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The Continuing Epic Fail: Corporate Media Is Oblivious To Differences In China's COVID Outbreak
China's Outbreak Should Not Be Half As Bad As Reported
When discussing corporate media’s inane (and insane) coverage of China’s COVID outbreak, I will generally apply the apocryphally-named “Hanlon’s Razor”:
Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity.
This is not to discount the possibility of malice or malign intent, merely to acknowledge that stupidity is generally the parsimonious explanation for corporate media’s continuing epic fail regarding China. For all the “experts” they quote, not once has there been any serious discussion of just how radically divergent China’s COVID experience is (and has been) from the rest of the world.
To be clear, we cannot simply dismiss the apocalyptic scenes depicted both on social media and within corporate media’s coverage of the outbreak. There are too many images and too many tweets to ignore the emerging statistics that describe China’s COVID outbreak. Yet when a reputable physician goes on record as saying that 70% of Shanghai’s population has been infected with COVID during this outbreak, we also need to understand that such an extent of community spread is unprecedented.
"Now the spread of the epidemic in Shanghai is very wide, and it may have reached 70 per cent of the population, which is 20 to 30 times more than (in April and May)," Chen Erzhen, vice president at Ruijin Hospital and a member of Shanghai's Covid expert advisory panel told Dajiangdong Studio, which is owned by state media People's Daily.
Erzhen also claimed that emergency admissions at Ruijin Hospital have doubled since the collapse of Zero COVID, and have been running at 1,600 per day.
“More than 100 ambulances arrive at the hospital every day,” the doctor said, adding that half were at-risk patients over the age of 65.
If we take Erzhen at face value, and if we extrapolate his observations to the rest of Shanghai’s ~398 hospitals, we are conservatively looking at hundreds of thousands of emergency admissions across Shanghai per day.
That’s a lot of sick people.
Erzhen’s numbers acquire a measure of credibility when we consider the social media images that have been appearing, such as this Tweet showing patient overflow at Zhongshan Hospital in the Xuhui District:
That the outbreak has become catastrophically deadly is suggested by repeated images of cars and people lining up at China’s crematoria, so overwhelmed are they with a backlog of cremations, ostensibly due to COVID deaths.
Moreover, Erzhen himself cannot be dismissed as any sort of crackpot or quack physician. Not only is he the vice-president of Ruijin Hospital, he is also a medical researcher with 68 studies and articles to his credit, who has been cited by other researchers 540 times.
While credentials are no assurance of accuracy regarding his claims, Chen Erzhen is unquestionably an active member of Shanghai’s medical community and must be presumed to have some awareness of what is happening in at least some of Shanghai’s hospitals. Thus it is not possible to dismiss his claims out of hand: while they lack external confirmation neither is there direct evidence to contradict him. Given the anecdotal social media images that are very much in line with his claims, we are faced with the distinct possibility that he may be right, that 70% of Shanghai’s 24 million souls have contracted COVID in recent weeks, and that 1,600 of them are visiting his hospital’s ER each day.
Moreover, his claims are not unique. Similar accounts have been reported in Beijing as well.
Bejing-based doctor Howard Bernstein has not seen a situation so dire in the three decades he has been practicing medicine.
“The hospital is just overwhelmed from top to bottom,” Bernstein told Reuters at the end of a “stressful” shift at Beijing United Family Hospital.
Not only is the ICU full, but so is the emergency department, the fever clinic and just about every other ward in the hospital, Bernstein said.
Almost all of the patients desperately seeking treatment for the virus are elderly and suffering from COVID and pneumonia symptoms. The majority of the patients have not been vaccinated against COVID.
“A lot of them got admitted to the hospital. They’re not getting better in a day or two, so there’s no flow, and therefore people keep coming to the ER, but they can’t go upstairs into hospital rooms,” he said. “They’re stuck in the ER for days.”
As has been noted previously, the parallels to the hyperbolic reporting on China’s first experience with COVID in 2020 are too many to ignore.
Yet corporate media is ignoring the parallels—and their improbabilities.
Thus the media credulously reports that 80% of the inhabitants of China’s Sichuan Province have been infected, in addition to the 70% of Shanghai residents claimed by Chen Erzhen, while ignoring that entire countries such as Austria, Germany, Britain, and the United States have not had 70% of their populations infected even after three years and repeated waves of infection.
If the reporting is to be believed, China has experienced three years worth of illness in as many weeks.
While the deja vu regarding China’s COVID outbreak is unavoidable, this time we have the benefit of three years’ worth of data with which to contextualize and assess what is being reported from China.
First and foremost, based on the genome sequence data shared by China thus far, the SARS-CoV-2 variants circulating in China are ones that are circulating worldwide—chiefly the BF.7, BA.5.2, BQ.1.1, and BA.2.75 lineages.
The variants circulating in China are the same variants circulating here in the US, the same ones competing for dominance here in the US.
Yet within the US, these same variants are not nearly as active nor propagating as enthusiastically as appears to be the case in China.
Moreover, at 1,600 emergency room admissions per day across 398 hospitals, Shanghai by itself is potentially experiencing daily new cases of over 75% of the peak new cases for the entire United States during the 2021 Omicron wave.
The variants which are causing only a trickle of new cases here in the US—BQ.1.1, BF.7, et cetera—are reportedly causing a veritable “tsunami” of cases in China.
To the extent the corporate media does examine the question of why Omicron is so much worse inside China rather than outside, the prevailing rationale revolves around China’s brittle and fairly substandard healthcare system.
Hui Yang, adjunct associate professor of public health at Monash University, said it was common to see a medical system — whether Australia's or China's — suddenly become overloaded when it was hit by an outbreak.
But Professor Yang said people should believe in resilience from both medical and policy systems to respond to the crisis.
He noted China did have some unique challenges compared with Australia when it came to the Omicron outbreak, including its huge population base, complicated management structures and inadequate medical resources per capita.
"China's medical system builds its base on hospitals, while general practice and primary care are the foundation of Australia's medical system," Professor Yang said.
"The two countries also have huge distinctions in the quantity, quality and allocation of nursing resources."
However, inadequate resources within a given hospital does not explain why the disease is spreading—which it does outside of the hospital system. As Chen Erzhen’s commentaries confirm, people are being brought to Shanghai’s hospitals already infected with an Omicron variant.
A poorly endowed hospital might explain how many more of the severe cases become fatalities, but it cannot explain how the virus is spreading, or why it is spreading to such an extreme in China when it has not spread to that extent elsewhere.
The corporate media has no explanation to offer on this point, nor has the corporate media shown any great interest in pursuing an explanation. Rather, corporate media is only too happy to double down on a catastrophic narrative, presenting China as awash with COVID infections and reeling from a wave of COVID death, ignoring the vital context of the rest of the world’s recent experience with COVID.
Yet while there may be inadequate data coming from China to properly assess what is actually happening there, the abundance of data from the rest of the world is more than sufficient to argue with conviction that the corporate media’s COVID catastrophe narrative should not be happening.
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