The COVID-19 pandemic has been raging in the world for nearly 3 years. While many countries around the world declare “victory in the fight against COVID-19” and resort to passive measures, the Chinese government continues to uphold the principle of “putting people and their lives first”, and stick to epidemic prevention and control measures. In the face of the global economic recovery dilemma and the relationship between pandemic prevention and economic development, British economist John Ross expresses his views in an exchange with the Observer: “The claim that ‘COVID-19 in the West is over’ is completely nonsense. Over the past 3 years, the Chinese government’s zero-COVID policy has saved 4.6 million lives. Prevention and control are not causes of the economic problems, neither in China nor in the West. This is the worst time for the world economy in 40 years, but China outperforms the US and Europe.”
Observer: Thank you so much for accepting our interview. The world has been perennially haunted by the specter of COVID-19 for 3 years since the end of 2019, landing people around the world in nightmarish sufferings.
John Ross: What you said is not completely correct. The British suffer more than the Chinese during COVID-19.
China is now the safest place in the world, while the current epidemic in the UK, where I live, is still out of control. Never before in China has such a nightmare appeared as this we have. For 3 years, I have known the reality of the current outbreak in the West through data analysis and my own connections with others in the West.
Therefore, it is not accurate to say that COVID-19 is a global nightmare, but a nightmare outside of China.
Observer: However, for some people in China, they believe that in the world other than China, “COVID-19 is over” and “people are free to travel abroad”.
John Ross: First of all, only a small percentage of the Chinese can travel around the world, and the proportion of the population who have lost their lives in COVID-19 is much larger than that.
Therefore, it worries that Western media report such one-sided news, which would kill millions of people for profit. The Chinese should bear in mind that those are political propaganda concocted by the West.
Observer: As you said, in face of the pandemic, while many Western countries declare “victory in the fight against COVID-19” and resort to passive measures, the Chinese government continues to uphold epidemic prevention and control measures. As an observer who has been living in the West since the outbreak, how do you evaluate the two different paths chosen by the Chinese government and Western countries in the past 3 years?
John Ross: Data speak louder than words. In China, slightly more than 5000 Chinese lives were lost to COVID-19; In the US, more than 1 million, 1.08 million to be exact.
Don’t forget that China’s population is 4.3 times that of the US. So, to understand how US-style policies affect China, we need to multiply the data by 4.3. This means that if China’s death rate were the same as that of the US, the number of death cases in China would reach 4.7 million.
According to the latest data, 5226 Chinese died of COVID-19. In contrast, 4.7 million is terrible. Can you imagine 4.7 million Chinese dying in the pandemic? The Chinese government protected its people from an unexpected disease.
In the US, by contrast, life expectancy has shrunk by 2.7 years over the past 2 years. Now, life expectancy in China has surpassed that of the US. COVID-19 has landed Europe in its worst health crisis since the Spanish Flu at the end of World War I.
Let’s look at the number of confirmed cases. There are 288,000 confirmed cases in China, compared to 98 million in the US. If China had the same confirmed case rate as the US, 425 million Chinese would have been infected with COVID-19. Can you imagine such a situation?
If China had implemented the“unregulated” policy advocated by the US, 4.6 million Chinese lives could have been lost. The Chinese government’s zero-COVID policy has saved 4.6 million lives.
The medical team assisting Hubei in 2020 (photo: IC PHOTO)
By the way, the pandemic is still going on. As can be seen from the number of new infections every day, the claim that “COVID-19 is over” is an outright lie.
Before the interview, I checked the number of new daily infections in China and the US, 2,365 in China, and 46,000 in the US respectively. Multiplying the US figure by 4 times in proportion to the population yields China’s figures, which equates to 162,000 new cases per day in China.
Clearly, the number of deaths proves that COVID-19 is far from an end. In China, the newly reported 2 death cases are severe enough to shock the whole nation; In the US, an average of 340 people lose their lives every day to COVID-19. In proportion to the population, this is equivalent to an average of 1,130 deaths per day in China. If the Chinese government had not adhered to anti-pandemic measures, 1,130 Chinese would have died today. The claim that ‘COVID-19 in the West is over’ is completely nonsense.
In addition, we must realize that the real cumulative effect of the pandemic is not that it causes thousands of deaths, but that it leads to the so-called “long COVID”. I do not know if the Chinese are familiar with this term. It refers to the long-term or even permanent damage caused by COVID-19 to human health, and consequent sequelae could last for at least 3 months.
In the US, the number of people suffering from the sequelae of “long COVID” accounts for 8% of the total population, that is, 25 million people are plagued by the sequelae. In proportion to the population, this is equivalent to 110 million people in China. The situation is quite serious.
“Long COVID” will leave long-term health problems in many aspects
(photo: Clinical Advisor)
Let’s give a stricter definition of “long COVID”. According to the official definition, “long COVID” means that the infected people’s daily activities (due to the sequelae of COVID-19) are severely restricted.
Take data from my own country as an example. In the UK, 409,000 people have suffered from “long COVID”. China’s population is 20 times that of the UK. Proportionally, this equates to 8.6 million people in China who would not be able to live normally for months or even years.
I can also give some examples from my side. I know a China expert named Martin Jacques. His son Ravi Jacques has been suffering from this for two years.
Ravi Jacques was once a very talented young man. He attended Stanford University, received scholarships from a top Chinese university, and excelled at the violin. Now, if he could get out of bed for 2 hours a day, the day would be much better for him—the rest of the time, he is confined to bed, “listening to” TV with his eyes closed.
The case is much worse for those frail elderly in the West, who are almost always at risk and cannot live normally. Take going to a restaurant for example.
Of course, you can say, “You have to take precautions, like wearing a mask.” But you cannot wear a mask forever, you cannot eat with a mask in a restaurant. This means that the frail elderly have to choose between two options: either risk permanent damage to their health to go to a restaurant, or give up going to a restaurant. But when they are traveling, it is impossible not to go to restaurants. Travel causes serious problems.
I am very cautious about COVID-19, so that I often stay at home and take precautions accordingly. When the pandemic first broke out, I happened to be not in China. After learning that it may be transmitted to the UK, the institute where I worked had provided guidance to staff on pandemic prevention, including wearing masks, maintaining hygiene, and keeping social distancing. So, I was well prepared.
In fact, I was able to help my friends in the UK. At that time, it was difficult to buy masks in the UK. I bought masks from China and sent them to my friends. At the time, they were skeptical. They asked me, “Why are you buying masks from China?” However, the UK government’s propaganda at that time was that masks were unnecessary. Now my friends change their minds. They are grateful for my assistance.
So, when it first broke out, I stayed at home and the risk of infection was relatively small. However, I was not completely free of the risk of infection. My wife went out to visit our daughter and contracted COVID-19 on the way.
Fortunately, since she took strict precautions and had been taking nucleic acid tests for a few days when she went out, she knew that she was infected. I had a narrow escape at the time, so that my wife and I lived separately for 2 weeks. During those 2 weeks, we lived in different rooms under the same roof. I was lucky not to be infected.
In the following two years, my wife only traveled 3 times, during which time she was infected again. Therefore, the claims that “COVID-19 is over”, “COVID-19 is not dangerous” and “people have returned to normal lives” are pure nonsense.
In short, as I said before, I stayed home when the pandemic raged. Although I was not completely free of the risk of infection due to my wife’s insistence on going out to visit my daughter, who had left home as an adult, I was relatively safe.
But travel is indeed a serious problem. Whenever I choose to travel, I am in grave peril of infection, whether I choose public transportation or take a flight. So, as can be seen from this aspect, our lives are by no means back to normal.
Rumor has it that as long as you are infected with COVID-19 once, you can be immune for life. This is the rationale behind the “herd immunity” policy. However, this rumor is also nonsense.
The saying “once infected, lifelong immunity” applies to some other diseases, such as smallpox. However, this is not true for COVID-19. Many people have been infected repeatedly, as many as 5 times in some cases. On the first two infections, their symptoms were similar to those of the flu, and luckily there were no COVID-19 sequelae. But “long COVID” caught up with them at the third infection, permanently destroying their lives. Therefore, the claim “everything is normal” is simply gibberish.
Europe is facing the worst onslaught of the pandemic, at least in my lifetime, which should be the worst of all the times Europe has undergone. More Americans have died in the pandemic than in the Vietnam War—about 30 times as many. Life expectancy in the US has been reduced by 2.7 years due to COVID-19, something unprecedented in the past century. It is a disaster. The picture that the West selectively presents to the Chinese is a complete lie and hypocritical propaganda.
In the UK, where many lives have been lost to COVID-19, people built a “COVID-19 memorial wall” to commemorate (photo: IC PHOTO)
Western enterprises fabricate such lies just to make a profit. In the West, these companies have allowed countless lives to be lost and ruined simply for the sake of profit. One only has to look at what people in the West are suffering to understand how cruel capitalism is and how lucky the Chinese people are to live in a socialist country.
Observer: As you said, there is no doubt that the Chinese government’s anti-pandemic measures have saved thousands of lives. At the same time, COVID-19 has exerted a huge impact on the economy. This has led many to question whether China’s strict measures will slow the economic recovery and put the country at a disadvantage in international competition. As an economics expert, how do you see the relationship between pandemic prevention and economic development?
John Ross: First of all, even you underestimate how serious the problems are in the West right now because you say “the Chinese government has saved thousands of lives.” To be precise, millions of lives, not just “thousands of”. On our side, as I said, 4.6 million lives were lost. Your judgement shows how well protected you are in China.
You support the policies of the Chinese government, but even so you still underestimate how many people the Chinese government has saved in this outbreak. I am not criticizing you, but it is just the way it is. It also makes me wonder how many people misjudge the situation in China under a certain propaganda campaign aimed at economic issues.
The latest quarterly GDP figures for China and the US have been released. We can go back almost 3 years, starting with the third quarter of 2019 and see what has happened over the last 3 years. That was right before the outbreak.
Over the past 3 years, China’s economy has grown by 14.3%, or an annual average of 4.5%, which is indeed slower by China’s standards. But let’s compare the economic situation in the US, which grew 4.7% over that period, or about 1.5 percentage points a year. So, while it is true that China’s growth has slowed, it is still 3 times as fast as that of the US. Compared with 2.8% in Europe over the past 3 years, China’s growth is 5 times that of Europe.
Therefore, the current situation is not that the Western countries are thriving and China is stuck in low growth. Therefore, it is clearly wrong to assume that China is under-performing economically because it has saved millions of lives.
Looking at the current situation, what causes economic problems in the US? Did they implement the “lockdown”? Apparently not. The reality is that its economic problems are caused by under-investment, which has fallen from 11.3% of GDP 60 years ago to less than 3.8% today.
The slow growth of the US economy is due to the lack of investment, while the risks facing China’s economy do not come from pandemic prevention and control, because in general, the quarantine affects only a small part of the population, and most of people can lead a normal life. If China’s economy is going to face a big problem, it is mainly when investment drops sharply or the economy lacks stimulus, which is the problem affecting the current economy.
Therefore, prevention and control are not the causes of the economic problems, neither in China nor in the West, and the idea that the West is growing rapidly is not true. This is very terrible. The US is growing at an annual rate of 1.5% and, according to the IMF, the growth rate will fall next year. Recession is an unconvertible trend in the West, even with a slight recovery in 2021 and this year. In the West, the best-case scenario is slow growth, while in large parts of the world, such as Europe, there is a high probability of recession.
The idea that the West is saving its economy by abandoning the pandemic prevention is a factually incorrect one. The claims that China is suffering heavily because of pandemic prevention and that the West is getting better because of the abandonment of it are unsubstantiated.
Observer: Yes, it is not an either/or choice between pandemic prevention and economic development. The Chinese government has been optimizing specific anti-pandemic measures. In your opinion, in the current economic situation, how should we strike a balance between the two? How should we view the overall economic situation in the world today?
John Ross: There are two aspects involved here.
First, China saved 4.6 million lives by protecting itself from the first wave of the pandemic as the West did. That is a top priority.
And COVID-19 itself is changing. For example, the so-called “Spanish Flu” after World War I, which killed tens of millions of people—there was little medical equipment at that time but now we have. In any case, that outbreak eventually died down in the early 1920s, in the absence of any effective response, perhaps because of the nature of the virus itself. Medical experts may have more say in this.
This is important because China has already protected itself from the initial waves of the fatal virus. And then, over that period of time, they had the ability to put medical facilities and vaccines in place. Targeted drugs were introduced, and health workers became more experienced in medical treatment. Even so, the virus continued to spread for some time, but was less virulent than it was at the beginning.
Seen from the current situation, China has not had new COVID-19 deaths for a long time, just occasional one or two deaths. However, if you compare the number of deaths in the US over the same period with that in China, you will see more than 1,000 deaths. This shows that China is coping well with the situation.
Economically, the West is facing severe stagflation, the product of half a century of inflation combined with economic downturns. Recently, the US inflation hits a 40-year high of 9.1%, which claims to be the result of Russian-Ukrainian war. Obviously, this is a lie.
This month, US President Joe Biden delivered a speech saying that “there is no guarantee that the US will ever get rid of inflation”. (photo: IC PHOTO)
A check with the timeline will help you find out the truth. The inflation rate in the US went from 0.1% in May 2020 all the way up to 7.5% in 2022, and that was before the war. The latest inflation rate reached 7.7%, but before the war, the figure was 7.5%—95% of the inflation occurred before the war. So, it is a plain lie that the inflation stems from the war.
I do not want to go into the details of this round of inflation. For detailed analysis, I refer you to an article I write currently about the causes of this bout of hyperinflation in the US and the severe economic consequences arising thereof.
The US economy is forecast to grow by 1% next year. This situation occurred in the absence of anti-pandemic measures throughout the nation. Therefore, the root cause of the economic downturn is not quarantine, but US economic policies.
In contrast, the supply-side reform policies implemented by China guaranteed investment growth, even though the consumption exhibited a slight growth. In the US, although pure consumption increased, there was no increase in investment, which led to high inflation.
It is necessary for China to boost consumption because COVID-19 has caused a drop in retail sales to some extent. However, instead blindly stimulating the consumer side, China injects stimulus into the supply side. So, there are reasons to believe that China’s economy will continue to grow faster than that of the US in this year, and more obviously in the next year.
Therefore, China’s economic recovery in essence has nothing to do with COVID-19 and anti-pandemic measures. If the so-called measures were affecting the economic recovery, the US economy would be growing fast by now. Instead, it is slowing down. For economic growth, what matter most are economic policies and investment, rather than anti-pandemic measures.
Therefore, the Chinese people should first thank the government for its response to the pandemic. Second, they should also understand that the government has been successful in its economic policies. Obviously, judging from the current negative situation of the world economy, this is the worst time for the world economy in 40 years. It is true that China’s economic growth has slowed slightly, but the main reason behind this is not COVID-19. Even though the world economy is currently in an adverse situation, China’s economic performance is still remarkable.