China’s decision to put Wuhan into lockdown a month ago helped limit the global spread of Covid-19 outbreak, a senior official from the World Health Organisation said on Monday.
Bruce Aylward, head of a WHO team that visited the city over the weekend, also confirmed that the number of new cases had been falling.
The epidemic, caused by a new strain of coronavirus, has already infected almost 80,000 people and killed more than 2,600.
“I know people look at the numbers and say ‘what’s really happening?’,” Aylward told a joint press briefing with China’s National Health Commission in Beijing on Monday night.
“Very rapidly, multiple sources of data pointed to the same thing. This is falling and it’s falling because of the actions that are being taken.”
He praised China for locking down Wuhan – a city of 11 million people – and said the decision helped avert a crisis.
“The world is in your debt,” he said. “The people of that city have gone through an extraordinary period and they’re still going through it.
“In the face of a previously unknown disease, China used one of the most ancient strategies for disease control.”
He described the “all-government, all-society approach” as “extraordinary” and “probably the most ambitious and agile” in history.
Aylward also said: “The world needs the experience and materials from China to be successful in battling this coronavirus disease. China has the most experience in the world with this disease. It is the only country that has turned around a serious and large-scale outbreak.”
He said that scaling down restrictions on movement and reopening restaurants and shops was a risk “that needs to be managed carefully”.
But he said the risk was dropping “and what China has to add to the global response is rising”.
While China reported fewer infections over the weekend, the disease has now spread to 29 countries and regions with South Korea, Japan, Italy and Iran all reporting a surge in new cases.
The number of confirmed cases has reached 833 in South Korea, making the country the second most seriously affected after China.
The WHO team visited Beijing, Guangdong and Sichuan provinces last week and spent the weekend in Wuhan, the epicentre of the outbreak.
Liang Wannian, head of the National Health Commission team, said genome sequencing had shown that the virus has not yet mutated.
He said research also suggested bats were the most likely hosts, and it had possibly been passed on to civet cats, which then transmitted it to humans.
Concerns about possible transmission from wild animals to humans prompted the standing committee of the National People’s Congress, China’s top lawmaking body, to pass a resolution on Monday to ban the trade and consumption of wild animals.
“Since the Covid-19 outbreak, the eating of wild animals and the huge hidden threat to public health from the practice have attracted wide attention,” the standing committee said.
According to Yang Heqing, deputy director of the Office for Economic Law – part of the standing committee’s legislative affairs commission – the ban on consumption included legally protected wildlife and farm-bred wild animals.
It also prohibits hunting, trading and transport of certain wild animals.
The standing committee also voted to confirm to postpone the annual NPC conference, the biggest political gathering of the year which was due to be held early next month. It has yet to announce a new date for the meeting.
On Sunday President Xi Jinping addressed officials from around the country in a video conference, in which he was confident China could defeat the disease.
“It is unavoidable that the novel coronavirus epidemic will have a considerable impact on the economy and society,” said Xi in a lengthy address that was watched by as many as 170,000 officials and published by state news agency Xinhua.
However, he also stressed that China’s priority was to get its economy up and running again while fighting the epidemic.