SGRA Kawaraban (Essay) in English
Yun Jae-un “COVID-zero” measures expired
Two years has passed of COVID-19 pandemic. I was spending Chinese New Year in Thailand and Korea at that time. When I heard news from China (unidentified infectious disease are spreading) in Thailand, I thought it was someone else’s problem. However, when I entered South Korea the situation changed. Passengers who entered from Wuhan (China) were proved to be infected one after another and the Government sent transport airplanes. I thought “the situation will calm down soon” and left for Inchon Airport to Japan. I little dreamt such situation would continue for two years.
During this period, the world hasn’t return to the time-“before Corona”. And, we had technical and cultural change which were thought to be a few years later. We could have many lessons. Especially, anti-COVID-19 counter measures varied by countries and showed characteristics of their directions. Basing on such situation, I like to write here that “COVID zero measures are being expired in the epidemic of the Omicron variant”
During these two years, people in the world witnessed a variety of anti-Corona measures. Some countries took limited or isolated measures like lockdown. Some countries relied on self-motivation of people rather than compulsory measures. There were countries which utilized IT (information technology) and personal information proactively. Based on such situation, a diagram “Democracy vs Authoritarianism” for the COVID-19 became the subject of discussion in social science field. In short, authoritarianism can suppress spread of infection easily. In the Western countries, they had travel restriction which is one of violation of human rights successively and wearing masks and vaccination were politicalized excessively. They took measures like mandatory vaccination or compulsory wearing masks in some areas. It seems to be a regression of democracy.
“Blockade of Wuhan” gave a huge impact in the World. But it is important that China could return to “Normal Life” by measures so-called “China Model” which based on areal blockade and huge number of inspections. It could not be a world model because it was difficult to have such model in other countries than China. The measures against corona virus in the United States in their deteriorated relationship with China affected much. American pharmaceutical companies (Pfizer and Moderna) developed new vaccines but the vaccination rate in the United States is sluggish (60% for the second vaccination as of January end). There was little progress in support of developing countries by the United States. We can say the Western countries are “loser” in terms of the number of infected persons and the dead.
However, such situation is changing in the spread of Omicron variant. “Introvert and exclusive measures” are becoming meaningless because of its strong infectious capacity and low severity. Western countries which experienced the spread of Omicron variant first are asking minimum quarantine to “essential workers” who support infrastructure of communities. Even in Japan, which is criticized for its severe border rules, quarantine period was shortened to “seven days”. (FYI, immigrant to Japan must stay at isolation facilities in the spread of infections. It shows slow change of direction in Japan.) South Korea, which has given up containing the virus to spread, will shorten the period after February. World-wide consensus that “COVID-zero measures have no chance against Omicron variant” are being formed now.
The reasons for policy change came from the fact which the number of inpatients is increasing but it is not the same with the peak period. The U.K. Government took the lead in such change and did not request immigration inspection for the people who took vaccination twice. They will loosen quarantine measures for infected persons and close contact persons. It may be possible to have a new variant. But almost all countries will take the same direction.
Under such situation, the counter measures by China in Chinese New Year and Winter Olympics are gathering attention. In January, Eurasia Group, American famous research firm, announced their interesting report “The Top Risk 2022”. It emphasized that “COVID-zero Countermeasures” by China are not sustainable saying the measures are the biggest risk in global economy.
According to this report, “mRNA vaccine” by Pfizer and Moderna are very popular in the world, and it reduces a danger of Omicron variant. On the other hand, these vaccines are not used in China, and it caused to weaken immunity of Chinese people in the “COVID-zero measures” circumstances. (In this point, scientific proof is insufficient.)
It seems difficult for present countermeasures by China to contain Omicron variant from spreading. The report anticipate the Chinese Government will be forced to change their countermeasures. In other words, Omicron variant pinpointed the weak points of countermeasures by the Government which have achieved success and the low immunity of Chinese people backfired. If we will consider political schedule of the Government hereafter, the past successful experiences might be a hindrance of political leaders and repeat lockdowns.
Under such circumstances, we must worry about adverse effects of global supply chain where China played a part. There were its “harbinger” in many places in China actually. In Xi’an, they had lockdown for 33 days which was the longest since Wuhan’s case, and people had problems in distribution of foods and medical systems. Semi-conductor manufacturers Samsung Electronics and Micron Technology (USA) were forced to shut down. Toyota Motor Corporation suffered a blow in Tianjin by similar measures. In Fengtai District, Beijing where the Winter Olympics are being held, infected persons were confirmed one after another. People in China began to go out actively in Chinese New Year despite they could not contain Omicron variant. In some local Governments, they requested the Government to announce the order of refraining from going outside. Stealth Omicron (BA.2) (it is difficult to classify with other variants and have stronger infectivity than Omicron) is confirmed now and COVID zero measures entered crucial stage.
After the COVID-19, various “model of measures” was tried and failed (lost) one after another in South Korea, Japan and Australia. (It is true that the number of the death in Australia was small.) And China may follow. The point is “How to coexist with Corona virus?” It is very difficult to contain the corona virus. In other words, it is an “obvious lesson” which human beings should be humble in front of the nature.
YUN Jae-un /2020 Raccoon, specially appointed lecturer at Hitotsubashi University
Translated by Kazuo Kawamura
English checked by Sabina Koirala