It has been more than half a year since China seemed to get its own dramatic corona epidemic under control. It was at the beginning of March, when it had yet to begin with us and in most other places in the rest of the world. The number of registered corona infections was around 80,000 among the Chinese, the number of deaths at about 3,000.
Criticism of China
In the weeks before, there had been a lot of international criticism of China. In the outbreak of the epidemic in the city of Wuhan, local authorities had initially tried to keep the money covered. This wasted valuable time primarily in stopping the further spread of the virus and also in providing the international community with accurate information about the nature and extent of the problem. (read more below the photo)
But since then, global corona attention has focused on the situation in all those other countries where the virus would hit hard. In the meantime, China was able to pat itself on the chest: it could have prevented the situation in its own country from getting completely out of hand with hard measures (‘only possible in an authoritarian state’, according to the comments in quite a few Western media at the time).
Relatively limited number of infections and deaths
For example, the number of corona deaths in China remained lower than the death toll in tiny Belgium, and the official number of Chinese infections (more than 15 times more than during the SARS epidemic at the beginning of this century) is actually negligible at 89,000. in a country with 1.4 billion inhabitants. In the end, it had taken Beijing a good two months to tame the virus. (read more below the photo)
Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved
And then the Chinese started a worldwide charm offensive, to polish up their image – not just corona, by the way. They offered countries affected by corona help to fight the virus. For example, in the darkest days of the corona epidemic in Italy, they sent medical personnel and medicines to the scene (it is no coincidence that Italy is a country with which China has close trade relations, and which is participating in its global infrastructure project Belt and Road Initiative).
Later, that practice was expanded into what would come to be called ‘mouth mask diplomacy’: after restarting its factories, China was only too happy to supply protective equipment to countries that needed it. This worked in a number of countries, including Serbia (also a devoted believer in Belt and Road), where countless posters have since praised friendship with China. But in many Western countries the Chinese advances raised eyebrows, especially after a lot of the supplied protective material turned out to be worthless – we could also have a say in Belgium. (read more below the photo)
Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.
It looks like the Chinese will use a possible proprietary vaccine just as well in their international soft-power demarches. Beijing has repeatedly promised that the entire world will be able to benefit once production starts. Experiments are being conducted in Chinese labs with a dozen vaccine candidates. Three of these are in an advanced test phase (the so-called phase-3). These are potential vaccines from Cansino (which is said to have already administered its vaccine to Chinese soldiers), Sinovac and the state-owned Sinopharm.
Who wants a Chinese vaccine?
Because the coronavirus in China itself is now only active on a relatively limited scale, testing is mainly carried out in countries where the epidemic is still raging. For example, the vaccine CoronaVac from Pharmalab Sinovac is being tested on 9,000 volunteers in Brazil. The company claims that CoronaVac has an eighty percent success rate. Sinovac builds on experience gained during the Chinese SARS crisis in 2002-2003. (read more below the photo)
In any case, there is a good chance that a Chinese vaccine will be one of the first to reach the finish line (Russia has been claiming the scoop for a few days, but experts have many questions about the super-fast authorization procedure and the testing methods). But who will buy it then? Many Western countries may not; except in Asia, it will mainly find customers in Latin America and Africa. And there it will increase the benevolence towards Beijing – which has already been built up in recent years thanks to massive Chinese investment in infrastructure.
Economy is already improving
It was predicted during the epidemic in China: the economic consequences of the coronavirus would be enormous for Beijing, which was already suffering from slow growth and the consequences of the trade war with the United States. Sign on the wall: at the People’s Congress (the annual session of the Chinese parliament, postponed by corona from March to May), no growth target was set for the current year. It was the first time in a long time that that target was missing in the State of the Union speech by the Chinese Prime Minister. (read more below the photo)
Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.
When the economic data for the first quarter came out, it became clear how big the impact of the corona epidemic was on the second economy in the world. Gross Domestic Product (GDP) shrank by 6.8%, a disastrous result for a country that was once able to report growth rates above ten percent, and which grew by 6.1% last year. But look, a few months after that decline, the tide seemed to have turned again. In the second quarter of 2020, growth of 3.2% was recorded. It remains a very fragile recovery, but the fact that the figures turned positive so quickly is remarkable.
Local virus clusters
And finally what about the virus itself. Has that completely disappeared from China? Not at all. There are regularly new outbreaks. After the city of Wuhan – where it all started – was declared virus-free at the end of April, new outbreaks regularly started in various places in the country. Initially, these were caused by infected Chinese returning from abroad, then there were local and limited clusters here and there, including in the capital Beijing, in the northern port city of Dalian or in the western region of Xinjiang.
But each time, the infections were brought under control fairly quickly, through radical and fine-grained lockdowns, contact tracing and massive testing. China has certainly not done the best when it comes to tackling Covid-19 – and certainly not in comparison with some other Asian countries – but if we look at the current situation in the world, we can only admit that a lot of the measures have actually worked. Or to answer the question from the introduction: the Chinese actually got off relatively well.