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China vs. the US: A Global Chronology of Covid-19

Published by marco on

Updated by marco on

The article Tomgram: Dilip Hiro, The Coronavirus Chronology From Hell by Dilip Hiro (Tomgram) provides an excellent and impartial review of the four months of history we have so far. In particular, he contrasts America’s inchoate response with the measured and ostensibly empathetic reaction of China. China reacted by increasing production capacity of PPE, masks, and ventilators.[1]

“By mid-March, the Chinese government and the Jack Ma Foundation, part of the giant corporate conglomerate Alibaba Group, had sent doctors and medical supplies to Belgium, Cambodia, France, Iran, Iraq, Italy, the Philippines, Serbia, Spain, and the United States. The foundation announced that it would ship “20,000 testing kits, 100,000 masks and 1,000 protective suits and face shields” to every country in Africa and added that Ethiopia’s Prime Minister, Abiy Ahmed, would “take the lead in managing the logistics and distribution of these supplies to other African countries.”

“Of the 89 countries that, by March 26th, had received emergency assistance from China to fight the pandemic, 28 were in Asia, 16 in Europe, 26 in Africa, nine in the Americas, and 10 in the South Pacific. Such medical supplies mainly included testing kits, masks, protective suits, thermometer guns, and ventilators. ”

This is easily verified and largely undisputed[2]. What is a bit harder to understand is the oft-repeated success story of South Korea, which seems to have stopped Covid-19 in its tracks, presumably by testing.

“By heeding the WHO’s battle cry of “test, test, test,” South Korea had managed to avoid the kinds of lockdowns implemented by China, many Western European countries, and some American cities.”

According to World-o-meters, Korea has tested over 600,000 people, but that’s only 1.2% of their population. This puts them far below the testing penetration of most of Europe. Many countries there are over 3% tested. Is it because South Korea guessed correctly that the disease was only in one part of their country? Or that they locked down international travel sooner? What was the exact secret? No-one seems to be going into specifics that result in plausible explanations. I’m not saying that there isn’t an explanation, just that “they got lucky” seems to be the best explanation so far.

That goes the same for the Sweden worship: I keep hearing that their measures are more “relaxed”, but I don’t know what that means. I’ve already done a small analysis in my article I’ve been talking to idiots, part II of whether Sweden actually is doing better than similarly sized countries (Spoiler alert: it doesn’t look like it), but what exactly is the difference?

For example, Spain and Italy were on a much stricter lockdown than here in Switzerland (a country no-one seems to be talking about). Germany was stricter than Switzerland. France was stricter than Switzerland.[3] I think the UK went pretty hardcore as well, although I have a good friend living in London who’s getting in a lot of biking these days, so they can at least go outside.

What does that mean? Spain didn’t let kids play outside for six weeks. I think Italy was the same. I’m not sure about France, but probably the same. Germany closed all playgrounds and children’s groups (Kitas).

Kids were never restricted in Switzerland. No-one was. For a little while, the cops would drive by once a day and try to scare the kids into groups of five, but they stopped that pretty quickly. No-one was restricted from going outside in Switzerland. There is no compulsory mask law. Anyone can go outside, even older people. People are asked to avoid stores if they’re older. People are asked to stay apart and avoid groups larger than five people (there’s a fine for that one, right now).

The restaurants closed here, but not the takeaways. I think I read somewhere that Sweden left their restaurants open (but with distance measures?).

Switzerland is doing better than most of these countries right now, having squashed the curve so well that, even with having opened some stores and services last Monday, they can actually accelerate their plans for opening. It’s typically Swiss: cautious and preferring to promise less and deliver more.[4]

Other than closing the restaurants, I don’t know if Switzerland locked down much harder than Sweden. I don’t know if it locked down more or less than South Korea. I know that Switzerland is looking at the light at the end of the tunnel and dipping a toe in the pool of starting up more services. Schools will open again in a little over a week. Full public transportation services will be restored by June 8th.

It won’t “go back to normal”; we’re all a lot more cautious now. But Switzerland protected its businesses and workers and people, preferring to bump its debt-to-GDP ratio and bridge its population over this first wave.

Fingers crossed.


[1] The masks available in Switzerland have all been manufactured in China.
[2] Except in the more virulent anti-China corners of the media landscape, where everything is black and white and the country that oppresses Hong Kong couldn’t possibly be the same country that has helped dozens of countries battle Covid-19. The store is similar with Cuba’s medical-assistance program, which suffers from the same character assassination, despite doing a lot of good.
[3] The U.S. seems to be all over the map with strictness, which means that they risk “leaking” people from non-strict areas to strict areas, completely wiping out the gains and sacrifice there. In fact, the U.S. has seemingly wasted the entire month of April by half-assing it: their cases per day are still the same as they were at the beginning of the month (25k-35k). Yesterday was 36k, one of the highest yet.
[4] Austria seems to have done even better than Switzerland and is on the same roadmap right now.