Urban epidemic governance: An event system analysis of the outbreak and control of COVID-19 in Wuhan, China

Blog post by Jinliao He and Yuan Zhang

10 Feb 2022, 9:35 a.m.
Jinliao He and Yuan Zhang

Abstract: https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/full/10.1177/00420980211064136#abstract


The COVID-19 pandemic is an unprecedented disaster that severely impacts the day to day lives of people, especially in densely populated urban areas. Wuhan was the first city to report a case of COVID-19 in December 2019, but in June 2020, less than seven months after the outbreak, Wuhan successfully demonstrated control of the situation. In contrast, many other cities around the world are still fighting multiple waves of the pandemic. We believe that the success of Wuhan in containing the virus is attributable to the effective countermeasures taken by the city. Therefore, the ‘Wuhan experience’ can be used for reference by other cities over the world.

To dig deeply into the war against pandemic in Wuhan and contribute to the theorisation of urban epidemic governance, we adopted the event system theory (EST), established in organisational behaviour science, to investigate the mechanism of epidemic governance in Wuhan. The EST-based approach is utilised to establish ties between numerous events involved in the outbreak, spread, control, and evolution of COVID-19 in Wuhan. A huge amount of reports and materials related the outbreak, spread, and control of COVID-19 in Wuhan were collected and evaluated through an expert-based assessment approach. The event system analysis separated the response mechanism to COVID-19 in Wuhan into four dimensions: the graded response systems, the interactive relationship between multi-level entities of epidemic governance, the quarantine regulations, and the governance of public sentiment.

The analysis shows, first, that a graded response mechanism was critical for Wuhan in implementing timely restrictions of the population’s mobility and providing medical treatment for infected patients. But to trigger a graded response mechanism, coordinated interactions were greatly needed between top and bottom entities. Second, to prevent the spread of COVID-19 to other regions, a set of quarantine regulations was implemented in Wuhan, especially during the lockdown of 76 days. The close coordination between different multi-level entities such as communities, neighbourhoods, social organisations, and volunteers was critical to win the war. In this process, new technologies such as mobile tracking, Health Code were developed to identify asymptomatic patients. Third, great attention was paid to the governance of public sentiment as to easing social panic and fostering corrective action of citizens during the COVID-19 crisis.

Though ‘Wuhan experience’ bears valuable lessons for cities around the world that are struggling with the ongoing spread of COVID-19, one has to keep in mind that not every measure of epidemic governance used in Wuhan is transferrable to other cities. This is largely due to the differences in the cultures, social-political systems, and physical environments of China and other countries. For instance, in these cities where the political pattern is polycentric, there might be sharp social resistance and even violence against emergency measures like lockdowns. Therefore, we urgently advocate for the addition of more scholarly discussion on urban epidemic governance in order to provide generalisable knowledge and countermeasures for cities to cope with similar infectious diseases in the future.


Read the accompanying article on Urban Studies OnlineFirst here.



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