29 March 2020 - As COVID-19 continues to spread around the world, the measures implemented in China may be instructive for other countries now struggling to control the virus.

Hangzhou, the capital city of Zhejiang Province, more than 1,000 miles away from Wuhan, the epicenter of COVID-19, implemented multiple control and prevention measures from the very beginning of the outbreak.

Here’s what we learned.

1. Speed and accuracy are the keys to identification and detection.

Within a week of identifying the unknown virus, China successfully sequenced it and reported the genetic information to the World Health Organization (WHO).

In comparison, it took a couple of months for SARS to be identified and sequenced in 2003, and a few years in the case of HIV in the 1980s.

The identification of a virus’s genetic sequence is critical to developing a vaccine and therapeutic treatments. The rapid identification of COVID-19 allowed scientists around the world to immediately start developing test kits, treatment options, and vaccines.

One of the critical tools in controlling a major epidemic is having specific, reliable, accurate and fast detection methods to screen infected and non-infected people. During the early days of the outbreak in Wuhan, there were no test kits available, and screening depended on laboratory nucleic acid sequencing analysis, a labour-intensive and costly method. The National Medical Products Administration of China took immediate action to speed up the work of biotech companies to develop detection kits. The first kit was introduced on 13 January, with a sufficient supply available two weeks later.

2. Make the right decisions at the right time, the right place, for the right people.

The experience in China reinforced the importance of listening to science and public health experts during pandemic events. And overreacting is better than not reacting.

China’s unprecedented systematic and proactive risk management, based on collaboration between government officials and health experts, has proven to be effective in containing and controlling COVID-19. The timely release of disease-related clinical data to the public and WHO helped many around the world prepare for the spread. For example, analysing more than 40,000 cases in China, we know 80% of COVID-19 infected patients won’t need medical intervention, while 20% would need medical treatment and care.

Zhejiang Province was the first to raise the risk management response to the highest level in the early days of the outbreak when there were no confirmed cases.

Here are lessons from Hangzhou’s work to control the spread of COVID-19:

  • Provide clear guidance about the degree and scope of lockdowns.
  • Track implementation down to individuals, apartments, houses, communities, organizations, public facilities, and city management.
  • Keep essentials like food and supplies flowing through organized, government-controlled arrangements.
  • Designate infectious disease care and management facilities to isolate, monitor and treat positive cases.
  • Establish electronic recording and tracking systems and local response teams to handle identified cases 24/7.
  • Establish centralized reporting and communication channels to keep citizens informed.

3. Big data and information technology are important to avoiding a rebound.

Hangzhou, where Alibaba is headquartered, was one of the first cities to use big data and information technology in the prevention and control of COVID-19. They named the approach “one map, one QR code, and one index.”

It’s been two weeks since select businesses and organizations have been allowed to reopen to workers. Here are the policies they implemented:

  • Businesses reopened in several phases based on priorities. For example, healthcare-related facilities were allowed to open first.
  • Restrictions were eased based on track records.
  • Health QR codes were established for everyone in the city and everyone who entered the city. The green code allows you to move freely. The yellow code requires a seven-day self-quarantine. The red code requires a 14-day self-quarantine. The yellow and red codes can be turned green after the quarantine time. This health surveillance system has been applied in most cities in Zhejiang Province and will be implemented in other provinces.
  • Each individual must monitor and record their temperature and update their profile daily in order to maintain their health status level.
  • The health database is closely monitored by Hangzhou’s Center for Disease Control and Prevention.



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Publication date: 
Publication Organisation: 
World Economic Forum
Publication Author: 
Xifeng Wu, Xiaolin Xu, and Xuchu Wang