March 30, 2023

by Will Jones, Daily Sceptic:

Chinese officials want to bring in lockdowns to combat the flu, leaving many furious about a prospect of returning to the strict restrictions seen during the COVID-19 outbreak. The Mail has the story.

The city of Xi’an, in Shaanxi Province in central China, said it may enforce lockdowns “when necessary” if an outbreak of the common flu virus poses a “severe threat”.

The emergency response plan for the city published on Wednesday is intended to combat the rising number of influenza cases in the country, as COVID-19 cases continue to fall.


Authorities in the Chinese city have not suggested that a new set of lockdowns are imminent, but locals in the area have still dubbed the plans excessive.

China’s zero-Covid lockdown plans were implemented throughout the country during the pandemic and were seen as extreme by many.

The plan by the Xi’an local government accounts for four levels of flu outbreak. If the common virus was to reach a critically high level, lockdowns would likely be reinstated.

During the pandemic, Chinese residents were not allowed to leave their homes. Some were not even allowed to got shopping for food or crucial supplies.

The city of Xi’an was placed under some of the strictest lockdown measures by authorities until restrictions were rapidly eased across the country in December last year following mass uproar.

Reacting to the prospect of a return to enforced lockdowns, social media users in China on Weibo said the common flu was a normal virus and did not require lockdown measures prior to Covid.

The BBC reported one user saying “life went on as per normal” when influenza outbreaks hit.

Another said China’s local governments had become “addicted to sealing and controlling”.

Speaking to the BBC, Yanzhong Huang, a senior fellow for global health at the Council on Foreign Relations, said: “To local residents who were traumatised by the lockdown measures not long ago, the return to the same draconian method in coping with flu outbreaks is by no means justified.”

Worth reading in full.

Well, China set the pattern last time, so will it do so again?

The Washington Post seems up for it. In a post to mark the third anniversary of the pandemic, titled ‘America shut down in response to Covid. Would we ever do it again?‘, Joel Achenbach softens up Americans for the return of restrictions. He writes:

An incalculable number of lives were likely saved by delaying what would have been the natural spread of the virus. That gave doctors more time to develop techniques and drugs for treating patients in the brutal period before vaccines helped lower the fatality rate.

“It is entirely plausible that we might have seen a million or more dead before anyone had the chance to be vaccinated, had we done nothing,” suggests Harvard epidemiologist William Hanage.

In public health, though, success is measured against counterfactual outcomes: hypothetical infections, conjectured suffering, imaginary deaths.

By contrast, the pain of the national shutdown — businesses going under, weddings postponed, protracted isolation of the elderly, learning losses among schoolkids —is glaringly obvious. Critics of pandemic restrictions contend that the cure was worse than the disease. In response, Republican-dominated legislatures in many states have passed laws limiting public health interventions, such as vaccine or mask mandates.

“An incalculable number of lives were likely saved by delaying what would have been the natural spread of the virus.” Good grief. Is it really 2023 and a national newspaper will still print such blatant misinformation? With so many studies now making clear that restrictions had no clear relationship with outcomes, where are the fact checkers when you need them? Presumably reading the latest work of fiction from Neil Ferguson et al.

The success is also in no way “counterfactual” or “hypothetical”, of course: that’s why we have studies that compare how different jurisdictions fared with different policies. And these studies and the data they draw on are clear: policies did not have a significant impact on outcomes. Is Achenbach really still claiming, in March 2023, that we simply can’t know what would have happened had we not imposed restrictions (but “likely” vast number of lives were saved)? Yes, he is.

Note also how Achenbach assumes attitudes to lockdown are political, that it is Republicans who oppose restrictions. The political framing of these issues has never been helpful as it has made what should be questions of science and evidence tribal. Is it any wonder citizens are fleeing lockdown-happy blue states for free red ones?

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