Covid is China’s Vietnam War

Almost 3 years ago, on Feb. 10, 2020, I published my first note on Covid, or nCov2019 as it was call
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Comments

  1. Avatar for O.P.A O.P.A says:

    Nice synthesis, as always Ben!

    You highlight medicine shortages and ICU bed availability, which is spot on. I would also say it’s worth noting the nursing shortage. It was a problem even before COVID, the strain and burnout of the past two years have exacerbated the shortfall, and it’s not expected to get better until at least the end of this decade

  2. It does seem certain that the current information out of the CCP is false. Though to me it’s more strange for the lack of disinformation narratives that usually accompany such false numbers. The silence is interesting… Is it that the CCP don’t know what to say? That there’s no consensus about which lie to put forward?

    I was surprised about the part in your post about them lying 3 years ago. Partially because I built my models based on that information back then and thought their data was surprisingly reliable and the rest of the world had similar CFRs in the months afterwards. Partially, because they were able to, against all odds, to actually stop COVID back then. If they were underreporting the numbers, then I don’t think they would have been able to do the “impossible”.

    So I went and reread the 3-years ago post, and while it may apply to the situation today, I’m not sure it holds up very well in the original context. The concept of the CCP just following a model, instead of reporting real number, can make sense. But the fact that the CFRs turned out to be so on point, for a novel virus, makes for a pretty strong counterargument. But the biggest counterargument, in light of

    “The really damning part of Antimonic’s modeling of the reported data with a quadratic formula is that this should be impossible. This is not how epidemics work.”

    is that they did, in fact, do the “impossible”.

  3. “ **The current Covid outbreak will fundamentally weaken the Chinese**government, because now every Chinese citizen knows that every Chinese citizen knows that the CCP is not just a liar, but an incompetent, failed liar.**”

    You are wrong. Esteem for the Central government is going up now that they have reversed course and are prioritizing the economy. I have lived in China 9 years and can tell you that you are projecting your own western values onto Chinese people, and they just don’t think that way. This is an extremely common problem in western analysis of Chinese culture and governance, and it is a root cause of the adversarial relationship between the two countries.

  4. Wow, that’s an interesting perspective. This’ll be fascinating to watch play out…

  5. Avatar for Zenzei Zenzei says:

    Anatoly - How do you arrive at the conclusion that China did the impossible and stopped Covid when the data coming out of China appears rather untrustworthy? China’s problem with truth in statistics is particularly acute.

  6. Avatar for Zenzei Zenzei says:

    Gary, this is an interesting perspective. How are you measuring esteem for the government? Is there some sort of a realistic metric that reflects this? Or is your view more from an anecdotal what folks around you are saying?

  7. Avatar for bhunt bhunt says:

    I mean … either the Chinese gov’t was an incompetent liar then as they locked Shanghai down for months or they are an incompetent liar now as Shanghai locks itself down and hospitals/morgues overflow.

    I understand that lots of people want China to open back up and stop all of what they consider to be “the Zero Covid nonsense”, but that’s a very different thing from “esteem” or trust or competence.

  8. The CCP will manufacture a winning narrative either way.
    If deaths go up substantially and can’t be effectively hidden from the public, they might claim to have been correct all along. “We capitulated to the public protests and gave you your freedom, and you see what that is costing you now”, or some such.
    Interesting that the WHO has become mildly critical of the bodybag undercount.

  9. I couldn’t agree more. As a hospital RN in the mid ‘90s I witnessed nurses treated as widgets, and it has only become worse.
    I get incensed at the salaries which not-for-profit hospital administrators pay themselves. They increase the size of their empires and hire cronies at the same time as not wanting to pay for critical staff such as LNAs (aides), LPNs and RNs.
    Is it OK for a non-profit hospital CEO to pay him/herself $2-7 million annually, all the while constantly asking the community to givegivegive to help the “Miracle Network” or some such? Annually asking the State to allow 10-15% reimbursement increases from insurers? Cashiers asking you to “round-up” to help the hospital?
    I see it as the cousin of the for-profit companies going too far on share buybacks, management enriching themselves.
    Nothing is sacred anymore.
    My $2.00’s worth ($0.02 if it wasn’t a rant)…

  10. If you are asking why I am willing to believe that:

    A. China was able to reverse and effectively control the pandemic 3 years ago through draconian emergency measures

    B. Maintain a non-existent to minimal spread of COVID over the majority of the past 3 years through draconian policies commonly referred to as “Zero COVID”

    It is because I don’t think they would have been able to cover up any alternative outcomes when it comes to COVID spread.

    @bhunt Are you saying that one of these being true is the same as both being true? I guess I could be splitting hairs here, but it doesn’t feel like I am.

    Beyond that, I am suggesting that they were actually extraordinarily competent “then” and defied all odds.

    I am not saying that the CCP is trustworthy, or that I agree with their policies. I am saying that when using historical analysis to make a point, the veracity of said analysis is important and not trivial.

  11. Avatar for Zenzei Zenzei says:

    I guess the difference for me is that I am no longer confident that anything I think about what governments are capable of doing is calibrated anymore. The only thing I know for certain is that China has a real problems with the truth and I am highly skeptical of my own conclusions about what is or isn’t going on there.

  12. Democracies are messy political arrangements , can be remarkably dysfunctional (like it appears to me today) but they have one crucial element that serves as a self-correcting mechanism and also as a safety valve to raw emotion.
    The Vote

    Ben, if you’re right that Covid is China’s Vietnam (and your arguments are cogent and sound to me) then I suspect that political regime is at risk

  13. At some point people in China are going to start asking why their vaccines are so ineffective and why the rest of the world is largely back to normal. The Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine has been waiting for regulatory approval there for a while now, and the majority of the shots given have come from one of two native companies. Neither seem particularly effective. I wonder how that set of facts plays out over the next year or so.

  14. I was a 13 year old when the Tet offensive began. I had been reading newspapers for several years because my father got three of them delivered each day. I remember thinking that there was no way that the North Vietnamese could win given the five to ten times the number of casualties that they were suffering. By the time I turned 18 and was eligible for the draft, I knew better than to trust the official narrative on everything. I lucked out as my cohort was the first year that the draft was suspended. I still have a very hard time figuring out how a generation that protested and fought against the Vietnam War turned into the society that we did.

    Regarding the truthfulness of the CCP, you have to examine all the information given for sanity checks. During the initial Covid outbreaks they reported low numbers of deaths but morgues were overflowing and there were many temporary morgues. They did bring the Covid outbreak under control with unprecedented restrictions of people’s activities. The big mistake that the CCP made was failing to get everyone vaccinated with good vaccines while they had Covid under control. It was going to break out sooner or later unless China implemented a 100% ban on travel from outside their country…

    And in response to the underreporting of the shortage of children’s medications, it is sort of the inverse of your standard phrase. Ask yourself “why am I NOT hearing this now?” Either other narratives a crowding it out (I did find a little bit on the subject at the NY Times and NPR) or there isn’t any incentive to spread the narrative. No incentive since it might be perceived as a Biden criticism (even though the production of medication is not usually state directed) or it goes against the Republican storyline of Covid is no different than the flu (so you can’t complain about the flu and by extension RSV).

    The one thing that I am quite certain about is that I am preparing my own self sufficiency. I haven’t seen any sign of good judgement or even adequate leadership in almost any country in the world. With as fractured as society is in democracies around the world I can’t see any intelligent responses when and if a serious problem breaks out.

  15. If/when a serious problem breaks out and some government somewhere does actually come out with a good response to it (yeah I know, work with me here), my fear is the populace won’t even be able to recognize it as a good response.
    Not kidding

  16. Avatar for david david says:

    I experienced a similar change of thinking during that period. I was 11 years old during the Tet Offensive, and read two newspapers daily (NY Post and NY Times). The op eds written by Anthony Lewis had a profound impact on my changing view of the world. I was required to register for the draft in 1974, even though it had been suspended.

    During the Spanish Flu (which many historians believe originated in the US), neither Woodron Wilson (who very likely died from it) nor any other US governmental official publicly acknowledged its existence. It was named the Spanish Flu because Spain (a neutral country) was the first country to publicly acknowledge its presence and impact.

    The purported rationale underlying nondisclosure at the time – to avoid adversely impacting troop morale – is but a variation on a theme. A rationale for nondisclosure can always (and easily) be concocted.

  17. “China reported no COVID deaths on the mainland for the six days through Sunday, the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention said on Sunday, even as crematories faced surging demand.
    China has narrowed its definition for classifying deaths as COVID-related, counting only those involving COVID-caused pneumonia or respiratory failure, raising eyebrows among world health experts.”

    Deviating from what has become standard death reporting practices for COVID to be extremely restrictive and only getting raised eyebrows instead of calls for change/calls of alarm highlights that the “world health experts” learned nothing from appeasing the CCP the first time around.

  18. I understand and it is a big worry. There are so many competing narratives along with so many reasons for the competing narratives that it is impossible for any one person to get a handle on them all. And yes, the populace won’t recognize it unless the results of the response are immediately observable.

  19. Agree fully, with extra emphasis on “immediately observable”.
    A good solution which takes time, effort, and some boosterism to implement must overcome both inertia, distractions, other pressing issues and increasing counter-narratives over time.

    To use health care as but one example, the not immediately observable benefits of regular aerobic exercise and a healthy diet aren’t adequately embraced (acted upon) by a large percentage of the general population. The benefits are proven and can change one’s life drastically for the better, yet are sacrificed to many other things which provide some form of perceived immediate benefit.

  20. Avatar for bhunt bhunt says:

    This. Exactly this. No one has a political incentive to be a missionary on this.

  21. https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2023-01-03/bodies-pile-up-in-china-as-covid-surge-overwhelms-crematoriums?sref=5dE0gZJ9

    It was three years ago, almost to the day, that I recall reading the whispers on Twitter about how crematoriums in China–specifically around Wuhan–were running 24/7 because of this new and terrifying respiratory virus that was spreading like wildfire and killing hundreds, maybe even thousands of people a day. Twitter accounts were posting videos smuggled out of China from defiant citizens and pictures of satellite images showing smoke clouds over the city coming from the crematoriums. And all of it was officially denied. Not a word was spoken about it here in US media. When they finally did get around to it the tone was mocking and condescending. What a strange place to be now when you consider where we came from. Perhaps if someone at Bloomberg–or anywhere, really–had even the slightest bit of curiosity they’d have written this article three years ago when it could have done some good.

  22. According to the article, it is estimated that the population fell by about 850,000 people and a death rate of 7.18 deaths per 1000 people in 2021. But China had a zero COVID policy so obviously the largest death rate since the great famine in 1974 couldn’t have been influenced by COVID.
    Granted, there is a long term trend of China getting smaller population wise but that death rate is still a shocker.
    One part of me wonders if someone over in the CCP ran the numbers realized that letting COVID run rampant through their elderly population while denying it’s existence and just chalking it up to “long term trends” might “solve” their aging/slowing population crisis while simultaneously allowing for a return to growth and the beginning of a more sustainable population number/makeup.
    Either way, looks like the Chinese census bureau has to acknowledge what is happening (although obviously exact numbers should be taken with a grain of salt).

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