China Covid Update #1

An increasingly large percentage of new developments are coming from China and in particular from Shanghai. It seems sensible to post them on their own rather than waiting for Thursday.

When they locked down Shanghai by halves, it meant they did not have the resources to lock down Shanghai. Then they locked down Shanghai anyway, file under ‘how to quite possibly lose the mandate of heaven if you keep this up.’

Concretely, what is going on?

His speculation that the test are what is spreading Covid is interesting. This draconian level of restriction otherwise really should be enough to turn the tide within Shanghai while it is in place. Yet is seems even within Shanghai things continue to get steadily worse in terms of infections, while putting the citizens through hell.

If you think that all sounds bad, it’s worse. Quoting in full, seems important, remember this is the censored version. Not that it seems hard to tell what the real message is here.

Bloomberg’s account is that the government is doing a poor job of directly helping and delivery services are overwhelmed to the point of uselessness, but you can buy in bulk if you can make a deal with wholesalers and that still kind of works. Executives are spending their days arranging bread deliveries, but for them it can work. For those who don’t know how to work such systems, it is a lot harder.

Residents scream out of their windows after a week of not being allowed to leave their apartments for any reason. Cases continue rising.

Protests are being censored, never a good sign.

In the footage viewed and independently verified by Bloomberg News, dozens of residents behind the gates of the Jiangnan Xinyuan housing estate in Shanghai’s Minhang district chant phrases including “we want to eat,” “we want the right to know,” and “we want freedom.” People there have been confined to their homes since March 2 and residents have undergone more than 10 rounds of mass virus testing, according to official notices from the compound’s WeChat account. 

One could call those reasonable requests.

China claims that out of 130,000 cases in Shanghai, only one person is in serious condition. That is an odd combination of claims to make. Also highly impossible.

Meanwhile, every day somehow Shanghai, under strict lockdown, keeps being 95% of all known cases?

When the United States quite reasonably told its non-emergency workers that they could leave, citing these conditions, the Chinese expressed displeasure over this ‘groundless accusation.’

“China will uphold the Covid Zero strategy,” Liang said. “We still have the time window, including in Shanghai, as long as we persist.”

I thought China insisting on that was the accusation.

Also, it’s a lot more than Shanghai. This is from Friday.

This is from Monday.

Signs seen elsewhere.

Locking down a city, even a major city, is logistically possible. What China is trying to do now is beyond their powers. And a lot less than 95% of cases are in Shanghai.

So basically

And also this.

How does one look at this plan and think ‘that will work’?

Or look at this graph, which is a log scale?

A close up of the last two months is almost a pure straight line in log space.

You can see an attempt at a stopgap around mid-March, but it didn’t work.

The question is, what happens now. China can’t give up, and China can’t not give up, so what will finally end the charade? How much damage will get done before that happens, and then how much damage gets done after?

There is still some room for the ‘optimistic’ scenario where China turns out similar to what happened to India. Perhaps conditions in much of China are not that conducive to the spread of Covid, not even of Omicron. I am skeptical. The news from Taiwan and Hong Kong, the closest available parallels, is not good. The failure to contain things in Shanghai despite making an extraordinary effort is also very not good. I expected such an effort to work locally, while it was happening, better than this, if it was at this level of rigidity. That things are still failing is a very bad sign – I expected to find containment in the hardcore quarantined areas, but with the virus escaping to the rest of the country for that not to much matter in the end. Instead, China seems to be losing even (and especially?) in Shanghai.

I do not have a good political or social model of China, and how the Chinese people are likely to react to all this. Either way, starvation and imprisonment have a way of focusing the mind. China was the original home to the penalty for being late being death, and the penalty on this one keeps rising.

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10 Responses to China Covid Update #1

  1. Scary stuff. Seems like a prudent time to expedite the home grown mRNA vaccines that were approved for phase 1 trials last week and start importing Pfizer and Moderna vaccines aggressively. I found this NMPA regulation (https://www.cde.org.cn/zdyz/opinioninfopage?zdyzIdCODE=4832fe1bef75686610c58cc092e0f911&rddt=1) that would indicate that it’s possible but I haven’t seen any one bringing it up.

  2. Dave says:

    Nightmarish stuff.

    This increases my probability for the view that Western lockdowns did almost nothing to affect spread. If this level of restriction can’t bring cases down faster than this, how could curfews and closing bars possibly have the large effects many people think they did?

    I suppose it wasn’t omicron back then, but are the differences in transmissibility between variants really large enough to outweigh this level of measures?

  3. George H. says:

    Oh my, I find that last LOG graph (with 2 decades of data!) both beautiful and terrifying. I’ve always heard epidemics grow exponentially, but have rarely seen it displayed. (Why aren’t there more log graphs?) What’s the cost of locking down 25 million people? Excess deaths (per day) integrated over the length of the lock down? And how do you adjust for age at death? There needs to be some measure of age or remaining years of life. This virus is more deadly to old people, and as an old person… my life is worth less and that should be factored into the calculation of cost.
    Let’s hope China soon switches to some, ‘flatten the curve’ control the spread idea, and get resources to follow it.
    So covid goes through China, seems like it’s better than 50/50 there is some new variant that comes out it. And infects us again. (I feel like I’d like to catch a mild case of the latest strain. Get set up to take care of it, if I have a bad reaction. But get that immunity now, or soon.)

    • Basil Marte says:

      The (non-suicide) premature-death cost of locking down people is fairly small, and is dwarfed by most people simply suffering in such conditions, which are stricter that some standards of incarceration.

      Even if China were to pivot extremely hard, and even if Western governments were willing to sell all existing stocks (implausible), there would remain enough vaccine supply globally that it would be feasible in Western countries to give an Nth jab to anyone who asks — for any N anyone would bother asking for — assuming Western governments stopped giving out the jabs on a rationing basis that has become inappropriate once supply outpaced demand. Of course, for this to be relevant assumes that the existing vaccines would be at least worth bothering with against the future omicron-outcompeting variant, but extrapolating from the 2- and 3-dose regimes being effective against omicron (despite having been designed against the original Wuhan strain) and the Chinese not having ~any preexisting immunity (yet; they still could throw in a lightning vaccination campaign), probably this will be the case.

  4. gigachad says:

    This one goes out to all those Westerners still upset the we never tried ‘a real lockdown’…

  5. AnonCo says:

    I always read your updates and have been following your China info, but I must have missed the part where this was explicitly explained:

    Why do we expect their unstoppable wave to be so much worse than the US and Europe? Is it qualitatively worse? or just quantitatively?

    Everything in this and recent updates is about how terrible this is going to be, but do they not have high vaccination levels and high levels of Omicron?

    If they do, why is their wave going to be so terrible when the most recent US/Europe ones were mostly meh (compared to early days).

    If they don’t have high levels of vaccination and omicron, why not?

    Do we not expect them to have the same high-infection / low-hospitalization / lower-death type of wave that everyone else had with Omicron?

    • TheZvi says:

      China’s vaccine is not very effective against Omicron, so they’ll be taking Omicron on head-on without those benefits, and also without much benefit from previous infections. If original conditions were similar to those in America, you’d expect a faster, higher peak and higher death rates, and also for their hospital system to come under extreme strain or worse.

      Their draconian policies have held Omicron back so far, but unless they can sustain them at the top across the whole country, that won’t help much in the end. going 1->1.1->1.2->1.4 etc instead of 1->2->4 gets you to 4 slower but changes nothing once you’re there, if the trouble starts at 50.

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