The Corona Virus Saga encapsulates the tensions of East West politics. The competing ideologies, of open democracy and freedom to live vs authoritarian secrecy, censorship and effectiveness to save lives, Rival technologies racing to produce tracking apps and vaccines and our country’s images abroad. It re-awakens our prejudices. and fears of the orient and the hypocrisy and resentments of the West..
The news of the handling of the virus in the west is a story of chaos and failure. It plays out over the year in the changing lockdown tiers and circuit breakers used to balance hospital admissions with costs to business. A strategy that didn’t aim to defeat the virus only to manage the numbers of sick that threatened to overwhelm hospitals. It was a continuous advertisement for the Chinese Communist Party domestically. Their early failures, now blamed on a few individuals, were mostly forgotten or forgiven in the resounding success of later action. The whole experience has, in Chinese eyes, vindicated their country, the political system, and above all, its leadership.
As we moved into another Chinese New Year the Chinese annual TV gala remembered the success in defeating the virus and continuing to grow the economy. Its success, along with its vaccine promises, provide a powerful image to the people in other counties where Christmas celebrations were practically cancelled as they remained stuck in permanent lockdown. It’s not surprising that despite no cases in Beijing, people were still encouraged not to travel. The government is always cautious around the annual meeting. This year, they may also have been wary of being seen to be celebrating and carrying on life as normal in the country where it all started, in case it is perceived as gloating.
It’s not just the government that worries about their image. The Chinese people are also desperate that the virus didn’t start in China. Some openly believe it started abroad and that the western media are anti-China. Others are content to think they don’t know for sure, that it hasn’t been proven. When the WHO reports the withholding of data on clinical trials of vaccines, or data about early cases it looked suspiciously like a continuation of the cover up of last year. Maybe data on the early cases would confirm the favoured theory that it originated in China from bats and they would prefer not to know. It’s possible there is guilt about the millions of deaths, or at least embarrassment about its links to wild animals and its confirmation of the stereotype of Chinese eating habits and animal welfare. Fuel to the racist and the populist governments that want to blame Johnny Foreigner and especially the communist system.
The virus wasn’t going away. Countries that had got on top of the epidemic were by summer 2021 suddenly seeing new waves as behaviour became complacent, large percentages declined to be vaccinated while new variants made it more infectious. The UK ordered 60 Million more vaccine doses for booster jabs in the Autumn – a safeguard for the vulnerable as it spreads and mutates around the world. In China there is reluctance to have a vaccine, and initially, little government pressure. And with doubts of its effectiveness. and few cases it looks unlikely to achieve herd immunity.
Meanwhile, with over 70% of the UK population fully vaccinated it started to nervously reopen, hoping the acquired immunity of the summer will be enough to keep the death rate tolerable and hospital capacity manageable during the winter.
In contrast, as the more infectious variants strain the Chinese policy for zero cases, its trumpeted success in defeating the virus makes it hard to change course and instead, it turns more isolationist as winter approaches. With a public so fearful of the virus It’s hard to see how it can abandon this strategy but equally manage the influx of foreigners for the winter Olympics, The event occurring when early vaccinators immunity has declined, and seasonal flu returns.
By the end of summer the number of cases in the UK were rising again, you can feel the nervousness in the expectation the trend will continue when schools reopen and how this will translate into hospital admissions. The media is upbeat about the comparatively low death rate and reporting that natural acquired immunity is better protection than vaccines. In contrast the usually quiet Chinese media is openly confirming their vaccines are not as effective. Beijing has increased its quarantine to 4 weeks and made leaving the country and returning harder. As cases continue to sporadically occur the fear is turning to paranoia. Foreigners, even if they haven’t left the country need to complete long pointless forms when travelling internally,. Those abroad are advised not to to take western vaccines or the antibody levels triggered will be too high to re-enter China.
China’s policy of isolation from the world continues while the news reports its necessary until vaccines like those in the west can be developed. It’s a brave admission, maybe they will take another step and approve the western vaccines for use. And maybe the UK will remove China unnecessarily from its amber list and like half the world recognise Chinese vaccines so I can go home easily for Christmas.
We will see as time moves on….