There is no doubt that bureaucratic bungling and authoritarian practices slowed China’s response to the coronavirus. A New York Times piece documents many of these failings. But, it is a big step to go from the evidence presented in the article to the assertion in the first paragraph:
“Beijing acted against the coronavirus with stunning force, as its official narratives recount. But not before a political logjam had allowed a local outbreak to kindle a global pandemic.”
The clear implication of the second sentence is that if China’s leadership had responded effectively to the pandemic, it could have been quickly contained in Wuhan and not spread around the world. The biggest problem with this assertion is that there is evidence that the pandemic was already present in Europe before the end of 2019, at a point where no one in China had any clear idea what they were dealing with.
A study released in June find evidence in sewage that the coronavirus had been present in Italy in December of 2019. A more recent study found that a child in Italy may have been infected with the coronavirus in November of last year. There has been other evidence that people in Europe may have already been infected with the disease in late 2019.
If the pandemic was already present in Europe by December of 2019 then China’s actions in January 2020 could not have prevented its spread to the rest of the world. This doesn’t excuse the government’s efforts to suppress information about the pandemic, but it does mean that these efforts did not have the dire consequences claimed by the New York Times.
This first appeared on Dean Baker’s Beat the Press blog.