21.03.2020 China

China reproaches West's 'laxity' in fight against coronavirus

By Jan van der Made - RFI
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Health specialists from China have warned Italians they are risking lives by not taking a government-imposed lockdown seriously, as Italy's coronavirus death toll surpassed China's. Chinese scientists also rejected the “herd immunity” approach proposed by Dutch and British authorities.

“Here in Milan, the area hardest hit by Covid-19, the lockdown measures are very lax,” said Chinese Red Cross vice president Sun Shuopeng, who visited the northern Italian city with a team of specialists flown in from China.

Italy, with 3,405 coronavirus deaths, is the country with the most casualties, overtaking China with 3,248 casualties. 

In spite of a draconian lockdown, Italy's numbers have continued to soar over the past week, reaching 41,035 cases yesterday, compared to China, where infections seem to have stabilised at 81,000.

Unlike China, Italy does not seem able to implement the strict lockdown.

“I can see public transport is still running, people are still moving around, having gatherings in hotels, and they are not wearing masks,” said Sun, warning that public resistance to the lockdown will prove deadly. 

“I don't know what people here are thinking. We really have to stop our usual economic activities and our usual human interactions. We have to stay at home and make every effort to save lives. It is worth putting every cost we have into saving lives,” he was quoted as saying.

China, which is ruled by an authoritarian communist dictatorship, is extremely well positioned to mobilise large numbers of people. 

Since the Communist takeover in 1949, “mass mobilisation” has been a trusted tool of the Chinese Communist Party in organising millions of people to work for a common goal. 

Before the 1978 capitalist revolution, Beijing's “mass mobilisation” resulted in disasters like the Great Leap Forward, and the Cultural Revolution.

But the principles – the central leadership issues a decree, which is then transmitted to the grassroots and implemented by local police, party cells and thousands of neighborhood committees – have remained the same ever since 1978, when Deng Xiaoping started his capitalist reforms.

In today's China, foreigners are often flabbergasted to see the short time it takes for the authorities to empty entire cities, as happens yearly during party celebrations. 

In 2003, all cities and most villages in China's countryside were locked down as a result of the Sars-1 epidemic. The policy is implemented swiftly and without much consideration or discussion, and, as recorded by human rights organisations, accompanied by ruthless censorship, police brutality and unnecessary suffering of many people. Critics of the Beijing regime claim dissidents and other “hostile elements” are also rounded up in the process.

Herd mentality
In spite of criticism of its draconian measures, China now prides itself on having successfully contained the coronavirus outbreak. As a result, there has been widespread shock about plans by some European countries to counter the epidemic by using so-called “herd immunity,” where large segments of the population are exposed to the virus to be cured by the natural autodefence system of individuals.

Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte, in his speech on 15 March, said that “the virus will be among us for a long time to come … a large part of the population will be infected.”

While the Netherlands' health authorities advised precautions such as washing hands, keeping a safe social distance and reporting to a medical service if showing symptoms, they did not impose a hard lockdown.

Protective wall
The more people who get infected, Rutte argues, the more people will achieve immunity, resulting in “a protective wall”.

The policy the Dutch government has chosen is one of “controlled spreading” of the disease, and only among those who are not in risk groups, such as the elderly or chronically ill. These groups will be completely isolated.

The alternative, proposed and implemented by China, and now in force in Italy and France, is “complete lockdown,” minimising contact between people.

Rutte rejected this saying it would “lock down the country for at least a year” without a guaranteed success.

Rutte was echoing the UK's chief scientific adviser, Sir Patrick Vallance, who told the local media that the British would aim to achieve “herd immunity”, claiming that once 60 percent of the population (40 million people) contract the coronavirus, the resulting pool of natural immunity will limit the impact of the infection.

The remarks caused a tsunami of anger and ridicule on Chinese social platforms. 

Social Darwinism
Critics said the UK and other proponents of the ''herd immuninty” theory were promoting nothing less than social Darwinism, or “the survival of the fittest”.

“This shows just how scientifically astute developed nations' approaches to virus prevention are,” reads one ironic response on Chinese social media. “Combatting the virus by employing the Darwinian model of natural selection highlights the unique appeal of modern science.”

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