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Project November 23, 2021

COVID-19 in China: the Origins, the Response, and the Way Forward

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Residents in Wuhan will remember two numbers for the rest of their lives. One is 23. On 23 January, 2020, almost exactly one year ago and two days before the Lunar New Year, their city, with a population of 11 million, was sealed off in an unprecedented—and desperate—attempt to stop the spread of a new virus that the world knew very little about at the time.

The other is 76. It’s the number of days during which Wuhan residents were mostly confined to their apartments and had no idea what the future held. The once-bustling metropolis turned into a ghost town overnight—with desolate streets, shuttered shops, and red-lantern decorations. It was a scene from a post-apocalyptic world.

In this project, Jane Qiu will spend extensive time in Wuhan and other Chinese cities to investigate the origins of the pandemic and, more crucially, the social and ecological context of the emergence of SARS-CoV-2. She will talk to residents, doctors, nurses, scientists, public health experts, government officials, community workers, and volunteers in Wuhan—and elsewhere—who fought the virus on the frontline and won. The insights can offer valuable lessons for how to prevent and better respond to similar incidents in the future.

In an interconnected world, what happens in China is never just about China. The project tells a global story of pressing urgency. It’s a primer for the future.

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