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Why Is China's Outbreak So Different?
If we go by the corporate media narrative, China’s abrupt ending of Zero COVID has unleashed a hellscape of death and disease upon the Middle Kingdom—much to the corporate media’s orgasmic glee.
At a minimum, however, we do well to accept the premise that the current COVID outbreak in China is fairly severe, and is hitting the usually vulnerable patient demographics especially hard, as Bloomberg’s reporting on COVID surging through Chinese nursing homes attests.
Covid is starting to tear through nursing homes in China despite efforts by facilities to keep elderly residents protected, showing how severe the consequences of the country’s abrupt pivot from Covid Zero may be.
As China dropped its most severe pandemic-related curbs early this month with little preparation for the surge in cases that followed, many care homes took the decision to shut themselves off from the public and operate in a closed-loop system even without a mandate from the central government to lock down.
Yet even if we discount the media’s fear-gasm and its likely exaggerations to take the reporting at face value, we are still left with a question of data integrity, as China’s outbreak is once again very much at odds with the rest of the world’s experience.
Certainly much of the reporting in the corporate media appears at the very least hyperbolic. Whereas last week Reuters reported that UK health data firm Airfinity was projecting 5,000 deaths per day in China from COVID, now Airfinity is projecting nearly double that.
Around 9,000 people in China are probably dying each day from COVID-19, UK-based health data firm Airfinity said on Thursday, nearly doubling its estimate from a week ago, as infections ripped across the world's most populous nation.
As dire as those numbers sound, it bears repeating that Airfinity’s projections are just that—projections. They are the “best guess” of a company not even based in China, which invites considerable questioning about how they developed their model and arrived at their estimates. The model description we have is that it is based on “regional data.”
The UK-based firm said it had used modelling based on regional Chinese data to produce figures that also put current daily infections in the country at above a million.
In many respects, the current reporting seems very much a repeat from the initial outbreaks in Wuhan nearly three years ago.
Still, there is a considerable flow of anecdotal information via social media which seems to support the corporate media narratives.
Independent journalist Jennifer Zeng, who provides considerable coverage of events within China, has shared videos of Chinese doctors describing their patients symptoms as well as the reality of the situation in China’s hospitals.
She has also provided numerous clips detailing an appalling number of apparent COVID deaths during this outbreak, so many the hospitals and crematoria cannot adequately deal with them all.
There are other tweets of Chinese doctors pushing back against any narrative that the outbreak is mild, or even that just the elderly are succumbing to the disease.
There are many more such examples, as a simple search of Twitter for the hashtag #ChinaCovidCases reveals.
Certainly there appears to be an extremely severe COVID outbreak in China, even just based on the social media postings. That the information is still largely anecdotal does not automatically mean the information is false or in any way erroneous.
However, we must take even that with a grain of salt, as there are also social media postings challenging the narrative and presumably debunking the reports of overflowing hospitals and clinics.
Which narrative is “the truth”? That I do not know.
What I do know is that the numbers being tossed around beggar belief, simply because they are so much at odds with what has been reported for the rest of the world.
Throughout the entire duration of the pandemic, the United States’ highest daily death toll (on a 7-day moving average) was 9.99 on January 13, 2021.
The US population of ~338 million is roughly one-fourth China’s population of 1.4 billion, and the United States has never experienced a death toll remotely the magnitude being reported for China, not even during the presumably more lethal Wuhan strain and Delta outbreaks.
Indeed, when one considers the cumulative deaths per million people attributed to COVID among the countries hardest hit by the virus, across the entirety of the pandemic there is not a single country with the total death being attributed to China in just this current outbreak.
Taking the apocalyptic reporting coming out of China at face value, we are confronted with the awkward reality of a presentation of COVID within China that is distinctly at odds with the presentation of the same disease virtually everywhere else.
The problem with this variance is that we are also being told that the virus circulating in China is the same virus that has already moved across the rest of the world.
The current surge in Covid-19 infections in China is believed to be driven by the BF.7 sub-variant of Omicron that is circulating in that country. But this isn’t the first time that BF.7 has made news — in October, it started to replace the variants that were then dominant in the United States and several European countries.
One explanation for the dramatic difference in the Chinese experience is immunological naivete, a likely consequence of Zero COVID’s draconian lockdown protocols.
Experts believe that it is not the higher transmissibility or immune evasiveness of the BF.7 variant that led to the increase in cases in China, rather an immune-naïve population drove the numbers.
Dr Anurag Agarwal, former head of India’s Covid-19 genome sequencing consortium INSACOG, said, “China is now experiencing the typical Omicron surge that other countries have already witnessed, and just like the one Hong Kong saw when it relaxed its restrictions.”
“For us, the Omicron wave looked milder because the population was protected with previous infection and vaccination. Plus, we have already paid the price, so to say, during the Delta wave (of April-May 2021). People died but those who survived had better immunity. Other than that, Omicron has mainly been killing its elderly victims and we (India) do have a younger population,” Dr Agarwal said.
Following this logic, Omicron has been less lethal throughout most of the world in part because of cross-immunity developed from exposure to earlier strains of the virus, exposure that Zero COVID denied most Chinese.
Yet even that explanation strains credulity, for a prevailing aspect of the current corporate media narrative is that Omicron—and BF.7 in particular—generally does not cause more severe symptoms and/or death.
The BF.7 sub-variant is a sub-lineage of the Omicron variant BA.5. National IMA Covid taskforce co-chairman Dr Rajeev Jayadevan has called BF.7 the ‘great-grandson of Omicron’. It is essentially the same as Omicron with some additional mutations. There is no indication until now that BF.7 can cause more severe disease, the top medical expert said. He reiterates what other experts have said, that there is no need to panic in India for now.
Apparently, COVID inside China is radically different from COVID outside China—this is what the corporate media narrative is saying about China’s outbreak, and it’s what a fair amount of social media is reporting as well.
To say the narrative does not make sense is an understatement!
Unsurprisingly, countries are responding to this narrative by reinstating travel restrictions on people coming from China.
The US on Wednesday cited “the lack of adequate and transparent” data as it unveiled Covid testing requirements for air travellers from China.
Japan, India, Taiwan, South Korea and Italy have also imposed restrictions on Chinese arrivals in anticipation of a wave of visitors as the country reopens its borders. Italy found that more than half the passengers on one post-Christmas flight from China to Milan were infected, but on Thursday said no new variants had been found among the sequenced cases.
However, the degree to which such restrictions are likely to have positive effect seems problematic, not just because they come after many Chinese have already seized on Zero COVID’s end to China’s closed borders to travel abroad, but also because the prevalent strain of the virus in China is one that has already circulated around the rest of the world.
Moreover, it cannot be repeated enough that lockdowns and similar restrictions do not stop the spread of infectious respiratory pathogens. Italy, one of the first countries to reinstate travel restrictions on China, was also one of the first countries outside of China to institute a lockdown in 2020, which was an abysmal failure.
Lockdowns, be they China’s Zero COVID policies or the ad hoc panic-driven variety tried by Italy and others, have been proven time and again not to work, inflicting economic damage and hardship while doing nothing to stop the disease.
Yet the fear porn on China’s COVID outbreak is pointing the world down that same discredited and dysfunctional path. Against all reason and sanity, corporate media is doing its level best to revive the Pandemic Panic Narrative, and is using China’s outbreak as the vehicle with which to do it.
With the data and the narrative once again at odds with each other, as they have been throughout the COVID “pandemic”, the cautionary is once again to follow the data. The apocalyptic narrative of China, even if true, is meaningless to communities elsewhere. What is relevant for every community is the incidence and the severity of disease within that community. What matters most in every community is the level of hospital utilization by that community.
Ever and always, follow the data, not the narrative.
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