First, the facts
- 70+ Countries + Territories have either approved Chinese vaccines or done deals to
receive doses from China.
- 37 nations have received vaccines from China free of charge
- 100+ nations have received face masks, deployment of doctors from China.
- 115m doses of vaccine have been exported by China.
- 230m+ doses of vaccine have been produced by China.
- Eight per hundred Chinese citizens have been inoculated but no backlash against the
government’s export drive
- 800,000 Chinese vaccine doses received by Nepal – previously received from India
- 103,558 new infections reported on 5 April by India
Let’s remember the sequence of events. News emerged from China of the outbreak of Covid-19 in Wuhan. Whilst questions remain about the flow of information from Wuhan to Beijing and the extent to which China might have been culpable for a period of delay, it is the case that by 29 January 2020 China had communicated information to the world sufficient to put all nations on notice that Covid-19 might spread.
The warning having been given, two things happened; first, China went into action and took a number of decisive steps to defeat the virus and to limit its spread in China. The action was effective and immediate – at the time Western nations were predicting significant deaths in China – at least hundreds of thousands if not millions. In the event, nothing like this happened and China’s figures of the number of deaths in the range of 10,000 have not been disputed. China put the health of its people first and took the steps. People were instructed – not asked – to remain indoors. The streets emptied; the shops closed; the schools were shut. Emergency hospitals were built and the country went into crisis mode. Politically, the Party was in control. It required that its people conform to the orders issued by the local government. Train stations were quiet. Aeroplanes did not fly. People did not congregate in parks or take trips or use motorways. China was closed. The priority was fighting the pandemic, limiting travel, stepping up testing, restoring order in the medical centres. And the battle was won. The numbers of people reporting Covid-19 symptoms fell; the number of deaths fell. Well-being was restored. If the Party had been questioned at the start of the epidemic, its actions from 29 January were very effective and life began to return to normality. A measure of China’s success became apparent in January 2021 when China became the only major country to achieve economic growth (2.3%) during 2020.
If China’s bounce-back was immediate and effective, the same cannot be said of the US and the UK. Both countries were on notice at the end of January 2020 of the seriousness of Covid-19. They received all relevant information from China but they did not act. Johnson did not act until 13 March 2020 – almost 6 weeks of key weeks had been lost. The leadership was out of touch. Boris Johnson was still in success mode following his victories in the Brexit Referendum and the December 2019 General Election. He was ‘Jack The Lad’ refusing to take matters seriously. He missed five COBRA Meetings. He welcomed delegations to 10 Downing Street. He shook hands with guests and refused to wear masks. Apart from the 2021 vaccination response which has gone well, his political leadership has had an important part to play in the present level of 126,000 deaths. Trump’s failings were even greater and today the number of deaths is at 500,000 and rising. The US and the UK with a combined population of 360m have logged 630,000 deaths. Chins with a population of 1.4bn have logged 10,000 deaths.
Do figures matter? The answer is Yes. Each life matters and the actions of governments come under scrutiny when figures are adverse and the figures for deaths due to Covid-19 tell a big story. China acted. The US/UK did not act and there were serious consequences. Now, this is not a matter just of health and health systems. This is also a matter of democracy. What is the purpose of democracy? – to provide a structure of government that promotes the health, well-being and economic prosperity of its people. Democracy is not just about One Man One Vote and relatives of the 630,000 + dead people in the US and the UK will look at China’s success in handling Covid-19 and begin to ask searching questions. What is the point of voting for a President or a Prime Minister when they fail so significantly to look after the health of their people?
There is another dimension to Covid-19 that is reflected in the numbers set out at the start of this article. China is doing much to help the world by supplying vaccines, doctors, and equipment. 70+ countries have either approved Chinese vaccines or done deals to receive doses from China at just the time countries in the West are fighting with each other to secure vaccine doses for their own people. For the US/UK, there is no question of helping less fortunate countries with less developed health systems and more vulnerable populations. “Number One Comes First. – my electorate, my voters – they are my priority – let the others look after themselves.” The contrast is considerable and again raises the question about the selfishness of the West as against the selflessness of the East. By its decisive action in February 2020, China turned back the tide of advancing deaths and limited its loss of life to 10,000 people. By its indecisive action in February 2020, the US/UK have, so far because the number is still rising, allowed 630,000 unnecessary deaths to occur. China is in a position where it refuses to look after “Number One” at the expense of the rest of the world.
As events develop and history draws its conclusions from events, much will be made of the credibility of the rival systems of government. The West relies on one man vote. China relies on the leading role of the Party. No question the Chinese system is more authoritarian and the West’s system is more democratic. But what is the point of government if one system restricts deaths to 10,000 and the other system permits 630,000+ deaths and more? And the final question – which peoples are happier with their lot – the Chinese or the people of the US/UK?