top of page
  • Writer's pictureBill Paton

THE PANDA SURFS THE WAVE: Why China's COVID Policy Still Makes Sense

The entire world is witnessing China's abandonment of its attempt to keep Covid out. The Panda has now gone surfing on a deadly wave of infections. But whether it was zero Covid, or now living with Covid, the Western media continue to relentlessly criticize China's handling of the pandemic. Why? Of the approximately 20 million dead from Covid world wide, less than 30,000 were Chinese as of 30 October 2022. Now that the dam has burst, and a wave of Omicron variants has overwhelmed China's procedures (and an increasingly fed-up population), hundreds of thousands more Chinese will die. Few, however, believe that the toll will come even close to the 5 million dead that China would have had with an American death rate. Millions of lives have been saved. How can this policy be judged to have been wrong?

by William Paton, Beijing 27 December 2022

For many months earlier in 2022, the Western narrative on China's Covid policy was extremely critical, usually something like:

"China's wrong Covid policy continues to refuse to follow the West's example and open back up. It's government is stubbornly bent on locking down its citizens in a futile attempt to eliminate the virus. This is harming the Chinese economy and the world's and impinging on it's citizens rights. If only Beijing imported superior Western vaccines, then China too could open up and return to normal."

Don't get me wrong. I detest wearing a face mask and I am very happy that I can finally travel abroad without having to quarantine for five days when I return. However, what the West's daily, anti-China rhetoric avoids mentioning is that of the estimated 21.6m (quite possibly 28m), people who have died of Covid, less than 30,000 of them died in China (see map) until now. You may want to read that sentence again. It's what Al Gore would call 'an inconvenient truth.'

According to WHO, China's excess deaths since March 2020 until November 2022 were negative. This means that, due to reductions in deaths from other causes like flu and traffic accidents, China's Covid policy has actually also saved tens of thousands more lives.

Deaths Due to Covid by October 2022

So hang on. Did I lose the plot there? Why did so many Westerners and their media adopt a smug, superior attitude, criticizing China's coronavirus policies? Survivors elsewhere were happy that it seems to be nearly over. But didn't 1.2m USA citizens die of Covid? Don't tens of millions in just that one country now suffer from long Covid? How exactly was this 'superior?'

If China -- with more than four times the population of the USA -- had experienced a death rate similar to the USA's, it would have lost 5 million souls. More likely, with its huge cities, dense population and less beds in hospital intensive care wards, the rate would have been double or 10 million killed. Instead, China rose to the occasion, swiftly implementing country-wide systems that worked -- or rather that worked until about a month ago. And contrary to the tales told abroad, the measures were not generally too onerous most of the time. Testing on the sidewalk in front of my place was free and fast with the result showing up the next day on my app. I was almost never required to stay home. Another claim was that China's economy was being too badly damaged by its 'wrong' Covid policy. Well, yes, GDP growth in China was about 3% in 2022. But is that so bad?

The dam burst and it has caused a huge wave

Now let's face it, China's policy of suppressing the spread of Covid failed, beginning late November. By the time protests about anti-Covid measures broke out, the writing was already on the wall. Omicron variants, especially the latest ones, are too contagious to contain. China's government, at this point, switched to Plan B and that didn't go smoothly at all. For about a week there was confusion and inadequate communication. Testing systems broke down in my neighborhood. But then you mostly didn't need a test anymore. The thermometers and QR codes to scan, the travel apps, had all miraculously disappeared. To their credit, as Covid began to spread very obviously, most citizens reacted stoically. Mask wearing shot up to above 99% and many people heeded government advice to upgrade to N-95 standard masks. The restaurants re-opened, but people voluntarily stayed home and cooked. An army of 60,000 delivery personnel here in Beijing alone was bolstered to replace the sick and ensure that everyone could continue to order take-out food or groceries delivered if they wanted. Shopping centres allowed free entry again, without showing proof of a recent Covid test, but most people decided that it was not a good time to go shopping. The switch from enforced compliance to robust voluntary compliance was breathtaking. While I moaned myself for a week that the government seemed to have fallen off the surf board, by week two they were back riding the wave. Tens of thousands of little testing booths set up on sidewalks during the control phase have been replaced by mini fever clinics in a number of major cities, with one doctor and one nurse able to sort out anyone seriously ill, and write a prescription and actually dispense the medicine on the spot for the rest before sending them home to bed. Pharmacies, too, were re-stocked. The self-administered Covid tests I ordered arrived (a few days late). And the government belatedly got a new booster-shot campaign going, finally targeting the elderly, including with a vaccine that is simply inhaled.

A lot of people have already fallen ill with Covid, including my wife and I -- we are both now recovered -- and many of our friends. Most got a fever and recovered quickly, but not everyone. It is going to be a tough winter. Chinese humour survived. The traditional greeting 'have you eaten?' was replaced with 'are you positive?' in a rhyming way. And plans for travel home for Spring Festival 22 January are in full swing, though they will no doubt further Covid's spread. Sadly, many tens of thousands are going to die, something the government and country had gone to great lengths to try and prevent. Western media are blaring -- with poorly disguised schadenfreude -- that millions will die. However, the truth is that by keeping Covid at bay so long, until it faced less lethal variants, China has undoubtedly saved millions of lives. Compared to the 5-10 million who would have perished had they imitated the West from the start, even the colossal loss of hundreds of thousands of lives is a preferable outcome, a partial success. In the end, that is the best that China could do.


Dec 27, 2022

Hi Bill, I agree with you that China's former strict covid policy made sense and, without a doubt, saved many lives. What I worry about with this dramatic loosening of restrictions is that, with a relatively low level of vaccine protection and high population density, the country is going to become a breeding ground for new, potentially more virulent variants which, with looser travel restrictions, will spread worldwide. My understanding as well is that the vaccines available in China are less effective than the nRNA vaccines being used in the West (I don't know about the inhaled vaccine). Initially it seems as if China was unwilling to import Western vaccines but I don't know whether this has changed.

I hope…

William Paton
Dec 28, 2022
Replying to

Thanks for the comment Ted! The Western media does indeed love that "our vaccines are superior - if only the Chinese would buy them" story, tooting it daily! But it is a story that is based on omission. China currently has 13 vaccines approved for Covid-19, and another few including 3 mRNA vaccines that are not yet approved. Their mRNA vaccines are already in use in Indonesia and Laos, where their own national authorities have approved them, but China is cautious about all mRNA vaccines, including their own. In any case, all Covid vaccines work well at preventing serious illness and none work well to prevent infection with the latest variants. China does like Paxlovid (Pfizer) for treatment, and import…


Read More

bottom of page