The USA, China and the coronavirus pandemic

We Americans have long liked to think of our ideals of freedom and democracy as models for the world.  But China, whose leaders reject those ideals, seems to be doing a better job that we are of protecting its citizens and the world from COVID-19.

Advocates of democracy claim that our system is better because it provides a reality check.  When the government fails to do its job, the loyal opposition and free press are there to point it out.

Click to enlarge

China’s initial response to the coronavirus showed the truth of this.  The first physicians to detect the coronavirus were threatened by police for spreading false rumors.

But once China’s rulers realized the truth, they drew upon the strength of a totalitarian system, which is to be able to focus all a nation’s resources on a single objective.

By the way, I greatly admire the courageous Chinese doctors and nurses who risked their lives to stop the spread of the disease,  Not only the Chinese, but the whole world, owe them a debt.

The Chinese appear to have succeeded in stopping the spread of the disease in a relatively short time.  The number of cases in Hubei province, the center of the outbreak, seems to be leveling off at about 70,000.  This is cases, not fatalities.  Hubei has a population of 58 million, almost as great at italy, with 60 million.

Dan Wang, an American living in Beijing, reported on the effectiveness of quarantine measures there.

Click to enlarge. Source: Forbes

The problem with the Chinese system of government is: How can we be sure?  In any large, hierarchical organization, whether corporate, military or something else, those in the lower ranks will tell those in the lower ranks what they want to hear, and those in the higher ranks will tell those in the lower ranks what they want them to believe.

I think there will be a natural tendency of those on the lower levels of the Chinese hierarchy to report everything is under control, whether or not it is.  I know a college professor with a great many Chinese students.  She tells me they are all cynical about reports of success in China, and whether all Chinese cities will get the same protection as Beijing.

Under Deng Xiaopeng, there was enough of a limited free press and civil society to point out the problems.  Will this be true of Xi Jinping?

Based on what little I know, I think the Chinese have responded magnificently and the world owes them a debt.  But if the opposite were true, it would be a long time before I had any way to know it.

Here in the United States, we have Donald Trump, a totally incompetent, but democratically-elected leader who denies reality as blatantly and obviously as any Communist ruler of old.

The saving grace of our system is that his failure to lead is not hidden.  it is obvious to anyone who has eyes to see and a willingness to face facts.

And the other saving grace is that we the people can take constructive action without waiting for orders from the federal government.  State and local governments, universities, research centers, commercial corporations and civic groups are all taking corrective action.

Still, we should ask ourselves.  How is it that we are so completely unprepared?  Why do we have so few hospital beds?  Why is it that China and other countries are able to test for COVID-19 on a large scale and we are not?


Click to enlarge.

The Chinese government not only taking care of its own people.  It is sending needed medical supplies to Italy.

Once the United States was the nation that could be counted on to send relief to other nations in times of disaster.  But now, we Americans as a nation are barely able to look after our own.

Not only that, but the U.S. government is imposing sanctions of Venezuela, Nicaragua and Iran that, if they achieve their intended effect, will make it impossible for these nations to obtain needed medical supplies or cope with infectious disease.

Based on what little I know, I don’t think U.S. sanctions are the cause of the Iranian government’s present difficulties, but they most certainly don’t help.


Click to enlarge.  Source: SCMP.

South Korea and Taiwan have proved that a dictatorship isn’t necessary to cope with the disease.  They are doing well with their democratically elected governments and capitalistic free-market economies.

Again, based on what little I know, I think their success is not only due to governments that are transparent and accountable, but  public-spirited populations who’ll willingly do what’s necessary.

At the other extreme, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson has the idea that allowing a large number of Britons to become infected quickly will enable the population to build up “herd immunity.”

I don’t think it is possible for any country, or any group of people within a country, to wall themselves off from the pandemic.  If we the people recognize that we’re all in this together, we’ll get through this all right.  If our attitude is “every man for himself, devil take the hindmost,” we won’t.


COVID-19 and the Legitimacy of the System by Rod Dreher for The American Conservative.

How did China get to grips with its coronavirus disaster? by Lily Kuo for The Guardian.

Covid Observations from Beijing, March 11 by Dan Wang.

Health workers fighting coronavirus in China die of infection and fatigue by Alice Su for the Los Angeles Times.

We owe a huge thanks to the heroes on the front lines of the coronavirus pandemic by Anne Reneau for Upworthy.

We Have to Flatten the Curve – Trump and Fox Are Behind It by Jennifer Senior for the New York Times.

Not That Many Americans Can Actually Work From Home During the Coronavirus Outbreak by Dave Jamieson for Huffington Post.

‘It’s Just Everywhere’: How Delays in Testing Set Back the U.S. Coronavirus Response by Sheri Fink and Mike Baker for the New York Times.

Testing Shortages Force Extreme Shift in Strategy by Local Health Officials by Jenny Gold and Maria Barry-Jester for California Healthline.

China Is Now Sending Doctors, Makes and Hazmat Suits to Help Italy by Tim Hume for Vice news.

South Korea’s coronavirus response is the opposite of China and Italy—and it’s working by John Power for South China Morning Post.

Taiwan sets example for world on how to fight coronavirus by Stacy Chen for ABC News.

As Europe Shuts Down, Britain Takes a Different, and Contentious, Approach by Benjamin Mueller for The New York Times.

Why Coronavirus Testing in the U.S. Is So Delayed by Olga Khazan for The Atlantic.  [Added 3/15/2020]

America has no real public health system – coronavirus has a clear run by Robert Reich for The Guardian.  [Added 3/15/2020]

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7 Responses to “The USA, China and the coronavirus pandemic”

  1. Fred (Au Natural) Says:

    Boris Johnson thinks he’s an epidemiologist? I hate it when idiots in charge don’t even pretend to listen to the experts.

    China’s government sat on this for a month before moving on it. When they could no longer keep the lid on the pot, they threw all the power of the state into fighting it. Their state has a lot more power than a liberal democracy does. But they are very fortunate that most people with the virus need no assistance, just to stay in place and not spread it.


  2. silverapplequeen Says:

    You ask about China: How can you be sure about what they’re telling their people & the world? Well, it’s the same with our government. Looking over my emails this morning, I see a “news alert” from the Washington Post that Trump has tested negative from the coronavirus. Really? We’re supposed to believe this? Like we’re supposed to believe the reports of his glowing health & this weight & even his height? & all the other lies?

    Did you write that with a straight face? Or … did you write it, wondering who was going to make a comment about it?

    & c’mon … it’s not just the trump administration. He’s just the most blatant.


    • Fred (Au Natural) Says:

      I don’t care if Trump is infected by COVID-19. He can lie all he wants. It makes no difference.

      I do care if large numbers of people get infected with it and the information is suppressed, causing a month’s delay in responding. Nobody is suppressing any such thing in the West. Too many independent sources of data, too free a flow of information to even attempt such a thing.

      Trying to make some kind of equivalency between the US and China in this is bizarre.


  3. Notes To Ponder Says:

    Great post, well said.


  4. philebersole Says:

    A friend of mine lives in rural southern Livingston County about 25 miles due south of my home in Rochester, N.Y. It’s Trump country.

    He says almost everyone he meets gets their information from Fox News and right-wing talk radio. They are convinced that coronavirus is no worse than regular ‘flu and that everything that is being said to the contrary is Democratic propaganda intended to discredit President Trump.

    A lot of excellent reporting is being done on the coronavirus crisis. It reveals that our problem is not just Trump and his willful denial of reality, but a long-term hollowing out of our American ability to respond to public health emergencies.

    I’m fortunate in having easy access to this information, and in having the right to express my opinion on it without being called in for a chat in the nearest police station.

    That wouldn’t have been true in China when the outbreak first was noticed.

    But freedom of information is of little value to those who have been propagandized and misinformed, and don’t know it.

    I don’t think that I as an American at this stage have any reason to assume that the U.S. response to the crisis will be better than the Chinese. I fear it will be a lot worse. May I be proved wrong!


    • whungerford Says:

      When DJT claims, as is his habit, that every problem is being handled in a superlative way unlike anything seen previously, how many accept this claim as true, I wonder?


    • Fred (Au Natural) Says:

      I don’t think it could possibly be worse. China’s quarantine appears to have failed to do very much. Given how hard they suppressed news of the original outbreak, I have my doubts about the accuracy of anything they say.


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