China’s Covid Problem: Time To Act

by Gaurie Dwivedi - Jan 8, 2023 12:36 PM +05:30 IST
China’s Covid Problem: Time To ActAn empty Beijing airport (Wikimedia Commons)
  • As the G20 president and fastest-growing economy in the world, India is set to play a decisive role in global economy and politics in 2023.

    But some of this could be affected if China’s Covid wave reaches India.

When Opera singers, famous dancers, and well-known academics start dying of a raging pandemic, one can be sure that things are far from under control.

China’s propaganda machinery, which has been working overtime to impress upon the world that the outbreak is "under control," is now finding it extremely difficult to keep things that way.

In the last few weeks, as China began mourning a growing number of public figures to the new wave, authorities have sharply narrowed the definition of Covid deaths.

Now, only patients with respiratory failure or pneumonia are counted and those with any other conditions, despite testing positive, are excluded.

This has resulted in the implausible official data standing in complete contrast to what many analysts have spelt out as the actual situation in China — over 1 million Covid deaths.

Strangely, as per official data, Shanghai, Nanjing, and Inner Mongolia have reported not even a single death, and total deaths since 1 December stands at 25.

Official mouthpieces are struggling as students have started documenting the death toll in their universities, which is more than the official number!

In the backdrop of the worsening situation in China, it is imperative that the world takes more concerted action to stop the spread of the virus. Some measures have been taken by a few countries and the European Union (EU), but there is a need to ask if the steps are enough.

Of course, sharper measures will increase the possibility of a retaliatory action from China. But the key question remains: Can the world economy, which only recently recovered from the pandemic shock and is still reeling from the aftereffects of the Ukraine conflict, afford another China-induced outbreak?

Trillions of dollars of global wealth have been wiped out due to a combination of reluctance and denial by Chinese authorities to address the outbreak in December 2019. (The World Health Organization declared the coronavirus pandemic on 11 March 2020, three months after the virus was first reported.)

Recently, European diplomats have agreed to some travel-related measures like face masks, pre-flight testing, and wastewater surveillance. However, none of the agreed measures is mandatory, leaving the implementation decision to individual member countries.

The EU has worded its statements in a manner that leaves a fair bit of wiggle room for its members. It has "strongly encouraged" members to introduce negative pre-departure tests 48 hours before leaving China and "encouraged" members to randomly test arrivals from China.

But, without standardisation of procedure, even if some nations impose stricter measures, the impact gets watered down due to the free borders among EU members.

Prior to the EU's advice, unilateral travel restrictions were announced by Spain, Italy, France, and the United Kingdom (UK), which mandated pre-departure tests. So far, only Morocco has banned Chinese arrivals entirely.

But there is wisdom in implementing stronger measures. First, while calling the restrictions on travellers from China as "unacceptable," Beijing has enforced stricter travel restrictions for arrivals into China.

Some of these restrictions may ease today, but the fact that China has tough measures in place should be seen as reason enough to not let the guard down. 

Secondly, with no accurate data or scientific details about the present epidemic, there is no option for other countries but to shut China out till its present epidemic comes under control.

After all, the world still does not know how Covid-19 spread from the wet markets of China in 2019. Beijing declined access to its labs and any independent enquiry into the origins of the virus, and there is no reason to assume it will be different this time around.

Several states in India have issued travel advisories regarding China, but mandatory quarantine can be explored too. China’s unplanned opening was not based on science, but due to President Xi Jinping’s popularity and legacy, which was affected by the unpopular and unsuccessful zero-Covid policy.

Opening up the country has unleashed a wave that China is unprepared for, and in the end, the world may also get caught in it.

Already, several countries have started reporting a surge in the number of Covid cases (India reported 188 new cases on 5 January) and are now preparing their health apparatus to be on high alert.

Mandatory quarantine may not eliminate the risk, but will contain the damage from the spread of the highly infectious variant.

Unlike 2020, this time there are no doctored videos of authorities building hospitals in record time. It seems China’s health infrastructure has collapsed even as the worst is yet to come.

As the G20 president and fastest-growing economy in the world, India is set to play a decisive role in global economy and politics in 2023. But some of this could be affected if China’s Covid wave reaches India, unless strict measures are put in place.

Quarantine measures may sound unscientific, but till there is an independent enquiry into the origin of the virus, they are all that the world has in defence against the virus that came from China.

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