It still boggles me that a US paper thinks it has standing to offer advice to China on how to address the Covid-19 pandemic (FAIR.org, 1/29/21). For those who have been on Mars for the past two years, China has had, since the disease first appeared, 95,493 cases and 4,636 deaths from Covid. The United States, with approximately one-fourth as many people, has had almost 42 million cases and 668,000 deaths. On a per capita basis, the US’s handling of the coronavirus has been more than 600 times worse than China’s.
But still, the New York Times has some ideas on how China could do better!
A September 13 news item began: “China has logged its highest number of coronavirus cases in nearly a month, prompting one county to shut down public transportation and test hundreds of thousands of people.” This would be 22 cases—”the highest since August 14, when 24 cases were recorded.”
China’s last spike in August, the Times reported, was halted “through mass testing, contact tracing, and targeted lockdowns.” But, the paper’s Sui-Lee Wee and Elsie Chen noted darkly:
Health experts have warned that such measures come at a punishing economic and social cost, and may deepen pandemic fatigue among the public.
By comparison, while China was finding those 22 cases, the US was averaging 144,000 new cases a day—or about 26,000 times as many cases per capita. But who cares?
While Sunday’s case count is far below many other countries, the number reflects what health experts have long warned: that it is probably nearly impossible to completely eradicate the Delta variant, and that Beijing needs to rethink its zero-Covid strategy.
There’s those unnamed “health experts” again! The link in the Times‘ copy took you to an August 4 Times piece, also by Wee and Chen, written at the beginning of China’s last flareup. This piece also had the to-be-sure phrase acknowledging that China had next to no Covid compared to the United States, before going on to assert that the Covid China did have posed a dire ideological challenge to Beijing:
While the number of cases in China are still relatively low compared to the United States and elsewhere, these new outbreaks—happening in cities such as Nanjing, Wuhan, Yangzhou and Zhangjiajie—are showcasing the limitations of China’s zero-tolerance approach to Covid. They may also undermine the ruling Communist Party’s argument that its authoritarian style has been an unquestionable success in the pandemic.
The August 4 piece did at least quote some some health experts by name, like Chen Xi, an associate professor of public health at Yale University, who said, ““Once it reaches so many provinces, it’s very hard to mitigate.” That turned out to be false: The outbreak peaked a week later, on August 11, and was under control by August 22—in time to provide a low bar that the latest outbreak could surpass.
There’s also Yanzhong Huang of the Council on Foreign Relations asserting that “China’s ‘containment-based’ strategy would not work in the long run.” “It will become extremely costly to sustain such an approach,” he said.
And Jennifer Huang Bouey from RAND opined that “it may not be realistic for officials in China to get these latest cases down to zero”: “I think they may have to prepare people for a higher tolerance of Covid.”
The only health expert not based in the United States who is quoted telling China to change its strategy is Zhang Wenhong of Shanghai’s Fudan University, who is said to advocate “following a model similar to that of Israel and Britain, in which vaccination rates are high and people are willing to live with infections.” (The link goes to a July 21 Times piece headlined “How Nations Are Learning to ‘Let It Go’ and Live With Covid.”)
Huh. Israel now is averaging 97 new infections per day per 100,000 people; in Britain, it’s 45. Translated to China’s population size, that would mean 600,000–1.4 million new infections a day. If China had a death rate from Covid comparable to Britain’s or Israel’s currently, it would be losing nearly 3,000 people a day. (In reality, China has had 113 total Covid deaths in the past year.) Is it surprising that China has rejected Zhang’s advice, and elected not to “let it go”?
The argument that China should show “higher tolerance for Covid” comes down to the “punishing economic and social cost” and “pandemic fatigue” cited by the “health experts” in the September 13 Times piece. The economic cost is easier to calculate: With its zero-Covid policy, China’s GDP grew 2.3% last year, one of the few major economies to have a positive growth rate in 2020, while the US shrank by 3.5% with its lots-of-Covid strategy.
Climbing out of that hole, the US is expected to do well this year, with the IMF projecting a 6.4% growth rate. But China is expected to do even better, with an estimated 8.4% growth rate. If China is paying an economic cost for having 99.3% fewer Covid deaths, it’s not a huge cost.
The “social cost” of “pandemic fatigue” is harder to quantify. But if, like most of our readers, you live in the United States, ask yourself: Do you feel like you are free of “pandemic fatigue” because you live in a country that has a “higher tolerance of Covid”? Do you think that most citizens of China—which reopened schools for in-person learning in September 2020, not 2021—would happily exchange their coronavirus anxiety for ours?
“Misery loves company” is an old saying. It’s not a good principle for health reporting, though.
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The post NYT: China Needs to Rethink Its Not-Letting-People-Die-From-Covid Policy appeared first on FAIR.
This content originally appeared on FAIR and was authored by Jim Naureckas.