While Covid-19 originated in China, and Chinese President Xi Jinping was slow to react, their narrative to the world – and a domestic audience – has been the strength of their response once put into gear. Covid-19 represented an existential threat to Chinese leadership, and President Xi has turned his eventual response into a key argument for his election to a third term at the Twentieth Party Congress in late 2022.
Late Marriott CEO Arne Sorenson lent international support for this argument. Sorenson knew that crushing the pandemic through any means necessary was good for travel and the hotel business. And he knew that flattering Chinese officials and supporting their narratives is key to staying in their good graces. China is a key growth market for Marriott.
New Marriott CEO Tony Capuano appears to be taking a similar approach. In a recent interview he offered (emphasis mine),
In the short term, there is an important and obvious relationship between the rollout of the vaccines, the ability of certain governments to start to get their arms around the virus, and the impact that has on traveler confidence and related demand growth.
China might be the best illustration of that. The government there has largely gotten their arms around the virus. They’ve done a good job of broad distribution of the vaccine and, perhaps not surprisingly, we’ve seen occupancy levels essentially return to pre-pandemic levels. What is most notable in China is a disproportionate share of that demand recovery has been domestic travel, as opposed to international travel. But China provides a great road map for other markets around the world as they look to chart their recovery.
Let’s be clear first on what Chinese-style lockdowns as a response to the novel coronavirus meant. People were boarded into homes, which in some cases became tombs. There’s mass forced testing which now includes anal swabs. In Hong Kong democracy was literally put on hold with elections postponed (coronavirus was an excuse, leadership didn’t prefer the likely outcome). So is China a great roadmap?
In any case, the claim that China has done a good job distributing vaccines is simply not true at this point.
I tend to think Sinopharm’s vaccine is underrated, though the UAE is starting to give out third doses to some people due to weak immune response. Sinovac’s reported efficacy against symptomatic Covid is just 50% The same extensive data on Chinese vaccines, though, hasn’t been published compared to that of Western vaccines.
China, though, only recognizes its own vaccines for vaccine passports based on new rules for entry from Hong Kong.
The Chinese vaccines don’t appear to be as good as Western vaccines. And the government doesn’t appear to be scaling production and distribution even as well as Europe, which has performed poorly. If ‘full Wuhan’ was one model for response early in the pandemic, China appears to be failing at this next critical stage. Most of its people remain (presumably) vulnerable to the virus, since it hasn’t spread widely within the country and its people remain unvaccinated. Much of the rest of the world will be able to open international borders more easily than China.