This year, family reunion time in China is quieter than usual – Beijing has discouraged the traditional travel for the Spring Festival and many workers stayed put, with some companies offering incentives. Many cities imposed lockdowns amid a Covid-19 resurgence, while those traveling were forced to test and submit to two-week quarantine.
The public responded with a degree of discontent. Some called the measures unfair to the migrant workers, as The New York Times wrote in late January. The worst-hit by the pandemic, migrant laborers without local registration get stuck for another year without seeing their families, access to social or medical services, and at reduced work hours.
No Certainty on Origin
Meanwhile, China refused to share raw data with W.H.O. investigators who visited Wuhan to trace the origins of the coronavirus. A team of 14 foreign experts spent nearly a month in China collecting data for the World Health Organization and were disappointed by the information fed to them by the authorities.
Earlier this month, the W.H.O. mission’s Peter Ben Embarek and Marion Koopmans thanked China for its cooperation and said it was "extremely unlikely" the outbreak originated in a laboratory and they will no longer investigate this route, as cited by ScienceMag.org. However, the remark was later debunked by W.H.O. director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, who said "all hypotheses are on the table,” the medium reported.
One thing that seems certain now is that the virus did not originate at the Wuhan market. Beijing has pushed the theory that the virus came to Wuhan on frozen food. Conspiracies remain and the W.H.O. mission neither resolved them nor gave a satisfactory explanation. And as the South China Morning Post reported, disinformation came from all sides, more so from Beijing, Washington, Moscow, and Tehran. China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs has blamed the U.S. army early on, tweeting accusations on then-President Donald Trump’s favorite social platform, despite Twitter’s ban in China. Trump, accordingly, spat back the blame and continued to push the rhetoric until the end of his presidency. Russia sided with China, always quick to accuse the United States of all misfortunes including its own poverty. And Iran joined in accordingly, spreading rumors of a biological attack from America.
Under President Joe Biden, the Sino-American rhetoric is bound to change. No doubt, it won't get any worse than under his predecessor. A phone call between the nations' two leaders took place last week. CapitalWatch columnist Mark Melnicoe is optimistic on Biden's review of Trump's China policies.
No Certainty on Vaccine
On the vaccine front, several pharma giants took less than a year to produce a shot against the deadly virus. In China, Sinopharm and Sinovac have reached widespread vaccination, while CanSino is available for early use. Compared to the global top runners, namely, the American Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines, the Chinese shots have shown a lesser efficacy rate: Sinopharm at 79% and Sinovac at 78%. China has said it can produce 1 billion doses of the vaccine in 2021. But in addition to vaccinating its 1.3 billion population, it has also struck deals to deliver shots abroad.
And while, on one hand, questions about long-term side effects of the vaccines remain, on the other hand, the virus mutations have raised concerns as more tests are now needed. New variants of Covid-19, first detected in the U.K., have spread and were detected in more than 30 states in the U.S., likely to results in more deaths. The NYT has just reported on a new study on seven growing U.S. lineages with one concerning mutation that calls for more experimental data.
And for some, the deadly pandemic is just another quick means to profit. On Monday, Chinese state medium Xinhua reported an intensified crackdown on counterfeit vaccines. So far, 70 suspects involved in 21 vaccine-related criminal cases have been arrested. “In one case revealed by the SPP [Supreme People's Procuratorate], several suspects manufactured nearly 58,000 counterfeit vaccine doses by using normal saline, pocketing close to 18 million yuan ($2.8 million) from illegal sales,” Xinhua wrote.
Worldwide, cases of Covid-19 have reached over 108.6 million and fatalities have neared 2.4 million. In the U.S., infections have passed 27.5 million and deaths – 485,000.