China claims to have crested its Covid-19 peak with an unbelievably low death toll and is presently busy ‘punishing’ neighbours South Korea and Japan with visitor visa restrictions in response to those countries taking sensible precautions against an influx of Chinese tourists who may spread new variants of the disease. We are 10 days away from the eve of Chinese New Year (CNY) when it is traditional to have a family reunion dinner, the highlight of the celebrations. This is the Chun Yun the Great Travel Rush that sees one of the greatest movements of people in the world; hundreds of millions set off on long journeys back home using up their annual holiday leave. This is the first CNY since 2020 where Chinese citizens are free to travel both domestically and internationally. Family reunions are heartwarming. On Sunday here in Singapore, a family laid out an impromptu red carpet for Granny as she arrived from the first flight from China.
However as decades of experience with China and the recent pandemic make clear, we are not dealing with a good faith actor and the Chinese state’s claims should be handled with extreme skepticism. Is the current wave really over? All indications are that it is not and that it may actually be just taking off in rural China where incredibly those with Covid symptoms are not even tested for the disease. The WHO has finally demurred with mild criticism of China’s lack of information sharing even as Tedros himself tweeted around new year that pandemic would likely end this year. How should others proceed given China’s intransigence and the limp-wristed efforts from compromised international bodies?
Maybe we should start by paying more attention to what is happening in the most populous country in the world than to Harry Windsor’s whinges?
The CCP cannot hide all deaths. Obituaries of notable people indicate something extraordinary is happening and the chinese are not a stupid people. The mortuaries are full and Shanghai authorities have caught dozens of funeral-scalpers, a niche job that has risen to meet the long lines outside mortuaries and panic of relatives following pandemic deaths. The hospitals are still overwhelmed. There is a thriving blackmarket for drugs, China is begging the pharmcos for cheaper prices for covid drugs (denied) and in fact many Chinese are travelling to western destinations to buy covid drugs just as they once sought to buy safe baby formula overseas.
And after the first wave, which in many countries’ experience is not the worst, what then? China is still in the midst of winter and the Economist envisages a tsunami, a giant wave could overwhelm China. As always, outsiders have a tendency to forget about rural China and the gaping inequalities in healthcare and wealth that still exists in the vast countryside.