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China’s think tank Anbound offers an overview of its handling of COVID-19 and why its “Wuhan pneumonia” emergency team has now closed
As a professional think tank in China, Anbound has always maintained itself as a research force capable of professionally tracking and evaluating information. This professional team has played a clear and observable role in China’s different historical periods. Whether it is for economic, urban or industrial issues, having rich experience in information analysis, Anbound’s research team can strive to achieve what others are unable to claim.
After reviewing the process, the first traces of the “Wuhan pneumonia” were discovered and tracked in the prediction and analysis of influenza outbreaks in the national public health field. At the end of December 2019, although the specific information of the virus was unknown, Anbound had already formed a key judgement. This virus resembles severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), therefore a warning was issued that an epidemic had occurred in Wuhan and Anbound’s employees from Wuhan were not allowed to return to their hometown. A report from Dr Li Xingwang from the Beijing Ditan Hospital on the new Coronavirus on Jan 15 provided a more detailed basis for information assessment.
Since then, the epidemic situation in Wuhan has developed very quickly. Chinese epidemiologist Zhong Nanshan and others began to mention human-to-human transmission of the virus in public. Anbound also began to collect and evaluate information about the “Wuhan epidemic” from various angles and, based on the information analysis and tracking research conclusions, the first follow-up research report was formed on Jan 22 and the conclusion was shocking. The assessment data of confirmed cases at that time showed that it was 35 times the known published cases and would also have a major impact on the Chinese economy. Although the evaluation report based on the research conclusions is simple and conclusive, this is the first public report on the Wuhan epidemic in China and has attracted the attention and follow-up reports of international media.
On Jan 20, Wuhan was in a state of serious chaos, and its urban order was out of control. On Jan 22, Anbound concluded that Wuhan may choose to “lock down” its city under extreme circumstances. The following day, Wuhan officially declared to “lock down” of its city, which then led to an information explosion. In order to further cope with this situation, Anbound’s research department started to establish a team on Jan 26 in accordance with established practices and formally established the Anbound consulting “Wuhan pneumonia” emergency team. It has been operating internationally for 24 hours a day ever since. Unlike the many scattered personal and public opinions, the Anbound team is a well-established, efficient and professional tracking research team. This crucial response is far from the first time in the history of the research facility, but it represents the basic think-tank spirit of Anbound’s mission and its extraordinary professional capability for information analysis. The main work achieved so far by Anbound’s “Wuhan pneumonia” emergency team is summarised below:
A quickly established transnational research and discussion mechanism on viruses and epidemics with the input of virus experts from the RAND Corporation, Harvard University and the University of Michigan Medical School, to communicate key information. We also want to thank Jennifer Bouey, Li Yongqin and other scholars, not forgetting the professors for their direct help and assistance. Special mention must be made of virologist Professor Li Yongqin, who was also the earliest researcher of cytokine storm and sepsis in the world. His many medical students are working hard in the epicentre of Wuhan.
On Jan 27, we published an article, “Early Warning Signals of Wuhan Pneumonia Were Ignored”. It clearly pointed out our serious suspicion that the “Wuhan pneumonia” was actually a severe influenza or, at the very least an outbreak of the pneumonia infection. The article warned that excessive panic is useless because there would be a large number of misdiagnoses and cross-infection cases that will contaminate the data and cause panic.
On Jan 27, “Polluted air could be an Important Cause of Wuhan Pneumonia” was published. For the first time in China, this confirmed the transmission of Wuhan pneumonia was related to the city’s severe air pollution and the superposition of pollution and virus which formed the so-called “toxic air”, a major public health issue that will need addressing urgently.
On Jan 27, a basic mathematical prediction model was established to predict and deduce the development of the epidemic in Wuhan. This model has positive verification significance for information analysis research, especially the derivation, prediction and judgment of information.
On Jan 28, “Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market is not the Source of Wuhan Pneumonia” was published. This article used detailed and classic information analysis, as well as derivation models to fully analyse the existing evidence chain. The Huanan China Seafood Wholesale Market was initially thought by China nationals and foreigners alike to be the “source” of the epidemic. Yet, Anbound’s analysis showed that it was only a concentrated outbreak point; not the source. This information overturned the consensus of the general public and the medical community for the first time, pointing the understanding and research of the epidemic in the correct direction.
On Jan 29, “Anbound: Evidence and forecast of the development trend of Wuhan Pneumonia” was published. The article disclosed the basic model structure of the outbreak and discussed the issues of “self-lockdown” and “provable and non-provable mortality” in various affected areas.
On Jan 31, the article “Anbound: The Road Ahead Following Wuhan’s Lockdown” proposed for the first time a road map for the urban management and control of the epidemic, based on the complex and intersecting situation in the city. The article also suggested that Wuhan should first establish an “urban health and safety zone” to overcome the epidemic. At the same time, further analysis was contained in the article. “Key Host, Not Source, should be Focus of Novel Coronavirus Research” emphasised the significance of finding the “most threatening host”.
On Feb 2, a second “Anbound Assessment of the Wuhan Pneumonia” was published, noting the rise of confirmed cases had increased from 20,000 to 29,000. Mortality rates were estimated to be in the 500 to 900 range.
After conducting data and field information analysis continuously for days, Anbound’s Wuhan epidemic tracking research was released internally on Feb 1 and publicly on Feb 4. This research finally ushered in a turning point, an historic moment that confirmed that the earliest outbreak of the Wuhan pneumonia was as early as Feb 3. After excluding various disturbance factors, the trend had become obvious in the development graph. What is even more surprising is that this discovery also indicated that the number of newly suspected and newly confirmed cases would reach its peak on Feb 9, indicating that the epidemic nationwide would enter a long and volatile decline. The release of the statement placed Anbound under tremendous pressure. This is because, at that time, the opinion of both the public and the medical community was pessimistic, making it impossible for many to objectively face the reality of the situation. But the important discovery proves that the Chinese government’s measures to combat the epidemic up until this point were crude but effective, so it should continue to invest more medical resources in Wuhan and other regions outside Hubei.
On Feb 5, the third follow-up research report was publicly released. This report noted that, after eliminating the disturbance factors including the common pneumonia, influenza, and misdiagnosis of cases as the new “Wuhan pneumonia”, the final number of confirmed cases after excluding other causes will be about 43,600. The performance of the data on Feb 3 and the continuous tracking analysis for the following three days revealed the first hope of overcoming the virus and a projection of confirmed cases reaching a peak by Feb 9. Based on the data analysis, the report suggested that the actual mortality rate of Wuhan Novel Coronavirus is only two in 1,000 and it may be further reduced in the future. Even though this mortality rate is higher than the mortality rate of influenza under empirical conditions, it is clear that the death rate of this virus is much lower than previous expert estimates. In addition, the 4.9 percent mortality rate in Wuhan was abnormally high. The report emphasised once again that to prevent and control the outbreak, the most important thing to understand is that this is a flu-like illness, not a panic-inducing incurable disease. The report suggested that as the epidemic situation has not ended, any accurate predictions on economic effects are unlikely to be yielded. Our systematic assessment, made only from a macro perspective, believes that it is reasonable to maintain the second-period forecast on Jan 29. That is, the impact on national economic growth is -0.5-1.2 percent, mainly attributed by the impact on consumption at the Spring Festival, as well as the impact on tourism, food and beverage and cultural industries. Among these industries, the largest impact on economic growth will be recorded in the first quarter, where the quarterly economic growth will have difficulty to exceed 5 percent. The report clearly warned that the main problem in the future lies in the fact that China’s economic situation has weakened. It will be in a long-term downturn and this is the greatest risk in the coming period.
On Feb 6, Anbound strongly suggested that a “Citizen Support Centre” should be established in various places to effectively alleviate difficulties during outbreaks and to aid the urban residents in need in a targeted manner, especially in avoiding the accidental death of isolated and helpless people.
On Feb 8, in view of the serious shortcomings of the so-called “mobile cabin hospitals”, a design was completed in cooperation with Manchester’s Old Trafford stadium. The architectural design solution of the modern temporary hospital was widely commended and distributed in order to transfer the most effective medical interventions. The temporary hospital model was introduced to various cities and regions within China.
Anbound’s Wuhan Pneumonia Emergency Team has always kept track of the economic impact, positing that he epidemic will have various major and far-reaching effects on Chinese society in the future and the “last wave of withdrawal of capital” will occur.
Throughout, the Anbound Wuhan Pneumonia Emergency Team has maintained smooth communication and exchanges with the governments in Beijing and Sichuan from the beginning to the end. So far, both places have been the areas that have dealt the most effectively with the situation in the entire country.
In conclusion: to date, the developmental curve of the Wuhan pneumonia epidemic, especially in China, is exactly the same as the forecast and information analysis we conducted on Jan 29, but the downward slope trend is slow and repetitive. The results are clearly emerging and our mission has been achieved. Of course, in the face of this sudden public health crisis, Anbound is not alone in the fight – there are countless doctors, officials and scientists around the world working hand-in-hand right now and Anbound is just doing what a think tank should do.
I would like to take the opportunity to express my gratitude to the Anbound Wuhan Pneumonia Emergency Team. As the leader of the research team, I would like to thank my four colleagues, He Jun, Feng Yan, Pan Yu and Wang Zhaoxi. This team has worked hard and poured in tremendous effort during this extraordinary period, fulfilling their mission while showing complete professionalism. I believe that their work will be forever tied to this historic period in China.
While the epidemic situation in Wuhan and the whole country is far from over, Anbound is convinced that the basic epidemic evolution path, logic, context and impact have been clearly presented.
From the perspective of public policy research, these are no longer challenging issues. Objectively speaking, in the future, we will mainly look at the regular capabilities of government departments, while putting emphasis on the social governance capabilities and the performance of their governance systems, especially depending on the rational performance of local governments in the future and the normal functioning of the medical community. Therefore, the ANBOUND Wuhan Pneumonia Emergency Team is now dissolved.
Chan Kung/ANBOUND China