During the pandemic we’ve learned clearly some of the basic lessons that virologists knew all along. You can’t really contain a fast-spreading virus once it has moved beyond a small population. Australia, New Zealand and some other places (mostly surrounded by water) managed to keep the virus under control but as the virus mutated and became faster-spreading still even that was no longer a tenable strategy.
Mitigation measures, however, served important purposes.
- Getting Covid later was better than getting it early. In February 2020 I mused on this blog – looking at how dire things might get – that perhaps I should purposely get infected while there was still hospital capacity. That would have been a bad idea. Survivability was going to go way up by delaying infection.
You want to delay if you think there will be vaccines and better treatments, and it’s miraculous how quickly bioscience developed those. Even aside from a less virulent strain, we have ways of protecting ourselves against bad outcomes. Delay was great.
- Protecting hospital capacity. When hospitals become overwhelmed, treatment has to be rationed. That drives down survivability. So spreading out infections, which means delaying infection for some, leads to better outcomes overall.
Covid policies that delayed infection until there were treatments, and spread out infections to protect hospital capacity made sense.
But what you did with the time you bought mattered, and it mattered a lot. Marriott CEO, flattering China’s dictator, praised China’s Covid strategy as a model for the world. That was completely wrong-headed.
China kept Covid at bay through extreme measures (going ‘full Wuhan’ which meant in some cases nailing people shut into their homes, which in some cases became tombs). But they couldn’t do that forever.
In the meantime they developed their own home-grown vaccines which worked sort of okay against the original strain of the virus (Coronavac was 51% effect maybe before Delta, but there are doubts about even those results).
For national prestige reasons they refused to roll out Western vaccines (even when BioNTech’s vaccine was manufactured onshore) and refused to acquire Western small molecule inhibitors as treatment.
And even China tired of lockdowns, which is why Shanghai wasn’t fully locked down as Omicron began to spread, and why the government was late to go full Wuhan there. Although reports have been pretty miserable, and cases are heading up not down.
As seen on Weibo: Shanghai residents go to their balconies to sing & protest lack of supplies. A drone appears: “Please comply w covid restrictions. Control your soul’s desire for freedom. Do not open the window or sing.” https://t.co/0ZTc8fznaV pic.twitter.com/pAnEGOlBIh
— Alice Su (@aliceysu) April 6, 2022
People outside of Shanghai asked me what it means that nothing is available for food delivery
It means that you cannot get food, at all
I try all of the apps and all of the stores, nothing is available – at least where I live
— Jared T Nelson (@Jaredtnelson) April 2, 2022
And it’s why travel to China is still nearly impossible, even as the rest of the world re-opens. (HT: TheZvi)
It’s the day before I leave centralized quarantine, and a (very nice) nurse came by to do the covid tests. Two throat swabs, two nose swabs, then swabs of the table, my computer, my smartphone, and the door handle of my room. Fingers crossed!
— Eva Dou (@evadou) April 4, 2022
At least she’s not getting the anal probe. In fairness, quarantine would have ‘only’ been four weeks if she hadn’t arrived in China via Shanghai. But flights remain limited, there’s not a lot of choice either.
According to data from Cirium’s Diio Mi, there are only 32 flights scheduled between the U.S. and China this month. That’s a total of just 11,634 seats. (That does not include United’s San Francisco – Seoul flight which continues to Shanghai with a change of crew to avoid having to stay over in China.)
- Air China: 4 Beijing – Los Angeles flights and 3 Shenzhen flights
- China Southern: 7 Guangzhou – Los Angeles flights
- Xiamen Airlines: 10 XIamen – Los Angeles flights
- China Eastern: 8 Shanghai – New York JFK flights
Going full Wuhan in Shanghai isn’t working. And by the way masking only on planes and in preschools does far less. But without having used the time well to prepare for inevitable virus spread, which was ultimately the point of a suppression strategy, what’s the exit plan for China?