by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
To hear the Chinese government tell it, its country ranks 98th in the world in total cases of COVID-19 recorded, with fewer cases than Oman, Armenia, Honduras, Qatar, Estonia, Cyprus, and Kuwait. Never mind that the Chinese population of 1.4 billion is the largest in the world, the virus originated in China, and many Chinese live in close quarters in big cities where social distancing is impossible. The government’s official figure of 369,000 or so total cases is about half that of Paraguay, one-third that of Cuba, one-quarter that of Norway, one-fifth that of Slovakia, and roughly one-tenth that of Romania.
Back when the U.S. was reporting more than 200,000 cases of Covid-19 per day — approaching the peak of the Omicron wave — China insisted that across the whole country, there were nine cases. As I wrote back then, “Even if we want to give Chinese policies of city-wide lockdowns and quarantining people by welding apartment doors shut the broadest possible benefit of the doubt, it’s simply not plausible that a virus that has proven wildly contagious in every other country suddenly became shy and socially-awkward once it entered the jurisdiction of the Chinese Communist Party.”
Skepticism of China’s numbers and narrative isn’t just rising now, and it isn’t just confined to the New York Times. But it does feel like it took a long while for that well-justified skepticism to kick in and reshape the narratives around China here in the West. As early as February 2020, experts looked at the country’s outbreak numbers and concluded that they didn’t add up. You may recall in April 2020 when the country’s total number of cases reported increased by precisely 50 percent — and then remained flat for roughly two years.