The original Covid-19 outbreak may have been nearly 40 times worse than official statistics suggest. The Wuhan airport re-opened in early April 2020 as a big show of Chinese success at containing Covid-19. They also put on a big show of disinfection, even though the airport had been closed for ten weeks.
China’s response (going ‘full Wuhan’) was massive testing and enforced stay at home orders and quarantine. Some people were locked into their homes to die (tombs). But it looked like China had mostly beaten Covid-19. Of course the strain of the virus experienced there initially was prior to the ‘D->G mutation’ that made it more transmissible in infecting Europe and the United States.
Now they’re facing Delta, and transportation in and out of Wuhan is again cut off. (HT: @crucker)
China suspended flights and trains, canceled professional basketball league games and announced mass coronavirus testing in Wuhan on Tuesday as widening outbreaks of the delta variant reached the city where the disease was first detected in late 2019.
While the total number of cases is still in the hundreds, they are far more widespread than anything China has dealt with since the initial outbreak that devastated Wuhan in early 2020 and over time spread to the rest of the country and the world.
A return to where this all started is a problem for China which needs to argue they’ve contained the virus. And it brings new attention to Wuhan as the place the pandemic appeared to begin. It brings new attention to unexplained virus cases in September and October, the Wuhan airport’s coronavirus containment drill in September, and the Wuhan CDC’s ordering of testing supplies at the same time.
This all matters a great deal for China (contain the virus, since Chinese vaccines haven’t been nearly as effective as mRNA or even adenovirus shots currently in use), but also for China’s role in the world. President Xi’s messaging, as espoused by surrogates like the CEO of Marriott, is that the Chinese model is best for managing a crisis like Covid-19 and that the West in weak.
The narrative that the virus spread via zoonotic transmission (animal to human) also matters a great deal to China,
- That suggests ‘old ways’ like wet markets need to be swept aside by modern Chinese socialist development. The ‘wet market explanation’ supports the march of history of the Chinese Communist Party and gives more urgency to its mandate.
- In contrast a lab leak is an indictment of their administrative competence, and suggests that there are holes in Chinese competence and leadership under President Xi who is seeking a third term at the Twentieth Party Congress in late 2022.
- A lab leak (‘China’s fault’) also diminishes Chinese prestige in the world, which it’s worked assiduously to built through efforts like Belt and Road.
The origin of the Covid-19 pandemic matters not just for China, but for preventing the next one. It shouldn’t matter but it does. If there was a lab leak, that places biosafety at the top of the world’s agenda. Perhaps it should be anyway, but it won’t happen in the same way. And if the leak followed gain-of-functions research that would place greater world pressure to end the practice of experimenting on viruses to make them more transmissible in order to identify which ones are priorities for research on therapeutics or vaccines.
It was likely that President Xi himself didn’t know the severity of the situation until late January, and his public appearances and statements don’t begin to put it front and center until a week into February. China let the virus become uncontained. They let it spread. And they didn’t warn the world, likely because information didn’t immediately reach the top. As the grave nature of the threat became clear Xi replaced Vice Premier Sun Chunlan center stage in the country’s response. This is highly suggestive, to me, that there wasn’t anything intentional if there was indeed a lab leak, a local officials likely downplayed or perhaps thought they were in the clear after September and October.
Now China has administered over a billion vaccines, of an inferior character, and they’re facing outbreaks of a virus that has become more transmissible again. They’ve licensed the BioNTech mRNA vaccine and talk about it as potential ‘boosters’, manufactured locally, that strengthen Chinese technology. Even with that narrative, Malaysia is switching to Pfizer. Thailand has moved away from Sinovac. The UAE has discovered the limits of Sinopharm. So there’s clear loss of face brewing.
Not that any of this proves the superiority of the U.S. system where we bribe people with pot to get vaccinated and people believe taking a vaccine makes you the physical property of a corporation.