Covid lockdowns were a Chinese import

China this month again imposed strict lockdowns on tens of millions of citizens in its relentless pursuit of “zero Covid”. In Changchun and Shenzhen, only one person per household is allowed to buy essentials every other day.

The moves come two years after much of the US followed China’s lockdown lead. California Governor Gavin Newsom announced the first statewide US stay-at-home ordinance on March 19, 2020. All US states and most other countries have long since abandoned lockdowns as overwhelming, ineffective and exorbitantly expensive. But why have free countries adopted such a strategy in the first place?

In the decades leading up to Covid-19, US public health officials had been preparing for a possible global pandemic, informed by past examples such as the 1918-19 Spanish flu that killed 3% of the world’s population, the 1958 and 1968 flu pandemics, and SARS in 2003.

Stay-at-home orders were not part of the script in the pre-Covid pandemic plans. The idea of ​​”flattening the curve” through so-called “layered non-pharmaceutical interventions” can be traced back to an influential 2007 guidance paper from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, updated in 2017. Considering a severe pandemic with a 2% death rate, the CDC recommended now-familiar strategies such as masks, surface disinfection, and temporary school closures.

However, aside from the proposals to limit mass gatherings, the CDC paper makes no mention of closing workplaces. Instead, she concludes that such a severe pandemic could justify recommending employers “offer remote working and replace in-person meetings at the workplace with video or telephone conferences.” The closest thing to lockdowns is recommending a “voluntary home quarantine” for people with an infected family member.

Similarly, in 2006, the George W. Bush White House released the National Pandemic Influenza Implementation Plan. The 227-page document spends less than a page on short financial statements, which it calls “snow days.” She does not definitively recommend such measures, noting that “the actual effectiveness of these interventions has not been quantified”, that they “entail significant costs and can only be sustained for a limited time” and that they would cause “disruption” but not the Stop Community Broadcast.”

The lack of locks in these plans comes as no surprise. They based their analysis primarily on the most severe modern pandemic, the Spanish flu. An influential 2007 paper analyzed the actions taken by cities across the US a century ago. Some imposed quarantine rules on exposed people and closed schools or “places of entertainment”, including saloons. However, the study does not name any generalized house bans or business bans.

So what prompted Mr. Newsom and his colleagues in other states to take such drastic and untried measures? In hindsight, it seems obvious that they panicked to follow China’s lead.

When Wuhan went into lockdown on January 23, 2020, such measures seemed unimaginable in the West. The Chinese government had the power to shut down airports, public transportation, train stations and major highways. No one was allowed to leave the city of 11 million without permission from the government, which enforced its decrees under threat of arrest. On January 31, a man with pneumonia killed himself by jumping off a bridge in Wuhan because he no longer had the strength to go to the hospital for treatment. He was reportedly not the only lockdown-induced suicide in Wuhan.

The Chinese Communist Party aimed to completely eradicate Covid cases regardless of the human cost. China’s zero-Covid policy continues. A handful of cases can put a city under strict lockdown and wreak havoc on normal life. Xi’an, a city of 13 million people, suddenly went under lockdown in December. A woman eight months pregnant lost her baby after being denied medical care for hours, sparking national outrage. This month a 4-year-old girl in Changchun died while waiting to test negative for Covid before being admitted to hospital for acute laryngitis.

By denying the dignity and freedom of the individual, communism leaves no basis for moral judgments other than brutal utilitarianism. On the Chinese internet, at the beginning of the pandemic, one could read comments that sacrificing 11 million in favor of 1.4 billion was good business. A Wuhan resident saw through this rationale in an anonymous essay for NPR in March 2020: “If someone says we can achieve something, but there is a price to pay, don’t rush to applaud. One day you may become the price that is paid.”

As Western nations confronted Covid-19, they appeared to believe the Communist Party’s unproven claims about the effectiveness of lockdowns. In the end, every other country got a variant of the virus and a variant of China’s official response. The world has learned to live with the former, as political leaders found they could not sustain draconian restrictions forever. The Chinese people will be forced to endure the latter indefinitely.

Mr. Kontorovich is a professor at George Mason University’s Scalia Law School and a researcher at the Kohelet Policy Forum, a Jerusalem-based think tank. Ms. Lin, an actress, is an Ambassador for China Policy for the Macdonald Laurier Institute and a Senior Fellow at the Raoul Wallenberg Center for Human Rights. She is the wife of James Taranto, editor of the Journal’s editorials.

Wonderland (01/12/22): The arming of “science” began with climate policy and accelerated with Covid-19. Now many think it’s all misinformation. Images: AFP/Getty Images Composite: Mark Kelly

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Ethan Gach

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