(Why) Did China Handle the Coronavirus Situation Better Than the West?


Even when it comes to the worst calamities, pandemics included, the dust does eventually settle and once that happens, observers as well as (or especially) decision-makers need to put their rational thinking caps and dissect what happened over the past months in a manner as void of emotion as possible.

What went wrong?

What was done right?

How should the authorities handle similar situations in the future?

What can be done right away so as to improve the potential outcome of similar situations down the road?

The list of questions could go on and on, with one important question representing the proverbial elephant in the room, a question pertaining to the country in which the COVID-19 calamity had its origins: how did China handle the situation?

For the most parts, there are two easily identifiable trains of thought at this point in time:

  1. On the one hand, we have China’s supporters who more or less victoriously claim that China has handled the situation in an impeccable manner, as illustrated by the low number of both cases and casualties compared to the West and the controlled manner in which the economy was re-opened
  2. On the other hand, we have critics who claim the exact opposite, especially when it comes to the manner in which China has initially handled the coronavirus problem, a manner which revolved around secrecy to the point of even silencing the doctor(s) who dared talk about the problem publicly. Furthermore, the same observers are usually quick to point out that there are valid reasons to let’s say not blindly trust Chinese data pertaining to case numbers and casualties, with them usually suspecting that the actual numbers are much higher

What does the ChinaFund.com team believe?

Ironically, that both “sides” are partially correct.

On the one hand, China’s supporters are right when stating that China handled the crisis better than Western nations if we are to refer strictly to the quarantine measures and the manner in which they have been implemented. From the draconian nature of those measures to the compliance level of the average population (far better than that of Western citizens, for reasons which range from culture to… well, fear), China most definitely out-did the West from any imaginable dimension.

The results are crystal-clear, with a country of 1.4 billion individuals managing to contain the COVID-19 spread very well, keeping the total case number in 5-digit territory and the number of deaths in 4-digit territory. To put it differently, the number of deaths as a percentage of the population number has been multiple orders of magnitude higher in the West, especially when it comes to countries such as Spain and Italy. Realistically speaking, this containment scenario represents one of the few instances in which authoritarianism generates better results than freedom.

However, please note that this “praise” of China only refers to the post-quarantine measures and most definitely not to the manner in which the crisis was initially handled. Moving on to also analyzing the latter, China’s critics are most definitely correct when pointing out that the absurdly opaque manner in which the issue was initially managed left much to be desired. The situation was, plain and simple, swept under the rug initially until things reached a point as of which that was simply no longer possible. Had Beijing acted in a more decisive manner sooner, case and casualty numbers would have been even lower domestically as well as abroad.

How much lower would they have been abroad, realistically speaking?

That is difficult to state because unfortunately, Western governments have not treated the manner with adequate professionalism even after it became apparent. Europe was the epicenter after China and when it comes to Europe, indeed, a more than valid case could be made that if the Beijing authorities would have communicated better and warned European officials much sooner, a far better response could have been organized.

What about later epicenters such as the United States?

This is where things get tricky because the US had ample time to prepare, yet the Donald Trump administration remained passive. From the top US immunology expert Anthony Fauci who was initially quite skeptical that coronavirus issues would represent a problem for the American continent to especially President Donald Trump who rather aggressively downplayed the problem initially, opportunities to do a much better job were lost time and time again. While Europe can indeed claim that it might have not had enough time to prepare and that things would have been substantially different if Beijing would have displayed more transparency sooner, the position of the United States and other countries which were affected later on tends to be much less credible in this respect.

Finally, it is also worth pointing out that not just China but the Asian continent as a whole had much more in the way of let us call it experience with epidemics. The West less so, and this became apparent rather quickly, with reactions from officials in even the most developed of nations on a per capita basis (Sweden, Belgium and the list could go on and on) ranging from denial to downright scientific ignorance and a dangerous failure to adapt to data as it keeps coming in.

At the end of the day, a common sense conclusion would be that while a valid case could be made that Asia in general as well as China in particular have handled the situation better than the West, all countries involved need to engage in honest post-factum analysis because there are deadly “sins” on absolutely all fronts which need to be addressed. From transparency to reaction times, from supply chain complexity to political ramifications, now is the time to put everything on the table because while nobody can predict the future, this much is certain: pandemics are not going away anytime soon and humanity cannot afford to be as ignorant next time around.

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