The restart of Hubei province, China

About a month earlier than expected, not only China but even Hubei province – the former epicentre of the COVID-19 pandemic – is returning to normal life. My friends and colleagues in China tell me that this has already happened elsewhere in the country, with necessary temperature checks everywhere and health registration. A green health clearance means you can go. I must admit, it feels completely surreal when most of the rest of the world is entering into full lockdown and the USA is about to descend into a spiral that will see the end of its global power. I cannot wait to get back to China and will do so as soon as possible.

A brief video from Global Times on the restart of Hubei province:


Divorces to skyrocket after COVID-19 lockdowns are eased

As one wit put it recently, after the COVID-19 lockdowns, we can expect to see a spike in pregnancies (the Coronavirus boomers), divorces or mysterious disappearances.

As for divorces, there are many things to be learned from the China Model (as more and more countries are finding out). But one unexpected – or should it be expected? – outcome is a skyrocketting of divorce applications after the lockdown eases. Since China has managed to contain the COVID-19 epidemic through stringent and effective measures, they are now beginning to return to normal life. My friends tell me that the streets are full, as are the shops and restaurants. Schools and universities too will soon reopen.

At the same time, divorce applications have skyrocketted. As this article from China Daily observes, offices in major cities have been overwhelmed with such applications. Some point out that there is always a spike after Spring Festival (Chinese New Year), which may be compared to the spike after Christmas in countries with a Christian tradition. But the current spike is unprecedented. Local officials in Xi’an, the capital of Shaanxi province, have implored couples to talk through their differences and think twice.

Obviously, living at close quarters for weeks on end, with children (if you have them) taking online courses, perhaps a parent or two also in the same space, all the while trying to work from home and manage exercise, ordering food deliveries and so on will take their toll on any relationship.

So overwhelming are the numer of applications in some parts that couples have to wait up to two months for their application to be processed. This may not be such a bad situation, since it may encourage some to sort out their differences. The article also points out that many couples have drawn closer together, especially medical workers who faced the danger of death on a daily basis, as well as couples who previously did not have much time together due to busy work schedules, often in different parts of the country. Many of them will of course be responsible for the Coronavirus boomers.

This will not be forgotten: China, Russia and Cuba send much-needed aid to 82 countries

The world is certainly changing fast. I never thought I would see the day that IL76 Russian aerospace transport planes would land in Western Europe. 14 of them did precisely that in the last 48 hours, landing in a very grateful Italy with loads of medical supplies and personnel from Russia.

Certainly a welcome sight, especially when the USA and even the EU refuse to help anyone outside their borders, or even inside (as with Italy).

From Russia with love:

China was actually the first to send assistance, in terms of expertise, advice, personnel and medical equipment to many countries in Europe, but also East Asia, Central Asia and Africa, with which it has developed a close and very special relationship. At the time of writing, China has now sent assistance to 82 countries. Chinese SOEs and enterprises have been sending desperately needed supplies and personnel with COVID-19 experience to all these areas.

The following clip concerns the arrival of Chinese medical supplies in Serbia, where the president, Aleksandar Vucic, kisses the Chinese flag and says that Serbian people will never forget this kindness.

Here is an image of medical equipment arriving in Ethiopia from the Alibaba foundation, to be distributed throughout Africa. Note the quotation from Nelson Mandela. Each of the supplies from China to many countries has featured a quotation from the local cultural context.

Last but by no means least, Cuba has also stepped up to send supplies and personnel to areas worst hit by COVID-19. Why? Cuba has a far better health system than a country like the USA.

And here is a video clip concerning the efforts of all three:

Worth noting: two of the countries in question have a socialist system and one had such a system in the not too distant past.

These acts will not be forgotten in the new world order that emerges by the dawn of 2021.

How to deal with an epidemic: a short documentary by Takeuchi Ryo

This short documentary by the Japanese film director, Takeuchi Ryo, shows how the city of Nanjing has managed not only to limit COVID-19 infections to 93, but to reduce them very quickly to 0. He and his family live in Nanjing, a city I have visited many times and where I have good friends. Note the integration of strict controls everywhere, the widespread deployment of technology (focussing on contactless interaction), and the uniform use of face masks and gloves.

Clearly a model for the rest of the world.

A brief account of China’s response to the COVID-19 epidemic

In the few former colonising countries known as the West, a number of irresponsible media outlets wasted time trying to criticise China while the World Health Organisation (WHO) was urging the countries in question to act. So it is worth going over the facts in relation to the epidemic.

I begin with three points consistently made by WHO:

1. China`s complete transparency and assistance of other countries throughout.
2. The achievement of containing and preventing the disease in China, especially when there was a real danger it could get out of control, is unprecedented in human history.
3. Other countries should follow the China Model.

Although these points were hard to believe by the chattering classes in the West, the WHO made these recommendations from the perspective of medical science and not politics.

How did the WHO come to make these points? Let us follow the course of events, which are freely available on Chinese media outlets, which are not afraid at all of the truth.

In late December about 10 doctors reported cases of an unknown or SARS- like virus. These were immediately reported to WHO and thorough investigation was undertaken in China and by WHO. One doctor, Li Wenliang, posted two notices, sent from his colleagues engaged in the investigation, on wechat and weibo, and the local police reprimanded him for inappropriate use of social media. Importantly, he was not silenced or fined but kept working and he was by no means the only one involved in the research. I must admit, I am in two minds about this move. Of course, the Western media made a big brouhaha about a supposed ‘whistleblower’ who was ‘silenced’, but this was a clear distortion of the actual situation. Why am I in two minds? On the one hand, I am all in favour of responsible social media practices, and the need to curtail severely the spreading of rumour and gossip. On the other hand, should a qualified doctor make medical information available during an ongoing investigation of a new disease? There is much debate in China about this question as I write and I do not have a clear answer.

I recommend that you read this report of the 40-day investigation of the matter by the National Supervisory Commission (on China Daily). The report noted that there are very strict laws concerning the verification, release and reporting of epidemic information. Li had not followed those laws and provided some incorrect information at the time. Thus, the actions by the local police at the time had followed the law. At the same, Li – as a member of the CPC – had acted in good faith and for the social good. The report also finds that two of the police officers involved had followed substandard procedures. Thus, a sincere apology was given to Li’s family and the official letter of reprimand rescinded.

No system is entirely perfect: a few other local officials were found not to be up to the task of dealing with an emergency (including the mayor of Wuhan). Widespread criticism was made, very openly. An inspection team was quickly dispatched to Wuhan and the incompetent local officials dismissed and replaced. It would be like a prime minister going to Hawaii during a bush fire emergency (think of Australia). Upon return, he would be out of a job. Clearly, the early mistakes in China were incidental and not systemic.

Meanwhile, WHO sent a team to China, the sequence of the unknown virus was identified in a record 7 days by a Chinese laboratory, a diagnostic kit was developed by a German lab, and a full diagnosis was possible by 20 January. The WHO notes that this was the fastest identification made in the case of a new disease. The plan developed was a WHO-China joint plan, and the WHO urged the rest of the world to act immediately since China had given the world an opportunity to change the course of the disease. Unfortunately, too many countries did not listen and we find ourselves in the current situation.

In China, the ability of its socialist system to control and manage a new edpidemic is now history. Through widepsread testing (1.6 million a day), integration of AI, 5G and big data, it was able to keep the epidemic to a miniscule fraction of one percent of the whole population. As for the population itself, the old Chinese cultural – and socialist – reality of the greater social good kicked in and almost everyone cooperated (those who did not soon did so). Notably, public health was paramount, and not the economy. Of course, the economy too would benefit from a focus on public health, as China’s staged resumption – as I write – of production indicates. By contrast, the totally inept response in a place like Australia seeks to prioritise the economy and make public health a secondary issue. This will have greater economic repercussions, as more get infected.

As for the China Model, we can also note that those countries that followed it to some degree (Singapore and South Korea come to mind, but also – to its credit – Denmark, which still has a strong and able public sector, despite efforts to erode it over the last few years) have been able to control the epidemic.

A brief account, I must admit, but it explains why the WHO has made its three points consistently throughout: complete transparency; unparallelled containment of an epidemic, and the China Model for dealing with such an outbreak.

What would happen if Australia followed the China Model?

A short post. I have been doing some calculations. If Australia followed the China Model (as more and more countries are doing, the latest being New Zealand), the results would be as follows:

80,000 infections in a population of 1.4 billion is equivalent to 1370 infections in a population of 24 million (Australia).

There is one problem: the regime in Australia is totally inept, so it clearly will not be able to keep COVID-19 infections to anywhere near 1370.

Meanwhile, I am taking the slow route home from Sydney, riding my bicycle through the mountains for a week or more and sleeping in my tent.

Phases of Responses to an Epidemic

While holed up in a quiet corner as the COVID-19 epidemic sweeps the world, I have been intrigued by the worst and best in human responses to the epidemic. There seem at this stage to be a few phases, but I am sure there will be more as the epidemic unfolds over the rest of the year.

Let me say that I have had to cancel all travel for the foreseeable future, not merely because the air-conditioned nature of many forms of travel are now highly risky situations (COVID-19 can reach up to amost 5 metres and remain in such environments for up to half an hour after an infected person has left), but also because the useless travel insurance companies will not cover you if you travel to a part of the world that has even the threat of an epidemic. To be clear: I was planning to go to Europe to join my wife, but now that cases in Europe are rising rapidly, the travel insurance was certainly not going to help me if I contracted the virus. So I am staying put. Actually, I would love to be in China, since it is the safest place in the world right now. Already, about 60,000 (out of 80,000) have recovered and new infections are very few indeed.

As for the phases:

Phase 1: Racism.

With the first news of a new virus first identified in Wuhan only a couple of months ago, the uglier side of human responses became obvious. In those few parts of the world that used to be colonisers – the ‘West’ – highly offensive and openly racist statements were made in the media and by political ‘leaders’. I will not repeat them here, but they also appeared official travel restrictions and in everyday comments and actions, such as avoiding Chinese restaurants. Sure, they were dressed up as anti-communist Sinophobia, but they were a more blatant form of the official racism and hate speech that has been run-of-the-mill for a couple of years now.

At the same, people in countries who have experienced such forms of colonial racism were quick to send aid to China where needed, especially in terms of much-needed medical equipment while local producers caught up. Think of South Korea and even Japan, who were quick to help their Asian neighbour.

Phase 2: Rumour

They say that the first casualty in war is truth. The same applies to an epidemic. Rumours flew, aided by social media and a good number of deliberate efforts to seed such rumours. The rumours included a supposedly secret ‘biochemical weapons’ laboratory in Wuhan, from which the virus escaped. Or the completely false depiction of Chinese people eating bats. Or that another country had unleashed a biochemical attack on China. Or that the Russians were to blame for accusing the USA of a biochemical weapins attack. Or that China had secretly weaponised the virus to get back at the USA. Or that all sorts of weird and wonderful things could cure you from infection. On they went.

Thankfully, the media outlets in places of the world where responsible media is a reality – such as China – were soon up to the task. They provided up-to-date services with reliable information for people, while the World Health Organisation worked hard with its ‘myth-busters’ service. Indeed, it was precisely the WHO that came in early, with people on the ground in China and the formulation of a distinct plan of action.

Phase 3: From Complacency to Reality

This phase was my experience. Since I was in a relatively remote corner of the world, largely by myself, I assumed that the whole epidemic was happening ‘over there’ and that it would not affect me too much. I pondered matters such as the human-animal disease cycle but largely kept to usual patterns of life. I continued to make travel plans and thought things would be fine in the immediate future. I was keen to get back to China, since I feel so much at home there.

Then it finally hit: this is actually serious (as my Chinese friends had been warning me for some time).

The outcome: I cannot travel. I need to be very wary of public gatherings. I need to wear a face-mask when out. I need to be extra careful in Australia, since the regime here is alarmingly inept, even as more and more schools in the major cities have cases of COVID-19. So I will to stay put for a few months, if not the rest of the year.

The plans of yesterday change today, and will change again tomorrow.

Phase 4: A New (China) Model

As I have mentioned a few times in earlier posts (here and here), the Chinese approach is to offer a model of the best possible way to do something. Even more, they learn from their experience, address shortcomings, and seek to present an even better model next time. If someone else wants to follow that model, well and good. The Chinese will not insist on it, but they will help to adapt the model to local conditions.

Obviously, this is a positive turn. It has been assisted by the World Health Organisation saying very loudly and clearly that the resolute and differentiated approach in China in dealing with the epidemic is unprecedented in human history. Other countries should learn and learn fast.

Some did: South Korea knew that China had bought it time, so when the epidemic broke out there they followed the Chinese approach. Quickly quarantine affected areas, close down public events and travel, get hold of the necessary equipment and contain the outbreak. Japan too followed suit. And since these countries had been quick to assist China, the latter reciprocated tenfold with expertise and experience. In Iran, which is facing sanctions from the rogue state known as the USA, China moved quickly to assist with the outbreak there.

Indeed, the early criticism of China’s socialist system soon waned in other parts of the world. As Europe began to see the epidemic rising across that part of the world, countries began to adopt the China Model. Italy first quarantined Lombardy, where the largest outbreak initially happened, and then moved to quarantine the whole country and ban travel. Neighbouring Austria indicated that it too would follow the China Model.

More will do so as the epidemic spreads further: France, Germany, The Netherlands … But I fear for places like Australia and the United States, since the health systems in these places now count as inferior and the regimes in power are alarmingly inept.