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May 25, 2020

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Better planning needed for emergencies

Laws need to be changed to streamline epidemic control in China and to ensure the protection of privacy during the process, according to Liu Yan, vice president of Shanghai No. 9 People’s Hospital, who is a deputy to the National People’s Congress from Shanghai.

Under current law for the prevention and treatment of infectious diseases, a disease control institution shall report an epidemic to the local health administration which then informs the local government as well as its superior institution and the health administration of the State Council.

Liu proposed the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention be authorized to report epidemic cases directly to the State Council and that center appoints an infectious disease expert as the reporting officer to report directly to the State Council.

Also, the national infectious disease and public health emergency monitoring and reporting system should be given a legal framework, Liu said.

The system was established after the SARS epidemic in 2003 under national and local governments, and enables doctors to directly report cases of infectious diseases or unknown diseases to the national center for disease control and prevention.

Measures to restrict residents who are not patients at hospitals or health centers, which proved to be effective in the fight against the novel coronavirus epidemic, need to be legalized for future cases, she said.

Currently, the law only authorizes governments above the county level to implement measures against infectious diseases. During the epidemic, restrictions were also implemented by some towns and district governments and even residential committees.

Wider measures required

Also, the law stipulates isolation measures only for patients, pathogen carriers, suspected patients and close contacts of patients, while some other people were also ordered to be isolated to combat the epidemic.

“It’s undeniable that significant results were achieved through these strict measures, but isolating people is a kind of restriction of their personal freedom and should be implemented within legal frameworks,” Liu said.

Under the current law, only disease control and prevention centers and medical institutions are authorized to investigate individuals and organizations. But in practice, residential committees and telecoms, railway and civil aviation operators also help by providing travel information.

The law should clarify who is authorized to collect information and what data can be released to the public, Liu said.

In another proposal filed with the government which Liu jointly penned with fellow deputy Wang Wei, deputy general manager of the Shanghai Textile Decoration Co of Orient International Co, they called for the integration of government and market resources to reduce the potential risks that could happen in the next public health emergency.

The extreme shortage of basic medical supplies such as protective suits and goggles, ethanol and disinfectant in hospitals at the beginning of the outbreak showed the inadequacy of contingency planning in China, the deputies said.

Major items stored for emergencies now are tents, winter clothes, quilts and rescue equipment. The supply of necessary goods during the epidemic suffered from the fragmentation of supply chains for manufacturing and a lack of systematic support for logistics, the two deputies said.

The national government should lead the effort to integrate resources and ensure goods needed for emergencies can be quickly produced and collected.


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