The horizon is not so far as we can see, but as far as we can imagine

Consequences Of The End of Zero Covid In China

Back in November I wrote that China’s Zero Covid policy was the right thing done the wrong way. Briefly after, consequent to some protests against Zero-Covid, China basically abandoned the policy.

The main problem is the same that exists in almost every country: even the most competent elites in the world today are, when not graded on a scale, incompetent buffoons incapable of running anything properly. Zero-Covid should have been about making necessary infrastructure changes to clean air so that over time restrictions could be eased.

This does not mean Zero-Covid did not have benefits: by shifting the oncoming wave downstream, China has significantly decreased mortality. Current protocols mean that Covid is much less deadly than if they’d given up early. A lot more people are vaccinated and the protocols for treating Covid are much better than earlier.

But massive public health measures should have been an opportunity, again, for improving infrastructure.

In the short term I would suggest that this will cause a supply shock, not make one less likely. If you need things made in China, stock up with a two to three month supply.


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There will obviously be a wave of hospitalizations in China. Their hospital capacity per capita is much lower than most of the West’s. They do have the ability build temporary hospitals fast, but the choke-point isn’t facilities, it is trained staff. The CCP has plenty of warm bodies they can throw at low skill hospital jobs, but no great surplus of doctors and nurses.

The longer term consequence is the same as the longer-term consequence in the West. The best reason to do Zero-Covid was never about short term deaths, it was about avoiding Long Covid and a population which gets infected over and over again by a virus which screws up immune systems and damages organs, including the brain. The population level effects of Long Covid will be massive. The UK and US already have about 2% of their workforce disabled because of it.

China is a decade out from the start of a demographic crisis, with an aging workforce. Their dependency ratio (the number of people working / number of people not working but who must be supported) will rise and keep rising.

Long Covid will have a devastating effect on the population. There is no particular reason to expect Covid to miraculously disappear. We’ve had chronic serious diseases that lasted for centuries or millennia and the damage Long Covid does is not a serious enough evolutionary disadvantage for there to be significant pressure for its reduction. Indeed, if, as seems to be the case, much of it is related to immune dis-regulation, it’s likely to be selected for.

China’s elites policy was the right one, but public health measures at massive scale are what you do to buy time to clean up the water/air/find a cure. Since no cure has been found for Covid, and there is no cure on the horizon, well, infrastructure needed to be changed.

China isn’t worse about this than most other places. There has been no mass refitting of ventilation infrastructure in almost any major country (Japan seems to be a partial exception).

But it is tragic to see incompetence and short-sightedness destroy the last major uninfected pool of people in the post-Covid world.

China will pay a grave price for this, and Western triumphalism at the end of Zero-Covid is like cheering when the last stronghold falls to an invader. “It was so embarassing that they were holding out when we surrendered so easily.”

Pathetic and sad.


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  1. Raad

    Chinese elites are much more sensitive to their population than the west; the chance that they use this as a “look we tried” kind of deal is still on the table for a return to zero Covid or zero Covid with infrastructure – maybe post Xmas or so, supplies for a lot of stuff has been hardcore this holiday period so who knows, when the pressure for gifts wears off and the price of this becomes more apparent, the CPC will change tack; idk but that’s the only silver lining I see with this garbage

  2. marku52

    Yes, surprising. I guess it was naive to think that the Chinese were actually competent. But then you see the guys in moon suits spraying disinfectant everywhere—-“Where have you been? Covid is airborne, you twits!”

    But they haven’t solved their economy’s dependence on infrastructure either, and the pivot to internal consumption for growth.

    One way to look at it is that they lucked into a situation where they encountered a passel of elites even stupider than they were, who handed them all the tools and factories to turn-key a modern economy.

  3. Astrid

    China blinked, but I think it was motivated primarily by the deteriorating finances of local governments and small businesses rather than public sentiment. There’s still significant majority support for lockdowns and frankly, the sort of protest that cropped up was tiny, composed of non-locals (who might be legitimately aggrieved people from outside of their residential cities, but these “outsiders” don’t have much say in local governance), and could easily be painted as crazies akin to Western anti-COVID activists or 2019 HK protests. It’s possible that the protests tipped the scale but I think it’s more likely that it merely provided cover for the central government to do what it knew it inevitably had to do, short of forcing the type of lockdown that might actually destablize the CPC hold on power.

    Rather, the local government coffers (this partly due to the problems in the real estate sector as most municipalities fund their operations through landsales) and small business coffers are running dry and these are the people who are getting desperate. In addition, the 2023 Lunar New Year is in a month and given how infectious Omicron has proven to be (my contacts in China are coming down with it in waves), there would be no way to contain it without a severe and extended lockdown. A lockdown going into Lunar New Year would be a horrible hardship (literally hundreds of millions of people stranded away from their families, possibly without financial resources to be locked down where they are) that China hasn’t had to implement this far (note that the 2020 lockdown occurred after most people already travelled home for the 2020 Lunar New Year season). Having the blow up now, with an apparently milder variant, is probably preferable to a “who knows what” blow up in a month’s time.

    I don’t forgive the central and regional governments for not trying earlier to fix issues and plan for worst case scenarios. They thought tracing and periodic lockdowns were sufficient and didn’t plan for measles level infectiousness or vaccine evasion. They should have fixed infrastructure to minimize aerosol transmission (particularly plumbing – they should have learned that from SARS transmission), provided for and forced universal N95 masking during danger periods, and did a national special tax regime (perhaps temporarily increasing top marginal tax or wealth tax) plus central government fiscal policy (direct loans and grants to local governments and individuals that are short on money), along with centralized oversight to minimize waste and fraud. They should have also been honest to the public about the possibility of Long Covid, vaccine evasion, repeated infections, and aerosol transmission. Those would be useful changes regardless of the path of COVID infectiousness. I find blind herd mentality to be a problem in China and they’re absolutely paranoid about health concerns, but it’s still better to be honest with them and try to build long term trust, than do a sudden 180 turn on messaging that’s being widely mocked on Chinese social media.

    I do think the logistics impact for the rest of the world will be less bad than you think. Chinese manufacturing cycle is ramped up for the Western pre-New Year holiday season and ramped down for Lunar New Year, so there should be sufficient stock in Western warehouses for at least a few months. I would worry more about how supplies will look in 5-6 months time, due to COVID caused logistics and production disruptions post Lunar New Year.

    But by then, Russia will likely be done with Ukraine, Europe will be out of gas, and who knows what that world is going look like.

  4. Dan Lynch

    It’s hard to find reliable information about the Covid situation in China (what we read in Western media is often propaganda), but I gather that, similar to the U.S., China never focused on Covid transmission through airborne aerosols, and similar to the U.S., China never embraced N95 masking. Dumb, dumb, dumb. Covid is a hard problem, but it’s not hard to wear an N95.

    By the way, Covid virgin here. I’ve N95’d around people (including private gatherings) from day one. I don’t want to catch that stuff.

  5. anon y'mouse

    the elites have made a calculation in their spreadsheets somewhere and realized that having people lead shorter, more unhealthy lives will work out better for them than the reverse.

    so, it is up to us to wonder how this pencils out.

    one ready theory: they have realized the material needs are too great for the population levels we have, and have decided to reduce them permanently.

    i am sure there are many other reasonable explanations.

    never presume stupidity when malice will do. these people are not stupid, although they would love to have us think so. their only fault is hubris. they are evil. let’s at least start recognizing what we are up against instead of gaslighting ourselves and each other about “fools in charge”. they know exactly what they are doing and bring it about strategically through their rampant fake polarized propaganda with two ridiculous options on either “side” working out to some halfway-to-hell (for us, never them) solution.

    they also appear to be deliberately crashing all of the other systems and institutions we rely upon. because the next model is nearly ready for emplacement. i believe this model will be full on corporate techno neofeudalism. “they” have just decided to reduce all other support systems down to nothing because they don’t want that drag on their overhead.

  6. bruce wilder

    Tangential an observation, but if zero-Covid was an objective pursued stupidly or ignorantly, the new policy of “let ‘er rip” (is there an official label?) is being implemented with a clumsy disregard for preparation or immediate consequences. Is this just how authoritarian policy is carried out? Popular distrust based on experience is playing a big part as is poor medical infrastructure. This is really scary to watch.

  7. Mary Bennett

    Mr. Welsh, while I find your points about improvement of infrastructure well taken, I also note with some dismay that you, along with many others, continue to ignore the massive snuffleupagus in the room, namely, our industrialized and chemically contaminated food supply. Surely, the food we ingest is as important to our longtime health as the liquids we drink and nearly as important as air quality.

    The purpose of the ag sector in a country’s economy is not to earn foreign exchange, apart from the occasional luxury product like truffles or caviar. Nor is it to enrich financial investors. What farming is for is, first, to feed people, and second, to support a vigorous and healthy population, citizens who can build things, win wars and withstand invasion. This, in the USA, I do not presume to say about Canada or China, we do not have.

    I have begun to notice among my own boomer contemporaries, that those who indulged in drugs, drinking and heavy smoking habits over their lifetimes, began dying in their fifties. Those who avoided addictions but who simply didn’t pay much attention to nutritional value of their meals, and who mostly dined on prepackaged “convenience” foods, began contracting fatal illnesses in their sixties. I have become convinced that a lifetime of eating food which is clean, free from chemical enhancement, and prepared “from scratch” in one’s own home, can, in the absence of chronic disease, add at least an extra 20 or so years to one’s life.

  8. Tallifer

    Get vaccinated, wear a proper mask and stay away from the unvaccinated. This is universal advice for citizens in democracies, oligarchies and dictatorships. Vaccine passports, mask mandates and border controls for government policies. (Also dietary restraint for health-conscious citizens, because obesity affects respiratory resilience.)

  9. GrimJim

    It’s especially egregious dropping it now, with Chinese New Year coming up in January. All those urban workers going home for the holidays are going to bring COVID to the rural areas en masse, which means the outbreaks will be in places where there is even less infrastructure and fewer doctors and nurses to handle it.

    And if a more lethal variant arises due to the much larger scale of infection, or if MERS spreads thanks to contacts in Qatar, it could get very, very bad, indeed…

  10. different clue


    Since the most up-to-date versions of covid can infect the vaccinated as well as the unvaccinated, I myself will stay away from the unmasked as much as I feasibly can, and stay away from crowded venues. No more movies, concerts, or crowded popular bars and restaurants for me now or ever again.

    Also , no more train travel if avoidable till the trains and train stations are super ventilated. Also, no more plane travel if avoidable till the same. Greyhound bus stations are usually less crowded than airports or major train stations, so less chance of encountering covid spreaders. But still some chance.

    If I had children, I would home-school if I could possibly afford to. The establishment wants to keep hundreds or thousands of kids in anti-ventilated buildings with anti-mask mandates in order to give them an early start on their multiple covid infections and re-infections and re-re-infections.

    If anon y’mouse is correct as to most governments and elites MIHOPing the spread of covid, then we have to ask ourselves how to raise our chances of healthy survival through the transition to hi-tech feudalism, and whether enough covid-aware people can be kept alive and healthy enough to make the imposition of hi-tech feudalism more difficult than otherwise.

  11. different clue

    I suspect that the ChinaGov felt and feels that since Chinese are smarter than us dumm Westerners, whatever they did/do will of course work. Since they don’t want the sort of riots which will require a Tien An Men type response, they have backed off from anti-covid enforcement.

    Since they run a totalitarian ( as against merely authoritarian) regime, they will want the same level of loving obedience and worshipful agreement as before to whatever new Line the Party emits about covid. If the Party decides to declare that covid is really just a “little flu” as Bolsonaro of Brazil said, then the Party will punish, persecute and “disappear” any Chinese who insist on treating covid as still a serious disease. That’s “if” the Party decides that covid will now be a “little flu” going forward. I couldn’t possibly know if that is what the Party will decide.

    ( Perhaps the Party is also thinking/realizing that if covid wipes out the aging and the old preferrentially, then letting covid spread to every aging and old person in China may solve their old-people-surplus problem for them. In their Ideological Party opinion. But I can’t know that either, of course.)

  12. anon

    There was a time before Covid when the deaths of 200+ people a week in one’s state would be shocking, horrifying, and unthinkable. Now it is part of life. No one blinks at the weekly alerts that hundreds more people have died from Covid. Long Covid is a long-term threat, but people are still dying, not only the unvaccinated. Most people don’t seem concerned at all. Maybe it’s the same mentality as gun violence in the USA. We go about daily accepting the risk and believing we’ll beat the odds. But sooner or later, when it comes to Covid, each of our numbers will be up for death or long-term illness.

    I hope that the Chinese will not be as desensitized to the amount of death as we are in the USA. Once they realize that Zero Covid is the only option to save millions of lives, they should try to improve upon it. Lockdowns cannot be the answer forever. The only things that will work long-term are mask wearing, better vaccines, and proper ventilation in buildings.

  13. capelin

    As I understand it, China has much lower Injection rates, and they used a “traditional” vaccine as apposed to mrna.

    So as things open up, it will be Son-of-Omicron vs Natural Immunity. The population is cooped-up and stressed out, that will affect resilience somewhat.

    To the extent that accurate usefull information is available, the next few months should provide some usefull context to the west’s poke-a-thon approach.

    @ anon y’mouse “never presume stupidity when malice will do.”

    I totally agree.

    Yet people seem unable to apply this lense to the “medical science” dog-and-pony show underpinning our current, uh, situation.

  14. anon y'mouse

    “let ‘er rip”= “living with the virus/living with Covid”

    it’s perfect, in that Orwellian war-is-peace kind of way.

    and that is not by accident or stupidity. that kind of slogan has been strategically devised, as well as the attitude that thousands dying every week is totally acceptable because “well, these are the people who were dying of something else anyway”.

    evil, not stupid.

  15. GlassHammer

    “There has been no mass refitting of ventilation infrastructure in almost any major country (Japan seems to be a partial exception).” -Ian

    We could put in place cheap and effective filtration systems in schools, apartments, stores, offices, etc… right now but it would have to be a “do it yourself” system or… at most a town/county level effort.

    The public needed to hear the message “You need to buy HEPA filters, box fans, and CO2 monitors.” on a 24/7 cycle because consuming our way to the correct answer is the only way our society does anything.

    The problem was our leaders thought “Well what if they ask me to pay for it? I don’t want to pay for that.” and that was the exact moment all mitigation strategies went out the window.

  16. marku52

    Tallifer. BMJ says it is unethical to mandate vaccines for college students. Too much vaccine injury. UK and Denmark won’t allow them to the under 30’s. Myocarditis is another problem for all age groups

    And it is well known that these vaccines do not prevent infection nor transmission. Mask up, and stay away from the vaxxed as well as unvaxxed.

  17. VietnamVet

    I have been forced to go public to keep getting my medications. Masked up, nasal rinsing, Scope gargling, D3 and quercetin taking; waiting to see if I am infected. Walking through Safeway is almost impossible with arthritic knees but the lure to be in public and talking is primal. The trappings of civilization are disappearing.

    There is lots of contacts with mainland China now, and perhaps with the rise to superpower status, it has been mollified; but over a half a century ago in South East Asia, the non-English speaking Chinese were intensely chauvinistic. Well aware of their over 3000 years old civilization.

    If “Let ‘er Rip” engulfs the world, if the proxy world war in Ukraine goes white hot, and if history is a guide; the Russians, French, English and Americans will revolt that succeeds. The Chinese Communist Party will lose the mandate of heaven and a new Emperor will be found.

  18. Jorge

    I suspect that what happened was: the decision-makers have been running simulations about breakouts since the beginning of the pandemic, and decided that a breakout scenario was inevitable at this point- so they might as well back off, and prepare local authorities for the next waves. That is, they knew all along that they would need to shift, and decided they had to do it.

    This is what happens when a country still has state capacity.

    As to vaccines, we do not know if the vaccine a) has sterilizing capability due to creating nasal/mucousal immunity, and b) is effective against the variants. Our MRNA vaxes have neither, Novavax has both, and we don’t know about Sinovax et. al.

    And… there is a long-standing question of whether previous vaccination for polio or TB provides cross-immunity against coronaviruses. There were hints of this in pre-Covid studies. We quit doing these mass immunizations in the first world 30-70 years ago. The 3rd and 4th worlds have often done surprisingly well against Covid, and this may be a factor.

    What I’m saying is, China is a unique country, and they might do better than you expect.

  19. Jorge

    And… word on the street is that Novavax is what mRNA should have been. And, it induces nasal/mucousal immunity. I’m on my first, plan to get my second soon. The US runs out in February 2023.

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