Lock downs didn't work. We must not now follow China into a never-ending lockdown nightmare.
A few months back I mentioned I dropped our local Chicago newspaper in favor of a more balanced English paper. Today I want to highlight a piece from their paper (which we would probably never see in Illinois) as it is beginning to show that people, or at least some people, are willing to discuss the horrible policy mistakes of COVID lockdowns. Mental health, physical health and economic health were all derailed by the policy. As we learn to live with a new disease, we must not expect our elected officials to either know what is best or to save us.
From the Telelgraph
Seemingly, everyone has got Covid again. Why, even the Chinese premier Xi Jinping, who reportedly demands that those he meets quarantine for days beforehand, may have it after a trip last week to Hong Kong, where a lawmaker he came into contact with has tested positive.
But let's not exaggerate; the latest Office for National Statistics infection survey suggests that "just" one in 30 of us here in the UK have it at the moment. That number is, however, rising fast, and the way things are going will soon top the last peak reached in March. Vaccines may be good at preventing serious illness, but by the look of it, they are virtually powerless against new and repeated infection. Worryingly, hospitalizations are also picking up fast, and in France there are already warnings of hospitals once more becoming overwhelmed. They thought it was all over; sadly, it is not, even if, thankfully, the mortality rate has shrunk to little more than that of seasonal flu.
The problem now being encountered is a phenomenon which has long been observed in influenza - so-called "original antigenic sin". This refers to the propensity of the body's immune system to memorise the properties of the first infection, making it less capable of reacting to variants of the same pathogen when they emerge. Advertisement Well over 90pc of the UK population will by now have Covid antibodies in their system, either through infection or vaccination. But this doesn't necessarily safeguard against the latest mutations of the omicron variant. As a consequence, lots of people are repeatedly coming down with Covid, sometimes within a few weeks of the previous infection. New vaccines that theoretically provide protection against the latest sub-variants are under development, but the virus seems to be staying one step ahead.
As far as Europe and America are concerned, renewed lockdown is pretty much unconscionable, and given now relatively low mortality rates, in any case unjustifiable on almost any cost benefit measure you care to take. But already a certain amount of voluntary social distancing is reemerging — face mask wearing on public transport, for instance, even though there is no legal requirement for it, and, for any excuse not to work, many people are again self-isolating at the slightest sign of a sniffle. Anecdotally, absenteeism is again mounting. I've even heard of overseas holidays being cancelled, though travel chaos may be the overriding factor here. This is bound to have a dampening effect on economic activity. Coming at a time when the cost of living shock is already threatening to push the economy into recession, another Covid wave was just what we didn't need. Yet the major economic impact is not going to come from within these shores. Rather, it will again be from China, the world's second largest economy. It was China that gave us not just the virus itself, but also the idea of lockdown as a method of containing it. Unlike almost everywhere else, the Chinese leadership is sticking with the strategy. Every time there is an outbreak, draconian lockdowns are reimposed. The much more infectious Omicron variant has made this approach a particular challenge. Just as China thinks it has rid itself of infections, up pops another outbreak, as is now occurring in provinces near Shanghai. Early success in containing the virus has for China turned — in the era of vaccines — into a never-ending nightmare of economically crippling shutdowns and mass testing. Officially, China still has the lowest death rate of any major economy, helping to justify the zero-Covid containment strategy applied. In a symbolic visit to Wuhan, epicentre of the original outbreak, President Xi said that the "herd immunity" approach applied in the West, which he disparagingly likened to the "lying down flat movement", wouldn't work in China because of its large population and "would lead to consequences that are unimaginable".
But even if true, it is only because China has been both slow to vaccinate and its own homegrown vaccines — no room for Western vaccines in China, obviously — have been substandard. For Xi, who is up for election for an unprecedented third term as party chairman later this year, zero-Covid has been made synonymous with his own success or failure as a leader, and is therefore a totemic policy that cannot be challenged. This might make him more vulnerable to opposition; the policy has come at shocking economic and social cost. But it has also had the effect of suppressing criticism and preventing discussion of alternative strategies. Yet there is no such restriction on external appraisal. From being the standout number one in the Bloomberg Covid resilience rankings — which seek to assess how well countries are dealing with the pandemic — China has sunk all the way down to 51. Only Taiwan, which has similarly applied a zero-Covid strategy, and Russia, are deemed to be doing worse. In any case, the upshot of all this totalitarian madness is that it has holed the Chinese economic miracle below the water line. This might from a Western perspective be deemed a good thing if it slows China's march towards economic hegemony, but because of the way China is integrated into global supply chains, it also damages the West. Stalled production in China means more shortages of key components, and more cost-push inflation just as it looked as if these barriers to economic recovery were beginning to ease. The "lying flat movement" originated in the US as a rebellion — mainly among the young — against excessive work culture, but interestingly it has spread to China, where the regime regards it as subversive. It is nonetheless a curious analogy for Xi to use, as for now the West's "learning to live with Covid" approach to the virus seems to be working rather better than zero-Covid. No doubt about it, this is a clever little virus which is not going away, but for the West at least, there can be no return to lockdown. This article is an extract from The Telegraph’s Economic Intelligence newsletter. Sign up here to get exclusive insight from two of the UK’s leading economic commentators – Ambrose Evans-Pritchard and Jeremy Warner – delivered direct to your inbox every Tuesday.