China is leading the world out of its pandemic-induced recession, and the last thing the country’s authorities want is a new COVID-19 outbreak. That’s why they took very aggressive action this week to stamp out what they hope amounts to a minor dust-up of the disease in the northeastern city of Qingdao.
A city perhaps best known for its beer (Tsingtao (HKEX: 0168) is the unofficial national brand), Qingdao is the capital of Shandong province. Each of its 9.4 million residents is being tested. This is after a total of 13 cases were discovered, six of them asymptomatic. The mass testing is just about finished and appears to have worked. No new cases have been found for several days, according to media reports.
“We worked really hard on this,” Qin Ling, a marketing specialist and longtime resident of the city, told me via WeChat on Thursday.
“All of my friends, neighbors and colleagues got tested,” she said, describing a remarkably smooth process. “It was a long line during the first two days, and everyone needed to wait an average of one or two hours. But I went yesterday and it took me only five minutes.”
And she added: “There are several temporary testing points in each community. It’s easy to reach them and it’s all free.”
Think about that for a minute. An incipient outbreak of Covid-19 in a Chinese city requires the sudden testing of more than 9 million people, and it’s free and convenient for all of them. Compare that to the voting process in the U.S. Here people are lined up in Georgia for up to eight hours to partake in early voting while in Texas there is one ballot drop box per county, requiring some people to travel upwards of 50 miles to vote. And that’s with the benefit of planning for months.
The difference, of course, is that the Chinese government wants its people to get tested, while those in power in Georgia, Texas, and other GOP-led states are engaging in massive suppression of voters.
Politics aside, the contrast illustrates a few other realities. One is that China can organize its citizens fast and efficiently to accomplish goals for the common good. Can you imagine if a cluster of cases erupted in, say, Houston? Oh wait. Every big city in the U.S. already has hundreds if not thousands of cases, yet most people are not getting tested.
This affected not only Qingdao residents. Tens of thousands of people who had gone there after September 25 have been contact traced and underwent testing and quarantining if they had close contact with someone infected.
The cluster was detected in a local hospital last Sunday after two dock workers had tested positive about two weeks earlier. The workers had handled imported frozen seafood and the coronavirus was found in a few samples, Caixin reported. But it said large-scale testing didn’t yield any more contaminated food.
Authorities took swift action not only in terms of testing and contact tracing: Heads rolled. Sui Zhenhua, director of the Qingdao Health Commission, was suspended from his job, and Deng Kai, president of Qingdao Thoracic Hospital, where the infections occurred, was fired. The government is keeping its foot on the accelerator, holding officials to account when it comes to Covid-19 control.
This marked China’s first re-emergence of the virus since a larger outbreak involving hundreds of people in and around Beijing was quashed in June. Smaller clusters have been seen in other parts of China, with similar tough measures imposed to stamp them out. All of Beijing’s 21 million residents were tested; in Wuhan, some 11 million were tested in May after fears of a new spike in the city where the virus first broke out late last year.
In Qingdao, more than 4,000 testing sites were set up across the city, with most open from 6 a.m. to midnight. More than 10,000 medical workers were mobilized.
It’s these kinds of no-nonsense measures that got China to where it is today – essentially free of Covid-19. That has allowed authorities to reopen the economy, and statistics show increasing success. The latest came this week when the government reported robust trade figures while the country’s stock market topped $10 trillion in value for the first time since 2015. Export growth in September was the fastest in a year and a half, rising 9.9% over year-ago levels. Imports performed even better, surging 13.2% year-over-year to $203 billion. That reversed a 2.1% decline in August and was the highest import growth since December.
Economists in Caixin’s survey said they now see China’s GDP growing 5.5% in the third quarter.
It’s worth noting that the confirmed pandemic death toll in China stands at 4,739 while U.S. deaths climb to near 220,000 with no end in sight. Many people question China’s official figures, and there are credible claims that it could be four or five times higher. But even if you multiply itby 10, China still would have less than one-quarter of the U.S. death toll despite a population more than four times higher. For the math-impaired, that means the per-capita death rate is at least 16 times higher in the U.S. than in China.
It’s clear that China has, at least for now, beaten the virus and is returning to strong economic growth ahead of nearly every other country in the world. That is due to its aggressive measures, like the current one in Qingdao. Now its people can again go out and enjoy those beers in the city’s cafes, without worrying about who is next to them.