Three years ago, the world was on the verge of an almost complete shutdown.
Video of a virus striking people down in the streets, much of it now regarded with scepticism, began to emerge from China. On January 30 the World Health Organisation (WHO) declared a public health emergency of international concern. The rest as they say is history.
China has again moved to the centre of the ongoing saga following its decision to abandon a Zero Covid policy that had led to serious unrest in a number of regions. Whether fear of the public opposition spreading, or the impact that the lockdown was having on the economy, was the key reason, we do not know.
What is clear, however, is that the Chinese state is making a big deal of the relaxation.
Today’s People’s Daily describes the opening up of the country as a “monumental event” which it claims has not only proved beneficial to China itself, but constitutes a major boost to the global economy.
They are also – and this is ironic given that it was the Chinese who initiated the crisis – attacking countries such as Italy who have imposed travel restrictions on people travelling from China. This is given an ideological sheen in their accusation that the western countries, led by the United States, are deliberately attempting to discredit the Chinese economic model among the developing countries targeted in the Belt and Road Initiative.
The regime is claiming that the Chinese economy grew by over 8% even in 2021, but western analysts were claiming that there was a substantial slowdown in 2022 although the economy still showed significant growth. The Communist Party line is that “China puts people’s lives before profit, which distinguishes it from the West.”
It is alleging that the western states are creating an “atmosphere of fear” regarding the spread of the virus in China and has said that “restrictions are unjustified, and politically motivated.”
It would appear, however, that China is playing a double game with regard to the current status of the virus.
On the one hand, they claim that the spread of the Omicron variant has peaked, and that the high rate and effectiveness of vaccination in the country – which it claims is around 90% – is ensuring that the virus is under control – and that in any event the Omicron variant represents less of a threat.
On the other hand, they are claiming that Europe is in the grip of what the People’s Daily describes as a “twindemic” of Covid and flu that is placing huge pressures on the health services.
Hospitals in Ireland and elsewhere are currently experiencing bed shortages and lengthy waiting periods, but apart from the ongoing inefficiencies that have been documented, there is no evidence to suggest that it is anything more than the normal crisis that occurs every year during the winter months.
However, there are clearly those in Ireland and elsewhere who are talking up the new XBB.1.5 or ‘Kraken’ variant as a “highly transmissible” strain that may require greater precautions and the health authorities are encouraging people to continue to take the vaccine. To date there has only been a handful of XBB.1.5 cases reported here, but some are warning that its rapid spread in the United States will inevitably mean that there are more case.
What most sources fail to report is that the numbers of deaths in the United States and elsewhere remains very low. It will be interesting to see, therefore, whether the spread of ‘Kraken’ leads to significant pressures on the government here and other western states to re-introduce some level of restrictions.
At the moment, the authorities appear to be content with stressing the need to continue with the vaccination programme although it is noticeable that not only are different sectors recommending the wearing of masks but that anecdotal evidence would seem to suggest that more people are returning to mask wearing on public transport and even on the street.
We can only hope that we are not subject to a new round of lockdowns, and that the state here and elsewhere has realised its error in having pursued the draconian policy that was in force until less than a year ago. However, given how quickly that was imposed and accepted in early 2019, one would not be inclined to be optimistic.
What the Chinese strategy is remains to be fully revealed, but it is possible that they are currently engaged in a kind of passive aggressive policy in the hope that while they have apparently and even triumphantly abandoned the extreme lockdown that lasted there for almost three years, that they are perhaps hoping to encourage a new wave of panic in the West.
Given what happened in 2019 we would perhaps be well advised to keep an eye on what the Chinese propaganda machine both in China and among its clients globally is projecting.