Beijing and Chongqing: Race against COVID-19 in China’s Megacities

Every year, about 700 million Chinese return to their hometowns to celebrate the Chinese New Year. With about 75 million people on the road every day during New Year’s week, the event is known as the Great New Year Migration. In 2020, however, COVID-19 broke out before the celebration began.
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When China needed urgent assistance, the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) acted swiftly to help one of its members. On April 7, 2020, AIIB’s Board of Directors approved the Emergency Assistance to China Public Health Infrastructure Project, the Bank’s first emergency loan from its COVID-19 Crisis Recovery Facility. The USD355-million assistance would support China in responding to COVID-19, strengthening the capacity of Beijing and Chongqing in handling public health emergencies and enhancing public health infrastructure and system sustainability.

Megacities like Beijing with around 22 million people are vulnerable during pandemics due to their population and human mobility. Chongqing is the only megacity in Southwest China with water, land and air transportation resources. It houses 34 million people, 10 million of whom live in rural areas. It is also close to Wuhan. AIIB’s assistance aims to help Beijing and Chongqing support quick and effective containment of the virus and lead the way for other megacities to mitigate the effects of COVID-19.

“It only took less than two months to complete all mandatory procedures and get AIIB Board approval since the project was initiated in mid-February, setting a record for AIIB’s sovereign-backed financing projects,” said Pan Yichen of the Project Office of the Beijing City. “This helped all 22 municipal hospitals in Beijing, the Beijing Centers for Disease Control (CDC), Beijing Emergency Medical Center and Beijing Municipal Medical Products Administration to promptly get the equipment they needed and ensure public health and safety.”

Yichen said he was pleased to see how the project was executed quickly and flexibly. This was a time when AIIB was more agile and responsive to its clients than ever before. The project was put to the test on June 11, 2020 when Beijing registered 368 COVID-19 cases at the Xinfadi wholesale market in Fengtai District. Known as Beijing’s “vegetable basket,” Xinfadi is the largest market for wholesale vegetables, fruits and meat. Large numbers of people go in and out of the market, making virus prevention and control challenging. With AIIB’s financing assistance, all units involved in the project became better prepared in their efforts to fight the pandemic.

“We have testing kits well-supplied in all labs in the city, and the use of new sequencers enabled the testing time of each sample to be shortened by up to 12 hours. That was really helpful,” said Zhang Daitao, Deputy Director, Infectious Diseases and Endemic Disease Control Institute of the Beijing CDC, as he stood next to the newly purchased emergency response vehicles. These vehicles have disinfection, sterilization, inspection and testing equipment for on-the-spot handling of health emergencies.

“This system helped us quickly trace the source of the Xinfadi outbreak. Using our simulation system, Beijing CDC promptly forecasted the number of infected cases within just a week,” said Li Gang from the Statistics and Information Department of the Beijing CDC while presenting the new information data center to a delegation from the Guizhou CDC. Once a utility room, it has been transformed into an advanced data support center for endemic decision-making. Tracing and tracking of all cases in Beijing are done here.

“This will be the first public health simulation training base in Beijing,” said Liu Xiuying who conducts public health training at the Beijing CDC. “There will be a great need for training, so the base and training will be open to those who need them.”

“In this war against the virus, we completed the project on time, and were equipped with advanced tools to save many lives,” said Zhang Chun, head of the Medical Engineering Department of Beijing Ditan Hospital.

Today, epidemic prevention and control are the new normal in China. Normalized epidemic prevention and control together with economic and social development will continue to put the public health infrastructure systems of the two megacities to the test. AIIB was and will continue to be on hand to help make health care infrastructure resilient in the Bank’s member countries as we continue to finance the Infrastructure for Tomorrow. Meanwhile, the success stories of Beijing and Chongqing will continue to inspire.

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