhan Institute of Virology found that COVID-19 is 96% identical at the whole-genome level to a bat coronavirus, suggesting bat could be the natural reservoir host. But is there an intermediate host? Or multiple intermediate hosts? What’s the route of transmission? We will have to wait for further researches to give us answers.

Recently, the Chinese government agencies in charge of forestry and grassland, market regulation, public security, agriculture, and customs have launched a joint law enforcement campaign to crack down on violations of the wildlife trade ban, in a bid to control the COVID-19 outbreak.

5. How the do the Chinese Embassy and Consulate General coordinate with the UAE authorities regarding disease prevention and related matters among the Chinese citizens travelling from China?

The Chinese Embassy in UAE and the Consulate-General in Dubai has maintained close communication with the UAE Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, Ministry of Health and Prevention, airports, immigration, customs, airlines and other relevant authorities. We have shared with the UAE side the information of the latest developments and measures taken by China to contain the epidemic. Our embassy has released several notices, urging Chinese residents and tourists to cooperate with all immigration and quarantine measures requested by the UAE, including medical screening and isolation, keep a close eye on the official information issued by UAE health authorities, and take all precautionary measures. Chinese citizens who have recently returned from China or hosted visitors from China are asked to be in home isolation for 14 days, and if they show symptoms such as fever, cough, sore throat or breathing difficulty, they should immediately see a doctor and explain the situation. They are asked to avoid crowded public places, restrict gatherings and dinner parties, keep good personal hygiene, and implement effective self-prevention measures. It is also important to listen to official information instead of rumors, and not to panic. Our embassy and consulate-general have opened 24-hour consular assistance hotlines, and registered relevant Chinese citizens to follow up on their health conditions.

6. His Highness Sheikh Mohamed Bin Zayed’s visit to China in July 2019 had further elevated the bilateral relations between both countries. Can you please tell us how the relationships further improved afterwards, during the past seven months?

Last July, His Highness Sheikh Mohamed Bin Zayed paid a successful state visit to China, which has achieved fruitful outcomes and further consolidated the political and strategic mutual trust between our two countries. In recent years, China and the UAE have maintained frequent high-level exchanges, and our political, defense, economic, cultural, people-to-people and technological cooperation have been elevated significantly across the board. Our major economic and trade cooperation projects are progressing smoothly. Chinese companies signed the contracts to undertake the design and construction of Etihad Rail (Stage 2), which is the highlight of our bilateral practical cooperation in 2019. Our cooperation in various areas such as infrastructure development, industrial capacity, engineering, investment and banking, has also deepened, further substantiating the China-UAE comprehensive strategic partnership.

7. Can you please talk about the latest trend in China-UAE economic relations and the latest trend in Chinese businesses operating in the UAE?

Bilateral trade between China and the UAE reached 34.7 billion USD in first three quarters of 2019, a 6.01% increase compared to the same period in 2018. From January to September last year, China’s overall direct investment in the UAE reached 660 million, a year-on-year increase of 171% and accounting for 54% of China’s investment in all 22 members of the Arab League. China-UAE trade and investment are expected to maintain the momentum of rapid growth throughout 2020 and beyond.

There are more than 4000 Chinese companies operating in the UAE, mostly based in Dubai. In general, Chinese companies have been growing by leaps and bounds, especially at a time when our bilateral relations are thriving and the UAE has become an important partner in the “Belt and Road” cooperation. Many large Chinese corporations have also stepped up their interest and participation in the UAE market. Large energy firms such as China National Offshore Oil Corporation (CNOOC), Zhenhua Oil and CITIC have all set up offices in Abu Dhabi since 2018, while China Machinery Engineering Corporation (CMEC) opened an office in Dubai. With the inception of more new projects, China Railway Construction Corporation (CRCC), China Railway Construction Engineering Group (CRCEG), Power China and China Energy Engineering Corporation (CEEC) are also dispatching more outstanding employees to the UAE market.

The negative impact of the COVID-19 outbreak on China’s economy will be temporary and short-lived. The fundamentals sustaining sound economic growth have not changed and will not change. With its strong resilience, potential and vitality, the Chinese economy is well positioned to unleash enormous potential for growth in the mid-to-long term. China has the capability and confidence to minimize the economic impact of the epidemic. We notice that the World Bank, the IMF and well-respected economists in the world have all agreed that the impact of the epidemic on China’s economy is temporary, and they have full confidence in the future of China’s economy.

8. Would you like to talk about latest developments in people-to-people relations and the role of tourist traffic between countries and Chinese community in the UAE? Can you please talk about the Chinese community in the UAE?

The cultural and people-to-people exchanges between China and the UAE are thriving. An estimate of over 1.2 million Chinese tourists visited the UAE in 2019. With the Expo 2020 Dubai to be hosted later this year, the UAE is expected to attract more Chinese visitors and add more vigor to our cultural exchange. The UAE Youth Ambassadors Program has organized Emiratis students to visit China for several consecutive years. After China Scholarship Council signed an MOU with Khalifa University, more and more Chinese students are expected to pursue further education in the UAE. The “Chinese Fever” is still on the rise in the UAE, with the initiative of Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed to teach Chinese in 200 UAE schools gradually becoming a reality. Now there are over 200 educators teaching the Chinese language in more than 60 Emirati schools, and 50 more schools are scheduled to teach Chinese by September. Many Chinese art groups come to perform in the UAE. Our plan to open a Chinese Cultural Center in the UAE is also in progress.

The UAE hosts the largest number of Chinese businesspeople, workers and tourists in the Middle East. Statistics show there are over 200 thousand overseas Chinese working and living in the UAE, mostly in Dubai and Sharjah. They are in all walks of life and form 40~50 community organizations. They have forged profound friendship with the locals, and made great contributions to the UAE’s economic development with their perseverance and pioneering spirit.

9. Any other aspects/ topics you would like to highlight or add?

I want to point out, although a large number of people are infected in the COVID-19 outbreak, the mortality rate in China is about 2.1% (0.4% outside Hubei Province), much lower than the mortality rate of 17.4% of the 2009 H1N1 influenza outbreak in the United States, 40.4% of Ebola, 10% of SARS and 34.4% of MERS. The world-renowned “virus hunter” Prof. W. Ian Lipkin of Columbia University, who just visited China, estimates the final mortality rate will be below 1%. We are convinced that under the firm leadership of the Communist Party of China, with strengths of China’s system and rich experience in public health emergency response, and through powerful national mobilization, we have full confidence, capacity and determination to defeat the epidemic.

Soon after the outbreak, His Highness Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed expressed on Twitter his support to the Chinese people in the fight against COVID-19 and the readiness to provide all support to China. The UAE Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation issued a statement reaffirming its confidence in China’s effective and robust response to the outbreak. The UAE has provided much-needed medical supplies and assistance, and kept direct flights to China. Burj Khalifa, ADNOC Headquarters, and other UAE iconic landmarks lit up the colors of the Chinese national flag and displayed slogans in support of Wuhan and China. We are grateful that in face of such adversity, the UAE people are standing firmly with the Chinese people in solidarity and extending a helping hand, which attests to our iron-clad friendship. The epidemic is only temporary, but our cooperation and friendship is ever-lasting. We have noticed that the UAE media have been following closely on the outbreak. Many news reports speak highly of China’s response efforts, and some suggestions are objective and pertinent, which we highly appreciate. The issue of public health security is beyond borders and requires concerted efforts of the international community. We hope the UAE mass media can continue to hold an objective and fair ground in covering the epidemic. Together we will jointly address the challenges and safeguard global public health security.

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