Coronavirus: Why China’s Strategy to Contain the Virus Might Work

Wuhan City has a population of over 11 million. Credit: Tauno Tõhk/CC by 2.0

By Fei Chen
Jan 30 2020 – On January 23, the authorities of Wuhan City, China, sealed off the motorways and shut down all public transport to stop the coronavirus outbreak from spreading. Shortly afterwards, at least ten other cities in China were under quarantine orders, most of them located in the areas surrounding Wuhan.

It sounds unbelievable to quarantine a city of 11 million people, but it may work because movement within and between cities in China relies heavily on public transport infrastructure. Major cities in China are well connected by airports, express railways, motorways and long-distance buses. Once the entry points of these transport routes are controlled and patrolled, people cannot easily get out.

Fei Chen, Senior Lecturer, Architecture, University of Liverpool

The transport infrastructure is built by the state and over 90% funded by public money, so control remains in the hands of the authorities. The one-party government in China also helps to effectively implement such a strategy.

Another reason this containment strategy may work is that major Chinese cities are large and dense. Wuhan has an urban area of 1,528km2, which makes it extremely difficult for people to walk out of the city if they are not able to take public transport or travel on the motorways using private cars.

People who live on the periphery of the city may still be able to get out through small local road networks that mainly lead to villages or the countryside. As long as the major roads are closed off, they are not able to reach other major cities with a large, concentrated population and the quarantine remains effective.

Megacity regions

The urbanisation process facilitated by the Chinese state results in big cities surrounded by smaller cities, towns and counties. This form of city cluster, known as megacity regions, are a recent phenomenon in China and their development
has been driven by both political and economic factors. The Yangtze River Delta and Pearl River Delta are the most well known megacity regions, holding enormous economic power and attracting labourers regionally and nationally.

Wuhan and its surrounding cities, towns and counties holds a similar status in central China thanks to its strategic location on the Yangtze River and national railway network. The local authority’s Great Wuhan Economic Region plan is intended to promote Wuhan in efforts to become comparable to the aforementioned megacity regions.

Megacity regions are connected by transport routes and mostly developed around transport nodes, at both the regional and neighbourhood scales. This so-called transit-oriented development means that if the entry points of public transport are closed off in cities of the whole region, to a large extent, people are controlled in the region.

Chinese New Year

For more than three decades, Chinese urbanisation has seen large scale domestic migration. People from the countryside and smaller cities and towns move to big cities for more work opportunities and better education and healthcare. Chinese New Year is most important occasion when people return to their home towns to celebrate the festival with their families.

The coronavirus containment measures coincided with the national movement for the New Year celebration. This massive movement of people, if not controlled, would be a serious threat to containing the virus. People were advised against long-distance travel and the New Year holiday has been extended into February. These measures are to make sure movement within the country is restricted as much as possible. Workers will stay in their home cities as their returns are suspended.

The containment measures in Wuhan and other cities are likely to continue until further studies of the virus suggest other effective solutions. At the current moment, international travellers from China have all been checked at airports and some flights have been cancelled.

Cities nowadays rely on complex systems to operate. The concentration of labour and resources may enable efficiency but leaves them vulnerable to attacks. The outbreak put enormous pressure on Wuhan’s healthcare system as people can only seek treatment in the city. A few high-ranked hospitals in Wuhan possess the best resources, but they cannot cope with the healthcare demand from large groups at the same time. Two new hospitals are being built in Wuhan to deal with the coronavirus outbreak. They are expected to be completed on February 3rd and 5th respectively and provide 2,300 beds in total.

In the foreseeable future digital technologies and smart city measures may also play a role in dealing with pressure on health infrastructure by, for instance, reporting cases and coordinating the allocation of resources. Wuhan has a reputation for the active integration of smart technologies in urban management.

Although effective, sealing off an entire city or region should always be a last resort. It will surely have a negative social impact and damage the economy.The Conversation

Fei Chen is a senior lecturer of architecture, University of Liverpool

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

‘Organic is the Future’

The seed bank at Navdanya, and (right) Vandana Shiva at the organic farm. Courtesy: Sapna Gopal

By Sapna Gopal
HIMALAYAS, India, Jan 30 2020 – Vandana Shiva, a pioneer of organic farming in India, is incensed by the 2019 draft law to compulsorily register all seeds used by farmers. On a wintry afternoon, at her farm Navdanya in the Himalayan foothills, the noted ecologist spoke on the future of the organic farming movement in India. Excerpts:

Q: What is your view on the Himalayas? How different from the plains is it as a terrain?

A: Agriculture in the Himalayas is diverse because every valley is different, every slope is different, every altitude is different – the North and South faces are different. So, biodiversity is even more important for mountainous regions and for the Himalayas in particular. This is because the difference between Himalayas and other mountains is, for instance in the Alps, there is snow in the winter and there is no agriculture during that time – our peak agriculture season is the monsoon and we get it in four months. So, to not consider biodiversity while planning agriculture is a recipe for ecological disaster as it was for forestry which is why the Chipko movement started – which is how I started my ecological life, 45 years ago.

Q: Do you think there is a revolution in organic farming in India? Do you think the demand for organic produce is much more now and there’s heightened awareness in this regard? If yes, is this good news for the Indian market and the overseas market?

A: There are three levels on which the awareness on organic is growing — we have all worked for 35 years to build this movement. Beginning with a network of people concerned, we started Samvardhan, from Gandhi’s ashram in the early 80s. Then, my book, Violence of the green revolution, is the work that made me realise that we had to give up chemicals and move to organic. So, in a lot of places, it is a revolution happening because the green revolution has destroyed water (since it uses ten times the water). As a result, people are shifting, because there’s no way we can continue to deplete the last drop of water. Farmers are also shifting because the cost of chemical agriculture is so high that it is trapping farmers in debt – 77% of them are in debt. This is for input purchase, not for marriages or wastage of money, but for input of agriculture that’s based on chemicals. Also, it is capital intensive and the fact is that there are 400,000 suicides among indebted peasants in India [over the last few decades]. All these are helping farmers wake up to the fact that this kind of agriculture is not for them.

Then, there are people in the cities who are realising that most of their health problems are related to food and we know that chronic diseases are food related. This being the case, it’s better to shift to organic since it is the best medicine. As Ayurveda says, annam sarvodayi [food as universal upliftement], so that is the shift.

Over the years, I have worked with many states and we have helped around seven of them make a shift towards organic policies. They include Uttarakhand, Kerala (where the movement is very strong and is spreading very fast), Madhya Pradesh, Sikkim (the first 100% organic state in the world), Bihar and Odisha. Now, the government in Odisha has declared an organic policy and our colleagues in Odisha are on the board of the organic policy team. Ladakh as a region (before all the political changes), declared itself organic.

Outside India, the government of Bhutan is totally committed to moving towards organic, and we have helped give advice. So, it is a movement that must grow because there is no other way to farm. In any case, the big companies that draw the chemicals are saying, we don’t need farmers now. We will do farming without farmers. And worse, they are also saying, we don’t need food either – we will just cook together constituents in the lab – so between no farmer and no food, the alternative that will work, for the farmer, for the earth, for the people who have to eat, will be organic. So, no matter how much of a denial takes place, this is the future.

Q: Do you think there is a problem in terms of certification for organic farmers? Are there some policies which could help address this issue?   

A: In the first instance, I remember going into the commerce ministry and saying, why on earth are organic standards being set by the commerce ministry? Our certification is too heavily driven by European standards. I was on the National Organic Board and we said that farmers can’t afford this – so, what was done was that we created group certification. In fact, Navdanya works through group certification — 100 farmers get together and then the overheads come down. In 2018, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) tried to take over the organic standards and were going to make it impossible for any farmer to distribute food, even locally, without certification cost. I recollect fighting it out and saying, “No, where farmers are growing food either for themselves or those they know and directly selling it, the state will not enter in that domain, you don’t need certification, you need relationship,” and we managed to get that exclusion in the national law.

However, it’s a permanent fight because there are those who do want to destroy the small farmer. Which is why for us in Navdanya, from the time I founded it, it is beej swaraj (seed sefl-rule) and ann swaraj (food self-rule) – so, we have to have swaraj (self-rule, freedom) in our seed  and in our food.

We wrote the laws on seed, we got rid of patenting in our laws, we wrote the farmers rights law. I have been part of drafting these laws, 10 to 15 years ago, and we did a satyagraha against seed law that would have made compulsory registration of seed, like compulsory certification of food. However, they have come back with a worse draft in 2019, something that was defeated in 2004. So, you can see that the powers of the industry are strong.

Q: We have witnessed a lot of suicides by farmers in India. Where does the solution lie?

A: The solution comes from understanding the cause, which is debt. Due to debt, there is loss of the land of the farmer. Of all the suicides that I have studied, if I have been in a region where the farmer has committed suicide, the story always goes that the latter went to his field to take one last look,  bought pesticide, and drank it in his field.

Why doesn’t a farmer commit suicide in his home and why the field? That is because in India, most smallholder farmers have received that land through generations of farming and the day the creditors, who are agents of the corporations, come to say that now your land is ours because you did not pay the debt – if he says he never mortgaged his land, he is told that he signed a paper – the shock of being cheated, the disaster of feeling he has betrayed mother earth, all his ancestors who had this land, is what leads to these suicides.

So, why does the farmer get into debt? I watched this in the area of BT Cotton – they are told to sign a piece of paper. The seeds are given for free, but the farmer does not realise he is being piled under debt. Worse, the seeds keep failing, because they are not designed for a drought prone area and are hybrids. They can’t be saved, they can’t control pests – therefore, all these false promises that are made, compel the farmer to constantly go back to the market and take more and more seed, not realising that it is all on credit.

I think it is wrong for a government to say replace your seed and take bad seeds – what kind of government is this? Forcing bad seeds in the name of seed replacement for farmers – it is really anti-national, which is why I do satyagraha against all this. The government’s public breeding has stopped – I filed an RTI (Right to Information petition) and wanted to know how many seeds the Cotton Research Institute had released and why farmers are not buying it. It was found that there wasn’t a single release in Vidarbha.

When I did a study and did not see an alternative, I decided we would bring back the old cotton seed. In villages where we work in, 60% of the (genetically modified) BT cotton has gone.

**This story was first published by Thirdpole.net. You can read it here.