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April 10, 2020

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The ‘invisible guards’ who are keeping our city safe

A TEAM of “invisible guards” led by Sun Xiaodong at the Shanghai Center for Disease Control and Prevention is behind the city’s statistics and government policies during the novel coronavirus pandemic.

After a nearly 80-day battle, there has been no local confirmed cases for several weeks in Shanghai. Now Sun, deputy director of the center, and his team are planning for a future vaccination program.

Last month a vaccine developed by a research team led by Chen Wei, a researcher at the Institute of Military Medicine, was approved for clinical trials.

“Sun has told us to keep up with the development of a vaccine since the coronavirus broke out and guided us to revise a guideline on the selection of a coronavirus vaccine to ensure such a vaccine can enter the local market soon after it comes out,” said Wu Linlin of the center’s immunization planning institute.

Wu said that Sun had also asked them to research vaccination strategies and the willingness of people to be vaccinated.

“Questions like how to launch the coronavirus vaccination, which groups of people will receive vaccination and if a collective vaccination will be given, which can allow lots of people to get immunity in a short time but may trigger problems like people gathering, should be all taken into consideration in our plan,” said Sun.

“Our work looks like a calm sea but with undercurrents beneath its surface. That’s why we should always make early plans.”

The center was among the first group of authorities to take actions following the news that a pneumonia of unknown cause had occurred in Wuhan, capital city of Hubei Province, in December last year. Sun, who was involved in fighting SARS in 2003 and H1N1 flu in 2009, was worried that the disease could spread to Shanghai.

He held a meeting with related departments and worked out a risk assessment report as well as an emergency plan. At the beginning of the pandemic, he and his team set more than 20 detailed solutions to fit the city’s situation.

Tracking close contacts

As the disease progressed, they updated their prevention and control plan five times and released guidelines on hospital infection control, special group protection, on-site sterilization for different venues and specific measures for residential communities and workplaces.

While local hospitals were tackling existing coronavirus patients, the center was controlling the increase in such patients with methods such as epidemiological investigations.

From Chinese New Year’s Eve, the number of suspected cases and close contacts rose quickly in the city. Sun established an epidemiological investigation team of 550 health workers, later expanded to more than 700, to work in shifts day and night to locate sources of infection as soon as possible.

In a few cases, he sent workers to trace all the people involved and carry out screening. Sun also set up a new office at the center for close contact tracking.

This office mainly targets people having close contact with confirmed patients on flights, trains, buses or boats.

So far, the office has traced nearly 20,000 people and detected more than 120 confirmed patients from the close contacts.

Sun is now busy sharing Shanghai’s epidemic prevention and control experience with other countries and promoting health education for overseas Chinese. So far, he has communicated with health officials from eight countries including Costa Rica and Hungary.


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