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By Larry Romanoff for the Saker Blog
At the outbreak of the epidemic, China implemented the most comprehensive and rigorous measures ever taken. Wuhan was locked down on Jan. 23, with several other cities in Hubei Province quickly thereafter, then the entire province. (1) All public transportation was suspended. Airports, train stations, bus depots, boat and ferry docks were closed, all toll highways shut down and most roads blocked. All The subways and buses stopped running, and all people were to remain in their homes. The initial lockdown in late January involved about 20 million people, extending to about 60 million within a month, this at a time when China had only about 500 infections. The move, unprecedented in modern times and undoubtedly a difficult decision, spoke volumes about the gravity of the situation and the seriousness with which the government viewed the public health threat. China’s President Xi issued a rather stern warning at the time, that “Governments of all levels are obliged to resolutely take all preemptive measures to rein in the fast spread of the virus and be completely transparent about their local situation so that the country can unite to fight the pandemic together, and ensure that the world has a true picture of the situation. As Xi made clear, the mistakes of the past must not be repeated.”
All the evidence suggests the Chinese authorities acted effectively as soon as they realised the danger they might be facing.
Remembering the SARS troubles, they did much more. In most large centers in the country, all sports venues, theaters, museums, tourist attractions, all locations that attract crowds, were closed, as were all schools. All group tours were cancelled. Not only the city of Wuhan but virtually the entire province of Hubei was locked down, with all trains, aircraft, buses, subways, ferries, grounded and all major highways and toll booths closed. Thousands of flights and train trips were cancelled until further notice. Some cities like Shanghai and Beijing were conducting temperature tests on all roadways leading into the cities. In addition, Wuhan was building two portable hospitals of 25,000 square meters each to handle infected patients. As well, Wuhan has asked citizens to neither leave nor enter the city without a compelling reason, and all were wearing face masks.
The scale of the challenge of implementing such a blockade was immense, comparable to closing down all transport links for a city 5 times the size of Toronto or Chicago, two days before Christmas. These decisions were unprecedented, but testified to the determination of the authorities to limit the spread and damage of this new pathogen. They not only addressed the gravity of the situation but also the seriousness of consideration for the public health, unfortunate and difficult decisions since the holiday was destroyed for hundreds of millions of people. Most public entertainment was cancelled, as were tours, and many weddings as well. The damage to the economy during this most festive of all periods, was enormous. Hong Kong will suffer severely in addition to all its other troubles, since visits from Mainland Chinese typically support much of its retail economy during this period.
And already the Western media were in full China-bashing mode, (2) some claiming that lockdowns and quarantines were “a violation of human rights” and were in any case ineffective, with Mr. Pompeo of the US State Department already lamenting the “lack of transparency” in the Chinese government, and London’s Imperial College claiming infections in China were understated by a factor of ten. (3) And of course China’s friends in Langley, Virginia, were busy making posts on Weibo claiming this was “the end of the world” with everyone “on the verge of tears”, while the UK Guardian claimed “panic was spreading” in China. (4)
Within a week of Wuhan being locked down, virtually all rail and air traffic in China had been suspended, to deny the virus a means of travel. This was of course, the most awkward of times, with much of the population on the verge of traveling home for the Chinese New Year holiday. All mass-gathering areas were closed. Restaurants, shopping malls, cinemas, museums, markets, tourist resorts and many similar places were shut down to prevent gatherings, and many factories were seriously challenged by unexpected difficulties in operation due to the quarantines. The strong measures, effective though they were, inevitably inflicted pain on some parts of the Chinese economy and certainly caused inconvenience and some hardship in people’s daily lives, but the unprecedented moves yielded positive results, with new infections quickly dropping.
Using Shanghai as an example, by the end of February the city subjected all travelers from severely-affected countries to medical examination at the city’s airports to prevent imported infections. All incoming passengers who had lived or traveled in the hardest-hit countries were automatically subjected to a 14-day quarantine at home or at designated hotels. (5) (6) These passengers were not permitted to take taxis or public transport but instead were driven to designated quarantine locations by customs authorities, where community workers would be waiting for them with a team of neighborhood officials, and a doctor and a police officer would guide them to home quarantine. This large group consisted of volunteers who lived temporarily in nearby hotels, avoiding their own homes due to the risk of spreading the virus. (7)
Foreign nationals were considered in advance, and offered necessary assistance from the communities where they lived to solve their difficulties after entering the city. (8) By early March China put major restrictions on inbound air travel and effectively closed off the borders. Those without a place of residence and a permanent job in Shanghai were not permitted to enter the city by road, except for medical reasons. (9) The Central Government temporarily suspended entry into the country of foreign passport holders even with valid visas or residence permits, which was an unprecedented but necessary step to prevent imported infections. (10) (11)
Residential areas in most Chinese cities are comprised of communities that are largely self-contained, similar in some ways to gated communities in the West, making isolation and quarantine certainly easier and more effective than in the sprawling suburbs of North America. In my community in Shanghai as an example, the road leading to the community was blocked, meaning no one left and no one entered. Special permits were available for some kinds of official travel or medical needs, but in practice these were few. All businesses in the community were temporarily shuttered as were schools and gathering places. Everyone mostly remained in their homes and, when brief excursions were necessary, masks were always worn and proximity to other persons avoided.
But there was much more leadership and planning that were not visible. Immediately upon executing the community quarantine, local officials contracted with a major food supplier to continue provisions. An online mobile phone APP was designed overnight, which was used to place orders for all foods, fresh vegetables and meat. Every two or three days a delivery truck would clear the barriers and enter the community, the drivers prohibited from human contact. Each order was bagged and sealed separately and set out at the community center office where residents could collect them and pay online after delivery. A similar system was arranged for the regular supply of medications. Courier deliveries were deposited at the road barrier where residents could come one by one to collect their packages. Nothing was overlooked, and dutiful participation was more or less total. It was seen as a civic duty for community residents to remain at home, protect each other, and prevent any spreading of the virus. The local security guards proved extremely helpful. They were well-informed on all procedures, competent to take temperatures and able to make decisions. We had not a single infection.
With most residents remaining secluded in their homes, online ordering and delivery demands surged by a factor of perhaps ten, Shanghai’s supermarkets and e-commerce platforms working intensely to ensure adequate food supplies during the lockdown. (12) The surge in demand posed challenges because many food suppliers and logistics firms had already halted work during the Spring Festival, but China’s domestic supply chains are exceptional, far beyond that existing in any other nation. Each of the large suppliers quickly arranged distribution of between five and ten times their normal daily amounts, each bringing in hundreds of tonnes of food and organising community distributions. At the same time, many e-commerce platforms quickly arranged programs with manufacturers to source urgent medical supplies including masks, disinfectant and protective clothing. Most created special areas on their mobile phone APPs to enable residents to easily purchase all necessary items.
One reason the Chinese were able to deal with the epidemic while the UK and USA stumbled in the dark is that the Chinese think, with considerable justification, that they have been under biological attack, on and off since c.1950, and were therefore prepared with well-laid plans and competent organisers to respond to such an event. As soon as the central government learned the specific nature of the outbreak, it responded massively and to a very large extent the population understood the necessity of what was asked of them and cooperated.
Chinese President Xi Jinping said “The Coronavirus is a Demon, and we cannot let this demon hide.” (13) He said China was “faced with the grave situation of an accelerating spread” of the virus, that “The Chinese people are engaging in a serious battle against the outbreak of the new coronavirus pneumonia. People’s lives and health are always the first priority for the Chinese government, and the prevention and control of the epidemic is the most important task at present, so I have been directing and deploying the works myself.”
Mr. Xi gave this battle the highest priority, personally chairing a meeting of the Standing Committee where he listened to all the reports and decided immediately to set up a CPC Central Committee group to oversee the national effort, and also to send a high-level planning group to Hubei to direct the work on the ground. (14) Soon after the outbreak occurred and the pathogen identified, a Central Guiding Group appeared in Wuhan to oversee all COVID-19 efforts, to free the medical staff from administration and planning responsibilities and to ensure they were provided with all necessities. (15)
From this leadership, Wuhan’s available hospital beds increased from 5,000 to about 25,000 within ten days. It was from this that hundreds of medical teams and about 50,000 physicians were dispatched from all across China to Hubei Province. It was from this leadership that the lockdowns and quarantines emerged, and it was from this leadership that China’s fatalities were limited to little more than 4,000, most of those in Wuhan with the entire rest of the nation of 1.4 billion people being spared.
How did China do it? It wasn’t “China”. It was the Chinese people, their civilisation and culture. All of Chinese society was mobilised, not only the Central Government or the medical officials in Hubei, but all citizens, corporations, SOEs, foundations, instantly assessed their abilities to assist, and then acted. (16) Wuhan received timely full-scale support from the entire nation, not only to fight the battle but to recover from the effects of the war. It wasn’t only lockdowns and quarantines to cut off channels of escape for the virus. Hundreds of millions of Chinese sacrificed something of their normal lives to contain the spread of the virus, acting in unison and working together in a collective response. Westerners will never understand this.
The US media were busily trashing China for a “sluggish response” to the virus (while conveniently ignoring the three wasted months in their own country), but Americans understand only dimly (if at all) the Chinese ability for rapid execution which, to the chagrin of all Americans everywhere, is due primarily to two things – China’s political system and the socialism embedded in Chinese cultural DNA. While the English-speaking West is very much an “every man for himself” culture, the Chinese are a civilisation and act in unison as such, with the result that virtually everyone is onside in things of importance to the nation. Thus, in the absence of competing private and selfish interests, a nationwide plan can be conceived, examined, discussed, approved, and executed in a much shorter time than in a country like the US – and with full public cooperation and approval.
China’s political system is much more unified than in the West, making local governments accountable to the central government whereas in Western nations the local authorities are largely autonomous, making cooperation almost impossible. Thus, in times of emergency, bureaucratic blockage simply evaporates, and the country’s massive labor force makes speed of execution possible with no sacrifice in quality. And, with the general population widely sharing the nation’s objectives, courses of action which might be resisted in the West, are widely approved in China. Due to China’s excellent organisation, the central government has the ability to rapidly mobilise any resources it needs. Building a new hospital in ten days or a new high-speed railway in one or two years is a government-led mobilisation of Chinese society. Because China has only one political party and a complete absence of partisan infighting, the government acts as a unit with the population and, once a clear and resolute course of action is determined, virtually the entire Chinese civilisation is not only eager to participate but willing to sacrifice in order to do so, something very difficult for Westerners to imagine. Many workers interviewed on CGTN were proud to say they slept only two hours in three days on construction of the new hospitals. (17)
Martin Jacques said, “The capacity of China to deal with emergencies of this kind is far more developed and far more capable than could be achieved by any Western government. The Chinese system, the Chinese government, is superior to other governments in handling big challenges like this. And there are two reasons: First of all, the Chinese state is a very effective institution, able to think strategically and mobilise society. And the other reason is that the Chinese expect the government to take leadership on these kinds of questions and they will follow that leadership.” (18)
As the numbers of infections rose beyond the capacity of local hospitals, reaching 15,000 new patients per day at the peak, the planning group directed their attention first to the provision of additional hospital capacity, (19) so they planned, designed, and built two large new hospitals. These were not “flimsy bare-bones barracks” as described in the Western media; viewed from the interior, their appearance was identical to any fully-equipped modern hospitals. (20) (21) They were modular concrete units designed for rapid assembly, in a manner similar to setting shipping containers side by side, with full accommodation for A/C, heating, ventilation, negative pressure, abundant electricity, and more. Once assembled, these units function as a whole, and are a regular hospital with all the equipment and facilities one would normally see in any hospital. The first was built in ten days by 16,000 men, the shifts working 24 hours a day. The second hospital was larger, and completed in only 6 days. (22) To clear and level the site and lay the substructure, there were 240 pieces of construction equipment working on the same site at the same time – also 24 hours per day. The Chinese media posted time-lapse videos of the construction process, which were astonishing to watch. Such hospitals were built in several cities in Hubei Province.
Immediately upon completion of the first hospital, more than 3,000 doctors and nurses from about 300 hospitals around the country were sent to staff it. The group did much more than build hospitals. A total of 16 temporary hospitals were created by converting public venues, several existing hospitals were renovated to cater exclusively to COVID-19 patients, and more than 500 hotels, training centers and sanitaria were converted into quarantine sites. (23) One makeshift hospital in Wuhan was transformed from a sports center into a TCM treatment clinic, while many exhibition centers and gymnasiums were converted into temporary hospitals for those with mild symptoms but still requiring quarantine. (24) This Central Guiding Group played an irreplaceable role in Wuhan’s anti-virus battle.
What the world apparently fails to notice is that of China’s total deaths of 4,600, 4,500 of those (98%) were in Hubei Province. If China’s leaders had not immediately locked down the city of Wuhan and then quarantined the entire province, the death toll might well have been in the hundreds of thousands. According to a paper published in late March in the journal Science, (1) co-author Christopher Dye said, “Our analysis suggests that without the Wuhan travel ban and the national emergency response there would have been more than 700,000 confirmed COVID-19 cases outside of Wuhan by [February]. (25) China’s control measures appear to have worked by successfully breaking the chain of transmission.”
Most Asian countries followed China’s example, with similar results. The US refused to do so, permitting the virus to spread freely by avoiding lockdowns and quarantines and, at the time of writing appears headed for at least 100,000 (mostly) unnecessary deaths. The American way of dealing with the epidemic was to do nothing, and throw stones at China. (26) Canada was the same: Shanghai is only two hours from Wuhan and had no time to prepare or plan, yet it had only a few hundred infections and only 7 deaths. Canada, with a population similar to Shanghai, 10,000 kms from Wuhan and with months to prepare, had more infections and fatalities than all of China combined.
Of course, it wasn’t perfect. Let’s accept that a few local officials in Wuhan were reluctant to face the possibility of a major epidemic at such a crucial time and were hesitant to publicise the fact that deaths were already occurring. While that was indeed an embarrassment for China, it can be easily demonstrated that the net effect was zero because the medical detective work continued unabated and, as soon as the new pathogen was discovered, that information was made public to China and to the world. The reluctance of a few local officials to publicise a new illness caused no delay of any kind either in China or internationally, because until that point there was no information to communicate other than the fact that a few dozen people had become ill with an unusual respiratory infection. All the accusations toward China of causing the US to lose two or three months of preparation time were merely juvenile political smoke, because the Chinese authorities communicated everything they knew as soon as they knew it.
For the West, this brief hesitation was a great positive because it provided unlimited (and apparently interminable) opportunities for gleeful China-bashing, political opportunism at its finest. By contrast, the displeasure inside China was real, for both the public and the central government – who immediately fired or replaced those same local officials. As a country, China faces its mistakes openly with the public and takes immediate action. Compare this to the discovery in the US of the CIA operating the largest network of torture prisons in the history of the world. What happened? Much media whining, a fraudulent Congressional hearing, most information classified and suppressed, and the entire matter swept under the rug, removed from the media radar, and quickly forgotten. The torture prisons are still open today and only one minor person paid a trivial penalty. All involved still retained their positions, and nothing changed.
To a foreigner watching from the inside, the Chinese government and the Chinese people were courageous as they took on this formidable task. From the very beginning they put people’s lives and health first. The Central Government mobilised the entire nation, organised massive control and treatment mechanisms, and acted with openness and transparency, with most of the population making significant sacrifices without complaint.
National cohesion and coordination were admirable. All of the 50,000 front-line medical staff and many others who went to Wuhan were volunteers, 90% of them Party members who had sworn to “bear the people’s burden first and enjoy their pleasures last”. To a Western ear, that sounds suspiciously like idle propaganda, but many of these front-line staff died in that battle. It wasn’t propaganda to them. Zhang Wenhong, a prominent Party member and Director of the Department of Infectious Diseases at Shanghai’s Huashan Hospital, said, “When we joined the Party, we vowed that we would always prioritise people’s interests and press forward in the face of difficulties. This is the moment we live up to the pledge. All CPC members must rush to the front line. I don’t care what you were actually thinking when you joined the party. Now it’s time to live up to what you promised. I don’t care if you personally agree or not: it’s non-negotiable.” (1) That may sound harshly authoritarian to a Westerner, but there was much compassion behind the words. Zhang said later, “The first-aid team put themselves in great danger. They are tired and need to rest. We shouldn’t take advantage of good people.” At that point, he replaced almost all the front-line medics with members from different sectors.
We Westerners cannot understand that China’s society and culture are much more compassionate than ours. The Chinese place a much higher value on the elderly than do we. In China (as in Italy), grandparents and the elderly live with the family, never tossed out into nursing homes to live and die more or less alone. When it was realised that the elderly primarily were threatened with premature and painful deaths, the Chinese put their entire economy on hold to save these people.
Dr Bruce Aylward, head of the WHO International Mission said, “In the face of a previously unknown disease, China has taken one of the most ancient approaches for infectious disease control and rolled out probably the most ambitious, and I would say, agile and aggressive disease containment effort in history. China took old-fashioned measures like the national approach to hand-washing, the mask-wearing, the social distancing, the universal temperature monitoring. But then very quickly, as it started to evolve, the response started to change . . . So they refined the strategy as they moved forward, and this is an important aspect as we look to how we might use this going forward. WHO has been here from the start of this crisis, an epidemic, working every single day with the government of China… WHO was here from the beginning and never left.” He said further, “What struck me most was that every Chinese had a strong sense of responsibility and dedication to contribute to the fight against the epidemic.” WHO Director-General Tan Desai commented, “China’s speed and scale of action is rare … This is the advantage of China’s system, and the relevant experience is worthy of other countries to learn from.”
The Global Times published an editorial titled: “China’s miracles are beyond biased Western understanding”, from which I will quote here:
“The rhetoric accusing China of hiding the truth has already become a cliché. These so-called experts in the US always presume that China is wrong or unreliable, and then try hard to prove the presupposed conclusion with ambiguous evidence and perverted logic. They are used to pinning their eyes on fictional stories about China, but few are willing to learn about what is really happening in the country. For a country which has let the epidemic spin out of control despite clear warnings sent by China, China’s anti-virus fight is indeed a miracle. But for China itself, the outcome appears absolutely normal and deserved in view of the government’s strong sense of responsibility for people’s lives, the governing system’s great ability of mobilization and the Chinese people’s firm willingness to support all containment measures. Nowhere could this work as it works in China and so applying any country’s models to China makes no sense. China has been working miracles over the past decades thanks to the tremendous efforts of both the government and the people. Since reform and opening-up, China has grown to become the world’s second largest economy rapidly and lifted hundreds of millions of people out of extreme poverty. (27)
The Lancet published an article stating that “China deserves gratitude, not criticism over its handling of the COVID-19 pandemic”. Lancet’s editor, Richard Horton, said Chinese researchers were providing crucial information but no one in the West was listening, and they failed to prepare. In January, The Lancet published five papers that “tell the story of what has unfolded in the Western world in the recent months. They showed a deadly virus had emerged that had no treatment and could be passed between people. We knew all of this in the last week of January but most Western countries and the United States of America wasted the whole of February and early March before they acted. That is the human tragedy of COVID-19. Thanks to the work of Chinese doctors and scientists working in international collaborations, all of this info was known in January but for reasons that are difficult to understand, the world did not pay attention. Thousands died unnecessarily as a result.” (28) Horton said further that the attacks on China made by [American] politicians were unwarranted. “I want to be on the record and thank my friends and colleagues who work in medicine and medical science in China for what they have done. As I have said, I think we owe them a great deal… they do not deserve criticism, they deserve our gratitude.” And there was more: On May 15, 2020, the Lancet published a scathing assessment of the Trump administration’s handling of the virus epidemic in which it urged all Americans to vote President Trump out of office [for his incompetence]. “Americans must put a president in the White House come January, 2021, who will understand that public health should not be guided by partisan politics. (29)
The main objective of China’s Government is the rejuvenation of China, in part demonstrably evidenced by the determined efforts made for the betterment and the well-being of its population, which is reflected in the credibility and high level of trust the Chinese people place in their government. These concepts don’t exist in the west. In the US, the “world’s model for everything”, a virus epidemic is seen through lenses of profiteering by large corporations, sick people not being humans in need of assistance but merely a new lucrative “market” – for those with money to pay. An American hospital is not a place for healing the sick but a kind of barnyard filled with cash cows to milk. This is one fundamental reason underlying America’s chaotic and hopeless approach to dealing with the epidemic. The Trump administration failed to help itself and refused to help even its friends, on the one hand ignoring the suffering and extreme difficulties in China and wasting its time scoring cheap political points on the world stage, happy with the loss of life and the economic damage China was suffering.
Socialism at its Finest
On April 4, China held a three-minute nationwide moment of reflection to honor those who died in the coronavirus outbreak, especially the medical staff now seen as “martyrs” who fell while fighting what has become a global pandemic. (30) Commemorations took place in all major cities, but were particularly poignant in Wuhan, and occurring on the traditional Qingming festival, when Chinese visit the graves of their ancestors. China’s State Council ordered that national flags be flown at half-staff around the country and at Chinese embassies and consulates abroad.
It was heartwarming that during the epidemic, privately-owned Chinese hotels in Wuhan voluntarily provided free rooms for medical staff needing rest. Xiao Yaxing, the private owner of a four-star hotel in the city, opened a discussion group on WeChat where he appealed to his peers from more than 40 hotels to offer rooms for doctors and nurses who were working day and night to save lives. He said that since nearly all transportation had ceased in the large city, it was difficult for the medical staff to get to hospitals from home and needed rest places and, as he said, “Many hotels in Wuhan are shut down for travelers, leaving a lot of empty rooms that we can offer for free.” (31) Yi Qingyan, a regional manager of Feizhu’s hotel business in Central China’s Hubei province, said when she heard about Xiao’s group, she asked hotel managers she knew to provide rooms for medical staff. (32)
In March, the Communist Party of China donated 5.3 billion RMB (US$750 million) to be used to “extend solicitude” to the frontline medics, those serving the worst-hit Hubei Province to be favored. (33) The money was delivered to the Ministry of Finance which was entrusted with distribution, with a stipulation that families of medical workers who died on the front line would be eligible recipients, and also that some grassroots-level officials, public security officers, community workers, volunteers and frontline journalists could have access to the funds. Further, nearly 80 million Communist Party of China members across the country donated more than 8 billion RMB for the coronavirus effort, and donations were still arriving at the time of writing. Wouldn’t it have been nice if the Republican or Democrat parties and party members had done that for New York?
Being a socially-oriented society, China also has charities but these are very different animals than those existing in the West, most especially those in North America. Chinese charities don’t spend 80% of collected funds on operating expenses and executive perquisites. In fact they normally don’t collect money at all, but instead real goods that are distributed to the beneficiaries. As one example, when Wuhan hospitals put out a call for help, the Hubei Charity Federation received more than 1 million masks and other medical supplies which were immediately distributed to the hospitals. (34) In this case, they also raised 30 million RMB in cash from the community and from citizens in other provinces, which money was immediately spent on the purchase of more supplies. Moreover, in China the public can supervise the distribution and usage of donated materials and, in the case of COVID-19, the provincial medical headquarters was available to unify the organisation and allocation of the materials to hospitals and medical treatment centers, as well as guaranteeing speedy transportation and delivery.
All of China, in many ways we would never expect, strove to express their gratitude to the medical workers whom they feel saved their nation from catastrophe. As one example, more than 500 tourist areas in China announced free admission for all medical workers during the remainder of 2020, as a way to express local citizens’ sincere gratitude to medical workers’ commitment during the outbreak. (35) Given that the virus epidemic severely damaged China’s internal tourism industry, at least for the short term, the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences conducted a poll asking citizens about their travel intentions for the remainder of 2020. According to their report, Wuhan was at the top of the list for Chinese travelers, all of whom said they wanted to contribute to the economic recovery of Wuhan and Hubei following the epidemic. (36)
From late January until April, the streets of Wuhan were deserted with the entire Province of Hubei not much better, but by late May the story was very different, with people around the country emptying supermarket shelves of everything Hubei had to offer – local delicacies, noodles, ducks, crayfish, fruits, manufactured goods of every kind – all with the intention of lifting Hubei’s economy to its former level. “Buying Hubei” became a nationwide campaign with participation from ordinary citizens, officials, celebrities and corporations. (37) Hundreds of companies began live-streaming online broadcasts of Hubei products and hundreds of millions of Chinese were spending money, “not for self-indulgence, but to extend a helping hand to their fellow countrymen in hardship. The result: Tens of millions of dollars were added to the local economy; tens of thousands of businesses and jobs were saved.”
In one instance, a popular live-streaming hostess sold 150,000 lipstick sets within five minutes. In another, two TV celebrities attracted 122 million viewers and sold more than 40 million RMB of Hubei products in a two-hour program. In another session, two celebrities drew 127 million viewers and sold 61 million RMB of Hubei goods, the province’s entire supply of popular duck snacks emptied within seconds. In another livestreaming instance, 6,000 tons of crayfish, worth 220 million yuan, disappeared within minutes, and one company manager said his daily production of 20,000 packages of crayfish snacks cleared out within seconds every day. He said, “The orders just exploded”, adding that he’d never seen anything like it. (38) Alibaba sold 20 million Kgs of Hubei agricultural products to date and reportedly procured 1 billion yuan worth of crayfish and 50 million yuan worth of local oranges to sell on its platforms. (39) JD.com sold 1,400 tonnes in the first week of April alone and vowed to sell 6 billion yuan worth of Hubei products. Boosting consumption became a primary cure to resurrect the virus-hit economy in Hubei.
Many Chinese citizens said they hadn’t any medical skills to help Wuhan during the epidemic, but they could at least show their support by placing orders. That sentiment resonated so broadly across China that millions promised to “gain three jin (1.5 Kg.) of weight” for Hubei. (40) One online hostess said, “Many have described our cooperation as a show of our moral principles and sense of duty. But that is over the top. I am just doing what I’m good at to help Wuhan, to help local companies open the market with livestreaming promotion and to help them resume work quickly.”
A local Party Chief in Hubei said, “I was completely moved and warmed by the active response from consumers all over the country in placing orders for Hubei products to support us, which fully reflects our valued Chinese tradition: When one falls into difficulty, all other parties come to help.” Unfortunately, no other country could replicate this economic model since they haven’t the infrastructure or the market for something of this magnitude, and few nations have the sense of civilisation and the deep social and cultural cohesion which is the enabling force.
As well, many of China’s state-owned enterprises (SOEs) mobilised to combat the epidemic, from emergency communications installations to providing funds to the hardest-hit areas. (41) These massive Chinese corporations are exemplary in their sense of social responsibility, some constructing low-cost housing apartment communities which they sell at cost or below, many building and supporting local schools and universities, and some providing cash to help eliminate the last traces of poverty in the country. In 2020, these firms are providing more than 3 billion RMB (about $500 million) to the poorest places and many have donated massive medical supplies and funds to these same areas. (42)
When China experiences a serious public health or similar emergency, the framework exists for immediate supply for all necessities that include personnel, goods and materials, transport vehicles, to be delivered to the site. The Ministry of Transport arranged an absolute prioritisation of the transport of emergency supplies and medical staff to Wuhan, while national medical authorities coordinated the efforts of all medical supply manufacturers to identify and increase the supply of the most urgent and necessary items. (43) When Wuhan appealed to the central government for assistance and supplies, hundreds of tonnes of medical supplies were delivered each week, as were tens of thousands of additional medical staff during the crisis. (44)
Well before the end of January, extensive planning had been done to greatly increase the number of hospital beds for patients with either mild or severe symptoms and for those requiring quarantine and intensive care. The local medical authorities requisitioned and transformed 24 local hospitals into COVID-19 units. Seven hospitals were designated exclusively for COVID-19 patients with fevers higher than 37°C. The National Health Commission said, “Wuhan is actually a city with rich medical resources, having many public hospitals each with more than 3,000 beds. When we requisitioned those hospitals, they complied unconditionally.” (45) Also, the Chinese government requisitioned exhibition centers and stadiums and quickly turned them into temporary hospitals for COVID-19 patients with light symptoms, quarantining them separately from patients in more severe condition. At the same time, the planning and oversight group prepared and released a medical guide to help physicians quickly diagnose conditions and design treatments, this designed specifically to contain the virus locally and prevent spreading to other parts of China or overseas. (46)
At the same time, the Ministry of Commerce was occupied in coordinating the production and supply of all other daily necessities for the residents of Wuhan and Hubei. Many food items like eggs, fish, beef and pork, were released from national reserves and arrangements were made for the increased production and distribution of fresh vegetables specifically for Wuhan, along with oversight to ensure prices remained stable or dropping rather than increasing. (47) Profiteering was virtually absent in China, with the notable exception of a few foreign firms. The MOC also ensured top priority for all vehicles carrying supplies to Wuhan, and all supply firms including even restaurants were encouraged to provide home delivery to help maintain the quarantine with a minimum of inconvenience.
The latter part of January was the most difficult time for the hospitals and medical staff in Wuhan, receiving some 15,000 new fever patients per day, with all resources stretched to the limit and overworked medical staff struggling to save patients’ lives when the mortality rate was initially around 10%, truly a dark moment. “It was only when the entire country mobilised all possible medical resources to aid Wuhan that the grim situation was turned and the mortality rate began to drop.” (48) But, unlike most other nations, China “has unique institutional advantages when it comes to social mobilization”. One of these advantages enabled the national health authorities to organise, collect, and send altogether nearly 50,000 medical staff from all over the country to Wuhan, while other medical officials oversaw the organisational tasks of converting public hospitals into designated COVID-19 units to greatly expand the availability of necessary hospital beds. (49)
The pressure for urgent treatment was such that it was only on February 15 that the world’s first autopsy on a COVID-19 patient was conducted, six weeks after the pathogen was first identified. It was then that the doctors discovered that the virus attacked not only the lungs, but also other organs such as the heart and kidneys as well as the circulatory system, thus altering the treatment methods but also inflicting even more pressure on the overworked medical staff. Still, it was then that Chinese physicians began the use of blood plasma from recovered patients as well as the nearly universal application of Traditional Chinese Medicine. It was these discoveries and treatments that almost instantly halved the mortality rate, especially from the more severe infections, and speeded up the recovery time. The Western media completely ignored this aspect, but it was widely proven that TCM was perhaps the primary factor in reducing the mortality rate by boosting the patients’ immune systems.
By the end of March, the crisis in Wuhan was abating while the demand for medical supplies was increasing exponentially worldwide, with most relevant factories in China running 24 hours a day while simultaneously trying to maintain quality and source raw materials internationally. There was a great deal of organisation behind the scenes to coordinate the manufacture as well as to expand domestic and international transport channels which were greatly suffering due to the collapse of the airline transport industry and the resultant lack of cargo space. The logistical hurdles were enormous in all categories, and a great part of China’s commercial society leaped into the fray in a sincere effort to assist what was now a worldwide pandemic. Chinese auto manufacturers, idle due to the pandemic, retooled within a week and began manufacturing masks, hazmat suits and other supplies by the billions. The international demand was such that more than 12,000 companies in China began producing masks and ventilators, bringing the total to well over 50,000 such firms with about one-third of them being certified exporters. (50)
Thanks to their media who were too busy bashing China to understand the events unfolding, Westerners hadn’t a clue about either the overwhelming demand for medical supplies nor the urgency of those demands. One company alone, Beijing Aeonmed, which makes ventilators, were kept running 24\7 but were overwhelmed by tens of thousands of simultaneous overseas orders from nearly 50 countries. (51) And they weren’t alone, which accounts for the large number of other manufacturers retooling in an attempt to assist other nations then living Wuhan’s experience, in many cases, such as the US, with little or no central government support.
The situation was so dire that many countries, notably Italy, and many cities, notably New York, were so lacking in supplies they were openly stating their medical staff were every day being forced to decide who would live and who would die. It was in this context that Chinese firms, entirely on their own initiative, absorbed the expense of retooling, of arranging specially-chartered aircraft and trains to bring back their staff, of sourcing raw materials, then diving head-first into a new industry to help combat a worldwide pandemic the extent and mortality of which were still largely unknown. And it was in this context that the US media spent all their time denigrating “China” for “sluggish and insufficient” effort, for the usual “lack of transparency”, and blowing out of all proportion the few complaints of unsatisfactory quality. In this context where auto manufacturers and packagers of canned salmon are suddenly manufacturing surgical masks and hazmat suits, we can be genuinely astonished the quality was as good as it was.
While China was still not out of the woods, the Chinese government was doing its best to donate supplies to needy countries all around the world, but local demand was still high and commercial export demand was rising exponentially, far more than China’s combined potential supply. As an example, on one weekend alone, France ordered one billion masks which required 56 cargo flights to transport them, to say nothing of the manufacturing logistics. Part of the problem was that the majority of air cargo is carried in scheduled flights on passenger planes but, with the collapse of the airline industry, there were no passenger planes. In order to accommodate the dire international need, China Eastern Airlines stripped overnight all the seats from their passenger aircraft and loaded them with N95 masks for France – as they did for other nations.
This kind of adjustment to circumstances, to my best knowledge, occurs in no other country on earth. The Chinese, being faced with apparently impossible demands, simply rise to the challenge, find a solution, and immediately execute it. “Just like the response to the epidemic itself, China is really making a nationwide effort to ensure medical supplies to support in the global battle against the coronavirus pandemic.” SF Express, one of China’s prominent express firms, opened new routes including to New York, and delivered nearly 1,000 tonnes of medical supplies to more than 50 countries, with many other Chinese airlines and express firms doing about the same. (52)
There was yet more to the leadership, planning and organising that were not apparent to anyone in the West. The Chinese government, while dealing with all other domestic and international pressures from the pandemic, also remembered its students who were studying abroad and distributed over 11 million face masks and 500,000 health kits with disinfection supplies and health protection manuals, to Chinese students studying abroad. (53) These shipments bypassed the local governments, being delivered to the Chinese embassies and consulates for distribution directly to the students.
It wasn’t only medical supplies but also medical staff transfers that were arranged by China’s central government, to help the country deal with the epidemic. One of the government’s first acts was to select about 500 of the top experts from the military’s medical universities, those with prior experience with SARS and MERS, and with Ebola, and send them to Wuhan to help lead the battle. There were many other such teams, composed of experts in respiratory health, infectious diseases, hospital infection control and the establishing and managing of intensive care units, who were dispatched to the Wuhan hospitals with large numbers of virus-related pneumonia patients. Zhou Xianzhi, President of Air Force Medical University, said “We sent our best staff in various clinical departments. They have rich experience in battling contagious diseases. Some of them took part in major missions such as the battle against SARS and the fight against Ebola in Africa, as well as earthquake rescues.” These were volunteers who canceled their plan to spend the Chinese Lunar New Year with their families, most saying they felt “extremely honored” to join this national mission. (54) As well, immediately upon the discovery of the effectiveness of TCM’s ability to moderate serious infections, a team of 122 TCM specialists was sent to Wuhan from Shanghai with treatment plans already prepared for the combined application of Western and Chinese medicines. (55)
“As China mounted a nationwide effort to produce desperately needed medical supplies, concerns over the quality of some Chinese-made equipment have been raised, and some foreign media outlets and politicians have even attempted to hype up recent incidents to smear China’s manufacturing sector and its intention to help other countries.” (56) The Financial Times cited examples of the Netherlands, Spain and Turkey “rejecting” Chinese-made face masks and testing kits, others going so far as to claim Chinese masks could make people sick and even kill them.
There were a few instances of unsuitable products having been sold but, on examination of the eventual details, it appears the media reports were consciously hyped and much overblown, in every case blaming “China” for the products of one manufacturer and the actions a few incompetent or unscrupulous agents, most of whom were not Chinese. The overall quality environment was actually much too complicated to permit understanding within the scope of brief media sound bytes. While there were risks of quality issues in manufacturing, the use of improper procurement channels and fluctuating foreign regulations and standards were responsible for much of the trouble. A further issue was that in two or three prominent cases the purchasers had no experience in applying delicate medical tests or even in the storage and handling of such. To compound the problem even further, the virus proved to lend itself more readily to testing at later stages of progression.
China’s Global Times did a creditable job of investigating the entire medical supply process, interviewing manufacturers and distributors, industry insiders and end users, and concluded that the vast majority of Chinese-made medical equipment was well up to standard, with most of the noise resulting primarily from the US heavily politicising China’s role in the supply process and secondly from much deliberate misinformation on the part of the American media.
In one publicised case, Dutch authorities ordered a recall of 600,000 face masks (57) for lack of ability to filter out a full 95% of airborne particles. An executive at the Chinese manufacturer stated that the world experienced such a shortage of appropriate meltblown fabric that it had become increasingly difficult to exceed 70% (instead of 95%), almost all of this fabric being imported from Switzerland and Turkey. The fault, such as it was, was not due to low-quality manufacturing in China but to degraded production ability of companies in Switzerland and Turkey who provided the raw materials. Nevertheless, “China” took the full blame on the chin. The mask quality issue became even more preposterous since the Netherlands and Belgium had already made clear that those China-made masks obtained by local agents were “commercial products made for non-medical use”, in other words sanding or paint-spraying masks and such. (58)
Having said that, it is true Chinese authorities discovered some companies engaged in the illegal production and sale of masks and other medical products and, though they did respond with an immediate and aggressive crack-down, some of that product did indeed reach foreign markets. The government conducted more than a dozen sweeps throughout the nation and heavily publicised the product confiscations and fines issued to deter such practices.
But the issues were much wider-ranging than this. China’s national government established lists of companies qualified to manufacture various medical supplies for use against the coronavirus, and strongly recommended purchases be made from only those firms and only through officially-recommended channels. However, from the urgency of need and occasional panic, many agents, buyers, and foreign end users ignored the Chinese government with predictable results in quality standards. As well, the EU generally was so eager for supplies they waived formal requirements and permitted the importation of products prior to those gaining regulatory approval. As the Global Times noted in their report, the Dutch officials in the above example “refused to disclose the source or channel” of the masks they later deemed unsuitable, many such purchases having been made through channels unauthorised and unverified by the Chinese government. But “China” still took the blame.
The Global Times reported, “Though local medical authorities and Chinese embassies have explained the misunderstanding and misuse of the test kits, media coverage of life-saving Chinese products has turned a blind eye to these clarifications, revealing some countries’ unfriendly motives. I think the quality issue reported by some media has been politicized. They can’t prove the reported testing kits have quality issues, because the use and transport [of the kits] may influence their stability and sensitivity,” an employee at test kit provider Beijing Beier Bioengineering told the Global Times. Medical workers unfamiliar with the products may have some difficulties, which could affect the accuracy of their results. The Beier employee added that Chinese medical staff also had issues when using the test kits in the early stages of the outbreak and any confusion was resolved after technical training.” (59)
There were also instances of testing kits facing claims of insensitivity or inaccuracy. Spain withdrew about 8,000 such tests, and the Western media created much noise about claims from the Czech Republic of inaccurate or insensitive tests. However, in the Czech case, their officials simply had no understanding of proper methods of application. The manufacturer finally prepared instruction videos illustrating and explaining the precise methods of administering the tests, after which the results were perfectly acceptable. This occurred more than once, and even test kits manufactured by companies not yet on the approved list had the same successful result when proper methods were employed. It occurred surprisingly often in Western countries that the medical staff eventually admitted they had never administered such tests and had no clear idea of proper procedure, and in many cases simply did not follow the instructions.
A major part of the overall quality problem was that foreign companies and governments were too eager to fill their large and increasing demand for supplies and, rather than wait in a queue at a recognised factory, would hire their own private agents in attempts to short-circuit the process, agents who, to satisfy their anxious customers, would often resort to unapproved manufacturers in the hope their actions would not later be discovered. The result was that “China” took this blame on the chin as well, with the great assistance of the politicised Western media.
As one illustrative example of the media presentation of issues with medical supplies, a UK Telegraph article said “Government seeks refund for millions of coronavirus antibody tests”, (60) stating they were “too unreliable to be used by the public.” According to the Telegraph, the UK government ordered 3.5 million such tests “mainly from Chinese manufacturers”, then noting that an additional 17.5 million had been purchased from firms in the US and UK, with none being found sufficiently reliable. But by that time, China’s 10% of the purchases had taken the media hit for the entire lot. But once the media smoke cleared and “China” had sufficiently been tarred and denigrated yet again, the UK government health officials admitted that the tests developed in China were created and designed primarily for use with patients “with a very large viral load”, in other words those more severely infected, and not intended for patients suffering only mild symptoms from minor infections. The difficulty with the UK tests was not a quality problem from “China” but UK physicians hoping for tests with a wider detection range. This was a bit like purchasing a “vehicle” then being disappointed it was unable to function as both sports car and dump truck, hardly the fault of the manufacturer. And finally, in the article’s penultimate paragraph, the Telegraph remembered to report that the UK government was not actually demanding refunds but was negotiating with the manufacturers to increase the sensitivity of the tests. In the end, much ado about nothing.
Fox News joined the parade by yelling “CHINA CASHES IN OFF CORONAVIRUS, SELLING SPAIN $467 MILLION IN SUPPLIES, SOME OF THEM SUBSTANDARD”. Spain purchased 950 ventilators, 5.5 million test kits, 11 million gloves and 500 million masks. The ‘substandard’ part was 9,000 quick-test kits (out of 5.5 million) that lacked the sensitivity Spain wanted. (61)
White House trade advisor Peter Navarro accused China of shipping “low-quality and even counterfeit” antibody testing kits to the US and of “profiteering” from the outbreak. (62) The Chinese Foreign Ministry responded that Navarro’s remarks were “groundless and extremely irresponsible,” stating that China had exported tens of millions of COVID-19 tests, which had won wide acclaim from the international community, and the country had not received any feedback from the US purchasers and users on quality problems. (63) (64)
By the end of April of 2020, Chinese firms had exported tens of millions of testing kits in addition to billions of masks and thousands of tonnes of other supplies to nearly 200 countries, all of which were widely praised by the international community. Barbara Woodward, British ambassador to China, expressed her deep appreciation and satisfaction with the products and speed of response, and many other nations were effuse in their gratitude for both commercial shipments and donations from China. (65) Chinese firms shipped enormous volumes of all nature of medical supplies to the US with not a word of complaint from US purchasers or users regarding the quality of test kits and other products. But also not a single word of praise or appreciation from the Americans. Instead, the US hospitals were silent while the US government and the media were replete with non-stop smears for months.
In all the confusion, the US media failed to notice that the US itself led the world competition for defective medical products. As of the middle of February, 2020, AFP was reporting that even small countries like South Korea had performed hundreds of thousands of tests while the US was below about 8,000, the reason being that all the tests produced by the CDC and American companies were flawed and useless. (66) (67) (68) The kits would produce opposite results on the same patient at the same time, or clearly miss serious infections while declaring infections in clean patients. The CDC eventually had to instruct all hospitals and clinics to discard the tests as unusable. (69) Again, in early to mid-April, the US media were reporting the CDC was still unable to produce usable tests, this time because the test kits themselves were contaminated with the coronavirus for which they were to be testing. This was attributed to “a glaring scientific breakdown” at the CDC’s central lab. (70) (71)
To make matters worse, the CDC shipped those faulty tests not only across the country but sold them to 34 countries around the world, and no evidence emerged anywhere to suggest the CDC informed those other nations of the uselessness of their tests. To my knowledge, the UK was the only nation to discover this – at their own expense. (72) To say that the exported CDC tests were unusable would be quite an understatement. President John Magufuli of Tanzania complained that various fruits, a goat and a quail tested positive for coronavirus using the American tests. (73)
It appears the US ‘national stockpile’ was not an improvement on the CDC. (74) In early April, the media were reporting that many states received medical masks that were rotten, with an expiry date in 2010, and that 150 ventilators (at $30,000 each) sent to Los Angeles were broken, defective, and missing parts. (75) (76) (77) But, no problem. ABC News and other US media including US military channels ran dozens of articles titled, “Have a clean T-shirt? That’s all you need to make this mask.” (78)
And in late April, the UK Telegraph was reporting that the UK NHS staff “had been given flawed coronavirus tests” but, kindly, no mention that the US CDC had supplied them. (79) And even the criticism was muted: the tests were described as “less reliable than first thought because of ‘degraded’ performance”, and that they produced “discordant results”, and “have been found to be flawed and should no longer be relied on”. (80) Health Minister Helen Whately admitted “Some of the early tests were evaluated and the evaluation was that they weren’t effective enough” saying that all patients would be called in for a second test, and that this was a “normal process” when testing for a new illness. (81) No slander, no vitriol, no condemnation. Instead, the Brits and their media were quick to note that all tests have a margin of error accuracy which depends on the skill with which they are administered – among other factors. If only they had been so kind and understanding to China.
Shanghai Dasheng is one of the world’s largest manufacturers (and the world gold standard) of N95 face masks and one of the few certified to make US NIOSH-approved N95s. The company deals directly with medical purchasers only, and states on its website: “We do not have any distributors, dealers or branch factories. Beware of counterfeits.” But some masks (that were clearly fake since they were models the company did not export) bearing this company’s name appeared in the US, apparently purchased through unknown third parties. (82) This was interesting. When someone illegally copies an American product, the culprits (usually purported to be Chinese) are roundly condemned for violating a chastely innocent American company and at least six of the Ten Commandments. But then this is China and things are apparently different here. In the above news report, the American Press wrote: “AP could not independently verify if [Dasheng] are making their own counterfeits”. Charming.
Let’s Look at Death Rates
At the end of the epidemic, China reported 4,645 coronavirus deaths while the US total of 90,000 fatalities was still climbing rapidly. The death rates per 100,000 of population were 26.0 for the US and 0.33 for China. We can legitimately ask why China’s numbers appear so much lower than those of the US and of much of Europe, but we don’t need to follow US President Trump’s approach to repeatedly ask on national television, “Does anybody really believe these figures?”, (83) insinuating that China deliberately underreported its fatalities.
There are many reasons for China’s relatively low infection and death rates. First, if two countries have the same death toll, the death per 100,000 people for the country with a larger population will be lower; China’s population is nearly four times that of the US. Secondly, due to the immediate lockdown of Wuhan and Hubei, almost all of China’s fatalities were restricted to that one area: of China’s 4,645 deaths, 4512 (97%) were in Hubei with the entire remainder of the country having little more than 100 deaths. The statistical result was that Wuhan’s rate was 35.2, Hubei’s 7.6, and China’s 0.33, comparable to 26 for the US. Further, all provinces and major cities executed their own version of lockdown and quarantine, literally preventing the virus from entering even if it should escape Hubei. China’s measures broke the transmission chain and contained the contagion within Hubei Province. The tough measures in Wuhan bought the rest of China time to prepare and execute their own restrictions, and China bought the rest of the world at least two and probably three months in which to prepare for the epidemic. Looking at the statistics below, you can see which countries followed China’s example and which did not.
Still on the above scale for the US, New York was at 140.0, New Jersey at 107.0, Connecticut at 85 and Massachusetts at 75, while some states were near zero. (84) Comparably within China, and due to the aggressive quarantines, Shanghai was at 0.02 and Beijing similar. Turning to Europe (on the same scale of death rate per 100,000), Belgium was hit very hard with 76, with Spain, Italy, the UK, France, Sweden and the Netherlands ranging down from around 60.0 to about 35.0. (85)
The TV presentation made by Mr. Trump and Dr. Brix selected a metric that placed the US well down on the fatality list and displayed a carefully-selected list of countries that appeared to place China on Mars. A lie of omission is still a lie, but this disparity requires context for understanding, so let’s look at Asia.
First, here is the original list presented by Trump and Brix, updated to the date of writing:
COVID-USA Mortality per 100,000 population
Belgium – 76.2
Spain – 59.7
UK – 51.2
Italy – 49.9
France – 42.3
Sweden – 37.7
Netherlands – 32.7
USA – 27.8
Switzerland – 21.9
Canada – 16.1
China – 0.33
Now, let’s look at Asia:
Philippines – 0.83
Japan – 0.61
South Korea – 0.52
Indonesia – 0.44
Australia – 0.40
Malaysia – 0.40
Singapore – 0.38
China – 0.33
Hong Kong – 0.06
Taiwan – 0.03
Macao – 0.00
India – 0.23
Bangladesh – 0.21
Thailand – 0.08
Myanmar – 0.01
Vietnam – 0.00
It should be clear from this that there is nothing unusual in China’s numbers, and thus it would seem if China were lying as Mr. Trump suggested, that would mean all of Asia was lying. In fact, there was no evidence of any sort to suggest countries were deliberately understating infections or fatalities – except for the US itself.
When COVID-19 first erupted in China, several countries immediately came to China’s aid with scarce and badly-needed medical supplies. South Korea was one example, and in return, as the situation worsened in South Korea, the Chinese government sent large amounts of medical supplies and more than 20 local governments in China donated masks, protective clothing, goggles, test kits, thermometers and other materials. The situation was similar with Pakistan, who sent aircraft loaded with medical supplies, the Chinese government later returning the favor with large volumes of supplies and assistance in building a quarantine hospital. (86) Many provinces and cities in China independently donated masks to Islamabad and Karachi.
China was sending supplies and assistance to other countries long before it fully recovered from its own difficulties. President Xi Jinping stressed on multiple occasions that public health security was a common challenge faced by humanity, and all countries should join hands to tackle it. China saw itself as perhaps the only country in the world able to help smaller nations in various states of medical emergency. European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen expressed her gratitude in a videotaped speech broadcast throughout Europe, and Chinese citizens abroad had sound reason to be proud of their nation. Zhang Yujie, a Chinese student in France, said, “The rescue efforts of our motherland make me want to cry”. (87)
As soon as circumstances at home permitted, China began shipping its medical supplies all over the world. This was not so easy as might appear, since much global air cargo is carried on scheduled passenger flights but, since the airline industry collapsed due to the virus, these flights all but disappeared. (88) China Southern Airlines, the country’s largest air carrier, quickly converted hundreds of passenger aircraft to freight usage and, by late April, was sending nearly 200 international cargo flights weekly to support the global fight against the coronavirus pandemic. (89)
China also shared hundreds of documents on the prevention and control of COVID-19 and its diagnosis and treatment, with groups in more than 100 countries, followed by multiple technical exchanges that included personal discussions and teleconferencing. (90) In a short space of time, China released seven different editions of a guideline on diagnosis and treatment of the disease and six editions of a prevention and control plan for the disease, both of which have been translated into dozens of languages.
China’s telecom giant Huawei donated countless millions of masks and other items to most countries where it has staff and does business. When the US cancelled all medical supply exports to Canada in April, the country’s supply shortage became desperate so Huawei quietly shipped millions of masks, plus goggles, gloves, and other protective equipment to Canada to help front-line medical workers to cope. (91) But Canada refused to publicly acknowledge the gifts. Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau merely told the media that Canada would be receiving a shipment of millions of masks from “unnamed countries and companies”, and the British Columbia government who were the prime beneficiary of the supplies were so mean-spirited as to tell the Canadian media, “The province has many supply sources . . . We don’t share details about our suppliers.” Others in Canada went so far as to accuse Huawei of “political generosity”, and Trudeau even made a point of saying that donations of medical supplies from foreign companies “will not change how the government views those companies going forward”. Touching.
China’s Fosun Group donated a large batch of medical supplies to Portugal, including 1 million face masks and 200,000 test kits, as did many other Chinese companies. The Fosun Foundation in Shanghai donated large batches of face masks hospitals in Italy, and coordinated with other companies and foundations in more than 10 shipments of medical supplies to countries that included Italy, Japan, Britain and France. (92) The Chinese automaker Geely donated large amounts of medical supplies to 14 countries including Sweden, Germany, Italy, Spain, Belarus and Britain. Chinese privately-owned firms and SOEs built and supplied complete COVID-19 testing labs, constructed or renovated hospitals in many countries. China’s BGI Group built two testing labs in Serbia – in 12 days, and donated all the core equipment and instruments. (93) China State Construction Engineering offered free renovation service for a hospital in Ethiopia, transforming regular wards into virus facilities. (94) (95)
Many Chinese foundations donated medical supplies to support smaller countries. The Jack Ma Foundation and the Alibaba Foundation donated 7.5 million face masks, 485,000 test kits and 100,000 sets of protective clothing, as well as ventilators and thermometers to 23 countries that included Azerbaijan, Bhutan, India, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan and Vietnam. (96) The Jack Ma Foundation also donated a large amount of medical supplies to 54 African countries. (97) China’s northwest Gansu Province, probably China’s poorest province, donated two consignments including tens of thousands of face masks and protective suits to Zimbabwe, added to large donations of medical supplies from other Chinese foundations. (98) Various entities in China, including corporations, social agencies and the Chinese government, donated many air shipments of supplies to Iran, including test kits and respirators, these being especially important since US economic sanctions prevented Iran from possessing the foreign currency to purchase medical supplies abroad. (99) China also sent several teams of medical experts to Iran, to help assess the situation and provide guidance and assistance.
Even small Chinese associations were active in their assistance. Chinese Community Groups in the UK raised money and collected medical supplies from more than 100 local Chinese communities and Chinese people in the UK, donating tens of thousands of medical gowns, surgical masks, and other items. The China Chamber of Commerce in the UK and the Bank of China donated 20 ventilators and nearly 2 million pieces of PPE to local English hospitals. (100) (101)
In March, when the virus was abating in China but increasing in Italy, China sent large teams of medical experts from many provinces and hospitals as well as China’s CDC on specially-chartered flights, with specialists in respiratory, intensive care, infectious disease, hospital infection control, traditional Chinese medicine and nursing. (102) Donated medical supplies included test kits, masks, protective clothing and ventilators. Chinese medical specialists shared China’s diagnosis and treatment plans with countries around the world, held video conferences with health experts from many countries and international organisations, and dispatched medical expert groups to Iran, Iraq, and Italy. (103) By early April, China had already sent more than 300 charter flights carrying medical professionals and emergency supplies to support global anti-epidemic efforts, the flights carrying more than 110 medical specialists, and nearly 5,000 tonnes of medical supplies to about 50 countries, as well as a special flight to Ghana carrying nearly 40 tonnes of medical supplies for Africa. (104) These supplies include ventilators, N95 face masks, protective clothing, gloves and other medical devices and protective equipment.
Altogether, the Chinese government and various states, local governments, corporations and foundations made many hundreds of chartered mercy flights. Several dozen countries after declaring a state of emergency, contacted China with urgent requests for medical supplies, testing equipment and protective gear, China responding in each case even when it was still under immense pressure to contain the epidemic at home and medical materials were still in short supply. These nations included the Philippines, (105) Greece, (106) (107) (108) Serbia, Iran, Kuwait and Cambodia, Japan, South Korea, Italy, (109) the Philippines, Serbia, France, Spain (110), Greece, Peru, Ethiopia, Cambodia, Bosnian Serb Republic, Iran, Spain, Britain, Hungary, Zimbabwe, Czech Republic. (111) The EU President and their European Commissioner for Crisis Management said, The EU and China have been working together since the beginning of the coronavirus outbreak. We are grateful for China’s support and we need each other’s support in times of need.” In many cases, smaller nations had no idea of the procurement process for medical supplies, and the Chinese national government lent assistance to assure proper purchase and timely delivery.
China also provided an enormous amount of assistance to the US, all of which also went unnoticed by the America press. Zhong Nanshan, China’s top respiratory scientist, held multiple video-link teaching sessions with intensive care specialists from Harvard’s Medical School, explaining the clinical manifestations and difficulties involved in treating severe and critical novel coronavirus patients. (112) As well, the nation’s leading Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) experts shared with US counterparts their diagnosis and treatment experience that proved effective in Wuhan. (113) The Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine said Chinese experts “spared no effort to share their experience”.
In response to a US government cry for assistance in March, China airlifted a massive amount of vital medical supplies from Shanghai to the US, including 12 million gloves, 130,000 N-95 masks, 1.7 million surgical masks, 50,000 gowns, 130,000 hand sanitizer units and 36,000 thermometers. (114) The assistance increased rapidly. In one week of April alone, there were 75 cargo flights from Shanghai, Beijing and Shenzhen to New York and Los Angeles, each carrying around 80 tonnes of supplies. By the middle of April, China had provided the US with more than 2.5 billion masks plus nearly 5,000 ventilators and many other needed items. While the US government and media were busy stigmatising China with unreasonable and unjustified accusations, Beijing was taking practical steps to help the US fight its epidemic. (115)
There were also a great many private donations made directly to US hospitals or states by various Chinese companies, foundations, provinces, and social groups. The Wanxiang Group, a Chinese multinational manufacturer in Hangzhou, donated 1.1 million face masks and 50,000 protective masks to 12 US states. (116) China’s Fujian Province, which was Oregon’s sister state, donated 50,000 medical face masks for distribution to frontline workers, in addition to 12,000 masks provided personally by Ambassador Wang Donghua, Consul General of the People’s Republic of China in San Francisco, as a gift to the people of Oregon. (117)
However, the treatment of China in the US Media was nothing short of reprehensible, the press and airwaves filled for months with a ceaseless flood of denigrating rubbish with the result that Pew polls showed that more than two-thirds of Americans held a negative or strongly negative view of China – which was unquestionably the intent of the media assault. Martin Jacques said in a live interview in Beijing that the American behavior was “Absolutely disgraceful.” He said, “Too many Western politicians and the Western media responded to what was a grave medical health crisis in China in a way that was completely lacking in compassion and simply used as a stick to beat China. And in doing so also explicitly or implicitly, they encouraged a certain kind of racism against the Chinese, not just the Chinese in China, but Chinese everywhere.” (118)
Some in the West, led by the US, heavily politicised China’s assistance to other nations, claiming China’s acts were done with murky motives and sinister geopolitical intent. The efforts of the Chinese government to help others were categorised as attempts to vie for global influence by vacuuming up America’s allies with bribes. And, since the global pandemic was “all China’s fault”, those donations were merely gestures of atonement camouflaged as charity, and thus should be taken “without appreciation or even acknowledgement” – which is what the US and Canada managed to do. “Unfortunately, even as COVID-19 accelerates inside our country, the Trump administration seems to view diplomacy as a bludgeon to score points against adversaries and alienate friends rather than an essential tool for helping to protect Americans,” wrote Brett McGurk, a senior diplomat. (119)
The Chinese people generally were not very sympathetic to the US, many comparing America’s confused and corrupted efforts with China’s leadership. One post that received hundreds of millions of views said, “It took China two months to defeat the coronavirus, while it took the coronavirus two months to defeat the US.” Another comment read, “US President Donald Trump said the number will go down to zero. Trump is right. The number will go down to zero when all people die.” (120) Similar topics equally drew 250 or 300 million views. One Weibo post received 150 million views almost immediately when suggesting President Trump responded only after 1 million citizens became infected.
Today’s urban Chinese are much less naive about international affairs, and were quite aware of the Zionist-American hate propaganda that was filling Western airwaves and sheets of print, and of the resulting racism and hatred being generated toward China and the Chinese people, many of them having been victims of abuse in the US. They were also aware of the vast efforts made by their own nation to not only protect the lives of Chinese citizens but of the truly enormous contributions their government, corporations and societies had made to helping other nations while the US helped no one and even denied vital supplies to other countries. (121)
From this, Chinese public sentiment toward the US was by no means as light-hearted or gentle as the comments above might suggest. The enormity of anti-China hate literature during the past decade was producing sentiments suggesting, “Send the supplies to Iran, Venezuela and Cuba, and let the Americans learn a lesson.” I had a long conversation with a senior Chinese executive who told me of operating his factory 24/7 and pushing his staff to work 12-hour days to produce vital medical supplies for the US while partially sacrificing his commitments to China. After being exposed to the outrageous denigration of China in the US media, he said he would never again take any action to assist Americans. His final comment to me: “After this, I wouldn’t cross the road to piss on the US if it were on fire.”
(121) The US government (primarily FEMA and/or the CIA, in conjunction with Israel’s Mossad) were widely accused by France, Germany, and other nations of repeatedly hijacking – on airport tarmacs – shipments of medical supplies destined for other countries. These actions were simultaneous with FEMA’s seizures of medical supplies from hospitals and importers all across the US, and there appeared to be substantial evidence much of these supplies were sent to Israel – while US hospitals were bleeding. There isn’t space to follow the story here, but you can follow this set of links below to research the subject.
(31) While American health workers beg for PPE, Trump just shipped a million masks to the Israeli army. https://t.co/2sVFLMteo9 — Ali Abunimah (@AliAbunimah) April 8, 2020