China’s Rapid Rebound Highlights the Strength of Its COVID-19 Response
How did China triumph against the pandemic? The answer lies in the country’s aggressive and uncompromising approach to containing the COVID-19 pandemic and its success in quashing the second wave.
On Monday, news emerged that China’s third quarter GDP growth was an annualized 4.9%. Although short of expectations, the figures showed that China’s economy had fully returned to growth and shaken off disruption posed by the COVID-19 pandemic earlier in the year. It places the country in the unique position of being the only major economy in the world to end 2020 in a state of growth, forecasted to grow at around 2% as a whole. The announcement was made as countries in Europe faced a new wave of restrictions and lockdowns following a rapid resurgence of the virus, with record numbers of cases being reported.
With some economies experiencing GDP drops in double-digit figures and not estimated to make a full recovery by the end of next year, how did China triumph against the odds? What can be learned from their example?
The answer lies in the country’s aggressive and uncompromising approach to containing the COVID-19 pandemic and its success in quashing the second wave.
Despite prolific criticism aimed at China from Western nations, Beijing’s targeted and strict quarantine measures, combined with extensive testing spanning entire metropolises, have allowed life to return to normal. The nation firmly re-established its economic confidence without risk.
Earlier this year, after the initial outbreak in Hubei had been overcome, a cluster of COVID-19 cases emerged from the Xinfadi seafood market in Beijing. The Western media seized on the occurrence and heralded doom for Beijing, weaponizing its usual skepticism by questioning whether the outbreaks could be contained effectively. But that wasn’t how the story ended. The authorities responded by immediately placing strict quarantine over the impacted neighborhoods, restricting transport links and initiating a mass testing regime that would mandate every individual in Beijing (21 million people) to be tested.The result? The COVID-19 outbreak was contained and ended quickly, preventing further spread and economic damage.
This new model was then applied to clusters that emerged in Urumqi, Dalian and recently, Qingdao. Each time a targeted quarantine was implemented, and the entire population of the infected area was tested. The success of this method meant the long-awaited “second wave,” which the Western media were longing for, simply didn’t happen. Instead, life returned to normal. In early October, China celebrated “Golden Week” and the Mid-Autumn Festival. People made up for the disruption of the Chinese New Year, making 600 million journeys across the country. Moreover, consumer spending picked up. COVID-19 was no longer in sight.
The underlying stability created by China’s response to the pandemic has allowed economic activities to rebound quickly. In contrast, countries in Europe have been forced into longer lockdowns due to their initial complacency in allowing the virus to spread. Focusing only on the economy, they aimed to quickly eliminate the coronavirus without a coherent strategy to contain a second wave. For example, the U.K. government sought to aggressively promote leisure, hospitality and tourism industries. The media targeted “saving the summer.” Boris Johnson pushed an infamous “eat out campaign,” but recommendations on mask-wearing and social distancing were poorly enforced. It produced a politicized list of “safe to travel to” countries based on tourist priorities, even where the virus was still spreading.
The same pattern repeated throughout Europe, putting their economies back at square one. They continued to assume that public health vs. the economy was a zero-sum choice, but China’s example since Hubei has shown that to be false. It is possible to be tough on COVID-19 and to sustain the economy; the key lies in the ability to hammer the virus in its early stages through mass testing and targeted shutdowns of affected areas than to play the virus down in fear of the economy and then being forced to act anyway when it is too late.
Public cooperation also helps. China is growing because its population did not make a fuss about wearing masks. China is growing because its population followed the advice of authorities and did not dismiss the virus as a hoax or another flu. China is growing because its population took the pandemic seriously and didn’t believe that their individual lifestyle preferences mattered more than society’s needs as a whole.
As a result, China’s economic data has firmly highlighted the strength of its COVID-19 response. Those in the West who continue to point fingers at Beijing over this virus fail to appreciate the drastic failures of their own countries. Despite being the world’s most populous country of 1.4 billion people, China has proved that a second wave can be successfully prevented with strict targeted measures and public cooperation. The result is that China’s situation stands head and shoulders above the rest of the world with a hard-earned rebound of GDP.
The author is a British political and international relations analyst and a graduate of Durham and Oxford universities.He writes on topics pertaining to China, the DPRK, Britain and the U.S.