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Solidarity, cooperation vital in combating COVID-19

By Chen Weihua | | Updated: 2020-03-11 09:40
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Since the novel coronavirus hit China two months ago, many countries, including the European Union and its member states, have provided timely and critical moral and material support to help Chinese fight the epidemic.

I was deeply moved by such solidarity at an extremely difficult time endured by the Chinese, especially those in Wuhan, Hubei province, the epicenter of the outbreak.

At the same time, I was quite puzzled why some countries have not heeded repeated warnings by the World Health Organization to seize the window of opportunity created by China's massive containment and mitigation measures to get prepared.

WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said weeks ago that no country should assume it will not get cases. He stressed that the virus does not respect borders or ideologies, does not distinguish between races or ethnicities, and has no regard for a country's level of development.

Sadly that has proven true as the Republic of Korea and Italy, both OECD countries, eyed rapid increases of cases. None of the 27 EU member states is immune after Cyprus confirmed its first two cases on Monday.

Italy has enforced a nationwide lockdown starting this week, while France and Belgium have banned gatherings of 1,000 people and over. In Ireland, all St Patrick's Day parades were canceled.

After a videoconference on Tuesday with leaders of member states, European Council President Charles Michel said they agreed on the need to work together to do everything necessary and to act swiftly. They stressed the need for a joint European approach and a close coordination with the European Commission.

The EU is comprised of rich nations in the world. But as Italy shows, its excellent healthcare system, including intensive care, could be easily overwhelmed when the number of cases skyrocketed, a warning that the WHO also gave weeks ago.

A woman wearing a protective face mask, due to a coronavirus outbreak, is seen at Zaventem international airport near Brussels, Belgium, March 4, 2020. [Photo/Agencies]

It's not easy for the EU to implement the many measures China has done, given that it is a group of 27 sovereign nations and most have open borders. That makes solidarity and coordination among member states even more important if they want to win the battle to control the virus.

China, which has been on the forefront of the fight and made significant progress in bringing the epidemic under control, is lending a hand to the EU and its member states.

Foreign Minister Wang Yi held a phone conversation with Italian Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio on Tuesday, offering solidarity and all necessary assistance to a nation which had wholeheartedly supported China in the fight against the virus.

Italian President Sergio Mattarella visited a school in Rome with a large number of Chinese students in early February, and a few days later, he held a special concert, both to show solidarity with the Chinese people.

Now China is sending to Italy much-needed medical supplies, from high-tech face masks and protective suits to pulmonary ventilators and test kits, to help save lives. China is also providing help to the WHO and other countries.

The COVID-19 situation in the EU may get worse before it gets better. But it's encouraging that the EU and its member states are stepping up the game, and they should do so even more aggressively.

Despite remarks by some that COVID-19 will accelerate deglobalization, including moving supply chains out of China, no EU leaders seem to share such myopic views. Italy is also an important part of global supply chains.

On the contrary, if the COVID-19 crisis teaches the world anything, it is that more international cooperation, not less, is badly needed in tackling such a global public health crisis since no single nation can deal with it alone. That is especially true amid a rise of protectionism and unilateralism in the past years.

The author is chief of the China Daily EU Bureau based in Brussels.

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