China among first countries to develop coronavirus drug and vaccine, says Chinese ambassador

Photo: WAM

China will be among the first countries to develop a vaccine and specific drug to treat the new coronavirus, COVID-19, according to a top Chinese diplomat.

"We are doing everything to safeguard the health of Chinese people and to contribute to global public health. A victory for China is a victory for the world as well," Ni Jian, the Chinese Ambassador to the UAE, told Emirates News Agency, WAM, in an exclusive interview.

Chinese researchers have found "three drugs to be of great potential" against COVID-19 and multiple teams are vigorously advancing vaccine development, he said.

"Up until Tuesday [February 18], more than 12,000 patients in China have been cured, far exceeding the number of mortality. Newly confirmed cases in China outside Hubei [ground-zero province] have seen a 14-day consecutive drop. China’s vigorous efforts to control the epidemic are robust and effective," Jian explained.

According to Xinhua, the Chinese official news agency, at the end of Tuesday, a total of 2,004 people had died of the disease and 74,185 reported as infected in 31 provincial-level regions and Xinjiang, an autonomous region.

The ambassador said the Chinese Embassy in Abu Dhabi and the Consulate-General in Dubai are coordinating with the relevant UAE authorities on disease prevention and matters regarding Chinese citizens travelling from China.

"We have maintained close communication with the UAE Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, Ministry of Health and Prevention, airports, immigration, customs, airlines etc.

"We have shared with the UAE side the information of the latest developments and measures taken by China to contain the epidemic," he said.

The embassy has released several notices, urging Chinese residents and tourists to cooperate with all immigration and quarantine measures requested by the UAE, including medical screening and isolation, keep a close eye on the official information issued by the UAE health authorities, and take all precautionary measures, Jian explained.

Chinese citizens who have recently returned from China or hosted visitors from China are asked to be in home isolation for 14 days, and if they show symptoms such as fever, cough, sore throat or breathing difficulties, they should immediately see a doctor and explain the situation, the envoy advised.

"They are asked to avoid crowded public places, restrict gatherings and dinner parties, keep good personal hygiene, and implement effective self-prevention measures.

"It is also important to listen to official information instead of rumours, and not to panic. Our embassy and Consulate-General have opened 24-hour consular assistance hotlines, and registered relevant Chinese citizens to follow-up on their health conditions," Jian said.

Explaining China’s efforts to develop a vaccine for COVID-19, the envoy said that according to China’s top epidemiologist Dr. Li Lanjuan, it would take at least three months to have a breakthrough.

In an interview with Xinhua last month, Lanjuan also said, "We have isolated five strains of the virus, two of which are very suitable for vaccine development."

Chinese researchers have successfully isolated high-quality virus strains, paving the way for vaccine research and development, anti-viral medicines and rapid test kits, Jian reaffirmed.

As there is currently no specific drug for COVID-19, the Chinese Ministry of Science and Technology has launched 16 contingency projects in three batches to prompt science-based response solutions, the ambassador said.

Now researchers from various teams are conducting large-scale, systematic screening on drugs that are already on the market or under clinical trials, according to their knowledge on the virus, and they have found Chloroquine Phosphate, Remdesivir, Favipiravir etc. to be of great potential, the diplomat explained.

"Most recent clinical trials suggest they can effectively inhibit the infection," he said.

As the patient’s immune system has a vital role to play, the combined therapy of Chinese and Western medicine is a specialty in the treatment, with more than half of the confirmed patients in Hubei using Chinese medicine, the envoy revealed.

About the origin of the virus, the ambassador said, researchers found that COVID-19 was 96 percent identical at the whole-genome level to a bat coronavirus, suggesting that bats could be the natural reservoir host.

However, questions on the possibility of an intermediate host or hosts and route of transmission have to be answered by further research, Jian pointed out.

The Chinese government agencies have launched a joint law enforcement campaign to crack down on violations of the wildlife trade ban, in a bid to control the novel coronavirus outbreak, he said.

The Chinese Ministry of Finance has invested US$6.7 billion to support the outbreak response. By February 18, apart from military medical staff, more than 32,000 medical workers in nearly 300 medical teams from across China have been dispatched to Hubei, among which are 11,000 intensive care specialists sent to Wuhan city, the envoy explained.

In just 10 and 12 days respectively, Huoshenshan Hospital and Leishenshan Hospital, with a total of 2,600 beds, were built and put into operation.

In addition, stadiums, convention and exhibition centres and other facilities are being converted into 13 makeshift hospitals which could provide over 12,000 beds.

Some university and college dormitories in Wuhan are now being transformed to host 7,000 temporary beds. All these efforts are easing the pressure on medical resources and starting to achieve good results, the ambassador concluded.

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