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Over 60 medical experts from China and Ireland hold a video conference to share experience of containing COVID-19 at the Second Affiliated Hospital of Zhejiang University School of Medicine, March 13, 2020. /Chinanews
Editor's Note: Paddy Cosgrave is founder and CEO of Web Summit, "the best technology conference on the planet" according to Forbes, a gathering of 70,000 tech CEOs and founders, policymakers and cultural figures in Lisbon, Portugal. The article reflects the author's opinions, and not necessarily the views of CGTN.
As much of the world goes into varying degrees of lockdown in response to the COVID-19 outbreak, little is certain. We don't know how long these lockdowns will need to last, nor how our societies will change in the aftermath of the pandemic.
Despite governments around the world introducing stimulus packages of different sizes, we don't yet know which national health services will cope with increasing patient numbers and which businesses will survive and which will go under.
Two things grow ever clearer however: that when it comes to lockdowns in response to the novel coronavirus, the more stringent and swifter the better; and that if the world is to defeat this virus, it will only do so if all countries stand together.
Ireland, where I'm from, is beginning to recognize this. I personally have been inspired by both China's response to COVID-19 and its solidarity with my home country.
China locked down Wuhan, where the virus originated, on January 23 and the country thereafter showed clear success in containing the outbreak. This early lockdown set an example for the world. World Health Organization (WHO) Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus praised China's response, saying that "China's speed, China's scale and China's efficiency … is the advantage of China's system." Ghebreyesus also said that one British WHO board member described China's lockdown of Wuhan as "heroic."
It took time for many in the West to recognize the importance of general lockdowns in containing COVID-19. As recently as January 24, Human Rights Watch Executive Director Kenneth Roth said, "In typical Chinese Communist Party fashion, Beijing confines 35 million people rather than pursuing the transparent and targeted approach to the Wuhan coronavirus that public health and human rights require."
Roth, whose opinion represented a clear break with the WHO, was joined by Western media in his condemnation of the Chinese approach, with the New York Times saying that China's "sledgehammer" response to the pandemic forced the country's people to pay a "price in human trauma and economic loss (that) was severe," while the Financial Times criticized China for being "slow," "sluggish" and "hesitant" in addressing COVID-19.
All have since been proved wrong.
While Ireland was slow in declaring a full lockdown, the country is now largely in such a state. Our schools and colleges are closed and only essential businesses such as supermarkets and grocery stores are still in operation, while the people of Ireland are required to travel no farther than two kilometers from their home in most circumstances.
Our frontline healthcare workers meanwhile are battling not just COVID-19, but also challenging conditions in our hospitals, which were ill-prepared for the pandemic. These workers are true heroes who are putting themselves in danger for the greater good of the country – unfortunately our health service hasn't treated them as such.
There has been a shortage of personal protective equipment here in Ireland, which our doctors and nurses badly need while treating patients with COVID-19. By March 24, almost a month since Ireland's first confirmed case of the coronavirus, 23 percent of patients diagnosed in Ireland were healthcare workers. Chinese healthcare workers meanwhile accounted for just 3.8 percent of the country's total of those diagnosed over a month after China's first reported cases.
So desperate is the situation, Ireland's health service this week sent a letter to all its workers suggesting they place used masks in an oven for 30 minutes in order to disinfect them for reuse. Doctors at St James's Hospital, Ireland's busiest hospital, have been forced to start an online campaign appealing for protective gear. This shortage puts lives at risk – and it is completely unacceptable.
We have, however, been able to count on an ally in China.
Following Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi's message of solidarity to his Irish counterpart, Simon Coveney, where he pledged that China would share information and its experience fighting COVID-19, two Chinese companies offered to help Ireland.
Alibaba has donated 300,000 masks, 30,000 testing kits and 3,000 protective suits to Ireland to help with our efforts battling COVID-19, the first shipment of which touched down in Dublin on March 26.
The company's donation follows that of Huawei, which last week donated desperately needed personal protective equipment to be used by Ireland's frontline healthcare workers. In accepting this donation, Ireland became the second European country, after Italy, to which Huawei has offered its support during this time of international crisis.
Along with these donations, the Chinese Beifang Business Association of Ireland gave 40 ventilators, 200,000 masks and 3,000 items of protective equipment to Ireland's health service to help the national effort.
These donations will save lives, of that I am certain. And they are appreciated here in Ireland. I'm proud that, largely, the country has rejected the reactionary blaming of China for the pandemic and sees China as an ally in the fight.
We've been set a good example by Irishman and WHO executive director, Dr Mike Ryan, who said: "We've been very clear right since the beginning of this event that viruses know no borders and they don't care about your ethnicity or the color of your skin or how much money you have in the bank."
Dr Ryan, addressing repeated attempts to smear both the Chinese response to COVID-19 and its offers of help to other affected countries, later added: "This is a time for solidarity. This is a time for facts. This is a time to move forward together to fight this virus together. There is no blame in this."
Dr Ryan speaks a truth that isn't articulated enough: if the world is to defeat this pandemic, it will only do so by standing as one – we will only prevail if countries come together and accept each other's help.
The Irish people I know and respect, greatly appreciate the message of solidarity and support from China's foreign minister. We appreciate Huawei's donation. We appreciate Alibaba's donation. And we will appreciate the many more donations that will come in the weeks ahead. We appreciate that China, Chinese experts and Chinese companies are fighting this virus together with the world and with the Irish people.
We will emerge victorious together. Here in Ireland, we consider China an ally.