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Liu Jue: The only millennial in China's official expert group for fighting COVID-19

JUN . 02 2020
Peking University, June 2, 2020: Liu Jue has a photo saved on her phone that was taken on February 9 at 3:19 am. It shows that some offices in the building of China’s National Health Commission were still lit at such a late hour. “Everyone is racing against time to fight the epidemic,” said Liu, a medical expert from the School of Public Health at Peking University whose research focuses on epidemiology and infectious diseases.

 
      
In response to the pandemic, the National Health Commission formed an expert group. This “think tank” includes veteran medical experts like Zhong Nanshan, Li Lanjuan and even experts of public policy and journalism from all over China. This all adds up to about 60 experts in the group.
 
Among the experts in the group, Liu, 33, is the only millennial. Although Liu looks gentle and quiet on the outside, she is actually ambitious on the inside.
 
We race against time to write every report”
 
The COVID-19 research work requires every individual in the team to utilize their skills regarding their own research areas, observe and judge the general trends and future developments of the current situation, and suggest feasible solutions. The expert group has to provide suggestions regarding how preventive measures should adjust with the changing situations, whether national exams should be postponed, when people should go back to their work, and among others.
 
As the youngest member of the expert group, Liu began working for the National Health Commission on January 26. Every day, Liu writes a report analyzing various references about epidemiology she collected throughout the day, as well as introducing topics of research to the team. 
 
Liu not only participates in writing analytical reports for the team, but also provides references that predict the trends of COVID-19 in China. Additionally, she also needs to spend time researching the estimated number of infected patients, the situation in different areas of China, the characteristics of high-risk patients infected with COVID-19, etc.
 
Everyone follows the daily briefing on coronavirus by the National Health Commission. “We race against time to write every report. If a report is submitted a bit late, everyone will be blind to the situation around them. Therefore, even though we work until very late at night, no one has complaints,” Liu said.
 
In the past few months, Liu wrote more than 50 reports to offer her analysis and suggestions. “I feel overwhelmed with the responsibility I have within the team. I want to be able to utilize my knowledge for the country’s fight against COVID-19, which is my biggest wish,” Liu said. “The trust towards me is like a blessing and, more than that, a heavy responsibility I will carry.”

 
Popularizing medical knowledge
 
Amid the COVID-19 outbreak, Liu often found friends and family asking her the meaning of medical terms. This helped researchers realize that in addition to proposing solutions, popularizing science, teaching preventive measures to the public and reducing general panic were important as well. In order to quell public anxiety, Liu, along with other leading specialists and graduate students, decided to take some time to write a popular science reading.
 
Popular science readings are different from what researchers normally write. Academic papers need to be professional and technical, while popular science readings need to be easy to understand. “We shouldn’t use one sentence to explain the meaning of a technical term; instead we should write in a simple and straightforward way that makes the terms comprehensible. Therefore, we put together multiple drafts, edited, and made changes when needed,” Liu said.
 
The popular science reading was greatly received by the public after it was posted on the National Health Commission’s official WeChat public account, garnering over 100,000 views in just two days. It was even translated into English, and was added as evidence for the latest diagnosis and treatment plans of COVID-19. Liu also found the book was sent to countries involved in the Belt and Road Initiative. Many responded that the English version came in a timely manner.
  
Family and work
 
Liu’s two children lived in Beijing, but she continued to work day and night, not abandoning her job. “Every morning when I leave, the children are still sleeping. When I return home late at night, the children are already asleep,” Liu said.
 
One afternoon, Liu hadn’t had lunch yet because she had been vigorously writing reports. At the same time, she received a phone call from her son, “Mom, are you busy?”, “Mom, dad won’t let me call you because he says it will disturb your work, but I really miss you.”, “Mom, when can I enjoy a meal with you again?”, “Mom, we are behaving well at home, think of us often.”
 
Hearing her children say “Mom”, Liu realized the last time she had heard her children’s voices was many weeks ago. Liu’s two kids, one eight-year-old and one four-year-old, don’t fully understand what COVID-19 means, yet they do know that they cannot leave the house nor can they see their mother because of this virus.

Every day, Liu has to work until late at night. Once, she even worked until 3 am. But, she didn’t complain because she knew the importance of her job. It is a race against time and a job that saves lives. Liu said to her son, “Mom sees you both growing every day. Wait for mom to defeat the virus monster, then we can all eat together again.”
 
Liu’s hometown is Hubei province. Since cities began to go on lockdown, Liu’s mother was also stranded in Hubei. Her mother used to help her take care of her children in Beijing, but returned to her hometown Hubei for Lunar New Year and was unable to go back due to the lockdown. Liu is very worried about her mother, but she also knows the distance between them and the lack of help she can provide. As such, Liu can only focus on the task at hand, conducting research on COVID-19.
 
“Stay healthy”, “Rest more”, “Eat well”…These heartwarming messages are often sent by Liu’s mother, but Liu’s reply usually comes late. “I feel ashamed that she (Liu’s mother) is taking care of me more when I should be taking care of her,” Liu said. Lying in bed after working for a whole day, Liu finally replied to her mother, “Rest assured”, but she fell asleep soon afterwards as more work had to be completed the next day.
 
Written by: Jessica Xu
Edited by: Huang Weijian