The recent outbreak of the Delta variant in China “shows that its strategy no longer fits. It is time for China to change tack.”
So declared a lead essay atop the New York Times Opinion/Editorial section on September 7 by Yanzhong Huang, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations.
The Delta outbreak that “changed the game” in Huang’s words emerged after an outbreak at Nanjing international airport in July traced to a flight from Russia. Did this outbreak change anything, in fact?
Let’s do the numbers.
Let’s do something that Huang did not; let’s look at the numbers from July 1 until September 7, the date of the article, a period that brackets the Delta outbreak cited by Huang.
During that period China experienced 273 new cases, about 4 per day, and no new deaths. That hardly seems like a failure.
To get some perspective on these numbers, during that same July1-September 7 period, the U.S., a country one fourth China’s size, reported 6,560,588 new cases (96,479 per day) and 45,054 new deaths (662 per day).
The same contrast can be seen for the entire period of the pandemic. From the pandemic’s initial Wuhan outbreak in January, 2020, until September 7, 2021:
China had a sum total of 95,512 cases and 4,629 deaths;
The U.S. had 40,196,953 cases and 648,146 deaths.
There have been two previous outbreaks of the Delta variant in China, one in Guangdong and another in Yunnan near the Myanmar border before the one arising in Nanjing. The Delta variant was contained in each case. None of the three has turned out to be a “game changer,” as Huang incorrectly maintains.
Perhaps it is the U.S. that needs “to change tack.”
To anticipate an objection that has largely faded but persists in some quarters, can we believe the case and mortality count China gives us? There are now many first-hand accounts of what life has been like in China these days that make the official tallies quite reasonable. And quantitative evidence supporting China’s data is available in a peer-reviewed study in the prestigious British Medical Journal; it is summarized and discussed here. Carried out by groups at Oxford University and China’s CDC, the study compares excess deaths in Wuhan and also in the rest of China during the period of the lockdown, and it finds that the official counts are remarkably accurate.
Do China’s life-saving measures imperil its economy?
China would need a very good reason to abandon its public health measures of massive, rapid testing, tracing and, where necessary, quarantining. Are there any such reasons? Mr. Huang states that the life-saving measures now “threaten overall economic growth in China”. Does this prognostication fit the facts?
China’s GDP grew more slowly in 2020, but still it grew by 2.27%, the only major economy in the world not to contract. In contrast the U.S. economy contracted by 3.51%. (Even China’s slowed growth in 2020 matched the U.S. economy in normal times, which grew at an average rate of 2.3% in the four pre-pandemic years, 2016-2019.)
What about the future? Economies are set to rebound in 2021 from their 2020 lows, with recent projections giving China an 8.4% bounce before settling in to an average growth of 6% over the following 5 years. For comparison the U.S. jump in 2021 is estimated to be 6.4%, dropping to a 1.9% average over the following 5 years.
In terms of the economy present and future, China’s policies appear to be doing quite well, better, in fact, than any other major economy. Mr. Huang has advanced a thesis that is unencumbered by the facts.
Why is the media’s failure to report on China’s success a threat to our very lives?
At every step of the way, China’s successes with COVID-19 have been met in the U.S. media with silence, denigration or a prediction that the success cannot continue (FAIR provides a brief survey here). As a result, China’s measures are not widely known or understood.
China’s success with its public health measures is important for us now, because the pandemic is far from over. We don’t know what surprises viral evolution will have in store for us. If a new variant emerges that is resistant to existing vaccines, then we have only public health measures to protect us until we catch up. That is also true for future pandemics which will surely come our way. For us to be kept in ignorance of those measures or to have them dismissed, as Yanzhong Huang does, poses a threat to our very lives.
We might also wonder what would happen if the people of the West, including the U.S., understood clearly that measures were possible which could have protected us from the millions of deaths we have suffered. Governments have toppled from far less. Mr. Huang, the New York Times and the mass media, whatever else they are doing, are certainly protecting our Establishment from a rage that might have most unpleasant consequences.