Paul Krugman | How China Lost the Covid War – The New York Times

Opinion Columnist

Do you remember when Covid was going to establish China as the world’s dominant power? As late as mid-2021, my inbox was full of assertions that China’s apparent success in containing the coronavirus showed the superiority of the Chinese system over Western societies that, as one commentator put it, “did not have the ability to quickly organize every citizen around a single goal.”

At this point, however, China is flailing even as other nations are more or less getting back to normal life. It’s still pursuing its zero-Covid policy, enforcing draconian restrictions on everyday activities every time new cases emerge. This is creating immense personal hardship and cramping the economy; cities under lockdown account for almost 60 percent of China’s G.D.P.

In early November many workers reportedly fled the giant Foxconn plant that produces iPhones, fearing not just that they would be locked in but that they would go hungry. And in the last few days many Chinese, in cities across the nation, have braved harsh repression to demonstrate against government policies.

I’m not a China expert, and I have no idea where this is going. As far as I can tell, actual China experts don’t know, either. But I think it’s worth asking what lessons we can draw from China’s journey from would-be role model to debacle.

Crucially, the lesson is not that we shouldn’t pursue public health measures in the face of a pandemic. Sometimes such measures are necessary. But governments need to be able to change policy in the face of changing circumstances and new evidence.

And what we’re seeing in China is the problem with autocratic governments that can’t admit mistakes and won’t accept evidence they don’t like.

In the first year of the pandemic, strong, even draconian restrictions made sense. It was never realistic to imagine that mask mandates and even lockdowns could prevent the coronavirus from spreading. What they could do, however, was slow the spread.

At first, the goal in the U.S. and many other countries was to “flatten the curve,” avoiding a peak in cases that would overwhelm the health care system. Then, once it became clear that effective vaccines would become available, the goal was or should have been to delay infections until widespread vaccination could provide protection.

You could see this strategy at work in places like New Zealand and Taiwan, which initially imposed stringent rules that held cases and deaths to very low levels, then relaxed these rules once their populations were widely vaccinated. Even with vaccines, opening up led to a large rise in cases and deaths — but not nearly as severe as would have happened if these places had opened up earlier, so that overall deaths per capita have been far lower than in the United States.

China’s leaders, however, seem to have believed that lockdowns could permanently stomp out the coronavirus, and they have been acting as if they still believe this even in the face of overwhelming contrary evidence.

At the same time, China utterly failed to develop a Plan B. Many older Chinese — the most vulnerable group — still aren’t fully vaccinated. China has also refused to use foreign-made vaccines, even though its homegrown vaccines, which don’t use mRNA technology, are less effective than the shots the rest of the world is getting.

All of this leaves Xi Jinping’s regime in a trap of its own making. The zero-Covid policy is obviously unsustainable, but ending it would mean tacitly admitting error, which autocrats never find easy. Furthermore, loosening the rules would mean a huge spike in cases and deaths.

Not only have many of the most vulnerable Chinese remained unvaccinated or received inferior shots, but because the coronavirus has been suppressed, few Chinese have natural immunity, and the nation also has very few intensive care beds, leaving it without the capacity to deal with a Covid surge.

It’s a nightmare, and nobody knows how it ends. But what can the rest of us learn from China?

First, autocracy is not, in fact, superior to democracy. Autocrats can act quickly and decisively, but they can also make huge mistakes because nobody can tell them when they’re wrong. At a fundamental level there’s a clear resemblance between Xi’s refusal to back off zero Covid and Vladimir Putin’s disaster in Ukraine.

Second, we’re seeing why it’s important for leaders to be open to evidence and be willing to change course when they’ve been proved wrong.

Ironically, in the United States the politicians whose dogmatism most resembles that of Chinese leaders are right-wing Republicans. China has rejected foreign mRNA vaccines, despite clear evidence of their superiority; many Republican leaders have rejected vaccines in general, even in the face of a huge partisan divide in death rates linked to differential vaccination rates. This contrasts with Democrats, who have in general followed something like New Zealand’s approach, if much less effectively — restrictions early on, relaxed as vaccination spread.

In short, what we can learn from China is broader than the failure of specific policies; it is that we should beware of would-be autocrats who insist, regardless of the evidence, that they’re always right.”    -30-

Will Long COVID Research Provide Answers for Poorly Understood Diseases Like ME/CFS? < Yale School of Medicine

“In 1983, Rivka Solomon was 21 and attending the University of Massachusetts Boston when she and her two roommates came down with infectious mononucleosis, or “mono.” Her roommates recovered within a couple of weeks. She never did.

Debilitating Long-term Fatigue
Photo by courtesy of Rivka Solomon
Debilitating Long-term Fatigue
ME/CFS symptoms have kept Rivka Solomon in or near her bed for nearly 30 years.

Following her infection, she could barely get out of bed or stand up to brush her teeth. She was so sick she had to pull out of the university. This went on for a year until she went into what she describes as a “relatively spontaneous quasi-remission.” For several years, she was well enough to go to school, travel, work, and sometimes even exercise. But even during this respite, she constantly dragged a lingering exhaustion with her, and at unpredictable times she would find herself bedridden for days on end, never knowing when the debilitating fatigue would lift.

She was in graduate school in Washington, D.C., studying for her master’s degree when she was hit by a second infection, pneumonia. She pushed through the fatigue to finish her schooling—and then she collapsed. “Nobody told us back then, because nobody knew, that the primary thing you shouldn’t do when you have a post-infectious chronic illness is push through,” Solomon says. After graduation, she “crawled back” home to New England. This was in 1993. She has been in or near bed ever since.

Myalgic encephalomyelitis/chronic fatigue syndrome (ME/CFS) is a highly disabling, severe condition that has been largely overlooked and even questioned as an illness by medicine and researchers for decades. But now, following the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, as many as one in eight infected people, according to Akiko Iwasaki, PhD, Sterling Professor of Immunobiology, are developing “long COVID,” in which symptoms persist for weeks, months, or years post-infection and some are developing symptoms indistinguishable from ME/CFS. As an increasing number of people become debilitated by the post-viral syndrome, researchers such as Iwasaki and Harlan Krumholz, MD, Harold H. Hines, Jr. Professor of Medicine (Cardiology) are striving to uncover the mysteries behind the unrelenting fatigue and numerous other symptoms that seem to linger after COVID infection. They hope to provide answers to not only COVID “long haulers,” but also patients suffering from other poorly understood chronic conditions, including ME/CFS, that have been left unresolved for too long.

“The pandemic has opened the world’s eye to the fact that many chronic illnesses have been largely ignored, dismissed, and ridiculed,” says Iwasaki. “Long COVID has taught the world that these diseases are real, there is a biological basis for them, and we need to study them.” ”

Source: Will Long COVID Research Provide Answers for Poorly Understood Diseases Like ME/CFS? < Yale School of Medicine

How to Stay Safe From Covid This Holiday Season – The New York Times

“At this stage in the long slog of the pandemic, many of us are forgoing masks in places we previously wore them and getting together indoors when we had formerly avoided it. But the holidays throw new variables at everyone’s risk calculus. People trek across the country to see each other. Families crowd around dinner tables, with older, more vulnerable people sitting beside their younger relatives.

As we enter our third pandemic holiday season, some doctors are fearing a seasonal surge in Covid. In Europe — which many experts consider a bellwether for Covid cases in the U.S. — cases are starting to mount, prompting the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control and the World Health Organization to warn that a new wave of infections could be starting.”

Danielle Car | Is America Really in a Mental Health Crisis? – The New York Times

DL: Excellent article, though slow to start. It ends well:

“. . . . Solving the mental health crisis, then, will require fighting for people to have secure access to infrastructure that buffers them from chronic stress: housing, food security, education, child care, job security, the right to organize for more humane workplaces and substantive action on the imminent climate apocalypse.

A fight for mental health waged only on the terms of access to psychiatric care does not only risk bolstering justifications for profiteering invoked by start-ups eager to capitalize on the widespread effects of grief, anxiety and despair. It also risks pathologizing the very emotions we are going to need to harness for their political power if we are going to win solutions.:  -30-

Sarah Milov | Removing Nicotine From Cigarettes Would Spell a Historic Shift in Tobacco Regulation – The New York Times

Dr. Milov is an associate professor of history at the University of Virginia and the author of “The Cigarette: A Political History.

“The Food and Drug Administration recently proposed lowering the nicotine content in cigarettes to less addictive levels. If adopted, this regulation would finally test one of the tobacco industry’s favorite claims: that smoking is a choice. Portraying smoking as a willful, personal decision has long allowed tobacco companies to promote cigarettes even while acknowledging their deadly risks. But the paradigm of individual choice has also guided cigarette regulation, ironically strengthening the industry’s key talking point — until now.

Nicotine is the addictive element in a cigarette. By reducing nicotine levels in cigarettes, federal regulations will, for the first time, address the key driver of cigarette consumption, which claims 480,000 American lives each year. Nicotine’s effects are particularly acute in adolescence, which is when most smokers start.

Tobacco companies have long understood that physiological dependence on nicotine — or what executives preferred to call nicotine satisfaction — was central to their business. Since the 1960s, the tobacco industry has manipulated ammonia levels in cigarettes to enhance nicotine’s effects. As one cigarette company research director commented in 1954, “It’s fortunate for us that cigarettes are a habit they can’t break.” “

Teens Are Getting Sick From Products With High THC Levels – The New York Times

“It didn’t smell, which made it easy to hide from her parents. And it was convenient — just press a button and inhale. After the second or third try, she was hooked.

“It was insane. Insane euphoria,” said Elysse, now 18, whose last name is being withheld to protect her privacy. “Everything was moving slowly. I got super hungry. Everything was hilarious.”

But the euphoria eventually morphed into something more disturbing. Sometimes the marijuana would make Elysse feel more anxious, or sad. Another time she passed out in the shower, only to wake up half an hour later.

This was not your average weed. The oil and waxes she bought from dealers were typically about 90 percent THC, the psychoactive component in marijuana. But because these products were derived from cannabis, and nearly everyone she knew was using them, she assumed they were relatively safe. She began vaping multiple times per day. Her parents didn’t find out until about one year later, in 2019.”

Excellent article with good comments, both pro and con THC use and abuse.

Here is a comment that stood out for me.

Springfield3h ago

It’s the number one cause of reversible erectile dysfunction and male infertility for men under 30 at my urology office. Large increase in patients since state where I practice legalized. Similar to alcohol- a little might promote the mood, a lot – not so much. A generation of guinea pigs having to learn moderation is key to life.

3 Replies110 Recommended

Black Death: A Clue to Where the Plague Originated – The New York Times

“Where and when did the Black Death originate? The question has been asked for centuries and led to heated debate among historians.

Now, a group of researchers reports that it has found the answer in the pulp of teeth from people buried in the 14th century.

Based on their analysis of the preserved genetic material, the researchers report that the Black Death arrived in 1338 or 1339 near Issyk-Kul, a lake in a mountainous area just west of China in what is now Kyrgyzstan. The plague first infected people in a small, nearby settlement of traders eight years before it devastated Eurasia, killing 60 percent of its victims.”

Thomas Friedman | America 2022: Where Everyone Has Rights and No One Has Responsibilities – The New York Times

“. . . . When Rogan exercised his right to spread misinformation about vaccines, and when Spotify stood behind its biggest star, they were doing nothing illegal.

They were just doing something shameful.

Because the Rogan podcast episode that set off the controversy, an interview with Dr. Robert Malone, who has gained fame with discredited claims, completely ignored the four most important statistical facts about Covid-19 today that highlight our responsibilities — to our fellow citizens and, even more so, to the nurses and doctors risking their lives to take care of us in a pandemic.

The first three statistics are from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s latest surveys. First, unvaccinated adults 18 years and older are 16 times more likely to be hospitalized for Covid than fully vaccinated adults. Second: Adults 65 and older who are not vaccinated are around 50 times more likely to be hospitalized for Covid than those who have received a full vaccine course and a booster. Third: Unvaccinated people are 20 times more likely to die of Covid than people who are vaccinated and boosted.

The fourth statistic is from a survey from the staffing firm Cross Country Healthcare and Florida Atlantic University’s College of Nursing, released in December. It found that the emotional toll and other work conditions brought on by the pandemic contributed to some two-thirds of nurses giving thought to leaving the profession.

A McKinsey study last month about the stress on nurses quoted Gretchen Berlin, a registered nurse and McKinsey partner, as saying: “Many patients, especially at the start of this, had only the nurses with them for those final moments, and I’m not sure that we’ve provided the decompression space for what that does to an individual who has to see that and support people through that over and over again. … The level of stress that individuals are dealing with is going to have massive implications on everyone’s well-being.” “

Provisional COVID-19 Deaths: Focus on Ages 0-18 Years | Data | Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

“Deaths involving coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) with a focus on ages 0-18 years in the United States.’

DL:According to this chart, the deaths of children 0-18 in the US was counted as 883, 864,256 total deaths.

Source: Provisional COVID-19 Deaths: Focus on Ages 0-18 Years | Data | Centers for Disease Control and Prevention