End of Zero-COVID Policy Creates Infection Explosion in China

COVID-19 healthcare worker
COVID-19 healthcare worker in mask

Remember where we were in mid-2020, when the chart of daily COVID cases was shooting upwards and it seemed like the progression would never end? That’s where China is today. Scratch that; China is well beyond the worst day of the U.S. outbreak, with an estimated 37 million new COVID infections every day last week. At that rate, China had more cases in three days than the U.S. has had in three years. Here’s some more bad news: it’s going to get worse before it gets better.

Eventually, the rate of infection will peak and drop off, but predictions of when they will happen are just that, predictions. We won’t know when it peaks until we see data, and china is not releasing numbers.

This outbreak, caused by the collapse of the government’s “COVID Zero” policy, is going to have lasting repercussions, not just for China but for the world.

Economic Problems

For China, there will be an economic impact that will make their coming recession worse. The zero-COVID policy was expensive, but it usually hit one city or province at a time. This wave of infections appears to affect the entire country. It’s going to shut down factories and reduce production across the board. It may also lead to anger and the possibility of social unrest. The leadership relaxed the zero-COVID strategy in response to social pressure. Now they will find there was no easy answer and will take the blame for surging rates of infection, empty hospital beds, and back-ups and delays at crematoriums.

For the U.S. and the world, we could see a drop off in deliveries of Chinese goods. While many U.S. companies have started to diversify their supply chain, there will still be an impact. We could see a return to those months when nothing was reaching our shores, when back-ordered replacement parts took six months or more to arrive, and the waiting list for new good sometimes exceeded one year. This scarcity will exacerbate inflation and contribute to a recession here at home. However, if the recession grows worse, this could mitigate the impact by driving down demand.

Any way you look at it, the constant yo-yoing of supply going down and up and down again will be tough for consumers and businesses

New COVID Variations

China may to open its borders within days, meaning more foreign travel in and out. That will help spread the infection and may kick-start waves of infection in other countries.

The original COVID virus has mutated multiple times. Each variation has a different mix of symptoms, rate of infection, and deadliness. 250 million infections in China means there could be an uptick in mutations that cause new variations. If new viruses spread, that could also ignite new outbreaks across the world.

As we all know, China has not been very cooperative about sharing information on COVID. Don’t expect them to let the rest of the world know if a deadlier version of the disease arises in China. We won’t find out until it spreads. There’s not much we can do except hope any new variations are less deadly than the mutations we are battling now.

Get Prepared

As much as I don’t want to wear a mask again, I’m not throwing them out. Think how fast the disease spread from China when they had fewer than 100,000 cases. There are now several thousand times as many cases. It would be folly to think this won’t lead to new outbreaks elsewhere. I think we’ll see another large outbreak in India and maybe in Russia. Australia and New Zealand are also vulnerable, having practiced their own versions of severe zero-COVID policies and country-wide lockdowns.

Whether we get one here in the U.S. depends on whether having been vaccinated or infected gives you protective antibodies that will defeat the new variations.

Spring of 202 was a bad one. We must prepare for a repeat of not only the illness but the policies, even those that have since been proven to have done more harm than good. That may lead to protests and civil disobedience as people reject lockdowns and rules.

Whether another wave of illnesses and government overreach will lead to shortages remains to be seen. But just in case, got your toilet paper?