Some Covid Links

by Don Boudreaux on April 29, 2022

in Current Affairs, Education, Other People's Money, Reality Is Not Optional, Risk and Safety, Seen and Unseen

Eyck Freymann, writing in the Wall Street Journal, explains that “Xi Jinping is betting it all on zero covid.” Two slices:

Given the rising cost of containing the Omicron variant, this is a risky macroeconomic bet. As of Monday, 45 cities with 373 million people, representing 40% of China’s gross domestic product, were under partial or full lockdown, according to Nomura estimates. More cities and counties are under “static management,” a euphemism for quasi-lockdown.

Yet Mr. Xi’s logic is primarily political, not economic. To abandon the policy would require the Communist Party to countermand an order that it has repeatedly and unequivocally given for more than two years. This not only would be an admission of failure, it would badly delegitimize Mr. Xi’s carefully constructed hero-cult. The Chinese people have become accustomed to life with zero Covid. If Mr. Xi lifts the policy now, he could be seen as personally responsible for every death that follows. To revise the policy would therefore be an unacceptable risk for Mr. Xi ahead of the Party Congress.

…..

The history of the Great Leap Forward illustrates the worst-case scenario of what can happen when a Chinese leader insists that a pest be eliminated at any price. In 1958, Mao launched the “eliminate sparrows campaign,” arguing that birds were stealing grain from farmers’ fields. For every million sparrows killed, Mao promised, there would be food for an additional 60,000 people. More than three million people were mobilized in Peking alone. Schoolchildren banged pots and pans day and night to keep the birds from sleeping. Middle-school girls were organized in rifle regiments and given shooting lessons. Ordinary people climbed trees and strangled chicks in their nests.

Within a year, China’s sparrow population had collapsed. The result was a swarm of locusts that attacked crops. The annual harvest had already been badly damaged by collectivization. Massive statistical errors from the overreporting of harvest data convinced central planners that China actually enjoyed a “super-abundance” of grain, when in fact production was contracting. Tens of millions of Chinese died in the resulting famine.

Also writing about Beijing’s “Lord of Lockdowns” is Wall Street Journal columnist James Freeman. A slice:

More than two years after the communist regime pioneered the practice of shutting down entire cities and sadly exported it to the world, the Chinese people are still subject to such measures at the whim of the government. Eugene Kontorovich and Anastasia Lin recently wrote for the Journal:

When Western nations were confronted with Covid-19, they seemed to believe the Communist Party’s unproven claims about the efficacy of lockdowns. In the end, every other country got some variant of the virus and some variant of China’s official response. The world has learned to live with the former, as politically accountable leaders found they couldn’t maintain draconian restrictions forever. The people of China will be forced to endure the latter indefinitely.

Also take a look at this report – headlined “China is not sneering at us any more: Blockading families in their homes, forcing children to wear hazmat suits, robot dogs patrolling the streets… the new Chinese Covid crackdown is brutal – as life in the despised West is back to normal” – in the Daily News. A slice:

Sometimes the scenes have bordered on the surreal.

One video posted on Monday showed young children arriving at school clad in all-encompassing white hazmat suits of their own. They lumbered through the school gate in unwieldy fashion, like tiny Michelin Men, waving awkwardly at the camera.

This is the face of China’s extraordinary — and barbaric — zero-Covid policy. For many of Shanghai’s residents, the draconian lockdown has lasted more than three weeks. Countless numbers have been confined to their homes, under strict government instruction to isolate even if they don’t have the virus.

Neighbourhoods are divided into three categories based on the risk of transmission. Those in the first category endure the strictest Covid-19 controls and have just been hit with heightened measures. The 2 m-high green fences now block entrances to residential housing in many of these areas.

It appears they are designed to stop those living inside a complex that has a reported Covid case from leaving their homes — whether or not they have the virus. Under China’s unbending controls, anyone over the age of seven who tests positive — even if they are asymptomatic or have a mild infection — must be isolated in centralised quarantine facilities.

Despite evidence that the Omicron variant is less deadly than the original strain, China persists in its leader Xi Jinping’s determination to eradicate the virus completely — a policy that is now devastating its economy, and has even prompted Western stock markets to tumble.

(DBx: Never forget that the lockdowns imposed by Xi’s authoritarian regime are admitted by Neil Ferguson as being the inspiration for western lockdowns. Never forget this fact about the reckless, arrogant, and hypocritical Neil Ferguson.)

Another Wall Street Journal columnist, Dan Henninger, reports on how Democrats predictably used Covid as an excuse to do one of the things they do best: spend oodles of other people’s money wastefully. A slice:

This was a complex political and cultural event to which the Democratic response was Pavlovian: Throw money and expect gratitude.

What the Democrats did—first the $2 trillion 2021 Covid relief bill followed by the attempt to pass $4.6 trillion more with Build Back Better—was an exercise in political grandiosity wholly out of sync with a public that had turned inward. Even now, as the pandemic ebbs in an election year, people are preoccupied with either rebuilding their lives or restructuring careers.

Jacob Sullum writes about the new CDC report on the large number of Americans estimated to have already been infected with the SARS-CoV-2 virus. A slice:

Those limitations suggest that the total number of infections may be higher than the CDC’s estimate. The Times reports that “some scientists said they had expected the figures to be even higher, given the contagious variants that have marched through the nation over the past two years.” If the gap between reported cases and total infections is bigger than the CDC’s results suggest, that would imply a lower overall IFR.

In any case, a nationwide IFR estimate for a particular period of time obscures factors that have a big impact on the danger posed by COVID-19. In light of those factors, any single IFR estimate is apt to be misleading. Instead of trying to estimate the one “true” IFR, it makes more sense to recognize that there are many IFRs, contingent on time, location, and demographic variables.

After reading this new piece by Matt Welch on America’s school closures, I continue to hope that one silver lining around the dark cloud of covid hysteria will turn out to be a mortal – or, at least, a seriously debilitating – blow to government schooling.

Carl Heneghan and Tom Jefferson are studying the three legs of the U.K. government’s covid response. A slice:

Misuse of PCR underpinned the whole narrative. Its very high sensitivity and robotic acceptance as a gold standard created the illusion of many more cases (i.e. active infections) than were really present and prompted long quarantines, disrupting society and lives.

Therefore, the first leg of the stool is unstable, made worse by the absolute refusal to link PCR results to the reporting of viral load estimates, which could (coupled with accurate history and thorough epidemiology) give a likelihood of infectivity.

The second leg, attribution of death, was affected by bureaucratic bungling and PCR misuse. We discovered that UK public health bodies had 14 different ways of attributing the role of SARS-CoV-2 to a death. Some totals included deceased who had tested negative. Post-mortem examinations were uncommon, as was independent verification of causes of death. So aggregate attribution of mortality figures was questionable – the second leg started teetering too.

We are currently analyzing the last leg of the stool: hospital capacity. Hospital episodes take time to reconstruct, but they are also underscored by PCR misuse, poor definitions, and confusing messaging. A coherent dataset is unlikely to exist, so we have to piece the puzzle together.

We reported our findings in a series of web reports for a charity and the mainstream media, the only avenues that evade some censorship.

Vinay Prasad continues to write insightfully about covid and covid policies. A slice:

Finally, we continue to be obsessed with masks. Masking kids, preschoolers, and possibly restoring mask mandates in the Fall, if cases rise. This rhetoric belies the deep truth: we know very little about when and if community mask mandates slow the spread.

Moreover, in a country where any adult who wishes to get vaccinated for the last year could get vaccinated, the purpose of mandatory masks, even if they work (like tight fitting n95s), seem pointless. Sars cov 2 will eventually infect nearly everyone on earth, a fact acknowledged by Anthony Fauci. Delaying this inevitability while stoking political anger seems a foolish proposition.

The ‘pandemic’ is over — let NYC toddlers breathe!

gatito bueno looks at the math on school closures.

Julia Donaldson worries about what covid lockdowns have done to children. A slice:

Donaldson, 73, has spoken previously of her concern about the effects of lockdowns on children – an issue The Daily Telegraph has also highlighted in its Campaign for Children. “I feel it is criminal to stop people singing, particularly children, and I worry that there would be some children who grow not able to sing,” she said last year. Earlier this year, she argued that masks in schools were “dystopian” and should “not be considered normal”.

Does she feel that children suffered disproportionately from the pandemic restrictions? “I think we’ll have to wait and see,” she says. “There has been some talk about whether [their social skills will be affected] because they have had fewer social interactions, especially because of the masks. But it’s very hard to generalise and I think we just don’t really know yet.”

Donaldson herself was deprived of contact with her nine grandchildren, aged between one and 11, but saw them as often as was possible and permissible, putting on shows with them when such a thing was allowed, and, when it wasn’t, hosting Zoom quizzes for them, from the home near Steyning in West Sussex she shares with her husband Malcolm, a retired consultant paediatrician.

TANSTAFPFC (There Ain’t No Such Thing As Free Protection From Covid.)

Shannon Brownlee and Jeanne Lenzer report on what Sweden got right about covid. (HT Phil Magness) A slice:

In this intolerant atmosphere, Sweden’s “light touch,” as it is often referred to by scientists and policy makers, was deemed a disaster. “Sweden Has Become the World’s Cautionary Tale,” carped The New York Times. Reuters reported, “Sweden’s COVID Infections Among Highest in Europe, With ‘No Sign Of Decrease.’” Medical journals published equally damning reports of Sweden’s folly.

But Sweden seems to have been right. Countries that took the severe route to stem the virus might want to look at the evidence found in a little-known 2021 report by the Kaiser Family Foundation. The researchers found that among 11 wealthy peer nations, Sweden was the only one with no excess mortality among individuals under 75. None, zero, zip.

That’s not to say that Sweden had no deaths from COVID. It did. But it appears to have avoided the collateral damage that lockdowns wreaked in other countries. The Kaiser study wisely looked at excess mortality, rather than the more commonly used metric of COVID deaths. This means that researchers examined mortality rates from all causes of death in the 11 countries before the pandemic and compared those rates to mortality from all causes during the pandemic. If a country averaged 1 million deaths per year before the pandemic but had 1.3 million deaths in 2020, excess mortality would be 30 percent.

There are several reasons to use excess mortality rather than COVID deaths to compare countries. The rate of COVID deaths ignores regional and national differences. For example, the desperately poor Central African Republic has a very low rate of fatalities from COVID. But that’s because it has an average life expectancy of 53. People in their 70s are 3,000-fold more susceptible than children to dying of COVID, and even people in their 20s to 50s are far less likely to die than the elderly. So, it’s no surprise that the Central African Republic has a low COVID mortality rate despite its poverty and poor medical care. The U.S., by contrast, with its large elderly population (and general ill-health compared to most wealthy countries), was fertile soil for the coronavirus.

Excess mortality is the smart, objective standard. It includes all deaths, whether from COVID, the indirect effects of COVID (such as people avoiding the hospital during a heart attack), or the side effects of lockdowns. And it gets rid of the problem of underlying differences among countries, allowing a direct comparison of their performance during COVID.

Using data from the Human Mortality Database, a joint project of the CDC and the Max Planck Institute in Germany, Kaiser compared mortality during the five years before the pandemic and mortality in 2020, the first year of the pandemic. Sweden had zero excess mortality in 2020 among people younger than 75. In other words, COVID wasn’t all that dangerous to young people.

Even among the elderly, Sweden’s excess mortality in 2020 was lower than that in the U.S., Belgium, Switzerland, the U.K., the Netherlands, Austria, and France. Canada, Germany, and Australia had lower rates than Sweden among people over the age of 70—probably because Sweden failed to limit nursing home visits at the very beginning of the pandemic.

Union College Sophomore Gets Expelled for Refusing Booster Shot, Despite Her Doctor Saying Her Getting Booster Is ‘Ill-Advised’.” (HT Jay Bhattacharya)

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