China “made grave blunders” in the early days of the pandemic, says Clara Ferreira Marques in Bloomberg, covering up early evidence of Covid “and ultimately failing to stop a global cataclysm”. Three years on, the pivot away from its “draconian” zero-Covid policy has been handled equally terribly. With lockdowns abandoned and case numbers rising by as many as 37 million a day, there are shortages of basic medication, intensive-care beds, “even crematorium slots”. Medical staff are working while sick. The anti-Covid Paxlovid drug “has become a coveted gift among the well-heeled”. By one estimate, “almost a million may die” as omicron rips through China.
It didn’t have to be like this. There were three years for Beijing to prepare for a Singapore-style “path out of Covid repression”: running vaccination drives among the elderly, building hospital capacity, stocking up on fever medication and anti-viral drugs. Instead, as late as October the government was pressing ahead with a $190m Shanghai quarantine centre, emblematic of a policy that’s now been abandoned with “staggering” speed. It shows how the idea of “authoritarian advantage”, accepted by many when China was building hospitals in days and locking down entire cities, “is nonsense”. In the long run, what determined how a country fared with Covid was its ability to “analyse, react and rectify” – something democracies do well and autocracies do badly. “Pandemics are marathons, not sprints.”