About three weeks ago the Chinese reported a few instances of community spread in Qingdao. Five days ago a story broke that there were now 13 individuals. The government said they would perform 9 million tests.
Today the results came back on 7 million tests. None of them were positive. It turns out that the 13 positive individuals were traced back to a hospital that quarantined people who had tested positive abroad. Ultimately there was “less to see” here than we originally thought since it is reasonable that now and then COVID-19 might leak out of the quarantine hospitals.
In February I was doing some “back-of-the-envelope” calculations and they suggested that a bad-case (but not worst-case) scenario was 250,000 deaths in the USA. We are probably already there in terms of excess deaths. I wasn’t pessimistic enough. It is not implausible that we’ll reach 500,000 deaths, though the combination of social distancing, monoclonal antibodies, and infections of those at lower risk first before herd immunity, and probably next year vaccination, will mean we’ll be in the 300,000-400,000 range of excess mortalities.
The situation in China is different. And surprisingly so. It seems that the 1.4 billion Chinese have successfully implemented the “contain and crush” strategy. They crushed the virus in Wuhan. But then they also crushed the virus when it resurged in Manchuria and a district of Beijing. All the powers of an authoritarian state were brought to bear, but it seems likely that the public has a high degree of compliance in China.
Of course, this elicits the standard skepticism of China’s numbers, which I initially shared. The reason I believe that the Chinese have contained COVID-19 is that the people in China themselves seem to think it is contained. You can watch how “normal” people behave in public. You can contact ex-pats who live in China. Life is back to where it was.
Then there are stories like this, China Box Office Poised to Surpass U.S. as World’s Largest Moviegoing Market Amid Pandemic. There is enough economic data to suggest that China is “back to normal” in terms of exports and imports. Yes, perhaps they are lying about their data as they were before, but it is as if they are in “before-times.”
Finally, is there a moral to this story? You can draw your own conclusions in terms of comparisons. I’m happy that the Chinese seem to have COVID-19 under control, but I’m worried about America’s comparative state and social capacity…