Patience, diligence required as businesses resume work in city

Wang Yong
People are slowly returning to Shanghai and getting back to "business as usual," but further precautions are necessary to prevent the spread of contagion.
Wang Yong

With people flocking back to the city to resume work amid the novel coronavirus epidemic, Shanghai is facing a test of its ability to curb viral contagion as life slowly returns to normal.

On January 27, Shanghai announced that no businesses, except for those necessary to maintain society (such as utility and telecommunication operators) or otherwise specified, should restart operations until February 10. In other words, for most firms, business-as-usual would not resume until today.

That decision gave Shanghai about two weeks to contain the spread of the coronavirus through early detection and early isolation, both of which require restrictions on movement. Not just Shanghai, but many other cities outside of Hubei Province, where the novel coronavirus pneumonia first broke out in December, also prohibited most businesses from going back to work before February 10. Such decisions were based on a consensus among medical experts that infected persons can take up to a fortnight to develop symptoms.

On January 23, Wuhan, provincial capital of Hubei and the epicenter of the outbreak, began to “seal” itself by suspending most traffic with the outside, a sacrifice the city made to stem the flow of potential virus carriers to other parts of the country.

Whether calculated from January 23 or 27, two weeks have now passed. Have we detected and isolated all or most patients? Not necessarily. A second or a third fortnight may be needed to identify more potential patients, especially when millions of workers return from their hometowns to other cities like Shanghai.

Shanghai has suggested that not all workers return at once, and that those who do return should isolate themselves for 14 days before going back to work. A returnee must go through at least three “hurdles” ― first, a heath check at railway stations, highway checkpoints or airports; second, registration with his or her neighborhood committee and a self-imposed 14-day isolation; and finally, approval from his or her employer to go back to work. A major courier service company today told reporters that returned employees will be paid even in isolation.

Wouldn’t it be better for Shanghai to “seal” itself off? Well, Shanghai did not confine itself, and will hardly do so in the future. For one thing, workers from outside Shanghai have contributed greatly to the city’s prosperity, whether in the construction sector or in food delivery, nursing and care services. For another, no matter how heavy the burden becomes, Shanghai stands hand in hand with everyone who comes to it.

But meticulous measures must be in place to prevent contagion among returnees or between returnees and local residents. For example, all enterprises resuming work must guarantee a sufficient stock of anti-virus supplies, especially quality face masks and disinfection products. Where possible, working from home will continue to be encouraged.

Shanghai is everyone’s Shanghai. It has mobilized myriad professionals and volunteers to fight the virus at every checkpoint on its borders and in its public spaces. Now it’s everyone’s job to be honest about where he or she is from, and to be patient with the war on the virus. Further patience and heightened diligence are needed as we all resume our normal lives.

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