Chongqing- The 2021 China-Europe Seminar on Human Rights was held in Chongqing and Rome on 8th June, with the theme of COVID-19 Pandemic and Guarantee of the Right to Life and Health. The author of Kai’s Diary, A Canadian’s Covid-19 Days in Chongqing China, Jorah Kai Wood was invited to give a keynote speech on his experience of writing the book in the panel session on the theme of Challenges of Covid-19 Pandemic to Contemporary Guarantees of the Right to Life and Health, and State Responses. Here are his words.
I’m Jorah Kai Wood, a Canadian English Teacher, author, and journalist for iChongqing and special epidemic correspondent for CTV News Canada; thanks for your time today. I’ve been living in Chongqing since 2014, teaching English, Writing, and Art History at the Chongqing Foreign Language School, and working since 2018 at iChongqing as an editor and contributor for the English language media channel.
I love to read and write, and I also feel that my interest in mindfulness meditation and Stoic philosophy helped ground me, as the french say, prepare my terrain to have a positive attitude and work positively to help those affected by the pandemic through teaching and sharing information, first about health and later about mental health and using an agency, doing what we can do help other people, and preparing ourselves and our loved ones, to minimize the disruption and trauma of the pandemic in our lives and our nations.
Seneca, an ancient Roman teacher, wrote almost 3000 years ago, “The Man who has anticipated the coming of troubles takes away their power when they arrive,” so when the lockdown came, I learned as much as I could, from sources all over the world, reported what I learned, and shared the best advice I could give. He also said, “he is most powerful who has power over himself,” I think these ideas, and the resilience that they bring, that we cannot choose our circumstances, but we 100% decide whether to wallow in fear or, worse, deny reality because it is too scary or whether we move forward positively and try to make a difference and overcome the great challenges at our feet is what will make the most significant difference in our lives.
I started the diary at the first Wuhan lockdown back in January 2020 to process the serious news and leave behind my experience if I didn’t make it back to my family in Canada; I was sharing my diaries daily, reporting for iChongqing and CTV News Canada as we learned day by day about the nature of the virus. I read a lot of studies, and thankfully my uncles Dr. Victor Wood, emergency surgeon and Dr. Lawrence Wood, professor emeritus and Dean of Medicine for the University of Chicago, and cousin, Dr. Teresa Wood, MD, helped to ensure my reporting and research was medically sound and accurate.
Even though this started during our spring festival, Chongqing closed highways, asked holiday drivers to turn around and shelter in place. We enforced strict entry quarantines and PCR testing for anyone who came into Chongqing to avoid new outbreaks, and we did incredible track and trace efforts around clusters to test and break the chains of transmission.
I was quickly impressed by the serious nonpharmaceutical interventions (NPI) and anti-epidemic measures taken by Chongqing and overall by China to fight the epidemic. What became clear early on is that this kind of precautionary principle created a population of what Chris Hatfield called “AS CANS,” astronaut candidates, people who are smart AS CANS can break the chain of transmission. This kind of vigilance is highly effective in controlling the spread of contagious diseases that would otherwise spread rapidly through dense populations.
I moved from operating in a fear zone one to one of learning and teaching as I began to read many studies, confident that our quarantine was effective at controlling the spread and trying to share the news with my Canadian and western readers, the Chinese ones.
After my first 60 days of lockdown, my diary was published as a book in English and Chinese; I continued to curate bloggers around the world in more than 12 countries on six continents and was able to really compare different countries’ approaches from total lockdowns to complete denial of the pandemic. I had the honor of sharing a stage with prestigious guests in various COVID recovery conferences, and even my childhood hero, martial arts movie star Jeanne Claude Van Damme, who believes in the rewinding of nature, such as dolphins in Venice canals, is a form of justice and animal rights victory. The surrounding issues of our lockdowns and the questions raised by all the time we’ve had to think have for many been a gift, but for many in the developing world where day labor requires daily work, also poses an incredible challenge, and starvation is as much a threat to them as the pandemic itself. It’s been a very illuminating year, but after 16 months, it’s clear, the countries with strong NPIs such as masks, social distancing, and good ventilation rules for indoor areas, quarantines, and high levels of testing and tracing are doing much better than the ones that have been slow to adapt or reluctant to enforce pandemic protocols.
Of the first wave, in Chongqing, we had 576 cases and six fatalities. After April 2020, we caught all of our import cases in quarantine nets and have not had community spread since then. This is a world-class record, and we should be proud of it; we shared this pandemic playbook with the world; although it is a strict and high tech approach, it is a very effective one that should, in my opinion, be modeled wherever possible, and we do see in places like New Zealand, Israel, Mongolia, Australia, where strict NPIS and quarantines are enforced, community infection stops.
I would really hope that in the future, the world can cooperate better to create and enforce unilateral pandemic measures designed to protect both nations and citizens and use aid to support displaced and migrant workers and healthcare systems And not just banks and corporations. Psychological experts have weighed in, and when it comes to loss; people are less hurt by a strong but clear government response, such as one prolonged lockdown supported when necessary, than the light switch approach of open and close that only seeks to break the exponential curve but does not attempt to get to zero cases of community spread. We need collective agreements and an organized response to effectively battle COVID-19 and future pandemics. Whether it comes from the WHO or another body, I believe it’s essential to be more precautionary, vigilant, and unified in our international response.
One thing that really impressed me was the precautionary principle in Chongqing and China that we were operating under. We moved quickly and ran with the early data to adapt to evidence of aerosolized transmission, asymptomatic infection, and the need for good ventilation and masks in indoor areas from day 1. It was very concerning to see other countries demand such a high bar for evidence before moving to take these measures and studies seriously because I watched a few early cases in Canada become a serious outbreak while their top doctors and experts said masks did more harm than good, play down the connection between Vitamin D deficiency and ACE2 receptor production (and the studies that showed VD3 deficiency had an almost double, more than 77% increase on SARS COV 2 progression to serious covid, ICU hospitalization, and serious outcomes) despite powerful evidence from JAMA, Sofia Regina University and others to support this.
While some people argue that infringements on individuals rights to go outside, send their kids to school, or being forced to wear a mask is unethical in a free society, I believe we should focus more on our wartime obligations to each other, that we have a duty to protect each other, rather than a right to prolong and exacerbate the pandemic.
As I heard today, in the main keynote hall, “Only With collective efforts and collective freedom can we achieve individual freedom,” a very eloquent argument from Wang Xigen, Dean of Law School for Huazhong University in Wuhan.
This, in turn, has severe health and economic consequences both for workers, business owners, and the economies of countries. Governing in a pandemic is complicated. You must choose to prioritize health by sacrificing the economy or the economy by sacrificing health, but this idea does not consider that the long-term economic and health effects of not protecting citizens are much more profound than people might have first considered. In contrast, By prioritizing health and safety over the economy, China was able to recover both very quickly. With looming climate and environmental challenges ahead, and the possibility of COVID-19 becoming endemic in some nations, we need to prepare ourselves for some hard choices ahead and the idea that we must make difficult decisions, but the best ones will involve difficult, short term sacrifice for long term gain. Rather than endless convenience, we must learn to tighten our belts, work hard and do what must be done for long-term prosperity. The pandemic response has shown me that many people are not mentally prepared to disrupt their daily lives, but we have no choice. we cannot frame these conversations as “what is the cost of acting versus doing nothing” but “What is the cost of inaction, compared to working as hard as we can today to solve the problems we face for a better tomorrow.”
Alas, I am concerned about the politicization and profit influence in vaccine distribution and treatment development, where many countries are reluctant to sign IP waivers to help developing countries access covid vaccines and data that already FDA approved medicines like Ivermectin that many respiratory experts such as Dr. Pierre Kory claim to be quite efficacious and cheap enough to offer to many developing countries are not investigated in favor of very expensive drugs such as Remdisivir which are beyond the reach of many developing countries.
As an adopted son of China, I am very happy to know that China has made the Sinopharm and Sinovac vaccines available in more than 43 countries, more than 60 countries authorized the use of Chinese vaccines, and is donating or donated to 70 countries already. I would love to see the Americas and European countries contribute more to COVAX and assist in this project because, with the development of new and possibly vaccine evading super mutant strains, no country is safe until the whole world is safe.
Thanks very much for your time today.
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