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Krugman using pandemic to spread misinformation about China

By Chen Weihua | | Updated: 2022-03-28 08:35
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Shanghai residents queue for nucleic acid test of COVID-19 at a site established on the square in front of Shanghai Museum, March 17, 2022. [Photo by Gao Erqiang/]

An economist by training, Paul Krugman could not avoid spreading disinformation about China and politicizing COVID-19 in his column for The New York Times, claiming that "I know that in the West we're all supposed to be over Covid … But China is definitely not over Covid …"

Just two days after Krugman's column, Maria Van Kerkhove, COVID-19 technical lead at the World Health Organization, warned that misinformation such as the pandemic is over or Omicron is a mild and the last variant of the novel coronavirus is causing a lot of confusion and allowing the virus to spread faster.

Hans Kluge, the WHO regional director for Europe, said on Tuesday that several European countries, including Germany, France, Italy and the United Kingdom, that lifted their COVID-19 curbs too "brutally" are now seeing a rise in cases.

Also on Tuesday, Benjamin Mueller, a health and science reporter with The New York Times, warned that the United States isn't doing enough to prevent a new surge from endangering vulnerable Americans and potentially upending life again.

A sub-variant of Omicron known as BA.2, which is even more transmissible, is posing a new challenge to the world including China. While more places on the Chinese mainland are reporting newly emerged infections, the number of cases in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region has been rising even more sharply.

Some Chinese cities are conducting testing on a wide scale and rotating area lockdowns as part of the government's dynamic clearing strategy, which has proved to be more effective in containing the pandemic than the laissez-faire approach adopted by the US. The fact that nearly 1 million Americans have died of COVID-19 and close to 80 million have been infected is shocking given the country's rich public health resources.

Hence, by claiming that China "is now experiencing a disastrous failure of its Covid policy", Krugman is contradicting not only facts but also the assessments of leading public health experts, including WHO scientists.

Like some US politicians, Krugman too has tried to portray the global fight against COVID-19 as one between "democracy and autocracy" without realizing that the virus knows no politics or ideology.

It is such misinformation that WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus has been condemning for more than two years.

Krugman should realize that the measures taken to contain the pandemic, such as quarantine, isolation, testing and surveillance, may look more "authoritarian" than "democratic", but they are for greater common good — to protect people’s health and life — rather than being the result of some politicians' whims and fancies.

Unlike the US, China has chosen the hard path to control the spread of the virus, and the results are there for all to see.

The epic failure of US pandemic response, as admitted by many US public health experts, is due to the lack of strict measures and the fact that the anti-virus fight has become a partisan issue dividing US society.

Krugman blames the emergence of new cases on China's "far less effective" vaccines and its refusal to adopt Western vaccines, despite the WHO asserting that Chinese-made vaccines for emergency use are effective in preventing severe diseases and hospitalization.

Therefore, instead of targeting China, Krugman should ask why Western pharmaceutical companies and governments refuse to waive the intellectual property rights on their vaccines and allow developing nations to produce and use them to inoculate their peoples.

Krugman's biggest misinformation is his claim that there is "broad distrust of the government" among the Chinese people. Hasn't he seen the surveys by Pew and Harvard University which show 80-90 percent of Chinese people are satisfied with the government?

According to the 2022 Edelman Trust Barometer, announced in January, a record 91 percent of Chinese citizens — the highest in a decade — had trust in their government, compared with just 39 percent of Americans trusting their government.

Just like the fight against climate change, the battle to contain the virus too should be a common cause for humankind, not a political smear campaign that Krugman has indulged in.

The author is chief of China Daily EU Bureau based in Brussels. 

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