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Vigilant volunteers help combat virus

Updated:2021-12-01 11:49:10   China Daily

Workers play crucial role in battle against pandemic on border with Myanmar

On a cool morning last month, Ai Zai, who grows corn and bananas in a village in Yunnan province on the Chinese border with Myanmar, hopped on a tricycle and started a two-hour journey to spray disinfectant in the area.

As a member of a volunteer team formed in Guangnong, Ruili, in July to help contain the spread of COVID-19, he performs a range of tasks, from patrolling and guarding the village gate, to maintaining order at vaccination and nucleic acid testing sites.

Zhang Jing, an official in Jiexiang township, which administers Guangnong, said, "Many villages in Ruili have mobilized local residents such as Ai to help combat the virus."

Guangnong is one of 85 villages on the border in Ruili, a county-level city hemmed in by Myanmar on three sides and sharing a border that stretches for nearly 170 kilometers, with few natural barriers.

"Some stretches of the border are only marked by a ridge or a trench, making it extremely challenging work to prevent COVID-19 cases being imported to China," Zhang said.

Since last year, the city has experienced four rounds of local outbreaks, all of which have been traced to imported infections.

However, no cases of COVID-19 have spread from Ruili to the rest of the country, which according to health officials and experts is "a hard-won" outcome bolstered by joint efforts from local residents and governments.

After bringing the initial wave of the pandemic in Hubei province-the hardest-hit nationwide-under control, China has adopted a strategy of preventing imported cases and a resurgence of domestic outbreaks.

In Ruili, the deployment of barriers along the border, as well as regular patrols, has bolstered the first line of defense against imported infections.

Song Zhizhong, director of the Yunnan Center for Disease Control and Prevention, or CDC, said, "In terms of halting potential local flare-ups in the city, border villages are the top priority."

As part of measures to safeguard villagers' health and prevent the virus spreading to other regions, the Ruili government has designated areas within 50 to 200 meters of the border as virus control buffer zones.

Han Liangla, who lives in Jiexiang village, moved into its public house in mid-September. Her own home and farmland are located dozens of meters from the border.

The 66-year-old, who lives with her husband, son, daughter-in-law and two grandchildren, said it is sad to temporarily leave a familiar environment, but she understands just how important it is to control the virus and to trust decisions taken by the authorities.

"I have received so much help in recent months. Villagers had tidied up our temporary home when we first moved in. Now, they often bring me condiments and vegetables when they pass by.

"The authorities have also issued subsidies and constantly keep track of and address our difficulties," Han added.

Responsibility vital

Xu Yongqing, a Mengmao county official, said such workers play an indispensable role in ensuring that no one is ignored in testing or vaccination programs.

"For instance, if we report to higher-level authorities that 1,000 people should be tested, but only 900 eventually show up at the vaccination venue, it is the workers' responsibility to trace and find out whether the other 100 took tests, and if so, when and where," he said.

Like many of the 4,000-plus part-time grid management workers in Ruili, Li set aside her regular job to volunteer for the position.

She used to run a stall selling bubble tea and local desserts at the city's largest farmers' market, which had to be closed several times as part of measures to reduce the risk of the virus spreading.

"I started watching my mom making these dishes when I was at primary school, and took over the shop after graduating from high school," Li said.

"Although my biggest wish was to reopen the market stall and see bustling crowds again, I am deeply proud of being able to contribute to the fight against the virus."

Li has also begun exploring a number of e-commerce platforms that she had never used previously. "I am still learning to promote and sell my products online via apps such as Douyin and WeChat," she said.

As local COVID-19 cases stabilized, the market where Li worked reopened on Nov 16. She asked her husband and brother to set up the stall and take ingredients and cooking equipment there to cater to the resumption of business.

"Sales will probably not return to pre-pandemic levels anytime soon, but it seems that everything is moving in a positive direction," she said.

Liang Wannian, a member of the National Health Commission's COVID-19 response task force, said the "dynamic zero-COVID-19" goal-clearing a new outbreak as soon as one emerges-should be firmly upheld.

After an inspection trip to Ruili in the middle of last month, he said implementation of virus control measures and the development of society and the economy should be balanced, and the city's pandemic control system should be "strenuous, warm and full of confidence".

Liu Yonghua, who works at the CDC in Ruili and has been involved in epidemiological investigation work since early last year, has witnessed improvements made to the city's disease control capability.

"If you ask me whether I feel exhausted from time to time, that's for sure," he said. When an outbreak of COVID-19 emerged in late March, he said he had little sleep for five days and nearly collapsed when going to the toilet.

"But if you ask whether the battle feels never-ending, I would immediately say 'no'."

Liu Yonghua said the response mechanism to stem new infection clusters has become "increasingly smooth". Local health workers have also markedly sharpened their professional skills thanks to training offered by medical aid teams and the accumulation of front-line experience.

"As the vaccination rate is rising, we believe the virus can be conquered eventually," he added.

Keywords:   Vigilant volunteers Ruili