Blaming China soothes an America fighting COVID-19

Summary: A crisis reveals hidden things about nations and shatters outdated beliefs about the state of the world. So it is with COVID-19, as America confronts the harsh fact that its response to COVID-19 has been inferior to China’s.

China and COVID-19 - AdobeStock-331015273
By Photocreo Bednarek. AdobeStock-331015273.

East vs. West

The age-old race for leadership between East and West may have begun a new phase, as revealed by the response of each to COVID-19. East Asia was hit first, having neither warning nor knowledge of the threat. China, a large and relatively poor nation, was hit first – while in the midst of a flu epidemic (both have roughly similar symptoms). The epidemic quickly spread to its neighbors, and became an epidemic in South Korea. All successfully fought it off despite lacking any pharmaceutical tools – and in China, without the lavish supply of advanced medical equipment (e.g., ICU units with ventilators) taken for granted in the West.

They used the ancient tools of lavish testing (using both clinical methods and kits), contact tracing to identify who was exposed, quarantines for the sick and exposed, cordons sanitaire around areas with raging infections (to prevent spread). As the leaders of WHO have repeatedly said, China’s response was record-setting. Compare this timeline of China’s respsonse to COVID-19 with the CDC’s timeline of the US response to the 2009 H1N1 (swine flu) epidemic – remembering that the US has almost 4x China’s per capita income and spends 2x to 3x more of its GDP on health care than its peer nations. The Swine Flu epidemic emerged in the US and spread across the globe.

“From April 12, 2009 to April 10, 2010, CDC estimated there were 60.8 million cases (range: 43.3-89.3 million), 274,304 hospitalizations (range: 195,086-402,719), and 12,469 deaths (range: 8868-18,306) in the United States due to the (H1N1)pdm09 virus. Additionally, CDC estimated that 151,700-575,400 people worldwide died from (H1N1)pdm09 virus infection during the first year the virus circulated.”

There is some evidence that the first appearance of the H1N1 influenza virus in 1918 also originated in the US (details here and here). Whatever the source, see “How {US} Generals Fueled 1918 Flu Pandemic To Win Their World War.

Our preparation was great. Our execution was terrible

The West began vastly better prepared than China for an epidemic. The US was considered the best prepared in the world (see here). We had two months to prepare and the models of East Asia’s successful defenses. Yet we appear to be on track to suffer far more from it. After action analysis will determine why, but three things are now obvious.

First, we were arrogant. Asia was hit but we are great, without need to mobilize or even plan. The rest of the world used effective kits, but the CDC and FDA had to produce their own better kits.

Second, we have lost a vital element of social cohesion: trust in experts and institutions. East Asia’s leaders took expert advice and acted boldly. The American public voraciously consumes analysis about the epidemic, the less qualified the writer – the more viral it becomes. No relevant expertise or experience is best of all. So long as it has numbers and graphs and bold conclusions stated confidently! For more about this, see The info superhighway makes us stupid about COVID-19. This is one of the many parallels of this crisis with the climate change debate, where the IPCC has been largely displaced by scientists with fringe views or screams by alarmists with no relevant training or experience.

Third – and I do not know how to well describe this – a significant fraction of Americans were disoriented by America’s failures, the stress of the crisis, and East Asia’s superior performance. Perhaps the foundation of this was the military’s decades-long program to demonized China (they needed a replacement threat for second-world Russia to justify their funding). Perhaps this is a legacy of the “yellow peril” racism.

China screwed up!

As I described in The COVID-19 story: mistakes were made, wars and epidemics have many similarities. Since neither can be rehearsed or practiced (e.g., as firefighters can), both usually begin with errors. The winners are those who recover the fastest and make the fewest big mistakes. As WHO has documented, China recovered quickly and acted boldly. A common response in America was just to deny this. Even now many Americans refuse to see China’s success. This is a pitiful indicator of national decline. Dr. Maria Van Kerkhove described China’s situation at yesterday’s WHO media briefing.

“We know what measures were taken in China and in particular in Wuhan and in Hubei and we know that these measures are being lifted now and the reason they can be lifted is because the systems are in place to actually quickly identify and isolate any cases that pop up. Now what we’re seeing in China is we’re not seeing indigenous cases, cases that are being locally transmitted. We’re seeing new importations. There are more importations that are going into China than are actually being detected from local transmission. We haven’t had local transmission, I think, in a number of days now.”

The case that they should have done better is asserted, without providing any standard of comparison – such as comparison with the US response to swine flu. Often these assertions are confidently stated nonsense. My favorite example of this is from the once great (Murdoch run) Wall Street Journal: “How It All Started: China’s Early Coronavirus Missteps“, 6 March 2020. Its highlighted graph focused on these two dates:

  • “Jan. 9: Chinese officials announce coronavirus outbreak. (44 confirmed cases)”
  • “Jan. 23: Wuhan and other areas quarantined (639 confirmed cases).”

That’s only 11 days between national recognition of the epidemic and blockading most of a province (tens of millions of people)! The WSJ also ignored the escalation of steps during those 11 days. Also, they did not “quarantine” Wuhan. It was a cordon sanitaire, a very different and far more drastic step. This basic error shows the ignorance and lack of expert advice by the WSJ’s journalists.

Accompanying that is often outrage that several million people fled before the cordon sanitaire was completed. Again, what is the standard of comparison? How effective were past such efforts (I cannot even recall any)? How effective were similar actions in the US and Europe? Trick question! We did not do any, we just let the virus spread!

For example, compare that with the response in Washington State.  On 21 January 2020, Washington State reported its first case. Since the government response was almost nil, it spread invisibly – there was little testing, either clinical screening or by kits. The first state lab began tests approx February 28 – 38 days after the first infection, four weeks after China had successfully contained the epidemic.

By March 14, they had 642 confirmed cases – aprox. the same as when China blockaded Wuhan. Still, no large-scale measures were taken. There were small scale measures – such as a quarantine of the infected in Seattle on March 3, and special procedures for nursing homes on March 9. Wider but still small measures were taken on March 11 and 12.

All this was much slower than in China – despite the vastly greater knowledge about the threat in February and March than China’s government had in early January.

Another example are epidemiologists’ calculations that earlier detection of COVID-19 could have saved thousands of lives. That is useful information, a repetition of their long-standing pleas for better systems to detect epidemics (ignored because that would cost dimes per person). As a criticism it is business as usual. Almost every crisis could have been avoided or mitigated with faster action. For example, the after the fact reviews of intelligence agencies’ files reveal nuggets that properly seen could have changed history. Hindsight is perfect, whether in your lives and mine, or in the events of nations.

Guessing about reasons

My guess (guess!) is that we feel global leadership slipping away due to our horrific series of mistakes in the past two decades. As the superiority of East Asia’s response to COVID-19 vs. the West response’s becomes more obvious, it becomes more emotionally imperative for Americans to show that IT WAS ALL CHINA’s FAULT.

Let’s end this tale with cheers: Yea, We’re Number One. We Have No Need To Learn From Others! No matter what happens to America, it’s other people’s fault!

The Good News

Failures are warnings, giving us opportunities to do better in the future.

A reminder of the key fact

Epidemics, depressions, and wars are natural aspects of life. If we become weak, one of these ills eventually will destroy our society. For America to survive, each of us must stay connected and committed to our communities and nation. As the Director-General of WHO has said since the beginning, we can survive this well if we support each other. We have the resources. We need only the standard virtues of compassion and courage plus some wit and willpower.

It’s easy to follow the COVID-19 story

The World Health Organization provides daily information, from highly technical information to news for the general public. These are the best sources of information.

Also, see the wealth of information at the CDC website, especially their situation reports.

Posts about effects of COVID-19

For More Information

Ideas! For some shopping ideas, see my recommended books and films at Amazon. Also, see a powerful and disturbing story about “Birth of a Man of Steel …for the Soviet Union.

Please like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter. Also, see these posts about epidemics…

  1. See the ugly cost of the next big flu pandemic. We can do more to prepare.
  2. Stratfor: The superbugs are coming. We have time to prepare.
  3. Posts debunking the hysteria about the 2009 swine flu in America.
  4. Posts debunking the hysteria about the 2015 ebola epidemic in America.
  5. ImportantA vaccine against the fears that make us weak.

A medieval city defeats a plague

Florence Under Siege: Surviving Plague in an Early Modern City
Available at Amazon.

Florence Under Siege:
Surviving Plague in an Early Modern City

By John Henderson (2019), professor of Italian renaissance history at U of London.

I strongly recommend reading this fascinating review of it in the London Review of Books, with its great excerpts. From the publisher …

“Plague remains the paradigm against which reactions to many epidemics are often judged. Here, John Henderson examines how a major city fought, suffered, and survived the impact of plague. Going beyond traditional oppositions between rich and poor, this book provides a nuanced and more compassionate interpretation of government policies in practice, by recreating the very human reactions and survival strategies of families and individuals.

“From the evocation of the overcrowded conditions in isolation hospitals to the splendor of religious processions, Henderson analyzes Florentine reactions within a wider European context to assess the effect of state policies on the city, street, and family. Writing in a vivid and approachable way, this book unearths the forgotten stories of doctors and administrators struggling to cope with the sick and dying, and of those who were left bereft and confused by the sudden loss of relatives.”


34 thoughts on “Blaming China soothes an America fighting COVID-19”

  1. Good to see a more reasonable and honest assessment of the Chinese responses to COVID-19 rather than the China bashing that I am finding in many places on the internet.

    1. Don,

      I too am astonished at the irrational vitrol directed at China’s response to COVID-19 – from intelligent and worldly people I respect. Both Left and Right. We’ve lost our minds. Not an unknown event in a crisis. Shaw wrote about this at the start of WWI.

  2. Do you think the blame game is tied to the rage that is not allowed to be expressed at outscourcing? I mean, the rage is missing the Americans who help outs piece everything, but the point still stands?

    Now that everyone is blaming China, the rage can be expressed so long as it’s tied to the blame game?

    Reason why I say that People aren’t allowed to be angry about outscouricng is cries from elites about improved GDP and racism..

  3. Also, what’s this 4 trillion thing I keep hearing about that the Fed did? From my limited understanding, the whole liquidity thing is a loan that has to be paid?

  4. Barring a speedy solution in form of a free ‘while you wait’ test and an associated immunizing or booster shot, this looks to get very ugly all around the world.
    In that context, blaming China for successfully meeting the initial problem head on smacks of hypocrisy or worse.
    From a non US, non European perspective, following the China model will be vastly more plausibly rational than the palpably ineffectual Western alternative.

    1. What astonishes me when I see people talk is how adroitly people shift from “America is a bunch of useless layabouts lacking in the civic virtue reflected by the lifestyle and rhetorical choices I adopt, and they shall surely all perish or become a rioting horde the moment things get Tough” to “how dare you say that the Red Chinese did something better than America, land of liberty and Enlightenment values and — why – ME!!”

      You would think if they disdain so much of America, they would not mind an unflattering statement about Americans-writ-large; they could even mentally blame those deficiencies on the Americans they dislike. On the other hand, the Americans they dislike are not in the positions of national power…

  5. “Accompanying that is often outrage that several million people fled before the cordon sanitaire was completed. Again, what is the standard of comparison? How effective were past such efforts (I cannot even recall any)? How effective were similar actions in the US and Europe? Trick question! We did not do any, we just let the virus spread!”

    There is a point of comparison, as several cordon sanitaires were imposed in Europe. The first ones were imposed by Italy and Spain around their most affected regions early on, in March 9 and 13 respectively, and didn’t work very well compared to the one around Wuhan:

    Later, most European countries imposed cordon sanitaires around themselves between March 16 and 20 (remember that under Schengen, most EU borders are supposed to be completely open). These were implemented quickly, were not relaxed at all (we had huge lines of people trapped at the borders), and seemed to be effective in stopping the virus from spreading to Eastern Europe:

    As you can see, most European Schengen borders are closed now:

    So, compared with the Chinese, the initial European response in imposing cordon sanitaires was definitively worse, and this was after early warnings from China. The secondary response was much better, but there were early warnings from both China and southern Europe; also, reactivating border controls is easier than implementing them from scratch.

    1. JP,

      Thanks for that info from Europe.

      As you note, barriers at national borders are much easier to create, as there is century old procedures and infrastructure. Doing so internally is a different story.

      This evening, after work, I’ll add you info to this post as an update. Thanks again!

      1. And (sorry for the staggered response): even the limited cordon sanitaire in Italy seems to have worked somehow, as it allowed a separation between the peaks in the cordoned-off region in the north (the region most affected so far, and now moving away from the peak infection rate) and the south (where infections are only now increasing), which will allow the Government to use their resources more effectively:

        My point is that even a poorly implemented cordon sanitaire is better than none at all.

      2. JP,

        “My point is that even a poorly implemented cordon sanitaire is better than none at all.”

        That’s an important point . Doing something now is usually better than waiting to perfectly do something.

        It’s a point ignored by hindsight backseat critics.

    2. It will be interesting to see if there is any difference between the European countries following the advice of experts like Netherlands and Sweden and then the countries where the policies suggested by experts have extra things added by politicians like the closing of borders, and massive restrictions on movement etc. Even the Netherlands have jump on the closings of schools band-waggon though their experts say it has only limited effect.

      For the group of countries that close down the challenge will be when open up for freedom of movement again. Will COVID-19 rebound?

      “Why is it not useful to introduce a lock-down in the Netherlands?

      A complete ban on going outdoors has no added value. Indeed, the novel coronavirus will not be able to spread as quickly, but no one will be able to build up immunity against the disease either. Since the disease is spread globally, there is a good chance that, after lifting a lock-down, many people will become ill at the same time in a short period. This will cause a peak load of infections. With a lock-down, you mainly postpone the moment that many people become ill at the same time, and we do not want that.”


      “Schools are closed as of 16 March. Why did RIVM previously advise that schools could stay open?

      Children do not often get symptoms when they have been infected with the novel coronavirus. That is why RIVM expects children to have a small contribution to the spread of COVID-19. That was the reason why RIVM advised not to close the schools.”

      1. Rune,

        Don’t know about Holland. But it is more accurate to say that with only 238 2806 reported cases, Sweden has yet to respond with large-scale actions to COVID0-19.

        Illinois Governor ordered a lock-down when it had 585 cases.

        Illinois has almost 13 million people; Sweden has over 10 million. It will be interesting to see what Sweden does if it takes hold there, with thousands of cases and 600 new ones per day.

  6. I basically agree with everything you say here. Americans ignored what was going on in China too long, and then when it was Iran, they ignored that too — maybe even some gloating happened. We woke up when it hit Italy, but then it was too late.

    I think we were blinded by our propaganda. For those following our news, it naturally follows that if people in China and Iran are dying from an epidemic, this must be the result of their evil and incompetent leadership. Everything is colored by this, so we didn’t consider, maybe they are humans just like us, and subject to make mistakes and catch the same same diseases as us. Now we missed our warning, and soon we may be very sad.

    Please, everyone, take this seriously, be careful, do not take chances.

  7. Perhaps China has duped the world. Far more deaths than let on, hence others slow to assess true risk.
    Reports of very low mobile phone renewals…..hmm. Dead?.

    1. Yes, those wily Chinese, finally striking a lethal blow by cunning and artifice against their true enemies: elderly Italians!

    2. Macha,

      Thank you for another demo of the extent to which people will go to support their biases. Daft comments like yours have dominated the debate about COVID-19. I wonder how much of our defective response results from this attitude.

      1. Follow-up note:

        Comments like Macha’s come from people who consume exciting politically biased sources who lie to them. When their lies are exposed, they lie the next time. That’s what their audience demands.

        This is pitiful: “Reports of very low mobile phone renewals…..hmm. Dead?”

        China’s GDP crashed in Jan thru now. Neither we nor they know how much. Perhaps 30% down. That would have an effect on mobile phone renewal rates – and many much more important things.

      1. From the article, which also mentions that the policy is controversial in Sweden

        For now it is too early to say how the pandemic will play out. Sweden has recorded 2,806 confirmed cases of infection, which at 281 cases per million people puts it below Denmark and Norway, and just slightly ahead of the UK.

        After Wednesday’s surge in Stockholm, it has recorded 66 deaths, which at 6.5 deaths per million inhabitants, remains below that of locked-down Denmark (7.3) and only fractionally above that of the UK (6.2).

        So far, the healthcare system is starting to feel under pressure in Stockholm, but is still just about managing, and if the strain gets too much for existing hospitals, the Swedish army has erected a field hospital on the site of the city’s biggest conference centre.

        Mr Tegnell conceded his strategy was not without risk.

        “We are just trying to slow it,” he added, “because this disease will never go away. It will come back. If you manage, like South Korea to get rid of it, even they say that they count on it coming back.”

        The UK is now 759 deaths and 14,579 cases.

    1. Nordic countries, also Russia, possibly lucked out being super-super cold during Jan/Feb, when travel was spreading this thing. Few people go to Sweden during the winter due to constant darkness. We’ll see though. Only takes a small spark to start this fire.

  8. The only irrefutable critique that could be leveled towards China is that they did not respect what you call the “suicide pact”, or the right for quasi-complete freedom. This may be the main reason why the West is faring so bad right now.

    China may face another problem in the future, the following virus waves coming to a population that is less well protected. They will have to keep a tight watch on movements of people coming to China, at least until the effects of the infection can be mitigated.

    On a side note, here in Switzerland there’s not many examples of China bashing on mainstream media, or at least not to the same extent or the level one can see on american mainstream. Maybe we’ve got more urgent things to do right now…

    1. Also very few examples of China bashing in Spain and Portugal. There were some specific complaints in Spain about buying defective COVID tests from a Chinese company, but they are not blaming them for the outbreak.

  9. Part of the California failure:

    We have a friend living and working in California. He was symptomatic for CoVid-19. They refused to examine or test him due to being in the low risk group. His work would not let him have paid sick days without medical confirmation. His choice is not to work, which is hard for reasons of income, or go spread it to his co-workers. In risk management this would be a failure in the human factor, not lack of time or test kits.

    What should have been the policy was to declare all such persons as positive in such cases, give medical confirmation, and strict quarantine. Even if it is the flu, someone spreading a life threatening disease in the middle of a more deadly epidemic is not good policy. It take take months for someone in the high risk group to recover fully from flu.

    Has anyone seen if they are doing dual testing on the worst cases for both CoVid-19 and Flu?

    1. On the topic of testing for covid and flu both, I think they are doing that on a fairly wide scale. I have not heard of many cases with both covid and flu other than some of the really sick folks in Italy.

  10. This virus was the first virus in the social media age. Panic was predictable.
    This panic is the first in the social media age.
    This scapegoating is the first in the social media age.
    The only defense is peoples ability to think critically and independently.

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