(This is the entire manuscript of my latest book; I made it available for free because I believe the topic is very important. The book is also available as a free pdf and can be purchased as an e-book from amazon. A paperback version is coming soon.)
Why did Wuhan lockdown? At first sight, the question might seem laughably naïve. Only someone who has spent the last two years living on a desert island could fail to know the answer. A new coronavirus emerged in Wuhan in late December 2019, and the Chinese Communist Party took decisive action. The whole city was quarantined on January 23, 2020, to contain the virus, to nip the spread in the bud. The action of the CCP was drastic but necessary and humane. Everybody in Wuhan made a noble sacrifice to keep the world safe.
The problem is: the official story about Wuhan is misleading in every respect. And nor should anyone have expected otherwise. You cannot trust anything that comes out of the mouths of a communist regime.
So what really happened in Wuhan? In this book, I will ask the question seriously, and try to provide some serious answers. It turns out that the truth about Wuhan is of the utmost importance. Just as the lies about Wuhan helped plunge the world into the nightmare of lockdowns and other cruel and pointless Covid restrictions, the truth about Wuhan can help set the world free.
I’m not the first person to question the official narrative about the Wuhan lockdown. In his brilliant book Snake Oil: How Xi Jinping Shut Down the World, the American attorney and writer Michael P. Senger has done important research. In what follows, I will draw on Senger’s analysis, but I will also offer a new perspective that I think is missing from his work. To preview a long story: I think Senger is correct that the Wuhan lockdown was a deliberate exercise in dishonesty, and I think he is correct that the President of China, Xi Jinping, tried to ‘shut down the world’ by exporting lockdowns, but, unlike Senger, I don’t think Xi planned the whole thing from the start.
The truth, I will argue, is even more disturbing.
According to the official narrative, Wuhan was like a modern day Eyam, the Derbyshire village that was quarantined to contain an outbreak of Bubonic Plague in England in 1666. The CCP sealing off Wuhan was ‘a very important indication of the commitment to contain the epidemic in the place where it is most concentrated’, said one WHO spokesman at the time.
However, the official narrative glosses over a crucial fact: Wuhan was not the only city that the CCP locked down on January 23. In China’s Hubei province, of which Wuhan is the capital, a total of 15 cities were locked down on that day, placing around 60 million people under house arrest. The virus had already escaped Wuhan by the time the city went into lockdown.
And that’s putting it mildly. Consider the chronology of the outbreak. Covid-19 was sequenced by a Chinese genomics company in late December 2019. The company used fluid samples obtained from a deliveryman who worked at Wuhan’s seafood market, where many of the earliest cases were thought to have originated. The results suggested a novel coronavirus. China’s Centre for Disease Control was duly informed, and on December 31 the Chinese government notified the WHO of an outbreak of pneumonia in Wuhan.
And then… nothing happened.
For three weeks, travellers poured in and out of Hubei, with the blessing of the authorities. On the very day that the WHO was informed of the outbreak, 200,000 free tickets were handed out for a festival that would be held in Wuhan to celebrate the Chinese New Year, which ran from January 18-24. Hundreds of millions of people travelled throughout China, heading to their hometowns in advance of the New Year celebrations. International travel in and out of Hubei continued until the lockdown. 28 flights departed Wuhan Airport every day, to destinations such as Tokyo, London, Dubai, Paris, San Francisco, Bangkok and Singapore. On January 1, an estimated 175,000 people left Wuhan. On the eve of the lockdown, 300,000 people fled Wuhan overnight; the lockdown had been announced late that evening, scheduled to come into effect at 10am the next day, which gave people an opportunity to escape. All in all, nearly 5 million people left Wuhan in the weeks before the lockdown. By January 21, Covid-19 outbreaks were known to be occurring in Chinese cities outside of Hubei, including Beijing and Shanghai. On January 16, Japan recorded its first case of the virus. On January 21, Taiwan recorded its first case, as did the USA. On January 24, the first European case was confirmed in Bordeaux. Clearly, the virus was already spreading far and wide by the time Wuhan went into lockdown.
There is also evidence that Covid-19 was circulating long before the first cases were announced in China. An Australian security firm has noted that the Chinese government spent twice as much money in 2019 on PCR tests compared to the previous year. Much of the spending came from the Wuhan Institute of Virology, the Wuhan University of Science and Technology, and the Hubei Province Districts Centres for Disease Control and Prevention. Moreover, researchers from Harvard University have analysed satellite images and search engine data from China, finding that an unusual number of people visited Wuhan hospitals in the latter half of 2019, at a time when searches for ‘cough’ and ‘diarrhoea’ were spiking. Scientists in California have suggested that Covid-19 was circulating in Wuhan up to two months before the virus was sequenced. And the WHO has now admitted that the virus was already spreading in China months before December 2019. The Hong Kong newspaper The South China Morning Post has even cited official documents showing that the first Covid-19 case was recorded in China on November 17, 2019, albeit the record was backdated.
The virus was also circulating around the world before the first cases were announced in China. In Europe, French doctors re-tested old samples from pneumonia patients and discovered that one man had had Covid-19 on 27 December 2019. An Italian study of blood samples from cancer patients showed that Covid-19 was circulating in Italy as early as September. Other Italian scientists analysed sewage samples and came to the same conclusion. Similar research by virologists in Spain found evidence of Covid-19 as far back as March. In the USA, one study found that the virus had reached the Pacific North West by December. And the American Red Cross collected blood samples in nine states, finding that some Americans had Covid-19 antibodies on December 13.
The implication is clear: the official narrative about the Wuhan lockdown is nonsense. Whatever happened in Wuhan was nothing like what happened in Eyam. Far from taking drastic action, the Chinese authorities spent weeks if not months idling while the virus ran riot. Locking down the city on January 23 couldn’t possibly have nipped the spread in the bud, because the virus was already everywhere.
Indeed, the authorities didn’t just passively let Covid-19 spread, they actively tried to minimise any concerns about the virus. In their statement to the WHO on December 31, the Wuhan Health Commission reported that the new illness in Wuhan was ‘preventable and controllable’. Several days later, the WHO nonchalantly announced that the patients in Wuhan were showing symptoms which were ‘common to several respiratory diseases, and pneumonia is common in the winter season’. The CCP meanwhile took steps to keep the story under close control. On January 3, the National Health Commission banned the publication of information relating to the Wuhan outbreak, and decreed that any new samples of the pathogen must be transferred to designated testing institutions or destroyed. And China’s main state newspaper did its part too. Up until the lockdown, the People’s Daily only mentioned the Wuhan outbreak once, on January 1, and the message was reassuring: ‘Wuhan citizens don’t need to worry’. One journalist from the city summarised the CCP’s aims in those early stages: ‘If we look at the main efforts undertaken by the leadership, and by provincial and city governments in particular, these were focused mostly not on the containment of the epidemic itself, but on the containment and suppression of information about the disease’.
It wasn’t until January 9 that Chinese health officials admitted that the outbreak had been caused by a novel coronavirus. Even then, they tried to calm things down: on January 10, a prominent government respiratory expert told one of the state broadcasters that the Wuhan pneumonia was ‘under control’ and mostly a ‘mild condition’. The CCP was so keen to downplay the threat from Covid-19, they went as far as repeatedly saying there was no ‘clear evidence’ that the virus could be transmitted from person to person. Incredibly, government officials maintained this brazen lie right up until January 20, confounding the testimony of Wuhan doctors and indeed health experts around the world. The lie also confounded members of the Wuhan public, who were well aware that a new virus was circulating in the city. The public became anxious, and restless. And suddenly the authorities had a new problem on their hands, a problem which was much more dangerous than the virus itself.
Among the many things the media don’t tell you about Wuhan is that the lockdown was in fact the second time in just over six months that the locals had been subjected to government brutality. In July 2019, the CCP sent in horse-mounted riot police to quell ‘mass unrest’ in the city. Residents had gathered outside government offices to protest about a proposed new waste incineration plant. The plant would cause dangerous levels of pollution, said the residents, who were also unhappy about a nearby landfill site that was emitting toxic odours. The protests lasted several days and grew in numbers, until some 10,000 people were taking part. They chanted ‘Give me back green mountains and blue water!’, and carried banners with slogans such as ‘Air pollution will damage the next generation’ and ‘We don't want to be poisoned, we just need a breath of fresh air’. One protestor complained that the authorities were ‘blindly ignoring people and children’s health’.
According to social media posts on Weibo, a ‘large contingent’ of regular and riot police dished out a ‘violent response’; even elderly people were not spared the beatings. Within days, over 231 million Weibo users were discussing the Wuhan protests. The general view was that the government had been ‘unresponsive to the concerns of the local people’ and had used ‘excessive force’. Granted, this makes you wonder what the appropriate level of force would have been! But the widespread sympathy for the protestors was not surprising. In recent years, environmentalism has become a popular cause in China. Ma Jun, the founder of the country’s largest green NGO, explains that ‘the environmental area is where Chinese society has the biggest consensus.’ As China has become wealthier and better educated, the growing middle class has become increasingly intolerant of pollution. In recent years, protests over incineration plants have broken out in numerous Chinese cities.
The Wuhan protests came off the back of a ‘six-year fight’ between the locals and the government over another incinerator which was already causing pollution in the city. As one commentator has summarised: ‘In Wuhan, the middle class is… distrustful of official pledges to ensure the incinerators are safe’; there is a feeling that the CCP displays a ‘lack of willingness to protect people’s health’. And you can understand why the people feel this way. When the Wuhan protests gained national attention on Weibo, the CCP promptly removed the topic from the platform’s ‘hot searches’. Having suppressed the protests, the CCP then set about suppressing any discussion of the protests. This was hardly the behaviour of a regime with nothing to hide.
Westerners often think that people who live under authoritarian governance become passive. In fact, the reality is more complex. Oppressed people are subdued, but for the very same reason they are dangerous to their oppressors. Authoritarians are bullies, and bullying leads to resentment, and resentment leads to resistance. Yes, authoritarians are likely to crush any resistance, but the potential for rebellion is ever-present. In authoritarian societies, the government and the public are locked into a cycle of mutual antagonism and mutual distrust.
This dynamic is key to understanding what happened in Wuhan in January 2020. Covid-19 arrived in the wake of the city’s brutalised protests about pollution. A sense of distrust was hanging in the air between the government and the public. Wary of further unrest, the CCP reacted to the outbreak by downplaying the seriousness of the situation. In turn, the Wuhan public also reacted warily. They assumed that the CCP was, once again, displaying a lack of willingness to protect people’s health. Just like with the incinerators, the locals knew they were being lied to.
Feeding into this lingering sense of mutual distrust, there were memories of other episodes in which the CCP had initially misled the Chinese public over a health issue before being pressured into a fuller disclosure. Over the last few decades, numerous health scandals have reached national prominence in China, including several incidents of mass lead poisoning, a spate of injuries and deaths from faulty vaccines, and an incident in which hundreds of thousands of children were sickened by toxic milk powder formula. These health scandals will have been on the minds of Wuhan citizens when Covid-19 emerged. And the CCP will have wanted to avoid any further negative publicity on the subject of public health.
Above all, the Wuhan public and the CCP will have had bitter memories of a previous outbreak of a contagious respiratory disease in China. In December 2002, an illness called Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) emerged in Guangdong province. The response from the CCP was eerily familiar. For the first few months, officials insisted the outbreak was under control, and a media ‘blackout’ was imposed on the topic. Only on April 2, 2003, did the CCP finally take the situation seriously. Under domestic and international pressure, the government announced a ‘crusade’ against SARS. Over 100 officials were sacked for their ‘slack’ response, and some 1000 more were disciplined. A national ‘Patriotic Hygiene Campaign’ followed. Villages, apartments and campuses were sealed off. Tens of thousands of people were quarantined. Roadside checkpoints were installed to examine people passing through. 80 million people were enlisted to disinfect houses and streets. SARS sufferers were treated for free anywhere in China. By May 2003, the epidemic was losing momentum, and by August the last two SARS patients were discharged from hospital. Several hundred people had died. The CCP declared the fight victorious.
But neither the CCP nor the Chinese public felt triumphant after SARS. The public never forgave the government for reacting slowly. And the government never forgave the public for pressuring them into reacting. The nationwide mobilisation against the virus had wiped an estimated 0.7% off China’s GDP, which is a very significant sum of money, especially in a country where development can mean the difference between life and death. The authorities were determined to avoid a similar financial loss in future. That’s why, when Covid-19 emerged in 2019, the Chinese government doubled down on their 2002 strategy of denial. Indeed, this time they went further, by denying human-to-human transmission. If the virus couldn’t spread between people, the CCP wouldn’t feel pressured to disrupt the Chinese economy.
In addition, the CCP had other reasons for reacting cagily to Covid-19. One reason came right from the top: Xi Jinping himself was personally inconvenienced by the outbreak. The Chinese New Year is a time when the country’s leading politicians announce their policy aims. Naturally, there is a large propaganda element to these announcements. According to one report, Xi had three main priorities for the coming year. The first was to proclaim China’s success in the ‘full establishment of a moderately wealthy society’. The second was to promote the CCP’s ‘Belt and Road’ initiative, which aims to create a global trade network centred on China’s interests. The third was for Xi to be seen spending time in people’s houses, to demonstrate his intimate connection with his country; the state media had prepared a series of articles on the theme of ‘The General Secretary Visited My Home’. Considering these policy priorities, a viral outbreak would have been the last thing Xi wanted to deal with. A deadly contagious disease bursting out of China, complete with roadblocks and quarantines and apartments being sealed off, was hardly in tune with his message of global trade, prosperity and visiting people’s houses.
There’s a final reason why the CCP downplayed the threat from Covid-19 in January 2020. It’s the most obvious reason, but it’s also the hardest to accept, because, in doing so, you have to credit the CCP with some good judgement. The fact is: Covid-19 wasn’t a major threat, so the CCP rightly didn’t want to create a big scene. Whereas SARS had a fatality rate of 11%, which arguably justified some sort of government response, Covid-19 was mild for the great majority, with an average age of death of around 82, and a fatality rate of around 0.1%, the latter being comparable to the flu. Even if the CCP couldn’t be sure of the exact threat from Covid-19 at the start, they knew that the new virus wasn’t as dangerous as SARS. At no point did any political leader worldwide suggest that Covid-19 was anything like as dangerous as SARS. When the CCP initially downplayed the threat from Covid-19, they did so on prudent grounds.
Of course, this is not to exonerate the CCP over their handling of the outbreak in the initial stages, never mind the latter stages. Denying human-to-human transmission was a dreadful decision. It was a cynical lie. And lies have consequences. This particular lie caused a chain reaction, whereby the Chinese public, especially in Wuhan, became increasingly restless about the virus, and the government became increasingly authoritarian, culminating in what could fairly be described as the straightjacketing of the city.
The authors of an academic report into the SARS outbreak have summarised how the CCP’s mismanagement of the situation fuelled public anxiety:
The government’s failure to publicize the outbreak in a timely and accurate manner and the ensuing rapid policy turnaround eroded the public’s trust and contributed to the spread of rumours even after the government adopted a more open stance toward information on the epidemic.
Nothing changed. When Covid-19 emerged in Wuhan in 2019, the CCP’s lies once again spawned rumours. Some of the rumours came from official sources, especially from doctors in Wuhan. Other rumours came from members of the public, especially on social media. But all the rumours assumed that the situation was worse than the government was letting on.
As far as the CCP was concerned, ‘rumours’ was a broad category. Criticising the government’s handling of the outbreak was counted as a rumour – for instance, complaining that the authorities hadn’t provided enough face masks. Also, reports of potential cases, reports of people being turned away from hospitals, reports of people dying without being tested, reports of people being cremated without being tested, reports of people being discriminated against for having Covid-19 – all these were counted as rumours, as was the sharing of foreign news reports online.
The authorities set about trying to scrub all Covid rumours from social media platforms. Internet users responded by mocking the censorship, joking that the virus must be ‘patriotic’ because apparently it was only spreading beyond China’s borders. The CCP also set about harassing individuals who were spreading rumours. On January 2, eight doctors were arrested in Wuhan for proposing that the recent cases of pneumonia in the city had been caused by a new outbreak of SARS. One of the doctors was Li Wenliang, who later died from Covid-19. Li was posthumously lionised by the CCP as a whistleblowing hero; before the lockdown he was denounced as a dangerous mischief maker. On January 14, Wuhan police detained a group of Hong Kong journalists who were reporting outside Jinyintan Hospital, and forced them to delete their footage. Even the Mayor of Wuhan didn’t feel able to speak freely; he later remarked that he ‘could only disclose information after being authorized’ by higher authorities.
Throughout China, journalists, lawyers and activists were harassed by the authorities. An organisation called Chinese Human Rights Defenders has documented the nature and scale of the CCP’s campaign against Covid rumourmongers. Generally, the offending individuals were ‘administratively detained for 3-15 days and forced to admit wrongdoing; some of them were fined, given verbal warnings, educational reprimands, or criminal detention’. The CHRD has compiled a list of 897 cases up to March 26, with details of the charges. Most of the cases are from January, especially the last week of January. The charges make fascinating reading. They include such crimes as ‘Spread rumour’, cause bad influence’, ‘express untrue speech’, ‘fabricate facts’, ‘disrupt public order’, and even ‘Causes videos to be reposted in large numbers’.
Tellingly, on the entire list, there is only one accusation that is specific: causing panic. There were 26 such cases, variously described as: ‘create panic’, ‘cause social panic’, ‘causing fear and panic’, ‘cause public panic’, ‘caused panic among the people’, ‘causing panic among the masses’, or ‘caused thousands of people panic’. In the section detailing the charges, the accusation of causing panic is usually mixed in with other ‘bad influence’-type accusations, which suggests that panicmongering might have been implicit in many charges where it wasn’t explicitly stated. On another webpage, the CHRD notes that some people were arrested for volunteering to distribute face masks; perhaps this counted as ‘causing panic’ too. Clearly, the authorities were concerned about the public mood in China. If there were people being arrested for causing panic, then there were people panicking. The general atmosphere of paranoia among the Chinese public was obviously becoming quite extreme in places.
From a Western perspective, one memorable thing about early 2020 was all the scary videos that emerged from China. In hindsight, the videos were probably examples of the online rumours being spread by the Chinese public. Most commentators, including Michael Senger, have assumed that the videos were created by the CCP. But this is questionable: the CCP wanted to suppress the fearmongering, not exacerbate it. Even after the lockdown, the CCP continued to tell the Chinese public that the situation was under control; fearmongering was never on the regime’s domestic agenda, not least because they were anxious to avoid giving any impression that they weren’t keeping the public safe. And, as for any possible role in promoting lockdowns worldwide, well, the videos weren’t necessarily created with that intention, because after the lockdown the CCP also told the international community that the situation was under control. No, it’s more likely that the Chinese public were responsible for creating or at least pushing the scary videos, both before and after the lockdown. Just as with SARS, the public continued spreading rumours after the government’s ‘rapid policy turnaround’; understandably, the lockdown unnerved people even further.
Many of the videos were misleading, which is another reason why they’ve been attributed to the CCP. But members of the public can mislead too, and in early 2020 it was the Chinese public who were inclined towards hyperbole on the subject of Covid-19. One widely shared clip showed some pigs being burned alive in a pit, allegedly due to the Wuhan outbreak; turns out the footage was from a Swine Fever outbreak in 2019, nothing to do with Covid-19. Another clip shows a body lying prostrate on the pavement. The victim was alleged to be a woman killed while trying to escape from quarantine; in fact, the body was a young man who had died in a motorcycle accident. This was one of many videos showing bodies in the street, or people collapsing. But China is a big place where people drop down dead every day; there was nothing to suggest that any of these people had had Covid-19, or even that they were all dead. In one of the scenes, a man can clearly be seen extending his arms to break his fall as he ‘collapses’; it’s amazing anyone was ever taken in by this stuff. Perhaps the most notorious clip showed men in protective suits with ‘SWAT’ written on their backs capturing an unmasked man by hooking him over the head with a butterfly net. The scene went viral. But it wasn’t real; it was some sort of training exercise by policeman in Tongbai.
In some instances, the CCP publicly denounced the videos as misleading. One video shows three men walking past in hazmat suits, carrying guns. When the men are off camera, gunshots can be heard, while bodies can be seen lying in the street, the insinuation being that doctors were shooting patients; the CCP insisted that the men were policemen who had shot a rabid dog, and that the video had been misleadingly edited. Another video shows apartment blocks where imprisoned people can be heard ‘screaming’ during the lockdown; the CCP insisted that the people were singing and chanting, celebrating the Chinese New Year. Granted, nothing the CCP says can be relied upon. And some of the grim footage emerging from the lockdown seems authentic to me, for instance zealous officials welding people’s doors shut; apparently the officials wanted to test people on their way in and out of their apartments, which meant blocking off some doorways. Even so, I am sure that many of the videos and the associated comments that emerged from China in early 2020 were examples of rumourmongering by anxious members of the public who were faced with a worrying new disease and a communist government that was telling lies about the disease.
The folly a deux in which the CCP and the Chinese public were locked, a doom spiral of lies and paranoia, was nowhere more evident than in Wuhan in January 2020. From January 3 to 16, the Wuhan Health Commission claimed that no new cases of Covid-19 had been detected in the city. This was a preposterous lie. Meanwhile, the public were going online and fretting about a terrifying plague. This was a preposterous exaggeration; there was a cold going round. The exaggeration was the shadow of the lie.
And the CCP’s lie was doubly provocative. The time period in which they alleged that no new cases had appeared in Wuhan was a little too convenient. On January 12-17, the Hubei Province People’s Congress session was held in Wuhan. More than 2,000 delegates were involved in the event, often dubbed the ‘two meetings’. The organisers will not have wanted any disruption to this prestigious occasion, in which CCP officials congregated in lavish surroundings, supposedly to channel the ‘popular will’. However, judging by later commentary, the public didn’t feel that their will was being channelled. There were angry memories of when the CCP had gone ahead with the National People’s Congress (NPC) in March 2003, in the middle of the SARS outbreak. The Wuhan public considered the Wuhan sessions, likewise, to be inappropriate during a viral outbreak. A few days after the lockdown, the journalist Qian Gang thundered: ‘We can imagine 1,013 delegates crowded into the Wuhan Theatre, and later 1,346 delegates crowded into the Hongshan Ceremonial Hall’. The public were also angry that during the sessions there was ‘not a hint’ of discussion about Covid-19. While the delegates hobnobbed, ‘Hubei missed its last opportunity to control the full outbreak of the disease’. Qian summarises the public mood as follows:
How could it be, people have asked, that such a critical threat to the public was breaking out right in the midst of these ‘two meetings,’ and yet the ostensible representatives in attendance completely turned their eyes away and kept their mouths shut?
Another factor that created anxiety in Wuhan was the looming presence of the Wuhan Institute of Virology. In one of the ‘scary videos’ that flew around the world in early 2020, scores of bodies can be seen lining the streets of Wuhan. (In fact, the people were asleep, 600 miles away). Underneath the video, a comment says: ‘Wuhan China. Dead Bodies waiting 4 pickup. Coronavirus NO ordinary Virus. Is it intentionally released BIO WEAPON?’ The question itself was a fair one, and it remains unresolved. But while the world probed the origins of Covid-19, another related issue was overlooked: the Wuhan public were probably no less spooked by the idea that the virus had escaped from a lab than Western observers were. Indeed, in Wuhan they will have been especially spooked. Not only because of their proximity to the Wuhan Institute of Virology, but also because, as the summer protests testify, the locals had a track record of worrying about dangerous contaminants emanating from government facilities. With the CCP hushing up the subject of Covid-19, no wonder the Wuhan public became paranoid that their safety had been compromised again.
In this connection, I also cannot help but notice the centrality of ‘breathing’ to the Covid narrative that emerged from Wuhan. ‘We would like to breathe clean air. Why is it so difficult?’, one resident had asked during the summer protests. By January 2020, anxious locals were now haranguing the government about a virus that was making it hard for people to breathe. At the same time, anxiety itself was probably hampering people’s breathing in Wuhan during the Covid outbreak. When you’re anxious, your breathing becomes shallow and frantic. There seems to have been a vicious cycle: Wuhan residents, who were suffering from a longstanding sense of government neglect, became anxious about a virus that might affect their breathing, whereupon their breathing was in fact affected by their anxiety, which made them more anxious about the virus… and so on, until the anxiety turned into panic. You could call it the Wuhan Syndrome.
On Jan 19, the WHO finally announced what everyone in Wuhan knew anyway: that the virus was spreading between people. There was ‘some limited human-to-human transmission occurring between close contacts’, said the WHO, somewhat grudgingly. On January 20, China’s Health Ministry acknowledged the same. And Xi Jinping himself weighed in, announcing that ‘People’s lives and health should be given top priority and the spread of the outbreak should be resolutely curbed’. By now, the Chinese public were clamorous for government action. Even the state newspapers started talking about the outbreak. One journalist noted approvingly that ‘The story that most concerns people right now is the story receiving the most attention’. Another journalist noted the ‘immense public anger’ about the CCP’s ‘deception and miscalculation’ over Covid-19. Yet the CCP had finally listened, it seems. On the same day as Xi’s announcement, the Changjiang Daily, Wuhan’s official party newspaper, published a ‘Media Responsibility Report’. The preface of the report declared: ‘We move with the flow of the people, leaping to wherever the people are’, adding ‘The people call, we answer’.
The people were calling loudest in Wuhan. The city was in tumult, the epicentre of the Covid mania that was gripping China. A fascinating documentary entitled ‘Three Days that Stopped the World’ gives an insight into the atmosphere in Wuhan at that time. Produced by Al Jazeera, the documentary follows two Chinese journalists as they explore the city during the days preceding the lockdown.
The first of the journalists to arrive in Wuhan, on January 19, is Yang Yun. With only 6 confirmed deaths at that point, Yang initially observes that not everyone in the city is panicking. He speaks to a shopkeeper and a taxi driver, both of whom seem stoical. However, the next day, Yang speaks to another taxi driver, who says the situation is ‘terrifying’. ‘This pneumonia has very few symptoms’, the driver explains, unaware that he has somewhat contradicted himself. He continues: ‘Damn this disease. You really can’t make head or tail of it… You can’t tell if it’s a natural or man-made disaster’. In these words, you can clearly witness the Wuhan public’s prevailing fear of contamination, and their distrust of the authorities, an overall mood of paranoia that was intensifying while the CCP refused to discuss Covid-19 openly.
Yang visits Wuhan’s seafood market, which is sealed off. Outside the entrance he is harassed by masked police officers and a masked CCP official. Imploring them to let him do his work, Yang says: ‘We want to help the public find some answers’. The police officer snaps back: ‘Let’s stick to the official announcements, alright?’ Then the officer adds, almost confessionally: ‘Now, there are official announcements every day’.
Yang goes to the city’s main hospital. He tries to get himself admitted, claiming that he has a fever. The lady at the reception, in full PPE, exclaims ‘Oh no, you have a fever!’ She sends him to an ‘isolated zone’, where his lungs are X-rayed. He overhears a doctor telling a patient that the hospital is only admitting ‘confirmed cases’. Yang leaves and goes to another hospital, where a sign at the entrance says ‘Take your temperature. Wear your mask correctly.’ He tries to get admitted, but they send him to a testing centre. There he encounters many people queuing for a test; it is a ‘long, long wait’, the narrator tells us. Yang adds: ‘Wuhan residents are reporting that hospitals are unable to cope’. A social media post is flashed up on the screen, telling us about a hospital that is ‘so crowded that many people are lying on the corridor floor’.
Later that evening, the municipal government strengthens the testing regimen for people going in and out of the city. Another journalist, Chen Way, arrives by aeroplane, noting that ‘everyone at the airport is wearing masks’. The airport staff are ‘disinfecting the exits’, she says, adding: ‘It is very intense’. Yang confirms the mood: ‘Everyone seems to be talking about the virus outbreak. I see faces filled with fear and worry.’ Chen takes a taxi to her hotel. She notes that ‘in the streets, almost everyone is wearing a mask’. ‘Some people in Wuhan are very worried’, she continues, ‘and they’re starting to leave’. ‘Now the city is in panic’, she surmises.
Meanwhile, the narrator tells us that ‘on social media, there are suggestions that the number of cases are underreported’. A post flashes up saying: ‘Doctors want to report cases but they are afraid’. Outside another hospital, the camera crew film some visitors who have brought ‘food parcels for infected patients’. Masked guards take the parcels. One of the visitors tells Yang ‘No one can get in’. The guard barks back ‘The four of you better leave now’.
Next, another taxi driver tells Yang that ‘15 medical workers are infected. The epidemic is now very serious’. It is January 22, the day before the lockdown. Yang visits another hospital in Wuhan, one which has been designated solely as a Covid-19 treatment centre. He has official permission to film there, but the guards won’t let him in. A lady is at the gates with her grandfather, who has a confirmed case of Covid-19, but the guards won’t let him in either. They say: ‘Go to other hospitals.’ The woman replies: ‘They asked me to bring him here… You’ve pushed us around for two days… I’m so distraught… They keep passing the buck. I’m so anxious’. A guard replies, almost comically, ‘Give him another face mask’. Then they tell the lady that she needs a ‘document’. She produces the document, but she’s told to wait, whereupon she becomes furious. A guard shouts back ‘We don’t just admit anyone!’ At this point, Yang is ushered aside by the guards, because the woman is trying to get his support. The guards start shouting at Yang: ‘Not everyone who is sick can come here… There are proper channels to bring him here’. They tell Yang to stop filming. He replies: ‘You’re being paranoid’.
More social media posts are flashed up on the screen: ‘Wuhan is seriously lacking medical resources’, ‘Don’t listen to the experts’ lies’. At 2am in the morning, the authorities suddenly announce that the city is going into lockdown. Chen decides to stay but Yang flees. On his way out of the city, he says ‘I see so many taxis and cars heading for the train station and airport’. Another social media post is flashed up: ‘The highway is filled’. The hashtag #FleeingWuhan is trending. Yang reaches the station. It is packed. He sees a group of young women trying to escape the city. ‘They are yelling at the station staff “Just get me any ticket to leave now. Anywhere is fine, as long as we can get out of Wuhan”’. Chen reports that ‘Panic spreads quickly all over the city. Fear of the virus reaches a climax’.
At 10am, Wuhan is in lockdown. The streets are dead. Farcically, given the mass exodus that took place overnight, a CCP official announces: ‘Airports, railway stations and other passageways out are closed’. Chen is still in the city. She reports that people have started panic buying. She manages to get permission to film inside a hospital. There, a masked doctor tells her: ‘We are fighting a war against the disease’. He adds, somewhat incongruously: ‘We don’t know much’. Chen goes to an isolation ward, where medical staff in full PPE can be seen sticking some plastic material over a doorway. The whole effort looks rather improvised. The doctor says, proudly: ‘Like Chairman Mao always said, we solve the problems with what we have!’
Watching ‘Three Days that Stopped the World’, I had to keep reminding myself: it was a cold. A bad cold. But a cold, nonetheless. The Wuhan public were drastically overreacting. With their masks, their clamour to be tested, and their frenzied rumourmongering, they were losing their minds over a cold. Meanwhile, the medics were overreacting too – fixating on the virus, plastering themselves with PPE, and amplifying the rumourmongering. In all of this, there was probably only one rumour that was true: Wuhan’s health system was under siege. But that was because members of the public were being extreme hypochondriacs, and the hospitals had become dysfunctional Covid fortresses.
Amid all the global commentary about the Wuhan lockdown, the most crucial factor has been overlooked: the mass panic. I do not believe there would have been a lockdown in Wuhan if the public had not panicked over Covid-19. Yes, the panic worsened when, on January 20, the CCP finally admitted that the virus was passing between people. But the authorities had been playing down the threat until that point. If the CCP had had their way, most people in China would never have even heard of Covid-19. Life in Wuhan would have carried on as normal. Moreover, even after January 20, the CCP continued trying to ‘calm a nervous public’, as one reporter has noted. On January 22, masks were mandated in public places in Wuhan, which seems a strange measure to take if you are on the brink of confining everyone to their houses.
Alas, the CCP’s policy of openness came too late, and nothing could calm the Wuhan public. After a month of being lied to, the locals were extremely inflamed, and the inflammation was getting out of control. On the same day that the mask mandate came in, the leaders of the CCP were faced with their worst nightmare – an open revolt by the public. A journalist for the newspaper, the Hubei Daily, posted on social media: ‘Wuhan must immediately change out its commanders.’ The call started proliferating online. And that was only the half of it. Internet users were also ferociously ridiculing the CCP. A meme went viral in which the word ‘coronavirus’ was replaced with ‘official virus’, the two words being spelt differently but sounding the same – basically a pun that accused CCP officials of incompetence and negligence. The public wanted action… or new leadership.
But what action? I corresponded with a Westerner who lives in Wuhan and he told me this: ‘People begged for the lockdown.’ Let that sink in. To me, this has long seemed the most plausible explanation for what happened in Wuhan. Even the CCP cannot get away with locking up millions of people without pushing at an open door. My correspondent in Wuhan also told me that people had ‘already began to self-isolate’ before the lockdown. ‘On New Year’s Eve’, he said, ‘those of us who went out were shamed’. If people were already beginning to self-isolate in Wuhan, the CCP probably reckoned that the best way to ensure that the city remained in an orderly state was to lead a full shutdown instead of trying to maintain authority amid the chaos of a partial shutdown.
At the same time, the lockdown was a perfect way for the CCP to crush any further dissent in Wuhan. Faced with an increasingly mutinous public who, paradoxically, were begging to be restrained, the CCP naturally concluded that the best course of action was to restrain the public. The decision was a no brainer. And, having hastily announced the lockdown, presumably the authorities permitted the mass exodus overnight so as to reduce the likelihood that anyone who might have caused trouble during the lockdown would remain in the city. During the lockdown, the WHO’s Assistant Director Bruce Aylward visited Wuhan and made the follow remark: ‘Behind every window... there are people cooperating with this response. And people have said 'yeah, but there’s a big presence forcing them'. There isn’t. It’s invisible. It’s staggering.’ The reason the people of Wuhan didn’t need a big presence forcing them to stay home was because they wanted to stay home.
There were other domestic considerations that motivated Xi’s no brainer decision. As well as the Wuhan unrest in summer 2019, he had faced many months of fierce protests in Hong Kong, where citizens were unhappy about a new law which would enable forced extradition to China. Unlike in Wuhan, the brutal response of the CCP had not quelled the Hong Kong protests; on the contrary, the protestors had become more determined. When Covid-19 came along, the protests shrank physically, but the protestors’ anger didn’t go away: it morphed into anger at the CCP’s sluggish response to the outbreak. Many of the dissenting journalists whom I have cited in this essay write for a Hong Kong-based organisation called ‘China Media Project’. The consensus among the CMP journalists was the same as in Wuhan: the CCP was not doing enough to protect people from Covid-19. Locking down Wuhan will have helped curb public anger in Hong Kong. After the lockdown, one CMP journalist crowed that ‘China has at last entered true epidemic response mode’.
It sounds jarring to hear a dissident journalist in Hong Kong speaking approvingly of the CCP committing a monstrous human rights violation in China. But that’s the reality. Moreover, the wider Chinese public will also have been satisfied by the Wuhan lockdown. As one CMP journalist explained: ‘There was no doubt whatsoever by January 26 that the coronavirus was the most urgent and important matter for the country, that it would take long and concerted effort to deal with, and that it was the focus of public concern.’ Wuhan’s mayor spoke of the CCP’s desire to ‘manage the source of the outbreak’, ‘gain control of its source’, ‘contain the centre of the outbreak’. What happened in Wuhan was nothing like what happened Eyam, but the CCP wanted the Chinese public to believe that the lockdown on January 23 had protected the whole of China.
As for why the entire Hubei region was locked down, I can only speculate. Maybe there was hypochondria and unrest throughout the region. Or maybe the Chinese public perceived that the whole of Hubei was the centre of the outbreak, so the CCP cynically locked it all down. Either way, if you peer closely at those words from the Wuhan mayor, you get a glimpse into the mind of a CCP official; you can discern the party’s true motives. The mayor didn’t actually speak of the outbreak. He spoke of ‘managing’ or ‘gaining control’ of the ‘source’ of the outbreak. Wuhan was the source. The CCP didn’t give a damn about Covid-19. They never did. The Wuhan lockdown was, above all, about managing the public. It was about managing a city, indeed an entire region. It was about the CCP doing whatever they had to, to stay in power. Wuhan was locked down because the locals went mad. They were ‘begging for the lockdown’ or else demanding that the city should ‘immediately change out its commanders’. The Wuhan public’s furious desire to be restrained was a threat to the authority of Xi, who duly obliged and crushed the city in an act of benevolent reprisal.
And so it was that the seriousness of what was happening in Wuhan broke upon the nation, and my city became a city under lockdown – not out of an overriding concern for public health, but out of a conviction that politics and stability preservation must always come first.
Writing for the China Media Project a few days after the lockdown, this anonymous Wuhan-based journalist was under no illusions about what had happened in the city. The CCP had confiscated the freedom of 11 million people because of ‘politics and stability preservation’. In other words: the authorities had faced massive public unrest and had responded by giving the public what they wanted. The Wuhan residents were the ones who had exhibited an ‘overriding concern for public health’. The CCP’s overriding concern was to maintain the appearance of being in control.
However, I realise that most Westerners are under illusions about what happened in Wuhan. The Wuhan public’s desire to be coerced has created the illusion that the CCP authored the coercion. And, more generally, the authoritarianism of the CCP has created the illusion that the Chinese public can’t possibly have exerted any influence of their own. Ironically, most Westerners are making the same mistake that the CCP used to make. During Mao’s reign, the Chinese government treated the public like a giant machine, but the outcome was decades of stagnation and discord. Nowadays, politicians in China understand that they cannot retain power without a prosperous public, and prosperity requires economic freedom. The dilemma for Xi is that free citizens are more likely to overthrow him. He has tried to solve the dilemma by censoring dissent, but his strategy has often backfired. Wuhan’s residents rebelled in July 2019, and again in January 2020. Each time, they rebelled in reaction to a lack of openness from the regime. Tragically, the city’s mass hysteria over Covid-19 dragged China back to a darker past.
To understand the reality of what happened in Wuhan, we can also look for evidence beyond China. There is another country that locked down for reasons which I am even more certain did not originate with the government. I am talking about my own country, Britain. The causes of Britain’s lockdown (indeed all three lockdowns) are relevant to what happened in Wuhan because we can reasonably assume that similar effects have similar causes, especially when the effects are as extraordinary as lockdowns. Moreover, not only can the circumstances of Britain’s lockdowns illuminate what happened in Wuhan, the reverse is also true. By understanding the similarities across the two countries, we can even start to understand why the entire world was plunged into Covid lunacy.
I have written two long essays about how Britain ended up adopting some of the harshest Covid restrictions in the world – ‘The Unions and the U-turns’ and ‘The Road to Lockdown’. In what follows, I will briefly summarise my findings, emphasising some especially relevant points.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s first major intervention into the unfolding story of Covid-19 in Britain was to downplay the threat. On March 3, 2020, he boasted that he had ‘shaken hands with everyone’ in a hospital where there were coronavirus patients. Several days later, he talked about Britain taking the virus ‘on the chin’. The PM’s initial nonchalance was reflected in official policy. Based on the recommendation of the government’s leading scientists, the plan was to pursue a ‘herd immunity’ strategy, allowing the virus to spread unimpeded through the young and healthy population while vulnerable people stayed temporarily out of harm’s way. On March 12, Johnson’s chief science advisor Patrick Vallance went on TV to explain and defend this sensible strategy.
On the same day, Johnson held a press conference in which he admitted candidly that ‘[Covid-19] is going to spread further and… I must level with the British public: many more families are going to lose loved ones before their time.’ Clearly, the PM was trying to avoid making the same mistake that the CCP had made. He opted for candour instead of evasion. If he treated the public like adults, maybe they would behave like adults. He issued another warning: ‘At some point in the next few weeks we are likely to go further, and if someone in a household has symptoms then we will be asking everyone in that household to stay at home. I want to signal now that this is coming down the track.’ But there was no talk of lockdowns coming down the track. Johnson was forecasting deaths and a relatively lax government response. He ended on an upbeat note: ‘We will get through this.’
For the first two weeks of March, the government’s advice to the public was minimal: wash your hands, and don’t wear a mask. Ministers and scientists repeatedly insisted that the virus would be mild for the vast majority of people. Unfortunately, the public weren’t reassured. A panic was brewing, due to various factors. One major factor was the Italian lockdown on March 9: the spectacle of a Western democracy taking such extreme measures was unnerving. Another factor was the rumours that were circulating in Britain. The various scary videos from Wuhan did the rounds, as did some scary stories – for instance, thousands of funeral urns being shipped to Wuhan, and millions of mobile phone accounts supposedly disappearing in China. The British public assumed, just like their Wuhan counterparts, that the CCP had underreported the Covid death statistics. And, of course, in Britain, too, there were fears that Covid-19 might be a bioweapon. A contribution also came from CCP social media bots stoking up fears and promoting lockdowns. I will return to this point later.
Another factor in Britain’s mass panic was the role – or lack of a role – played by journalists. Some journalists actively fearmongered; others kept their heads down, too frightened to offer a rational counternarrative. Either way, the government’s herd immunity strategy received almost zero support from the media. By the time Britain was lurching into lockdown, very few journalists were openly protesting. Even the vast majority of conservative journalists declined to speak out against the impending atrocity. The British media failed the British public.
But of course the loudest support for the lockdown came from Britain’s socialists, who were generally going ballistic with anxiety, especially on social media. They called Johnson a ‘butcher’ and a ‘fascist’; they said he was deliberately ‘culling the weak’. It was nonsense: the whole point of the herd immunity strategy was for the strong to bear the burden on behalf of the weak. And the weak would hardly be helped by the colossal damage that lockdown would inflict on everyone.
Yet, despite the panicking public, Britain almost certainly wouldn’t have ended up in lockdown if not for a crucial factor: mutinying unions. Under the control of radical socialists, several huge unions made a series of demands or threats to the government in mid-March. Health unions angrily demanded more PPE in hospitals, with the GMB union warning that medical staff would refuse to work without better protection. The largest rail union the RMT threatened to take ‘whatever action was required’ to protect its members. The academic union the UCU formally called for universities to close. Numerous teaching unions, led by the National Education Union, agitated for schools closures. The largest legal union the LSWU called for the government to ‘shut down the courts’. And the TUC – a confederation of 48 unions, with a total of 5.5 million members – stoked a massive work from home munity, encouraging employees to cite health and safety legislation as grounds for refusing to attend the workplace.
Johnson gradually caved in. The media furore over PPE set the tone. Having jumped to attention on this issue, he and his ministers were accused of being oblivious to the scale of the threat from Covid-19. They were cowed. On March 13, Johnson banned mass gatherings, probably to placate the RMT and other rail unions. On March 16, he began advising everyone in the country to practice social distancing, including working from home where possible. With the TUC in open revolt, working from home was going to happen whether Johnson liked it or not. And people were already beginning to self-isolate, just like in Wuhan. The country was spontaneously shutting down; Johnson moved with the flow of the people, you might say. To justify the government’s sudden U-turn, he wheeled out Professor Neil Ferguson’s preposterous doomsday prediction that 500,000 people could die from Covid-19. The government’s science advisors fell into line, selling their souls in the process.
There was further pressure from unions. The next day, March 17, the leadership of PCS, the civil service union, met with cabinet ministers to discuss the union’s ‘concerns’ about Covid-19. And there was a decisive new intervention from teachers. The NEU wrote an open letter which threatened unilateral schools closures unless the government agreed to close every school in the country. Johnson caved in 24 hours later. With the schools closed, lockdown became inevitable. Keeping the economy open wasn’t viable if the nation’s children weren’t supervised during the daytimes. In one crazy week, the government had gone from a sensible policy of allowing a mild virus to spread through the young and healthy population to the awful madness of a legally enforced lockdown. British democracy had sunk like a stone.
The lockdown officially began on March 24. The same day, a government poll reported that only 2% of the British population were ‘strongly opposed’ to the measure. 76% were strongly in support, with a further 17% somewhat supportive. The lockdown also received near-unanimous support within parliament, including from Johnson’s main leadership rival, Jeremy Hunt. Johnson probably wouldn’t have survived as PM if he had tried to stand up to the mass panic and mutinying unions in mid-March 2020. No doubt, he was also conscious that, if he had been unseated by the Covid mania, Brexit would have been at risk; Hunt was an ardent Remainer, one of many who had spent three years trying to thwart the 2016 Leave vote. Furthermore, Johnson will have been aware that the lockdown was likely to happen whether he opposed it or not. Rightly or wrongly, he clung to power, hoping to lead Britain back to sanity rather than allowing Covid zealots to take the reins.
But there were further capitulations from the government. Masks were mandated on public transport in May 2020 after the RMT had again threatened to strike. Masks were mandated in shops in July 2020 after the retail workers union, USDAW, had demanded the measure and allegedly threatened industrial unrest. There was a month-long second lockdown in November 2020 after the NEU had called for a ‘circuit breaker’. And Christmas 2020 was heavily restricted after the British Medical Association furiously demanded tougher Covid measures over the festive period.
Then, in the New Year, came the craziest episode of all. It started when the government wanted to reopen schools on January 4, 2021, amid huge opposition from teachers. On January 3, the NEU held a Zoom meeting which was viewed by 400,000 people. At the meeting, the NEU’s Executive advised teachers that it would be unsafe for them to return to work. There was a nationwide teaching mutiny the next day. On the evening of January 4, Johnson announced a national lockdown. He pretended that the measure was based on science, a new ‘variant’ of Covid, when the real reason was that the mutiny by the teachers had forced the government’s hand.
And still the lunacy escalated. From March 8 to May 17, schoolchildren were forced to wear masks in classrooms because teaching unions had demanded this cruel measure as a condition of returning to work. In September, a Covid vaccination programme was rolled out for schoolchildren. Teaching unions had demanded this appalling measure too, against the advice of the Joint Committee on Vaccines and Immunisation. In the interim, on July 19, Johnson had optimistically announced that all Covid restrictions in Britain were being scrapped. But the madness came roaring back in the Winter. Once again, there were mask mandates in shops, on public transport, and in classrooms, because of unrest from unions. It was the usual suspects: USDAW, the RMT and the teaching unions. For several months, Covid Vaccine Passes were mandated for large venues in Britain, the government bringing in this outrageous measure under pressure from the NHS and the BMA.
As I write, there are still Covid restrictions in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. But all the legal restrictions have now been lifted in England. We can only speculate as to how Johnson has managed to reign in the unions. Threatening to vaccinate all NHS staff was probably decisive in persuading the NHS and the BMA to back down. As for the teaching unions, perhaps the government threatened to blow the lid on the illegality of the January 4 teaching mutiny. Whatever the explanation, the unions are making a lot less noise about Covid than they were.
Throughout all this, and despite his many capitulations, Johnson has clearly been attempting to hold back the tide of Covid lunacy in Britain. According to Dominic Cummings, Johnson’s opinion in March 2020 was that ‘the real danger here is the measures that we take to deal with the disease and the economic destruction that that will cause’. Cummings has also claimed that Johnson expressed regret after the first lockdown, saying ‘I should have been the mayor of Jaws and kept the beaches open’. Moreover, during a cabinet discussion about the prospect of a second lockdown, Johnson apparently shouted ‘No more fucking lockdowns!’ A book by one of Johnson’s former science advisors even quotes the PM as saying: ‘I don’t believe in any of this, it’s all bullshit.’ After the second lockdown, Johnson reportedly declared that he would rather see ‘bodies piled high in their thousands’ than oversee a third lockdown.
The PM’s sceptical words have also been backed up by actions. The government has consistently tried to keep schools open, resorting to legal measures, possibly even in March 2020. After the first lockdown, the government repeatedly tried to reopen the schools, amid fierce opposition from all the teaching unions. The same was true, on both counts, during the third lockdown. Notably, both the first and the third lockdowns ended when the school year ended in July, clearly illustrating the influence that the teachers were exerting on national policymaking. There have been sackings too. Johnson forced out Dominic Cummings and Matt Hancock, both Covid zealots. And the PM has ripped up all the Covid rules on two separate occasions. In recent months ‘Operation Rampdown’ has been in full flow, an attempt to cajole the public back to sanity. The Queen herself has been wheeled out for the task. In an obvious PR exercise, several newspapers reported on their front pages that the Monarch, who had caught Covid-19, would ‘continue working’. Even the government’s relentless vaccine propaganda campaign could be seen as a fightback of sorts. Johnson has always considered high vaccine uptake as a means of restoring public confidence, notwithstanding the dreadful adverse effects the vaccines have caused in many people, including deaths.
Granted, amid all this chicanery, one thing has been conspicuous by its absence: an honest admission from the PM that the government’s Covid restrictions have all been pointless and politically motivated. As well as trying to spin his way out of the coronapanic debacle, Johnson has continually maintained that the whole farce was justified. He has been like Janus, the Roman god who had two opposite faces, one looking forwards, one looking backwards. Inevitably, this ‘Janus Strategy’ has severely hampered Johnson in his efforts to confront the unions. He could hardly stand up to the unions effectively while also telling them that the various measures they’ve relentlessly campaigned for were justified.
So why has Johnson never come clean? One reason, I guess, is stubbornness: no politician wants to admit that their authority has been undermined, or that they made a terrible decision. Another reason is that Johnson has never escaped the dilemma that has haunted him since the start. If he had openly admitted that the lockdown was a preposterous overreaction, and that he was pressured into it, he would have been accused of not taking the pandemic seriously, whereupon he would have been forced out of office, to be replaced by a Covid zealot.
Johnson will also have been wary of the legal implications of admitting that the coronapanic debacle was a monstrous crime. In turn, he will have been wary of accepting sole blame for the crime. Most lockdown sceptics, whether journalists, celebrities, politicians or members of the public, in fact supported the first lockdown, and now they don’t want to admit it, so they’ve tried to pin all the blame on Johnson. In the process, they’ve avoided discussing any topic relating to the events of March 2020: herd immunity, the mass panic, or Johnson caving in to the unions. The lack of an honest national conversation around these topics has deterred Johnson from telling the full truth. If lockdown sceptics had led the way, by talking honestly about the real dynamics of the debacle, by showing some humility and accepting some small share of the blame, I think Johnson could have been cajoled back to herd immunity and empowered to confront the unions properly.
Britain’s first lockdown happened because of a combination of a mass panic and a massive mutiny by unions. The country was spontaneously shutting down, with a work from home munity in full flow and the public already embracing self-isolation. The government got out in front of the parade and pretended to lead it. The lockdown was a ‘spin lockdown’; Johnson was motivated solely by a desire to maintain an appearance of authority. The second lockdown was probably also a spin lockdown, primarily designed to placate the NEU. And the third lockdown was without any doubt whatsoever a spin lockdown, the most obvious of them all. It was motivated solely by the PM’s desire to cover up an overt teaching mutiny that was unilaterally shutting the nation’s schools on January 4, 2021.
None of the lockdowns would have been possible if the public hadn’t endorsed the policy. Although teaching mutinies have played a role each time, the teachers have received widespread public support. Other members of the public have acquiesced quietly in the madness. The teachers have been at the leading edge of public anxiety about Covid-19. In an earlier essay, I used the term ‘Coagulation’ to describe the process by which Britain’s lockdowns occurred. The term – which means ‘blood clotting’ – is intended as a metaphor for an economic shutdown that happens spontaneously, with the top-down management of the process coming afterwards. Britain has coagulated three times during the coronapanic debacle. Each time, the government has responded with spin lockdowns.
I think people’s sense of what is possible in terms of control changed quite dramatically between January and March… [China] is a communist one-party state, we said. We couldn’t get away with it in Europe, we thought… And then Italy did it. And we realised we could… If China had not done it, the year would have been very different.
‘Get away with it’? That’s a strange phrase to use if you’re talking about a health mitigation that allegedly saved hundreds of thousands of lives. But it’s not a strange phrase if you’re talking about a diabolical policy that had nothing to do with science, nothing to do with health, and everything to do with a government desperately trying to maintain the appearance of being in charge during a mass panic about a cold.
‘If China had not done it…’ But, alas, China did do it. China coagulated too, and Wuhan was the epicentre of the coagulation. Xi Jinping sent the city into a spin lockdown, to ensure that his authority wouldn’t be washed away on a tide of mass panic and chaos.
The decisive role of public sector unions in driving Britain’s coronapanic debacle raises questions about whether there was a similar contribution from unions in Wuhan or the wider Hubei region. Trade unions in China are legal but they are required by law to affiliate to the CCP; independent unions are banned. However, Chinese unions frequently engage in ‘collective bargaining’ to improve workers’ pay and rights. The China Labour Bulletin has logged 13,000 strikes or protests throughout the country since 2011. It’s another reminder that the CCP no longer rules China with an iron fist.
I searched the CLB’s database for evidence of union agitation in Wuhan or Hubei in March 2020. No relevant strikes or protests showed up. But that doesn’t mean none occurred. The CCP may have scrubbed out the records. Or maybe the records weren’t logged in the first place. Amid the public fury over the regime’s initial covering up of the outbreak, CCP officials will have been wary of any accusation that they had to be pressured into a response. And the unions themselves may not have wanted to boast about causing trouble during a crisis. Moreover, as the situation in Britain showed, unions were able to cause trouble during the coronapanic without participating in any ‘official’ action. The mere threat of union action, even an implicit threat, could spook the authorities. Alternatively, a de facto strike could be organised unofficially, by employees going online and agreeing to coordinate a no show; the effect would be the same as an official strike.
I find it hard to believe there wasn’t agitation from trade unions or other professional bodies in the run up to the Wuhan lockdown. If the ‘middle classes’ throughout China were increasingly intolerant of pollution, then Wuhan’s professional classes were likely to have made some sort of collective effort to protect their interests during the Covid-19 outbreak.
There is one instance where such an effort seems especially likely. We know that medics in Wuhan were at the forefront of efforts to persuade the CCP to escalate the government’s response to the outbreak. We also know that the city’s hospitals developed a siege mentality, turning away patients on the advice that ‘home is best’. There’s also an intriguing report from the journalist Sharri Markson, who writes of a ‘senior doctor’ in the city who ‘self-isolated for a week’ whenever he encountered a pneumonia patient (although the doctor abandoned this measure when the hospitals became too busy). Forgive my cynicism, but self-isolating without being sick sounds like shirking to me. Remember: Covid-19 was a cold! Here in Britain, the NHS’s ‘Test and Trace’ app caused an epidemic of shirking, not just among medical staff but throughout the country. If a senior doctor in Wuhan was self-isolating for no good reason, presumably the practice was officially sanctioned, at least for a while.
Chinese medics prioritising their own interests was also a factor in the development of a Covid-19 treatment protocol that proved harmful to patients. In March 2020, the WHO declared that ‘invasive mechanical ventilation’ should be the ‘first choice’ for patients with moderate to severe respiratory distress. Escalating rapidly to mechanical ventilation went against the conventional medical guidance for treating pneumonia, because ventilators can cause lung damage. The new advice was based on ‘Chinese expert consensus’, the aim being to protect medics during the pandemic, because patients on ventilators are less likely to spray particles into the air. Medics were also advised to minimise the time they spent with Covid patients, which meant using harmful sedation to stop intubated patients from reflexively pulling out their ventilation tubes. The WHO’s treatment protocol was adopted around the world, but abandoned soon afterwards. One American doctor admitted that he had ‘intubated sick patients very early’ and ‘not for the patients benefit, but to control the epidemic’. He added: ‘That felt awful’. It was indeed awful. And it was a practice that originated in China, perhaps even in Wuhan, among the medics who helped stoke a mass panic in the city.
There are other snippets of evidence suggesting that professionals acting in concert may have played a decisive role in the Wuhan lockdown. Consider this: when the municipal authorities announced the lockdown, they didn’t actually say anything about a lockdown. They said: ‘From 10 a.m. on January 23, 2020, the entire city’s public transportation, subway, ferries, and long-distance travel will be suspended’. The emphasis was on the shutdown of public transport in and out of the city, and within the city. Subsequent news reports echoed this emphasis. For instance, on January 23, the BBC’s headline for the unfolding story was: ‘Wuhan shuts public transport over outbreak’. The accompanying article didn’t mention the lockdown. Another example comes from the People’s Daily, China’s main state newspaper. The English edition broke the news about Wuhan in a solitary tweet: ‘The city has shut down its public transportation and cut its links to other regions’. Again, there was no mention of the lockdown. You get the impression that the transport shutdown was central to what was happening in Wuhan. And that’s strange, because 24 hours earlier, the CCP had mandated masks on public transport in Wuhan, as well as in other public spaces in the city. Clearly, the regime wasn’t anticipating a transport shutdown, or any sort of shutdown, at that point. I wonder if transport workers in Wuhan suddenly engaged in a coordinated mutiny, which the CCP urgently span into an official government policy, thus shaping the ensuing news stories. Maybe the strike also involved transport workers throughout Hubei. Remember: a strike threat by transport unions played a major role in locking Britain down.
It’s also worth speculating about a possible role for universities in the Wuhan lockdown. Chinese universities doubled their spending on PCR tests in 2019. Presumably, academics in China were being massive hypochondriacs, just like in Britain. An Italian blogger who teaches at a university in Wuhan has indicated as much, writing that, on January 20, ‘Our university advised us to avoid public places, wear a mask at all times and, to those that were not in Wuhan, avoid coming back earlier than planned. The same message was repeated pretty much all over town by other employers.’ This is a revealing statement. The last sentence is notable in its own right, hinting at widespread mania in the city prior to the lockdown. But the phrase ‘avoid coming back earlier than planned’ is especially intriguing. With students headed home for the New Year celebrations, Wuhan’s universities were in recess. Maybe the universities had no intention of reopening after the break.
And maybe Wuhan’s schools likewise had started shutting down spontaneously before the lockdown. Schools had already been cancelling classes due to Covid-19 as far back as November. If one child was infected, the entire class was asked to stay home – the same nonsense that ended up engulfing British schools. Bear in mind that, in 2019, the CCP wasn’t even talking about Covid-19, never mind downplaying the threat, so the teachers in Wuhan were clearly capable of causing mischief without any government encouragement or provocation.
According to a report called China’s teachers: The unsung heroes of the workers’ movement, written by the China Labour Bulletin, teachers and the government in China have had a ‘long running battle’ over ‘pay and working conditions’. Chinese teachers are ‘far from reluctant to take collective action’; there are ‘surging accounts of teacher actions against their localities and administrators’. Indeed, the report continues:
The evidence suggests that teachers are actually more likely than factory workers to take industrial action: They are willing and able to stand up for their legal rights and benefits, they can organize quickly and on a massive scale, and have continually resisted attempts by local governments and school administrators to erode their pay and benefits.
The rise of the internet has contributed to the surge in teacher unrest in China. As the report explains:
Teachers have… demonstrated the ability to utilise social media… This organizing ability has allowed several teachers’ protests to spread quickly and incorporate colleagues in neighbouring areas who were facing similar issues.
In 2014-2015 alone, there were 168 teacher strikes or protests in China. These actions included ‘participants across all levels of education service from preschool teachers to the university’. There is ‘swelling teacher anger and frustration in a country whose economy is weakening, whose middle class is trying to come to grips with a lowering quality of life, and whose government has decided that the way to deal with its insecurity about protest is to crack down’.
It's an all-too familiar tale: the CCP making a rod for its own back. The report issues a warning: ‘In alienating its teachers, the regime is playing with fire’, because ‘when teachers are the source of unrest, the danger to those in power is more profound than for other workers, at least in part because they are also the engines of the nation’s chief source of propaganda, the public schools’.
One of the teachers strikes that the report mentions is particularly notable. In November 2014, in the city of Zhaodong, a few hundred teachers participated in a strike over pay and pensions. Fuelled by social media, the unrest spread to neighbouring cities. Within a week, 20,000 teachers had joined the strike. There was an ‘an outpouring of anger’ from the teachers, the report states.
You cannot help but wonder. If Chinese teachers could become this restless over ‘pay and pensions’, you can well imagine that something similar could have happened over Covid-19 in Wuhan, especially given that, since November, teachers had already been cancelling classes due to the virus. With the city in tumult, and social media ablaze, I’d be surprised if teachers didn’t play a role in the Wuhan lockdown. And, if they did, how far did the unrest spread? Throughout the whole of Hubei? Or even further?
On January 27, China’s Ministry of Education announced that all schools in China were closing. As far as I know, the CCP only shut down one sector of the economy on a national level: the schools. This is very fishy. We know that children were the least at risk from Covid-19. And we know that teachers in China have displayed a particular aptitude for collective action in recent years, including over working conditions. Why else would the CCP shut down all schools in China, keeping other more risk-laden parts of the economy open, unless teachers had demanded the measure?
China Daily, the CCP’s international propaganda outlet, has inadvertently provided a few hints that teachers may have helped cause the lockdown in Wuhan. In an article entitled ‘Why did China close all schools?’, the author introduces the topic by explaining that ‘the COVID-19 outbreak took place during the winter break of Chinese schools’. Well, that’s simply not true. The outbreak began months before the winter break. So why does the author focus on the school holidays? You get the impression that something happened during the school holidays, and whatever it was, it caused the schools closures. The author goes on to note that China’s Ministry of Education ‘announced that the 2020 spring semester for schools would be postponed’, and the ‘students who had left campuses…. should not return without approval before the new semester’. Well, that is true. But it’s curious. We know that on January 20, three days before the lockdown, at least one university in Wuhan was already advising its students not to return to the campus during the winter break. Was the same unilateral advice being issued by schools? Were the teachers refusing to return to work after the school holidays? Did the CCP get out in front of the parade and pretend to lead it?
The timing reminds me of the mass teaching mutiny that took place in Britain on January 4, 2021, when teachers led by the National Education Union refused to return to school after the Christmas holidays and the British government covered up the mutiny by issuing a national lockdown. That was Britain’s third lockdown. School holidays also played a role in the country’s first and second lockdowns. The second lockdown happened in circumstances that aren’t well understood, but teachers were calling for a ‘circuit breaker’ – an extension to their half term holiday in October 2020. As for the first lockdown, it started on March 24 and was only supposed to last for three weeks, until April 14 – which was the day that the schools were scheduled to reopen after the Easter holidays. The teachers refused to return to work, and the lockdown dragged on until the summer.
Of course, unlike in Britain, China’s lockdowns weren’t synonymous with schools closures. Xi decided that shutting schools didn’t necessitate shutting the entire economy. Perhaps that’s because gender roles in China are more traditional than in Britain. There are more stay-at-home mums in China, which means more mums who could look after the kids in the daytimes; hence, closing the schools will have had less of an economic impact. Japan is another country with relatively traditional gender roles, and in Japan, too, the economy stayed open while the schools were closed. Worldwide, this combination was very unusual during the coronapanic debacle.
With this in mind, here’s another notable fact: the authorities in Wuhan reopened the city in April 2020, but the schools didn’t reopen until August of that year. Why the delay? Why not reopen the schools when the rest of the city reopened? The only plausible reason I can think of is that teachers were refusing to go back to work. Indeed, there were also delays in reopening schools throughout China. Tellingly, the aforementioned China Daily article was published in early April – at the exact moment when you would expect people to be asking questions about why the schools weren’t reopening. Even the title of the article – ‘Why did China close all the schools?’ – hints that the CCP was somewhat on the defensive. The author’s answer to the question is not very convincing:
A couple of reasons explain the practice… First, teenagers and children are vulnerable to COVID-19 infection. Admittedly, data on individuals aged 18 years old and under suggest that there is a relatively low attack rate in this age group. For them, the disease appears to be comparatively mild or even asymptomatic. Yet it is not possible to tell from available data whether children are less susceptible or if they present differently clinically. In fact, everyone is assumed to be susceptible because in humans there is no known pre-existing immunity to the newly identified pathogen. Patients with mild or no symptoms are able to spread the novel coronavirus as well. Comparing with adults, children patients generally experience longer incubation periods, atypical symptoms and prolonged intestinal detoxification period. Hence, underage mild-symptom and asymptomatic patients tend to be misdiagnosed or missed diagnosed, which may lead to wider spread of the virus.
It's hard to make head or tail of this. The general idea seems to be that the mildness of Covid-19 in kids would make them more likely to spread the virus. But even if this were true, and it’s questionable, then… so what? Covid-19 was mild for almost everyone. The only people who might conceivably be concerned that kids were spreading the virus in schools would be teachers who were afraid of a cold.
The author also notes that the ‘behavioural and hygiene habits of young children increase virus transmission risks’. Ah, so now we’re getting to the heart of it. I am reminded of some notorious comments made by Mary Bousted, the co-leader of the NEU in Britain. When Bousted was campaigning against the reopening of schools during the first lockdown, she complained about young children who were ‘mucky, who spread germs, who touch everything, who cry, who wipe their snot on your trousers or on your dress’. I guess some Chinese teachers, just like Bousted, are in the wrong profession.
When the CCP finally reopened the schools in China, the arrangement came with Covid protocols in place, such as mandatory masks for the children, testing regimens, quarantines and vaccine rollouts: the same cruel and pointless measures that British teachers had demanded, which makes you wonder if the Chinese teachers had made similar demands.
Indeed, there are other hints that there were wranglings between the CCP and teachers over reopening the schools in China. In September 2020, the New York Times published an article called ‘How China Brought Nearly 200 Million Children Back to School’. The article is complementary towards China (‘where the virus has largely been under control for months’) as opposed to the USA (‘where the pandemic is still raging’). The author writes: ‘Under bright blue skies, nearly 2,000 students gathered this month for the start of school at Hanyang No. 1 High School in Wuhan’. He continues, no less fawningly: ‘As countries around the world struggle to safely reopen schools, China is harnessing the power of its authoritarian system to offer in-person learning’. The article is almost certainly a sponsored CCP propaganda piece, which means it can give us some insights into the dynamics behind the reopening of schools in China.
The author notes that, in the USA, ‘discussions about how and when to resume in-person classes have been fraught’, partly because of ‘the absence of a national strategy’, and partly because ‘teachers unions have threatened to strike’. In contrast, the author writes, there has been ‘no such debate’ in China, because ‘independent labour unions are banned and activism is discouraged, making it difficult for the country’s more than 12 million teachers to organise’. That last sentence is an exaggeration, but, for the same reason, it also provides a fascinating insight. You get the impression that, when reopening the schools, the CCP took steps to mitigate any trouble from unionised teachers. Later, the author confirms the impression, saying: ‘In many ways, China is applying the same heavy-handed model to reopening schools that it has used to bring the virus under control’. Reading between the lines: teachers were an obstacle to reopening schools in China. You wouldn’t need a heavy-handed approach unless you were facing opposition. Similarly, the author tells us that ‘The state-run news media has closely covered America’s difficulty in resuming classes, while highlighting China’s progress in getting parents back to work – key to the country’s attempts to drive an economic recovery’. From this we can conclude that the economic impact of the schools closures in China wasn’t zero. We can also conclude that the CCP faced its own difficulties in trying to persuade teachers to return to work; ‘progress’ was being made.
There’s one more snippet of relevant detail on this topic. In 2021, the CCP conducted a ‘crackdown’ on online education in China. The coronapanic had triggered an explosion of companies providing internet teaching and resources. The Chinese government responded by bringing many of the companies under public ownership, and sacking numerous teachers. No doubt, the aim was partly to maintain the CCP’s grip on the minds of children. But another aim of the crackdown was probably to incentivise teachers to stay in their classrooms. The CCP was once again being ‘heavy-handed’ to ensure that the nation’s schools would remain open.
In sum: there is circumstantial evidence that teachers played a role in closing China’s schools and keeping them closed. There is also circumstantial evidence suggesting that transport workers and universities played a role in the Wuhan lockdown. And we know that medics in Wuhan were the first to exert pressure on the CCP to escalate the country’s pandemic response. The chain of events leading to the Wuhan lockdown looks eerily familiar to anyone who has kept their eyes open in Britain, where public sector unions have run amok relentlessly from the start of the coronapanic.
On the day of the Wuhan lockdown, Britain’s Guardian newspaper quoted a ‘primary school teacher’ residing in the city: ‘This is a little too late now’, she said, adding: ‘the government’s measures are not enough’. It’s incredible to think that anyone would describe a lockdown as ‘not enough’. What more did she want? But she wasn’t the only one grumbling. A week after the CCP had placed 60 million people in Hubei under house arrest, one journalist summed up the mood in the country:
As China’s battle against the coronavirus outbreak continues, anger has spilled over online, testing the leadership’s capacity to achieve what it calls ‘guidance of public opinion,’ or the control of society through information control. Users on WeChat, Weibo and many other platforms have shared stories, photos, video, or simply vented their rage at what many see as the inadequacy of the government’s response, particularly at the early stages of the outbreak.
In other words: China was still gripped by Covid mania, and the Chinese public were still angrily demanding more action from the government.
Again, it’s an eerily familiar story. The same thing happened in Britain. Even after the lockdown, Covid zealots vented their rage. For the next two years, they accused Boris Johnson of ‘not locking down soon enough’, or ‘not locking down hard enough’. Believe it or not, the British and Chinese governments ended up in the same boat, facing populations that were demanding never-ending, escalating, draconian Covid restrictions. That’s why, on May 15, a meeting took place between Britain’s Health Secretary Matt Hancock and CCP officials, to discuss ‘cooperation’ between the two governments. One of the topics to be discussed was ‘lockdown-lifting strategies’.
The Covid-19 outbreak in China was accompanied by another outbreak – of sloganeering. In Chinese culture there is a tradition of citizens creating and sharing political slogans. Often printed on banners and displayed in public, or shared online, the slogans are pithy statements about national or local issues. It’s basically a propaganda exercise in which the authorities and communities work together. There is a competitive aspect too, with communities trying to come up with slogans that gain wide appeal. One commentator opined that all slogans should aim to ‘intimidate, seduce, threaten or coerce’, which gives a flavour of life in communist China.
A few examples of slogans that were popular during the pandemic give a flavour of the atmosphere at that time:
A face mask or a breathing tube; make a choice; it’s up to you.
Returning home with your disease; will not make your parents pleased; infect mum and dad; and your conscience is bad.
To visit is to kill each other.
Those who don’t mention their fever are class enemies lurking among the people.
Those who come out to party are shameless people, and those who play mahjong together are desperados.
I could go on. The point is: the Wuhan lockdown both reassured and frightened the Chinese public. On one hand, people were relieved that the government had finally taken severe action. One lady commented that ‘If we handled this at all like they are handling it overseas, there would be riots’. On the other hand, the extreme measures in Wuhan had made the Chinese public think that mahjong was a criminal activity.
Amid this clamorous atmosphere, Xi sought to claim credit for the government’s crackdown on Covid-19. He announced that he had personally ordered the Wuhan lockdown, and that he had issued the order as far back as January 7, 2020. Naturally, the Chinese public were sceptical of the second claim. And they wouldn’t have been satisfied even if it was true. A businessman named Ren Zhiqiang expressed the general reaction in an open letter to the government:
So, what happened in December? Why wasn’t information made available promptly? Why did CCTV on January 1 investigate news about eight rumourmongers? And how could we have the January 3 admonishment? Why was the United States notified of the outbreak on January 3? Why not mention the various crises that happened before January 7? Why haven’t the January 7 instructions been made public, not yet even today?! How were various national-level meetings able to gather after January 7?
The CCP responded to Ren’s letter by sentencing him to 18 years’ imprisonment.
Another way in which Xi tried to claim credit for the CCP’s Covid crackdown was by sacking two senior Hubei officials and reprimanding several more. It was a classic exercise in scapegoating. As well as holding them responsible for adopting the laissez faire pandemic policy that he himself had originally demanded, Xi even had the chutzpah to accuse the Hubei officials of treating Li Wenliang unfairly. Li was the doctor whistleblower who had been imprisoned for raising the alarm about Covid-19 in December. By the time he had died from the illness on February 7, he had become a ‘national folk hero’. His death triggered a wave of anger towards the CCP; the Hubei sackings came days later. Once again, Xi and his government had moved with the flow of the people. Indeed, the CCP had turned 180 degrees; they were now imprisoning people for speaking out against the lockdown. Such is the mad, shifty world of communist governance.
Meanwhile, Xi’s handling of the outbreak was rubberstamped by the World Health Organisation, whose relationship with the CCP seems suspiciously cosy. The WHO’s Director Tedros Adhanom met with Xi a week after the lockdown and, in a press briefing, reported that: ‘I was very encouraged and impressed by the President's detailed knowledge of the outbreak, and his personal involvement in the response’. The next day, Tedros declared that China had set a ‘new standard for outbreak response’.
Yet, despite Xi’s efforts to place himself front and centre of China’s fight against Covid-19, the President wanted to be elsewhere too, it seems. And he wanted the public to join him. From January 22 to January 25, the headlines on the front page of the People’s Daily didn’t mention the pandemic. Instead, there were stories of Xi being out and about visiting people. During the previous week, he had been to Myanmar and Yunnan, and he had met with some ‘elderly comrades’. On January 24, there was a report about Xi attending the CCP Central Committee’s New Year celebrations. And on January 25, the main story was on Xi’s favourite theme: ‘The General Secretary Visited Our Home’.
Xi also continued peddling another of his planned themes for 2020 – prosperity in China. At the New Year celebrations, he delivered a speech calling for ‘the full building of a well-off society and a determined fight against poverty’. The whole speech made no mention of the pandemic, despite the fact that Xi had dramatically sent Wuhan into lockdown only 24 hours before. On February 10, Xi again attempted to shift the discussion towards his preferred message. While visiting a hospital in Beijing, he addressed some Wuhan doctors by video link, the encounter being broadcast on state television. As well as promising victory in a ‘people’s war’ against Covid-19, he expressed concern about the economic costs involved.
Xi didn’t personally visit Wuhan until March 11. The city was still in lockdown at that point. True to form, he visited a residential community. The People’s Daily reported: ‘As he left the community, the voices echoed for a long time in the spring sun: “Greetings, General Secretary! Go China! Go Wuhan!”’ But not everybody was impressed. There was still widespread criticism of the CCP’s initial slow and obfuscating response to the outbreak. On the same day as Xi’s visit, a Chinese magazine published an interview with a Wuhan doctor who had been reprimanded for ‘rumourmongering’ in early January. The interview was ‘shared feverishly’ online. One journalist spoke of people refusing to ‘allow the truth to be swept away on Xi’s tide of “positive energy”’.
When Wuhan finally emerged from lockdown, there was ‘anger and anxiety’ among the locals, according to a report in the Financial Times. Xi was determined to declare an ‘early victory’ over the virus, but many residents were ‘fearful of a second outbreak’. One resident, a salesman, said ‘I wouldn’t visit shopping malls at this point. It’s still risky given the existence of asymptomatic virus carriers’. Another resident, an academic, said ‘There is no reason to feel relieved’. After the official reopening, some parts of the city remained in lockdown, and testing regimens were still in place, with masks also prevalent. But the Chinese state media was unabashed, proudly championing the success of the country’s efforts to ‘control’ Covid-19.
Amid all this, Xi had a dilemma. In order to keep the public onside, he needed to keep pretending that the Hubei lockdowns and other Covid measures were necessary. At the same time, he needed to move China on from an outbreak response which he had always considered an overreaction. Accordingly, he adopted the same strategy as Boris Johnson later did in Britain – the ‘Janus Strategy’, facing both forwards and backwards. Facing backwards, Xi portrayed himself as heroically leading China’s pandemic response. Facing forwards, he emphasised how well things were going, so he could return to his preferred message of prosperity. However, by adopting the Janus strategy, Xi encountered the same difficulties in reopening China as Johnson had encountered in reopening Britain. With China’s vast population and vast government bureaucracy moving like a juggernaut in the direction of Covid lunacy, Xi couldn’t instantly stop the momentum, not without admitting that the entire debacle was pointless, and he was never going to do that. The Janus strategy required him to deploy a heavy dose of spin, gradually manipulating the country back to normality. Just like Johnson, Xi tried to spin his way out of a spin lockdown. Indeed, I think most of the world’s leaders ended up adopting a similar strategy; China’s pandemic response was influential in so many ways.
Xi’s earliest acts of anti-lockdown spin can be seen in various policy decisions that shaped China’s medical response to the outbreak. Some of these decisions were rooted in the period before the lockdown. For example, consider China’s adoption of a mass testing regimen based on the Corman-Drosten PCR protocol. The Corman-Drosten protocol was developed by a team of scientists who were given the gene sequences for Covid-19 by the Wuhan Institute of Virology. The team’s work was accepted by the WHO on January 13, and then submitted to the Eurosurveillance journal on January 21 and published on the same day – an unprecedentedly quick turnaround. Clearly, the CCP wanted the Corman-Drosten protocol to fast become the global norm, and it did: it became ‘the original gold standard and most commonly used test for Covid-19 infection’, as Senger puts it.
Commentators have noted, however, that the Corman-Drosten protocol was flawed. The ‘cycle threshold’ was set so high that the test was too sensitive; it had a high chance of delivering a positive result even when the recipient was not sick. Senger quotes a study by leading European specialists who calculated that, when the cycle threshold was set at 35 or higher, ‘the probability of… receiving a false positive was 97% or higher’. In the Eurosurveillance paper, the cycle threshold was set at 45. The WHO’s testing guidance also included studies from China in which the cycle threshold was set at between 37 and 40.
Covid testing was widespread long before the Wuhan lockdown, but the practice was ramped up following Xi’s admission on January 20 that human-to-human transmission was occurring. Within 24 hours, the CCP was armed with a testing regimen that was engineered to produce positive results. The testing frenzy that followed had an inevitable outcome: Covid-19 infection appeared a lot more widespread than it really was. All the false positives amounted to a ‘fake pandemic’, to use Senger’s phrase. Senger concludes that Xi wanted to create the illusion of mass infection so as to legitimate the CCP’s oppressive measures in Wuhan and elsewhere.
But I’m not so sure. In fact, I think this theory gets it back to front, or at least the truth is more complex. Given Xi’s crackdown on the mass panic, and his reluctance to impose any Covid measures in the first place, and his continuing insistence on talking about ‘prosperity’, the likeliest explanation for China’s adoption of an overly sensitive testing protocol is that Xi wanted to reassure the public, not frighten them. Imagine a Chinese person who falsely tested positive for Covid-19. They’d have been anxious for a while, but afterwards they’d have felt safer, knowing that they’d had the virus and were now immune. Perhaps they might genuinely catch Covid-19 later; but at that point, they’d assume it was just a normal cold, not Covid-19. Moreover, as soon as they’d tested positive and ‘recovered’, they could reassure their fellow citizens by saying ‘I’ve already had Covid-19’. In other words: a ‘fake pandemic’ could unlock China by creating fake herd immunity. After sending Wuhan into lockdown, Xi will have been hoping that mass testing based on the Corman-Drosten protocol could help cajole the public back to sanity. Indeed, he may also have hoped that the new testing regimen could help him avoid the lockdown in the first place; remember, the regimen was installed days before the lockdown.
Moreover, even without false positives, mass testing had the potential to reassure the public, by flushing out genuine positive cases that involved mild symptoms or no symptoms at all. Mass testing created a ‘casedemic’: a disease outbreak whose scale is artificially enlarged by the inclusion of cases that are so mild that they don’t merit being called an illness. Most commentators have assumed that the authorities, in China or elsewhere, deliberately created a casedemic to justify a continuing crackdown on Covid-19. But I don’t buy it. If you really wanted to justify a crackdown, you wouldn’t encourage people to get tested. You’d encourage them to remain in limbo for as long as possible. You’d tell them to be glad they hadn’t caught the disease yet, and to be grateful that you were protecting them from it. In contrast, if you wanted to reassure people, you’d make sure they got tested, so that they could find out that the mild sniffle they were suffering from was in fact the disease that was going round.
There is another example of this logic in action. A few weeks after the Wuhan lockdown, the medical authorities started counting cases based on clinical observation, without requiring a PCR test at all. Again, the likely motivation for this measure was that as more people came to believe they’d had Covid-19, the public would gradually stop being paranoid about catching the disease.
Granted, we cannot assume that every medical policy, in China or elsewhere, was designed to hasten the end of the coronapanic. Far from it. All medics had a vested interest in justifying the ongoing Covid-19 restrictions. This was partly because medics were enjoying a reduced work burden, and partly because they were doubling down on their previous support for the restrictions. At the same time, any politician who adopted a Janus strategy would be forced to align themselves to some extent with the agenda of the medics. For all these reasons, many medical policies stoked up the coronapanic, in China or elsewhere. One example was the policy of warning that Covid-19 could be spread asymptomatically (in fact, the evidence of asymptomatic spread was threadbare). Another example was the practice of using ludicrously lax recording criteria to compile Covid death statistics (you could be run over by a proverbial bus and still be recorded as a Covid death). A final example was the use of the fake pandemic and casedemic statistics to stoke public anxiety. Even if the registration of false positives and mild cases was intended to gradually calm the public down, this didn’t stop medics and politicians from using those statistics to talk the situation up.
The ambiguous strategic value of mass testing is a reminder of the logic of the Janus strategy. Having tried to sweep the outbreak under the rug, unsuccessfully, Xi knew he was going to have to embrace some sort of testing regimen. The best approach, he realised, was to rapidly introduce mass testing, to go fast and high, like a cadet running towards a tall training wall on an assault course. Even if the mass testing results could potentially be used as fear propaganda, the overall impact in terms of perceived herd immunity would ensure that China would soon get over Covid-19.
The Janus strategy also explains why the CCP was so keen to build new hospitals during the early days of the outbreak. Xi knew he’d need some sort of policy on ensuring that there’d be enough hospital capacity. So he went fast and high, rapidly increasing capacity by building new hospitals. He knew this would both frighten and reassure the public, but the fear was a price worth paying for the reassurance; after all, if the CCP hadn’t built the hospitals, the public would have been even more afraid. Of course, you might argue that the hospitals had a legitimate medical purpose. But remember: Covid-19 was a cold! You don’t need to build new medical facilities for a cold. Indeed, at least one of the ‘hospitals’ wasn’t actually built. Chinese state media shared a fake image supposedly of a hospital under construction in Wuhan; the building was in fact an apartment block 600 miles away. A CCP official boasted that ‘the whole 1000-bed hospital would be completed in 9 days’. A spin hospital! If the illusion of safety was more important than the reality, then the regime’s main motive in building new hospitals was to reassure the Chinese public.
In Britain, a similar exercise was undertaken by the government. Seven ‘Nightingale’ hospitals were constructed at the start of the first lockdown. The facility in London’s ExCeL Centre took just nine days to complete. Despite costing a total of £530 million, the Nightingales treated only 150 Covid patients in total during the first wave of the pandemic. The new hospitals treated some outpatients too but ‘were never used on a large scale’, as the BBC has reported. In April 2021, all seven were closed down. At this point, even the NHS admitted, implicitly, that the facilities hadn’t seen much use; they were ‘on hand as the ultimate insurance policy in case existing hospital capacity was overwhelmed’. The ultimate insurance policy? You’d hope so, for £530 million! The NHS was laying it on a bit thick, because in fact there was a subtext for building the Nightingales. As the website for one the hospitals disclosed, they were built to ‘bring hope’. In other words: they were spin hospitals, to reassure the British public. Before the lockdown, ministers had repeatedly insisted that the NHS would be able to cope during the pandemic. After the lockdown, the government commissioned new hospitals to amplify the same old message.
Even the closing of the Nightingales indicates this, when you take the timing into account. By April 2021, the threat of another lockdown had receded in Britain, because, a month earlier, the leadership of the NEU had publicly rejected the idea of another teachers strike. I suspect the government leveraged this concession by threatening to take the NEU to court for the illegal teaching mutiny on January 4, if the schools didn’t remain open. With a lockdown no longer on the cards, because the teachers weren’t going to force one, the government no longer needed spin hospitals, so the Nightingales were quietly decommissioned.
The Janus strategy also explains another bizarre practice in China: trucks spraying disinfectant onto the streets. As Covid mania swept the country, so too did an obsession with sanitising everyone and everything. From hand sanitising, the practice expanded to include sanitising indoor spaces and public transport, and then to include outdoor spaces. Sanitising outdoor spaces was another example of the authorities going fast and high. Officials knew they’d require an active policy on sanitising, and they knew they couldn’t avoid creating fear in the process, so they opted for a policy that would deliver the maximum reassurance. Who could object to reopening a city when every inch of it was being lathered with a soothing balm of sanitiser?
The deranged policy of sanitising outdoor spaces may have originated with Xi, but, equally as likely, it may have emerged indirectly from his instructions. As soon as CCP officials throughout China had been told to reassure the public without admitting that the entire coronapanic debacle was pointless, an arms race of Janus strategizing would inevitably have emerged among the regional authorities. Regional officials would try to outdo each other, going ever faster and ever higher, coming up with ever crazier Covid policies in a perverse effort to reassure the public and, in doing so, impress the central authorities. Anywhere in the world where a leader adopted a Janus strategy, the bureaucracy ended up amplifying the government’s Covid response into a crescendo of lunacy.
Mask mandates are another example of the Janus strategy in action. Around the world, the authorities needed to adopt some sort of supportive policy on mask wearing, so usually they went fast and high. With most of the public seemingly reassured by the masks, any government that wanted to keep the economy open had an incentive to ensure that mask wearing was as widespread as possible, whatever the cost in legitimising people’s fears. Notably, the CCP imposed a mask mandate in Wuhan the day before the lockdown; presumably the mandate was a last throw of the dice, to try to reassure the public. Alas, mass hysteria still had the upper hand at that point.
And, of course, the Janus strategy explains one of the most notorious aspects of the whole coronapanic debacle: the vaccine mania that gripped the world. Xi, like any other leader, saw mass vaccination as an opportunity to spin his country back to sanity. Around the world, leaders went fast and high with vaccine programmes that even targeted children. Yes, there was a strategic downside: mass vaccination legitimated people’s fears, and the vaccines had adverse effects, including deaths. But the leaders were never likely to say ‘mass vaccination is unnecessary because Covid is just a cold’; they didn’t want to admit that the whole debacle was pointless. As soon as leaders were committed to some sort of vaccination programme, the maximum reassurance could be achieved by maximum uptake.
Another factor in the drive towards mass vaccination was that leaders were reluctant to admit that the vaccine wasn’t necessary for young and healthy people. After going as far as locking everyone in their houses, leaders could hardly turn around and declare that vaccination wasn’t also a reasonable precaution for everyone. By a similar logic, vax mandates or vax passes proliferated throughout the world, because leaders couldn’t object to such policies on the grounds of human rights, not after overseeing lockdowns that had violated people’s rights even more profoundly. Mass vaccination was like spraying people’s innards down as well as spraying the streets down; crazy, but if it reassured the public, then the Janus strategy would induce the policy.
Mass testing, new hospitals, mass sanitising, mask mandates, mass vaccination – in all these ways, Xi tried to spin away from the Wuhan lockdown by reassuring the Chinese public that the virus posed no threat to them. Xi also employed a more extreme type of anti-lockdown spin: forgery. In February 2020, the CCP began reporting an exponential decrease in cases in China. According to the US intelligence services, the decrease was a lie. Interestingly, the allegation was partly based on the fact that the CCP’s statistics didn’t include asymptomatic cases: clearly, Xi was aware that a casedemic based on mass testing had the potential to frighten as well as reassure people. But you didn’t need to be a spy, or to delve into the statistical minutiae, to know that the CCP was lying about case numbers. By the beginning of March, the regime was reporting that the entire Hubei region outside of Wuhan had registered zero cases. By March 20, the same was being reported of Wuhan itself. Obvious lies.
In keeping with Xi’s Janus strategy, the purpose of the forged data was not just to reassure the public but to legitimise the lockdown policy. Supposedly, the decline in cases in China was because Xi’s draconian response had crushed the virus. Of course, this claim was utterly preposterous, given that Covid-19 had been spreading for months outside the cities that had been locked down. But once again, the trusty WHO endorsed the CCP’s line, declaring in February that:
General Secretary Xi Jinping personally directed and deployed the prevention and control work … China’s uncompromising and rigorous use of non-pharmaceutical measures to contain transmission of the COVID-19 virus in multiple settings provides vital lessons for the global response.
Xi also drew on some of his own authority to rubberstamp the so-called success of the lockdown policy. As Senger explains:
For ordinary CCP members, when Wuhan locked down it likely went without saying that the lockdown would ‘eliminate’ the coronavirus; if Xi willed it, then it must be so.
The truth, of course, was very different. With most of China remaining open, and with Hubei reopening within a few months of the lockdown, Xi had ‘quietly adopted a herd immunity strategy in February 2020’, as Senger puts it.
But what about the members of the Chinese public who didn’t trust Xi before the lockdown, and still didn’t trust him afterwards? If they didn’t believe Xi when he was denying human-to-human transmission, they were hardly likely to believe him when he started talking about an exponential decline in cases due to the lockdown. For these hardcore doubters, Xi reserved his most exquisitely manipulative exercise in anti-lockdown spin.
At the beginning of March, China’s Vice President Sun Chunlan visited Wuhan when the city was still in lockdown. As she and her encourage toured the grounds of a residential community, she was heckled, and the incident was caught on video. Residents yelled ‘fake, fake, everything is fake’, and ‘we protest’. They also shouted ‘formalism’, which is a pejorative term used in China to describe government policies adopted solely for the sake of appearances. On another day, the hecklers might have been rounded up and imprisoned. However, curiously, the video of the incident was broadcast on numerous Chinese state TV stations. Whether or not the incident was staged, I don’t know. The more important question is: why would the CCP want to broadcast footage of the regime being accused of formalism?
I think Xi was trying to turn public mistrust to his own advantage. If the regime was engaging in formalism, the implication was that the lockdown was no longer necessary. At the same time, the accusation of formalism was an implicit compliment to the regime, because formalism implies moving with the flow of the people. To keep moving with the flow of the people, the regime now needed to reverse the lockdown. In other words: the heckling gave the impression that public mistrust of the regime had come full circle, requiring Xi to reopen Wuhan, thereby giving the naysayers what they wanted and what the CCP had wanted all along. By broadcasting the heckling, the state media was trying to bring the naysayers and the regime back into harmony while also propagandising for the reopening of China. Like I said: an exquisite piece of spin.
When Matt Hancock and CCP officials met in May 2020 to discuss ‘cooperation’, including ‘lockdown lifting strategies’, I suspect all the above strategies were discussed, including the last one. Most lockdown sceptics in Britain started off as supporters of the lockdown. They demanded the lockdown in March 2020 then, one by one, they started demanding the reversal of the policy. Ultimately, we can say that the British government obliged on both counts. But neither retrospective lockdown sceptics nor the government ever discussed the fact that the lockdown policy was an abomination from day 1. I wouldn’t be surprised if the British government has deliberately cultivated this hypocritical version of lockdown scepticism, particularly among journalists.
Both the British government and the CCP have adopted a Janus strategy, never admitting any wrongdoing during the coronapanic but always pushing towards the reestablishment of sanity. Both regimes have to tried their spin way out of spin lockdowns by going fast and high with extreme Covid measures that were bound to frighten the public but, in the long term, were bound to create more reassurance than fear. And both regimes understood the importance of countries working together to calm people down. After all, the panic was a global problem.
What was going through Xi’s mind, as Wuhan panicked itself into a lockdown and he slammed the lid shut on the city? I bet he was thinking: ‘Not again’.
Here is a description of what happened the last time there was a comparable disease outbreak in China, when SARS emerged in Guangzhou in 2003. I quote from the article at length, because the parallels are remarkable, and because the passage reveals the full extent of the crisis China was once again facing:
The SARS epidemic was not simply a public health problem. Indeed, it caused the most severe socio-political crisis for the Chinese leadership since the 1989 Tiananmen crackdown. Outbreak of the disease fuelled fears among economists that China’s economy was headed for a serious downturn. A fatal period of hesitation regarding information-sharing and action spawned anxiety, panic, and rumourmongering across the country and undermined the government’s efforts to create a milder image of itself in the international arena. As Premier Wen Jiabao pointed out in a cabinet meeting on the epidemic, ‘the health and security of the people, overall state of reform, development, and stability, and China’s national interest and international image are at stake’…
As the virus continued to spread, China’s political leadership came under growing domestic and international pressure. Despite the prohibition against public discussion of the epidemic, 40.9 percent of the urban residents had already heard about the disease through unofficial means. News of the disease reached residents in Guangzhou through mobile-phone text messages in early February, forcing the provincial government to hold a news conference admitting to the outbreak. Starting on February 11, the Western news media began to aggressively report on SARS in China and the government’s cover-up of the outbreak. On March 15, the WHO issued its first global warning about SARS. While China’s government-controlled media was prohibited from reporting on the warning, the news circulated via mobile phones, e-mail, and the Internet. On March 25, 3 days after the arrival of a team of WHO experts, the government for the first time acknowledged the spread of SARS outside of Guangdong. The State Council held its first meeting to discuss the SARS problem 2 days after the Wall Street Journal published an editorial calling for other countries to suspend all travel links with China until it implemented a transparent public health campaign.
The same day, the WHO issued the first travel advisory in its 55-year history advising people not to visit Hong Kong and Guangdong, prompting Beijing to hold a news conference in which the health minister promised that China was safe and SARS was under control. Enraged by the minister’s false account, Dr. Jiang Yanyong, a retired surgeon at Beijing’s 301 military hospital, sent an e-mail to two TV stations, accusing the minister of lying. While neither station followed up on the e-mail, Time magazine picked up the story and posted it on its website on April 9, which triggered a political earthquake in Beijing…
The growing epidemic, combined with pressures from inside and outside the country, ultimately engendered a strong and effective action by the government to contain the disease and end the crisis.
Not again! History was repeating itself. The initial cover up, the spread of rumours, the panicking public, the outraged experts, and a government forced into adopting economically damaging containment measures.
Moreover, as the quote indicates, the pressure on the CCP during the SARS outbreak didn’t just come from inside China. There was international pressure too, indeed huge pressure, from the WHO and the world’s most powerful country, the USA, where the government and the media were both making life hard for the CCP. As the Covid-19 crisis unfolded in China, Xi will have been wary of history repeating itself on the international stage too.
Early in January 2020, Donald Trump’s US government made its first intervention in the unfolding situation in China. The intervention was surely well-intentioned, but Xi reacted warily. On January 4, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) offered to send a team to Wuhan to assist with the outbreak. Two days later, Trump telephoned Xi to reiterate the offer in person. Xi declined. As far as he was concerned, at that point there was no problem to deal with. Accepting any offer of help would have undermined his own message to the Chinese people.
Meanwhile, officials from the CDC stayed in regular contact with their counterparts in China, which must have dismayed Xi given that he was trying to shut down the conversation domestically. He will also have been unimpressed by the fact that on January 6 the CDC issued a ‘Level 1’ (out of 3) travel alert for Wuhan. The warning was mild, advising anyone traveling to the region to ‘be aware and practice usual precautions’, but China’s international image was once again at stake. Xi is alleged to have said to Trump during their conversation: ‘I ask the United States and your officials not to take excessive actions that would create further panic.’
As January progressed, the CCP came under increasing pressure from scientists around the world. Researchers were ‘frustrated’ at the dearth of information the regime was disclosing about Covid-19. Also, in the first weeks January, the UN Health Agency, representing almost every country in the world, was agitating for more information on the outbreak. In the scientific vacuum, news stories began emerging globally, complete with the kind of fearmongering that Xi was desperate to avoid.
Consider the output from CNN during the course of the month. On January 7, their first article on the outbreak was headlined: ‘A mysterious virus is making China (and the rest of Asia) nervous’. The article spoke of ‘growing disquiet’ and ‘fears of a nationwide epidemic’. Two days later, CNN went further, declaring that ‘a mysterious pneumonia outbreak that has struck dozens of people and put China on edge is from the same family of viruses as the deadly Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome’. The article added: ‘Across Asia, governments have stepped up preventive measures such as airport temperature screening’. On January 17, there were three more articles from CNN, two of them mentioning a ‘SARS-like virus’ and a third talking about several US airports that were screening travellers from Wuhan. On January 18, there was a CNN report suggesting that the number of cases of Covid-19 in China had been ‘grossly underestimated’. On January 21 – by which time Xi had admitted that human-to-human transmission was occurring – CNN was talking of ‘fears about the possibility of a deadly epidemic’. And that was just CNN. The BBC, Al Jazeera, RT News, and many others; broadcasters and newspapers around the world were churning out scary stories about Covid-19 while Xi was trying to downplay the threat. The international media scrutiny added to the pressure on Xi, as did the proliferation of ‘preventative measures’ being levied on Chinese travellers.
On January 22, the CDC slapped another travel warning on Wuhan – ‘Level 2’, advising ‘enhanced precautions’ when travelling to the city. Of course, the warning was fated to become irrelevant within 24 hours, as the municipal authorities shut down Wuhan’s transport system. But you cannot help but notice the timing: did the CDC’s new warning circulate on Chinese social media, contributing to the crescendo of panic in Wuhan? What is certain is that the travel warnings became even more severe after the lockdown. On January 25, the British Foreign Office began advising against all travel to Hubei. Two days later, the CDC put Wuhan on ‘Level 3’, advising against ‘inessential travel’ to the city, and again they offered to assist China; the offer was again declined. On the same day, the US State Department raised its travel warning for the whole of China from Level 2 to Level 3, urging American citizens to ‘reconsider’ going to the country. On January 30, the warning was upped to Level 4: ‘Do not travel to China’.
Meanwhile, Trump tried to smooth things over with the CCP. On January 24, he tweeted: ‘China has been working very hard to contain the Coronavirus. The United States greatly appreciates their efforts and transparency. It will all work out well. In particular, on behalf of the American People, I want to thank President Xi!’ During January and February 2020, this was one of 15 times when Trump praised China’s pandemic response. He had his reasons, albeit cynical reasons, for doing so. On January 22, the day before the lockdown, the two countries signed a giant new trade deal. Trump was delighted with the deal as well as the prospect of good relations with China. He effused: ‘I think our relationship with China now might be the best it's been in a long, long time. And now it's reciprocal. Before, we were being ripped off badly. Now we have a reciprocal relationship, maybe even better than reciprocal for us.’ The trade deal meant that Trump had a vested interest in supporting Xi’s measures in Wuhan. For one thing, he didn’t want to take the shine off the deal, or the friendly new relationship. But above all he wanted to keep both China and the USA open for business. He wanted the Chinese people and the wider world to believe that the measures in Wuhan were succeeding. And he wanted the American people to believe that the outbreak wouldn’t cause a problem for the USA. At the same time, he downplayed the virus itself. All in all, Trump made reassuring comments about the Covid-19 outbreak no fewer than 31 times in the first three months of 2020, backed by his chief science advisor Anthony Fauci.
Indeed, given the timing of the trade deal, and given that Trump repeatedly stated that the USA was ‘working very closely’ with China on the outbreak response, you cannot help but wonder if Xi and Trump came to some sort of arrangement over Covid-19 as they were putting the finishing touches on the trade deal. I am not suggesting that Trump asked Xi to lock Wuhan down, but I wouldn’t be surprised if Trump insisted on some containment measures, measures that were salient enough to reassure the world. If that’s correct, then Trump was like a straight man who hired a criminal to do a job and then had to watch as the criminal wreaked havoc in the process. Either way – whether Trump and Xi had a Covid arrangement or not – Trump couldn’t undermine Xi’s efforts without undermining himself too, because Trump had a vested interest in the success of Xi’s operation in Wuhan.
I am an admirer of Donald Trump. But his stance at this time was fundamentally incoherent as well as morally wrong. By praising Xi’s severe measures in Wuhan, Trump was inadvertently ratcheting up the pressure on himself to take further measures that would hurt both China and America. In particular, he could hardly legitimise Xi’s draconian policies without taking steps to keep the virus out of the USA. On February 2, Trump declared that anyone travelling from China was barred from entering the USA. Other countries followed suit. China was facing deepening isolation. By April 3, 96 countries had issued travel restrictions against China; 83 of the bans were in place by the end of February.
Not again! Xi’s worst fears were coming true. Once again his country had faced domestic and international pressure during a viral outbreak, and once again the Chinese government had been pressured into introducing an economically damaging containment policy. Between January 23 and February 18, more than 200,000 domestic flights were cancelled in China. Added to the international isolation and the lockdowns and the business closures and the self-isolating and the costs of the other domestic measures such as mass testing and PPE and sanitising and more, the economic consequences for China would be immense. Xi was bound to feel resentful towards other countries at this point, especially the USA. He had gone to so much trouble domestically to contain the virus, and the international community had responded by treating China like a pariah state.
However, all was not lost. Xi had taken out an insurance policy of sorts. In 2003, the WHO was one of the decisive sources of pressure on China to take action against SARS. However, by 2020, the organisation had become suspiciously compliant towards the CCP. As I have said, in the early days of the Covid-19 outbreak, the WHO backed up the CCP in denying evidence of human-to-human transmission. Then, as soon as the CCP handbrake-turned into the Wuhan lockdown, the WHO backed them up on that too. On January 23, the WHO’s Director Dr Tedros exclaimed that the Wuhan measures would ‘not only control the outbreak, they will minimise spread internationally’. A week later, after Tedros had met with Xi, the WHO issued a statement saying ‘The measures China has taken are good not only for that country but also for the rest of the world’.
Xi was anxious to avoid economic disruption both within China and between China and other countries. Staunching wider economic disruption was probably also a factor in his decision to lock Wuhan down in the first place. Certainly, Xi wanted to make sure the lockdown had this effect. And, once again, the WHO backed up the CCP’s position, aiming to convince the world that there was nothing to worry about because China had the situation under control.
At a news conference on January 30, Tedros declared: ‘There is no reason for measures that unnecessarily interfere with international travel and trade.’ Over the course of the next month or so, a large part of his agenda was trying to stave off an international panic. It was as though Xi had instructed him to avoid a repeat of the Wuhan panic, but on a global scale. Tedros got the ball rolling by insisting that he was in ‘absolutely no doubt about China’s commitment to transparency, and to protecting the world’s people’. In other words: nobody need fear that the regime was hiding anything, or neglecting anyone’s health. He said: ‘[We must] combat the spread of rumours’. He warned against ‘fanning the flames of hysteria’. He condemned ‘misinformation’ that ‘causes confusion and spreads fear to the general public’. He called for ‘rationality, not rumours’. He declared: ‘Fear and panic doesn’t help… The most important thing is to calm down’. He announced that the WHO was working with the big ‘search and media companies’ to ‘counter the spread of rumours and misinformation’.
The WHO was also ‘working with governments, airlines, media and technology companies to provide accurate health information to the public and to stop rumours about COVID-19’, said one tweet. Another WHO tweet implored the public: ‘Don’t repeat or share unconfirmed rumours and avoid using hyperbolic language designed to generate fear like “plague” or “apocalypse”’. The personal health advice given by the WHO at this time was the basic advice for dealing with a cold.
On several occasions, the WHO reassured the world that Covid-19 couldn’t be transmitted by ‘packages from China’ or ‘goods manufactured in China’ – clearly such pronouncements were aiming to protect China and the global economy. The WHO also repeatedly warned against demonising people with Covid-19. Most of these warnings were generic. Tedros denounced ‘fear, rumours and stigma’. He rejected ‘division and disharmony’. He said ‘This is a time for solidarity, not stigma’. He urged that ‘the greatest enemy we face is not the coronavirus itself; it’s the stigma that turns us against each other’. He even cautioned against using phrases like ‘infecting others’ or ‘spreading the virus’, because this language ‘implies intentional transmission and assigns blame’. But amid these pep talks, there was a subtext. The real message became clearer when the WHO announced: ‘This is not a “Wuhan Virus”, “Chinese Virus” or “Asian Virus”’. In other words: don’t blame China. Obviously, as a moral principle, not demonising Chinese people was reasonable, although you could question whether choosing a neutral name for the virus would make much difference. But the WHO was also trying to persuade the world not to harm China politically. ‘Now is not the time for recriminations or politicization’, Tedros explained.
As well as defending China in the face of a growing global panic, the WHO continued to praise the Chinese authorities for their actions in Wuhan. Tedros said ‘I have given credit where it’s due and I will continue to do that, as I would for any country that fights an outbreak aggressively at its source to protect its own people and the world, even at great cost to itself’. He endorsed the CCP’s spurious claims that the case count in China was declining (and continuing to decline). By the start of March he was telling us that the figure was ‘the lowest since January 22’. He also made a bizarre claim, based on the work of a WHO-China commission, that the fatality rate of Covid-19 was much lower (0.7%) outside Wuhan than inside Wuhan (2%-4%). Clearly, the aim was to make the situation in China seem less scary, both in the eyes of the Chinese public and the rest of the world, while also justifying the regime’s singling out of Wuhan.
At the same time, Tedros reminded the world that the virus wasn’t only a Chinese problem, as though he was dispelling any possible reason to isolate China. On February 12, he reported ‘some concerning instances of onward Covid-19 transmission from people with no travel history to China’. By March 2, he was noting ‘almost 9 times more COVID-19 cases reported outside China than inside China’.
And here we encounter the fundamental incoherence of the WHO’s position during February and early March. Donald Trump’s strategy had foundered on the same incoherence: nobody could credibly praise the Wuhan lockdown and calm people down. By praising the CCP’s insane overreaction to Covid-19 while also recognising that the virus had not been successfully contained in China, WHO officials undermined their own reassuring message to the world. If the virus was on the loose worldwide, who could witness the events in Wuhan and not feel afraid? The WHO could hardly say ‘there’s nothing to worry about; it’s just a cold’ while also praising the CCP’s extreme measures. And nor could the WHO praise the CCP for ‘protecting’ the world unless there was something worth protecting the world from; on February 11, the WHO succumbed to this logic by declaring that Covid-19 ‘holds a very grave threat for the rest of the world’.
On February 15, Tedros made a pronouncement in which you could hear a hint of exasperation: ‘For too long, the world has operated on a cycle of panic and neglect. We throw money at an outbreak, and when it’s over, we forget about it and do nothing to prevent the next one’. To me, that sounds like a veiled criticism of the CCP’s botched response to Covid-19, and a hint that the problem went back as far as the SARS outbreak. So much for the CCP’s containment measures.
There is much misunderstanding about the role of the WHO in the coronapanic debacle. Yes, there are serious questions about the organisation’s impartiality. Yes, the failure of the WHO to disclose that human-to-human transmission was occurring in early January was disgraceful. The same goes for the organisation’s failure to condemn the Wuhan lockdown, or condemn the lockdowns as they spread around the world, or abide by the WHO’s own long established pandemic plans, although almost every leader in the world shared in these disgraces. And, yes, when the WHO changed the definition of herd immunity in November 2020 to exclude natural immunity and only include vaccine induced immunity, this was disgraceful too. The WHO has been consistently disgraceful throughout the coronapanic debacle.
However, I think Donald Trump exaggerated when he sa ‘China has total control over the World Health Organisation’. The WHO has likely been influenced by all its sponsors, including China. Contrary to what some have claimed, including Michael Senger, the WHO’s support for China didn’t go as far as unequivocally recommending lockdowns as a policy for the rest of the world. Senger quotes something the WHO’s Assistant Director, Bruce Aylward, said at a press conference on February 24: ‘What China has demonstrated is: you have to do this. If you do it, you can save lives’. But in context, it’s not actually clear what Aylward was referring to by the word ‘this’. He might have meant the ‘extremely aggressive actions’ taken by Italy – at a time when 11 towns in the Lodi region were under Eyam-style quarantines, as the authorities tried to contain the earliest detected cases in Italy. Or he might have meant the Chinese public’s ‘extraordinary effort’. Either way, Aylward wasn’t referring to the kinds of enormous indiscriminate lockdowns that were seen in Hubei. A few moments earlier, he had expressed himself more clearly, saying ‘It’s important that other countries think about this, and think about whether they apply something, not necessarily the full lockdowns… but that same rigorous approach’. Senger also quotes Aylward as saying ‘Copy China's response to COVID-19’. But Aylward didn’t say this. The quote was lifted from the headline of an article. Aylward’s actual comments were the usual mixture of praising China plus encouraging other countries to be ‘aggressive’ in dealing with the virus.
You can’t win a game only by defending. You have to attack as well. Asking people to stay home and other physical distancing measures are important to slow down the spread of the coronavirus and buy time, but they’re defensive measures… To win, we need to attack the coronavirus with aggressive and targeted tactics – testing every suspected COVID19 case, isolating and caring for every confirmed case, and tracing and quarantining every close contact.
The phrase ‘asking people to stay home’ is jarring, but it’s not the same policy as a house arrest for everyone in a country. And it’s a very different policy from the ‘aggressive and targeted tactics’ that Tedros favoured – basically testing and tracing, then quarantining specific individuals and treating them. Indeed, recommending a policy of quarantining individuals is an implicit repudiation of the idea of quarantining everyone. The WHO gave the impression of hedging on the policy of lockdown – not criticising China’s policy but not quite advocating it either. For instance, earlier in March, Tedros said: ‘Depending on their context, countries with Covid-19 community transmission could consider closing schools, cancelling mass gatherings and other measures to reduce exposure’. Note the equivocal language: there was no explicit talk of lockdowns, and ‘could’ is not the same as ‘should’.
Whatever the WHO’s preferred policy for dealing with Covid-19, whatever the WHO’s relationship with the CCP, and whatever the WHO tried to do to calm the situation down in early 2020, events were spiralling out of everyone’s control: a global panic was brewing and China was becoming increasingly isolated. The world was sliding into a bleak new reality, with unfamiliar possibilities looming amid the certainties of normal life. Everybody suddenly knew what it felt like for those Wuhan locals who had been anxious about the spread of a mysterious new virus. Indeed, the Wuhan fear videos were doing the rounds worldwide, so people really were ‘re-living’ the sense of apprehension that had gripped Wuhan. As the case numbers increased globally, so did the hysteria, and so did the pressure on governments to act – governments which, notably, hadn’t condemned the CCP’s actions in Wuhan. Sooner or later, a region outside of China was bound to have a coronapanic meltdown and go full Wuhan.
There is a scene in the film Shawshank Redemption where a new batch of inmates arrives in prison. The current prisoners take bets on which of the ‘new fish’ will be the first to break down and cry on the first night. In early 2020, if you had betted on which part of the world would be the first to overreact to Covid-19, you could have done a lot worse than pick the Italian region of Lombardy.
Italy has Europe’s highest volume of Chinese tourists, with five million visiting annually. Italy also has Europe’s largest number of Chinese immigrants – 300,000, the vast majority of whom live in Northern Italy, especially in the Lombardy region. The capital of Lombardy is Milan, which is home to Europe’s largest Chinese community. The reason for the connection is the city’s famous fashion industry. Beginning in the 1980s and continuing for decades, many of Milan’s textile factories were sold to Chinese buyers. At one point, the Italian government permitted 100,000 workers from China to come to Italy. Most of the newcomers arrived from two Chinese cities: Wenzhou and… Wuhan. In addition, many Italian fashion houses have outsourced manufacturing to China, especially to Wuhan. Direct flights run between Wuhan and Northern Italy.
There are longstanding tensions between the locals and the Chinese in the region. Some of the tensions have surrounded the issue of illegal immigration from China, or problems with Chinese criminal gangs. Generally, there have been complaints that Chinese immigrants live in a ‘parallel and insular society’. One local artisan has described how Chinese workers ‘don’t even go to the store here. They have a van that goes from factory to factory, selling Band-Aids, tampons, and chicken. And in the back of the van they have a steamer with rice’. As you can see, some of the complaints have been quite petty. The 2008 documentary ‘The Italian Town Overwhelmed By Chinese Migrants’ described a campaign by the Milanese locals to stop Chinese shop owners from loading their shops at all times of the day, and from using handcarts; naturally, the campaign fuelled resentment on both sides. In 2007, the ‘powder keg’ atmosphere between the two communities ignited, when a Chinese shop owner received a parking ticket, prompting Chinese immigrants to riot. Following the incident, there were even appeals from CCP officials in China for rapprochement.
Against this backdrop, you can imagine the shockwave that the events in Wuhan would have caused in Lombardy in 2020. With flights incoming throughout January, and Chinese people circulating in the region during the weeks after the Wuhan lockdown, there was bound to be anxiety among the locals. There was also bound to be anxiety throughout the country. Italy has the second oldest population in the world; almost a quarter of Italian citizens are aged 65 or over. On January 31, an incident occurred that demonstrated just how jittery Italy had become. 7,000 passengers on a cruise ship which was docked near Rome were barred from disembarking until two of the passengers had tested negative for Covid-19. The two passengers, a couple, were being kept in solitary confinement, and were being tested simply because they were from Hong Kong and the female had developed a temperature.
At this time, Italian newspapers were reporting other incidents of discrimination against Chinese immigrants. For instance, in Milan, some mothers called for Italian children to be kept away from their Chinese classmates. Local officials responded by sending schools a letter, saying ‘there is no need to introduce measures restricting the presence of Chinese children within school communities’. Some commentators have suggested that Italians were displaying ‘racism’ against the Chinese. Doubtless in some cases there was racism. But I don’t think that’s why the mass panic gripped Italy. A more significant factor was the perception that Chinese immigrants lived in a ‘parallel and insular society’. The Italian public will have felt similar to how Wuhan residents felt in regard to the CCP: estranged and uncertain. And let’s remember: during the outbreak in Wuhan, Chinese people had amply demonstrated a capacity to be wary of other Chinese people! There will also have been wariness within the Chinese community in Italy. And some of the wariness will inevitably have spread by social contagion to the Italians; the two communities may have been estranged but they also lived alongside each other. The sad truth is that the presence of so many Chinese people in Italy meant that the country was primed for Covid lunacy.
You may think it’s strange that I haven’t mentioned the virus when discussing the situation in Italy. I do not dispute that there was an outbreak of Covid-19 in Italy. But remember: the outbreak began long before February 2020; the virus was already everywhere by then. And Covid-19 was a cold! There was zero justification for the deranged Covid measures taken in Italy. In any explanation of why Italy was the first country outside of China to lockdown, the virus is irrelevant. The explanation must start with the fact that the country went mad.
Beyond the hysteria, I don’t know the precise mechanisms that led to 11 towns being quarantined in Lodi followed by a Lombardy-wide lockdown then a national lockdown. But there are some intriguing hints. The footage that was beamed around the world from Lombardy’s hospitals showed medics clad in PPE, wearing hooded overalls and gloves and face masks and visors, while the infected patients were being ventilated, their heads encased in transparent domes. Clearly, there was a drastic, coordinated response from the medics in Lombardy. By March 2, 10% of doctors and nurses in the region were off work because they were self-isolating. Naturally, all these measures must have had an impact on the ability of hospitals to deliver treatment. I wonder if Lombardy’s healthcare system would have been quite so ‘overwhelmed’ if the medics had acted as though they were dealing with a cold and not a plague. And I wonder if medical unions played a role in the groupthink that led to the overreaction, just like they did in Britain (and in France, where medical unions called for ‘total and absolute confinement of the entire population’ in mid-March).
There are a few other hints that unions may have played a role in the shutdown of Lombardy and the whole of Italy. Schools in Lombardy were the first institutions to close on a regional level, on February 23. 10 days after that, on March 4, schools and universities were closed throughout the whole country. Four days after that, the whole of Lombardy was sent into lockdown – 16 million people confined to their houses. Intriguingly, just like in Wuhan, the Lombardy lockdown was reported in terms that emphasised transportation. For instance, Vox magazine reported that ‘cities like Milan and Venice are basically under lockdown because of travel restrictions’. Even the Italian PM Giuseppe Conte focused on the transportation aspect: ‘There will be no movement in or out of these areas, or within them’. The day after the Lombardy lockdown, Conte went further, announcing a general stop to all ‘non-essential’ economic activity throughout Italy. He explained ‘I am forced to intervene’. That’s a strange phrase. Who was forcing him? Obviously, the centrality of transportation and schools to the unfolding debacle looks suspicious. So does the staggered nature of all the measures. And so does the 24 hour gap between Conte locking down Lombardy then locking down the whole country – why not do both at the same time? You get the impression that Conte was reacting, not leading; maybe he was negotiating with unions in the process. By the time he had shut the whole country down on March 9, maybe he had run out of options.
This speculation is bolstered by the fact that, a week after the Italy lockdown, Britain’s TUC began to stoke a work-from-home mutiny which the union claimed was inspired by Italian unions. Moreover, two weeks after Italy’s lockdown, there was open agitation from three major Italians unions about the definition of an ‘essential worker’. The unions threatened a ‘general strike’ unless the definition was narrowed. You can infer from this that the unions were in favour of the measures that had already been imposed in Italy; a call to broaden the restrictions was an implicit endorsement of the existing restrictions.
Whatever the role of unions in the Italy lockdown, the event was a signal booster that sent waves of Covid lunacy crashing intensely across the globe. The sight of a Western democracy confiscating the rights of an entire population was chilling. Unfortunately, the vast majority of Westerners drew exactly the wrong conclusion: that the virus must be a horrifying threat if such extreme measures were justified. If Lombardy was the ‘Wuhan of the West’, then the West was fast becoming Wuhan, with the rest of the world on the same trajectory. Lockdowns spread like wildfire, the flames fanned by a global hurricane of mass hysteria. By the end of March, more than 100 countries were under full or partial lockdown. Human civilisation was a wasteland.
Not again! Indeed, not again. This time it was different. This time Xi had snatched victory from the jaws of defeat. With Hubei reopening a few weeks after the rest of the world had closed, this time China wouldn’t end up paying the heaviest price for the latest outbreak of a respiratory virus. This time the West would pay the heaviest price. And Xi himself helped make sure it happened.
Here is where my analysis overlaps with Michael Senger’s: I think the CCP played a role in spreading lockdowns around the world. For a thorough presentation of the evidence, I highly recommend Senger’s book Snake Oil: How Xi Jinping Shut Down the World. In what follows, I will provide a brief summary of Senger’s book, plus some evidence I have uncovered myself. But mainly I will emphasise where I disagree with Senger. Our views form a Venn Diagram; I want to shift the perspective without challenging everything Senger says. I think my new perspective is important because it enables us to see something that everyone has missed: Xi’s motive in shutting down the world.
Senger makes the general point that China’s global influence is large and growing. The CCP is obsessed with staying in control, which requires a powerbase both at home and abroad. One way in which the regime has sought leverage abroad is through economic engagement, for instance through the Belt and Road initiative, investment in overseas companies, or securing pro-CCP concessions from any company that wants to access China’s vast markets and cheap labour. In addition, the CCP has sought influence abroad through propagandising. ‘The Chinese government has financial stakes in virtually every top global media outlet’, as Senger notes. The CCP also has stakes in overseas universities, through funded professorships and research grants, as well as through the contributions of more than 700,000 fee-paying Chinese students. And, of course, there is always the prospect of influencing politicians or officials. The CCP has ties – both overt and covert – with governments around the world. In July 2020, FBI Director Christopher Wray summed up the leverage that the CCP has over the USA: ‘All of these seemingly inconsequential pressures add up to a policymaking environment in which Americans find themselves held over a barrel by the Chinese Communist Party’. The USA is the world’s most powerful country; the quote speaks volumes about the situation worldwide.
The CCP also extends its propaganda tentacles directly into people’s minds worldwide, through the use of social media. According to one estimate, the Chinese government employs 500,000 people to spread disinformation on the internet. The regime also uses automated accounts for the same purpose; both the automated and human accounts are often dubbed ‘bots’. On Twitter, CCP-linked accounts are known to have tweeted in 55 languages, producing hundreds of millions of tweets every year. On Facebook, some of the most popular accounts are run by Chinese state media. As Senger explains: ‘Media channels built up over time with fluff about Chinese culture and pandas can be activated at key moments to deliver propaganda to enormous audiences’.
The Italy lockdown on March 9 was one of those key moments. Intelligence analysis showed ‘a massive wave’ of Twitter bots, each averaging 50 tweets a day, spreading CCP propaganda across the country in the days and weeks after the lockdown. The hashtags #ForzaCinaeItalia (Go China, Go Italy) and #GrazieCina (Thank you, China) started trending at that time. From March 11 to 23, 46% and 37% of posts containing those hashtags, respectively, were from bots. Some of the fake accounts were spreading completely fake news – for instance, doctored video footage showing Italian citizens chanting ‘Thank you China’ from their windows.
The Twitter disinformation bots also waged their campaign beyond Italy. As well as furiously sharing the Wuhan fear videos worldwide, the bots mocked the idea that ‘washing your hands’ was an adequate response to Covid-19, they praised China’s pandemic strategy, and they pleaded with governments to lockdown, including the governments of Nigeria, South Africa, Namibia, Kenya, France, Spain, Columbia, Brazil, Canada, Australia, India, Germany, the UK and the US.
The British PM Boris Johnson was directly targeted. At the time of the Italy lockdown, he was still pursuing herd immunity. However, as Senger reports, ‘suspicious accounts began storming his Twitter feed and likening his plan to genocide. This language almost never appeared in Johnson’s feed before March 12, and several of the accounts were hardly active before then’. In the USA, Kristi Noem, the Governor of South Dakota, was targeted too. Noem refused to issue a statewide lockdown. She was assailed on Twitter by bots screeching that she had ‘blood on her hands’. The same accusation also appeared on the accounts of other governors across the USA. In May 2020, the US State Department provided Twitter with a sample of 250,000 accounts suspected of having links to China and spreading Covid disinformation; Twitter took no action at this point.
Personally, I recall a change in the atmosphere on Twitter after the Italy lockdown; suddenly there was a frenzy of lockdown zealotry. I was one of very few people appealing for calm, warning in advance that the world was on the brink of a crime against humanity. My notifications were invaded by pro-lockdown comments from anonymous accounts, always hostile and often abusive.
The CCP’s Twitter onslaught was part of a broader campaign. The Chinese government also took out a series of adverts on Facebook to promote the country’s pandemic policies. Facebook ran the adverts without the required political disclaimer. Pro-lockdown news stories began to appear in the legacy media too. Senger cites a few examples from the US, all from March 10. ‘How China Slowed Coronavirus: Lockdowns, Surveillance, Enforcers’, said a Wall Street Journal headline. ‘Those containment efforts do appear to have been successful, with the number of new cases slowing to a trickle in recent weeks,’ crowed CNN. ‘Xi asserts victory on first trip to Wuhan since outbreak… China’s epidemic statistics suggest that its efforts have been effective,’ the Washington Post declared.
In Britain, the message was similar. The Telegraph reported on March 9 that the country could be ‘only weeks away from an Italian-style lockdown’, adding: ‘Experts fear we are on the same epidemic trajectory as the Italians and say the government will have to act quickly’. In the ensuing weeks, this was one of many pro-restrictions articles in the Telegraph, a right-wing publication that you would have expected to be firmly on the side of liberty. As for Britain’s leading left wing newspaper, the Guardian, on March 19 they waxed lyrical about ‘China’s coronavirus lockdown: brutal but effective’, adding: ‘The world was astonished by the Wuhan quarantine but it seems to have worked’. The ‘impartial’ BBC chipped in too, with some ‘lessons’ from the Italy lockdown, and a question about the outbreak – ‘What could the West learn from Asia?’ Meanwhile, during the government’s Covid-19 press conferences, journalists from the BBC, Sky News, ITN and the Daily Mail implored Johnson and his advisers to take harsher measures to contain the spread.
Influential support for restrictions could also be found within the independent media. On March 10, a writer called Tomas Pueyo published an article called ‘Coronavirus: Why You Must Act Now’, in which he presented frightening data and urged the world’s leaders to copy China’s policies. The article was viewed 40 million times in the first week and has been translated into 40 languages. In the same week, 10 Days, a film by Olmo Parenti, was released. The film, which rapidly went viral, featured Italians during the lockdown ‘sending a message to themselves of 10 days prior’ with a warning to ‘stay at home’ – the absurd idea being that you could apparently avoid a lockdown by not leaving the house. CCP bots furiously shared Pueyo’s article and Parenti’s film.
I’m not suggesting that the CCP funded all or any of the above examples of media content, mainstream or independent. The point is simply that in March 2020 ‘the entire world was bombarded with propaganda extolling the virtues of China’s heavy-handed approach’, as Senger puts it. You cannot help but wonder if some of this propaganda was commissioned by the CCP, especially given the regime’s vast network of media investments. Moreover, the woeful lack of criticism of the lockdown policy by journalists almost certainly had something to do with the funding of the organisations those journalists work for.
Senger also raises some questions about the academics who advised governments during the Covid-19 pandemic. Consider Professor Susan Michie, who is a member of SAGE, the main scientific advisory body to the British government. Michie is in the UK Communist Party. You can imagine how her communist beliefs will have influenced her ‘scientific’ support for Britain’s lockdowns. The idea that such a person was a member of SAGE beggars belief. Imagine if there’d been a Nazi on the committee.
Consider also a particular academic institution: Imperial College, London. In October 2015, Xi Jinping paid a visit to Imperial; it was the only university he visited during what was his only ever trip to the UK as President of China. At Imperial, Xi announced ‘a series of new UK-China education and research collaborations’; these would include ‘nanotechnology, bioengineering… and public health.’ The president of the university, Alice Gast, described Imperial as ‘China’s best academic partner in the west’. Bearing this in mind, Senger discloses a sinister fact: in November 2020, researchers from UCLA published a study into the accuracy of the Covid modelling undertaken by various institutions; the study found that Imperial College’s models were the least accurate and their predictions of deaths were always too high. Indeed, one of the inaccurate models that emerged from Imperial College is now infamous: the one that spawned Professor Neil Ferguson’s demented claim in March 2020 that 500,000 people could die from Covid-19. Ferguson’s model also predicted 2.2 million deaths in the USA. His work was influential in promoting lockdowns worldwide.
There is also a whiff of corruption surrounding the academic research that informed the German government’s pandemic response. In March 2020, the German Ministry of the Interior hired some academics to produce models that would justify ‘measures of a preventative and repressive nature’. The German Society of Epidemiology came up with some suitably horrifying predictions, which were incorporated into a policy document that was shared with Germany’s parliamentarians and media leaders – the ‘Panic Paper’, as it became known. One of the authors of the paper was Otto Kölbl. Kölbl taught for a year at the Northwestern Polytechnical University in China. He also writes a blog in which he has praised the CCP’s governance of Tibet and described Hong Kong as ‘parasitic’. Another of the authors of the paper was Maximillian Mayer. Mayer has worked at three different Chinese universities and has written extensively on various government policies in China. A year after the Panic Paper was written, German lawyers won a legal battle to acquire hundreds of pages of emails in which the authors had corresponded in the lead up to the paper. The emails contained much discussion of China, but nearly all the references to China were redacted, on the grounds that the content ‘may have adverse effects on international relations’. Of a total 210 pages, 118 were blacked out completely.
All this talk of redactions and behind-the-scenes discussions sounds like conspiracy mongering, but in the summer of 2020 Christopher Wray the Director of the FBI confirmed that the CCP was trying to influence Covid policymaking in America. He stated:
We have heard from federal, state, and even local officials that Chinese diplomats are aggressively urging support for China’s handling of the COVID-19 crisis. Yes, this is happening at both the federal and state levels. Not that long ago, we had a state senator who was recently even asked to introduce a resolution supporting China’s response to the pandemic.
Moreover, much of the CCP’s lockdown proselytising has happened in plain sight. On March 12, officials from the Chinese government’s National Health Commission and the Red Cross Society of China travelled to Italy to assist with the country’s outbreak response. The officials advised stricter measures: ‘There are still too many people and behaviours on the street to improve.’ A week later, the officials reiterated the advice. Xi Jinping himself telephoned the Italian Prime Minister and offered to work with Conte on a new ‘Health Silk Road’.
Meanwhile, China’s reliable backer, the WHO, swung behind Italy’s lockdown. Tedros opined that ‘the government and the people of Italy are taking bold, courageous steps aimed at slowing the spread of the coronavirus and protecting their country and the world’. In these words, you can hear a slightly less than explicit declaration of support for the lockdown – exactly the stance you would expect given the WHO’s general preference for testing and tracing. The WHO were never going to contradict their previous support for the Wuhan lockdown.
Two days after the Italian lockdown, the WHO announced that the Covid-19 outbreak was officially a ‘pandemic’. You may be surprised to hear that this announcement came so late. But it did: only a week beforehand, the WHO had said they appreciated that the matter was still being ‘debated’; they wouldn’t ‘hesitate to describe COVID-19 as a pandemic if that’s what the evidence suggests’, adding: ‘we need to see this in perspective’. The timing of the WHO’s pandemic announcement coincided with the CCP’s pro-lockdown social media blitz, as well as the outburst of pro-lockdown propaganda in other media outlets worldwide. If China has undue influence over the WHO – and surely there is truth in this – then we should not be surprised that the WHO started talking about a global pandemic at exactly the moment when the CCP was vigorously promoting lockdowns worldwide.
Global organisations like the WHO are not democratically elected. But you would have expected the world’s democracies, with their traditions of freedom, reason and human rights, to have fiercely resisted China’s global lockdown campaign. Senger’s verdict is bleak:
We may never know just how many westerners supported the CCP’s COVID-19 narrative because of their relationships with China. But the fact that the pandemic guidelines of the WHO and nearly every developed nation were discarded to make way for lockdowns – and the vast majority of the public was neither consulted nor informed of this decision – suggests that the corruption ran very deep. The CCP’s lockdowns were laundered into science with shockingly little debate, and many scientists, health officials, and other professionals showed an unusual sycophancy toward China in advocating their continuation.
Bleak, but true. Xi’s campaign to export lockdowns was dismayingly effective. Even now, I am still aghast that my own country, Britain, became a giant prison camp in such a short space of time. I am still aghast that so few journalists, celebrities, artists, musicians, scientists, academics, campaigners, politicians or members of the public called the lockdown policy the disgusting totalitarian abomination that it always was. The corruption ran very deep indeed.
However, I believe there is a risk of overstating the role that Xi played in the world’s descent into lockdown hell. From the perspective of hindsight, the descent seemed to happen with such horrible inexorability, by way of a series of decisions and events that interlocked to create an exquisite trap into which almost every nation plummeted, there is an illusion that the whole thing was deliberately orchestrated. According to many lockdown sceptics, a global lockdown based on the pretext of a viral outbreak was always the plan, a dastardly scheme dreamt up and executed by some evil mastermind; there was a ‘plandemic’, so the theory goes. In my opinion, the ‘plandemic’ theory is deeply mistaken. Indeed, I think the world cannot get completely free from the coronapanic debacle until people are freed from the illusion that the lockdowns were planned.
Senger doesn’t come right out and say he thinks Xi planned to shut down the world. In an interview with Sky News Australia, Senger even presented the issue as a question: ‘Is there something more sinister behind this? Was this actually planned so it would crash rival economies and spread authoritarian values?’ But in Snake Oil, Senger leaves little doubt as to his views. He talks about the CCP’s ‘lockdown operation’ and suggests that lockdowns were ‘specifically designed to ruin small businesses’. He says Xi viewed public health as a ‘conduit to popularise totalitarianism’. He explains: ‘Since the original egalitarian propaganda of communism no longer fooled most people, the system had to be rebooted with a new lie that would justify the indefinite suspension of the rule of law. Xi had found it in the form of a “virus”’. Finally, Senger claims that ‘The CCP could have picked literally any city to shut down for purposes of its lockdown fraud. Xi Jinping had chosen Wuhan because there was a lab there’.
Clearly, this idea that Xi ‘chose’ Wuhan indicates that Senger thinks the Wuhan lockdown was planned, as part of a wider campaign to export lockdowns. Interestingly, Senger doesn’t give much credence to versions of the ‘plandemic’ theory in which the plan involved bioengineering a virus then deliberately releasing it. Given that Covid-19 was a mere cold, the origins of the virus simply aren’t as important, in Senger’s view, as the origins of the lockdowns and other deranged Covid policies. Indeed, Senger believes that the CCP, when exporting lockdowns, deliberately exploited people’s fears that Covid-19 was a bioweapon. I agree on both counts. I don’t know where Covid-19 came from; what has always mattered most to me is understanding how the coronapanic debacle happened. The virus could have come from Jupiter and the lockdowns would still have been an atrocity.
The events that I have described in this essay cast strong doubt on the idea that Xi planned to lock Wuhan down. If Xi had always planned the action, he wouldn’t have downplayed the threat from Covid-19, he wouldn’t have tried to eradicate all discussion of the outbreak, he wouldn’t have banned the state media from talking about the virus, he wouldn’t have arrested people for comparing the virus to SARS, he wouldn’t have arrested people for spreading panic, he wouldn’t have denied human-to-human transmission, he wouldn’t have permitted meetings of CCP officials to go ahead in Wuhan, and he wouldn’t have enlisted the WHO in support of his initial approach. Moreover, after the lockdown, he wouldn’t have spent the first few days acting like the outbreak wasn’t happening, he wouldn’t have tried to reassure the world that the situation was under control, he wouldn’t have urged other countries not to create panic, he wouldn’t have tried to keep global trade going, and he wouldn’t have enlisted the WHO in support of this approach either.
Perhaps you will argue that Xi deliberately suppressed discussion of Covid-19 because, after SARS, he knew that a cagey government response to a new outbreak would make the Chinese public beg to be quarantined. But then if he knew the public would demand government action over a SARS-like virus, why didn’t he just say Covid-19 was a SARS-like virus? Why did he deny that there was any problem at all until there was open revolt against the CCP, along with lasting damage to his reputation? Perhaps you will argue that Xi wanted to create a panic in China because he wanted to make the whole world panic. But then why did he arrest the panic mongers? And why did he encourage countries to keep their borders with China open? Surely he would have advised the opposite if he wanted to stoke a global panic? And – above all – why did Xi keep banging on about prosperity if his plan was to lop another 0.7% off China’s GDP and shut down the economies of his country’s trading partners? There is no way Xi would have staked his authority on a cockamamie plan that involved China trashing itself to convince the whole world to trash itself.
Yet China did convince the whole world to trash itself. What changed? Why and when did Xi decide to export lockdowns?
To answer the ‘why’ question, you need to get into Xi’s head. You need to understand his motives. This is not the same as condoning his actions. Explaining is not the same as justifying. If you want to protect yourself against your enemies, you need to understand them. You need to know your enemy.
When the Covid-19 outbreak began, Xi’s main goal was to avoid a repeat of the economic damage caused by the SARS outbreak. However, instead of trying to avoid the CCP’s previous mistakes, Xi doubled down on them. Instead of being honest about the new threat, instead of reassuring people with facts and reason, he went into denial mode again. As a result, he faced increasing domestic and international pressure to take action against Covid-19. When he was forced into a U-turn, admitting that there was a problem and locking Wuhan down, he must have felt humiliated, on numerous counts. For one thing, he probably believed that he could have successfully covered up the outbreak if the international community hadn’t exerted pressure on him; he will have felt bitter at the world. Moreover, he will have felt especially bitter given that the international order is led by capitalist democracies – all those plutocrats ganging up on China! And the bitterest pill of all: his own people had taken the side of the democracy-led international order that he believed he was protecting China against. Xi wanted to make the Chinese people richer; they had betrayed him by joining in with an international agenda that was bound to make his country poorer. He must have felt as though he’d seen his lover take the hand of an enemy.
And the humiliation didn’t stop there. After locking down Hubei, hoping to appease the world, Xi was rewarded with further sanctions by the international community. A domino trail of countries shut their borders with China. Worst still, the first domino to fall, pushing other countries into the same action, was the USA, China’s nemesis. On February 3, after the USA had banned entry to travellers from China, the CCP’s foreign ministry spokesperson, Hua Chunying, complained that the ban ‘could only create and spread fear’. He added: ‘It is precisely developed countries like the US with strong epidemic prevention capabilities... that have taken the lead in imposing excessive restrictions [on China]’. In these words, you can hear that the CCP felt aggrieved, and you can hear why. Xi believed that the USA and other developed countries could avoid imposing hugely destructive measures on themselves or anywhere else. He believed that developed countries didn’t need to isolate China, a poorer country, to deal with their own outbreaks. And, above all, he was well aware that the main reason China was being isolated was so that other leaders could calm their own people down; the leaders were buying time in order to organise a sensible response to the outbreak. Xi must have been stung by a feeling of injustice. All he had ever wanted was to calm the situation down, but not like this! Outsiders had helped stoke a panic in Wuhan, leading to severe economic disruption for China, and now those same outsiders were further punishing China in order to soothe their own fears. China had become the fall guy for the world’s unnecessary anxiety over Covid-19.
There were other sources of resentment for Xi. Hua pointed out that the USA’s travel ban was ‘contrary to WHO recommendations’. Xi must have been irked that his insurance policy wasn’t proving effective; the USA had confounded him yet again. Additionally, Xi probably felt personally jilted by Trump’s China travel ban. Within a fortnight of the two men signing the US-China trade deal, Trump had driven a wedge between the two countries, for purely political reasons. Trump’s efforts to praise China during this period must have come across as poisonously insincere. And comments by US Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross won’t have lightened Xi’s mood. On January 30, Ross said: ‘The fact is, [Covid-19] does give business yet another thing to consider when they go through their review of their supply chain … So I think it will help to accelerate the return of jobs to North America.’ Over the next few months, there were ‘deteriorating relations’ between the USA and China. On March 17, Trump started referring to Covid-19 as the ‘China virus’. By May, Trump was saying of Xi ‘I don’t want to speak to him’, and mooting the idea of ‘cut[ting] off the whole relationship’ between the two countries. The Chinese state media responded with a newspaper editorial accusing Trump of ‘lunacy’. Another editorial concurred: ‘Trump seems insane right now or may have some psychological problems’.
Possibly, Xi derived further resentment from an intriguing subplot concerning theories about the origins of the virus. After the Wuhan lockdown, stories began emerging that Covid-19 was bioengineered in the Wuhan Institute of Virology – another potential reason for the international community to shun China. By May, Trump was insinuating that the stories might have some truth. However, even if the virus did emerge from a Wuhan lab, the CCP may still have felt aggrieved about the stories. Before the pandemic, the US government contributed funds to the EcoHealth Alliance, an organisation that has worked with the Wuhan Institute of Virology. If – and this is debated – money from the USA was used to create new viruses (‘gain of function’ research), and if Covid-19 derived from this research, then the USA would have borne some responsibility for the outbreak. That’s a lot of ifs. But if they’re all true, Xi would have been stung by the injustice of China taking sole blame for the outbreak.
And Xi would have felt an even bigger sense of injustice if the CCP was telling the truth that the virus didn’t leak from the Wuhan Institute of Virology; China could hardly be held responsible for a virus whose origins were unclear. Indeed, in the first few weeks of March, CCP officials and the Chinese state media began arguing that the virus may not have come from China at all, which isn’t as crazy as it sounds; many researchers have since argued the same thing. And remember: the virus was circulating worldwide long before Wuhan went into a frenzy. One of China’s foreign ministry spokesmen, Zhao Lijian, claimed that the US military might have brought the virus to China; he called on the US to be more ‘transparent’ regarding its own ‘patient zero’. 18 months later, the CCP made an official statement calling for the US to be transparent regarding its early cases. The statement flagged up specific laboratories in the USA that the virus might have come from. Granted, this was CCP propaganda; I am not suggesting it should be taken seriously. The point is simply that Xi may have resented accusations that the virus originated in China, never mind accusations that China had deliberately engineered and released the virus.
Humiliation, jealousy, injustice, impotence, resentment: when you survey all these grievances, I hope you can now see why Xi shut down the world. A lockdown for a lockdown. He believed he was retaliating.
However, I hope you can also see that ‘retaliation’ isn’t wholly the right word for Xi’s actions, whatever he himself may have believed. The fact is, the entire coronapanic debacle would never have happened if Xi had been honest from the start. If he hadn’t boorishly tried to quash all discussion of Covid-19, thus fuelling people’s suspicions, including the suspicions of the international community, if, instead, he had responded calmly, empathetically and rationally, there would have been no misunderstandings, no mass panic, no international pressure, and no mutiny against his regime; he wouldn’t have ended up locking Wuhan down. Xi blamed the whole world for what happened in Wuhan, yet, ultimately, he only had himself to blame. In this way, Xi’s decisions were blighted by his socialist worldview. Socialism is, above all, a failure to take personal responsibility. When you espouse a philosophy of collective responsibility, everything is always someone else’s fault; every grievance becomes an opportunity for further resentment, never for self-reflection or reconciliation; every setback becomes a reason to drag others down rather than build yourself up. Xi responded to his personal failure in Wuhan by dragging the whole world down with him. He lashed out, legitimising the action by telling himself that other countries deserved it, because they weren’t paragons of virtue either.
I don’t think there is a word in the English language to precisely describe the type of mindset/action that Xi exhibited. Pathological retaliation, I will call it, where the phrase means: retaliating in response to an injury that was, to some extent, inflicted unfairly but where the retaliator was ultimately to blame for the overall situation, including his retaliation and the circumstances in which he was injured. Another example of pathological retaliation would be Nazi Germany’s response to the Versailles Treaty. The Versailles Treaty was harsh on Germany, but no such harsh terms would ever have been imposed if Germany hadn’t started World War One.
Pathological retaliation is why Xi shut down the world. But what about ‘when’? When did Xi make the decision? This question is hard to answer with complete precision, but I think we can rule out a few hypotheses. In Senger’s view, there is evidence from as early as January 2020 that Xi’s ‘lockdown operation’ was underway. Senger claims that, on January 1, China’s largest newspaper People’s Daily notified the world of the outbreak – in the newspaper’s English language edition – without notifying the Chinese public; the intention, supposedly, was to frighten to the world so as to prepare the ground for a global lockdown.
In fact, Senger’s claim is multiply inaccurate. The article that he cites – ‘27 Quarantined in Wuhan Due to Viral Pneumonia’ – was from China Daily, not People’s Daily. And the article specifically mentioned that People’s Daily had already notified the Chinese public of the outbreak on Weibo. Moreover, the article mentioned various reassuring comments that had been made by People’s Daily, for instance that ‘the cases in Wuhan are unlikely to have been caused by the SARS virus’. The article also quoted the Wuhan Health Commission as saying ‘no person-to-person transmission has been found’. Clearly, the overall intention of the China Daily article was to reassure the world, just as People’s Daily had reassured the Chinese public, before both outlets went quiet on the topic for several weeks. If, at this early stage, Xi was preparing to lockdown Wuhan and then lockdown the world, he was going about it in a strange way – by telling everybody not to worry then changing the subject.
Senger makes another inaccurate claim in this connection. He says that a week before People’s Daily informed the Chinese public that the Wuhan outbreak was caused by a new coronavirus, the newspaper had already informed the world of the same. But the People’s Daily article on which Senger bases this claim was published on January 9 – the very same day that the Chinese authorities told the Chinese public that the outbreak was caused by a new coronavirus. As far as Covid-19 was concerned, Xi was telling the world nothing that he wasn’t telling China – which wasn’t much. And, in any case, even if Xi had tried to scare the world more than he was scaring China, what would that prove? That Xi wanted to lock down the whole world but not Wuhan? That strategy would make no sense; there is zero chance that the world would have locked down without Wuhan locking down first.
Another example of Xi preparing the ground for a global lockdown, Senger claims, could be seen on the day of the Wuhan lockdown, January 23. Senger says ‘the Wuhan fear videos began flooding social media that same day’. But that’s hardly evidence of a global lockdown campaign. As far as I know, there was no pro-lockdown propaganda from the CCP at this stage. In the aftermath of the Wuhan lockdown, Xi tried to reassure the world; he tried to stop the world from isolating China. The likelier explanation for the fear videos doing the rounds after the Wuhan lockdown is that the shocking scenes had piqued the world’s attention. Up until then, no one would have been interested in some strange footage of random Chinese people pretending to drop dead in the street.
The only reason I am challenging Senger’s position or querying the accuracy of these particular references is the importance of the topic. Senger is wholly justified, indeed he is a pioneer, in asking how and when China shut down the world. Let me flag up some other instances, a few that I myself have noticed, where you could argue that Xi was preparing the ground for a global lockdown campaign.
Consider the contribution made by the WHO to the unfolding situation in late February. On February 24, a joint mission by the WHO and The European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control was sent to Italy to assess the outbreak in Lombardy. The mission reported ‘a rapid increase in cases’ and remarked that ‘the focus is on limiting further human-to-human transmission’. The mission also stated:
Health authorities in Italy are implementing measures to prevent onward transmission, including closing of schools and bars and cancelling of sports events and other mass gatherings in the areas affected. This aligns with the containment strategy currently being implemented globally in an effort to stop the spread of COVID-19.
Four days later, the WHO made another statement, noting that 24 new cases had been exported from Italy to 14 countries, while 97 cases had been exported from Iran to 11 countries. Clearly, pressure was being applied to Italy (and Iran, where some schools and universities were closed on February 23).
However, just because the WHO was pressuring Italy in late February doesn’t mean that the organisation was helping Xi export lockdowns. The WHO’s agenda remained the same as it had been for weeks: lifting the stigma from China by shifting the pressure onto other countries. The WHO’s Italy melodramatics came in the middle of a month-long period during which the organisation was constantly warning against rumourmongering, disharmony, politicisation and hyperbole; the pressure was being shifted but the goal was the same: don’t damage the global economy by isolating China. Moreover, the ‘containment’ operations that were currently underway in Lodi were not the same as a national lockdown. Even on March 11, two days after the national lockdown, Tedros was still urging countries to ‘strike a fine balance between protecting health, minimizing economic and social disruption and respecting human rights’.
Throughout this period, Tedros was hamstrung by the WHO’s fundamentally incoherent strategy of praising the Wuhan lockdown while knowing the measure was insane. When the Italians quarantined 11 towns in Lodi on February 23, the WHO was in no position to protest. And likewise, when those isolated containment measures suddenly ballooned into a regional and national lockdown on March 8/9, the WHO could only offer mealy-mouthed praise that wouldn’t contradict their previous position but also wouldn’t directly endorse an obvious atrocity.
Granted, the CCP is perfectly capable of operating without the cover of the WHO; the regime might have been unilaterally trying to export lockdowns throughout February and early March. Indeed, on the same day that Tedros advised ‘striking a balance’, he dropped an intriguing hint that the CCP could have been brewing some sort of retaliation against the world. The measures in Italy, Japan and Iran, he remarked, were ‘taking a heavy toll on societies and economies, just as they did in China’ [my italics]. To me, this sounds like another moment of exasperation from Tedros. He had long feared that if the world kept isolating China over Covid-19, the relationship between the CCP and the world would become dangerously strained; Xi was bound to lose patience if China’s suffering was being exploited.
However, when you think about it logically, the very idea of Xi gradually losing patience implies that he wasn’t retaliating at that time. He was losing patience because he wanted to deescalate the situation, not escalate it. He wanted to restore normal borders and normal trade relations. He would retaliate only when he believed that normality wasn’t salvageable. There was bound to be an inflection point when Xi reckoned that China’s isolation wasn’t going to end in the foreseeable future, so he might as well try to inflict maximum damage on the world in the meantime.
During late February or early March, there might have been a grey area before the inflection point came. Xi might have made a few preparations to export lockdowns. The deteriorating atmosphere in Lombardy might have given him the idea itself. He might even have made some efforts to stir up the situation in Lombardy. Or he might have used Lombardy as a sort of test case for the idea of exporting lockdowns. But none of this would have been the same as executing a global lockdown campaign. And, anyway, I’m not convinced Xi would have placed much store by any such preparations or efforts. Before the Lombardy/Italy lockdowns, Xi would have been sceptical of the idea of Western democracies imposing enormous indiscriminate lockdowns. Xi’s own foreign ministry spokesman, Hua Chunying, had already insinuated that developed countries wouldn’t need to employ destructive measures – the CCP’s assumption was that the West would deal with Covid-19 in a sensible way. Until the Italy lockdown, Xi will have believed that the best way to influence Westerners was to appeal to their sense of openness and tolerance, to get them to reopen their hearts and their borders to China.
There is one final consideration about the timing of Xi’s retaliation. Any attempt to export lockdowns was not without risk for the CCP. If the attempt failed, China and its collaborators, e.g. media partners and politicians, could be disgraced, which would compound the country’s economic isolation. Westerners don’t normally appreciate being advised to confiscate their rights by a totalitarian regime. (Imagine, for instance, China mounting a global campaign to promote organ harvesting.) The more overt the campaign, the greater the reputational risk for the CCP. And the sneakier the machinations, the greater the reputational risk if the campaign came to light. The CCP would only engage in a global pro-lockdown campaign if the payoff was reliable. Moreover, if the risk did pay off, foreign leaders would never blame China for the exported lockdowns. Like Xi, every other leader would pretend that the lockdowns were justified. A high chance of success would be another feature of the inflection point.
So when did the inflection point come? The answer is clear: when Italy locked down. Xi must have sensed the change in the air, a sudden opportunity. Immediately after the Italy lockdown was when CCP bots began their social media blitz, and pro-lockdown media coverage began proliferating worldwide. The CCP also sent officials to ‘assist’ Italy within days of the lockdown; if Xi had been strenuously agitating for the lockdown, his officials would have gone to Italy beforehand, not afterwards. Moreover, the pro-lockdown campaign came in the form of a massive bombardment of propaganda, a shock and awe offensive, because the CCP knew that failure wasn’t an option.
In sum: the evidence suggests that Xi’s campaign to export lockdowns worldwide began around the time of the Italy lockdown on March 9, possibly with some preparations and tentative provocations in Lombardy in the preceding weeks. The overall campaign was an act of pathological retaliation. The world had exerted pressure on the CCP in the lead up to the Wuhan lockdown, and had isolated China ever since, so Xi lashed out – an eye for an eye, a lockdown for a lockdown. Xi even went as far as shutting China’s own borders on March 26. Probably he was under pressure domestically, but perhaps he did it partly so the world would know what it felt like.
Seen through the lens of retaliation, the whole operation was absurdly simple. Specific pressures had forced the CCP’s hand in Wuhan, so the regime applied those same pressures to foreign governments. The same social media frenzy of fearmongering, including the same fear videos that had terrified the Wuhan public. The same frenzied calls for the government to protect the people. The same lockdown cheerleading by the independent media. A mass panic for a mass panic. Even the international pressure was the same, only this time in reverse; now China was pressuring the world.
Added to all this, we can assume that there was institutional pressure for restrictions within China, and that the CCP stoked similar institutional pressure worldwide. Think tanks, universities, the legal system, advisory boards, NGOs, large charities, government departments, local authorities – no politician can govern without the cooperation of such institutions; every politician must move with the flow of the institutions as well as the flow of the people. During Xi’s global lockdown campaign, the CCP will have tried to move the world’s politicians towards lockdowns by leveraging any institutional investments or connections that the regime had. When the institutions became hysterical, the panic and the clamour for action broke out right in the faces of the politicians.
And here’s some conjecture: the CCP helped stoke union mutinies worldwide. Given the driving role played by mutinous unions in Britain’s lockdown, given the strong hints of a union role in Italy’s lockdown, and given the weaker hints of a union role in Wuhan’s lockdown, you get the impression of a pattern. Mutinous unions for mutinous unions. You can imagine Xi thinking: concerted pressure from medics, transport workers, universities and teachers caused me big problems, so I’ll stoke the same concerted pressure among the same professions worldwide, giving other leaders the same problems. In Italy, Xi may even have played a role in stoking union mutinies, or he may simply have watched on with interest, formulating a plan. Either way, he will have realised how effective the strategy could be.
If I’m right about this, Xi’s global lockdown campaign will have been heavily based on trying to foment teaching mutinies. Before March 2020, most people, myself included, had never thought about the indispensability of schools to the economy. Well, now we all know: if you close all the schools, you create mayhem. Teaching unions ran amok in many countries, in many cases from the very beginning. In the USA on March 17, 2020, the largest education union called for all schools in the country to close; over the next two years, teachers proceeded to drive numerous state lockdowns and even directly influenced CDC policy. In Australia, teaching unions issued a series of ‘escalating threats’ to force the PM to close all schools in March 2020. In New Zealand, teaching unions exerted pressure on the authorities to implement a ‘Zero Covid’ strategy. In France, there were already 120 schools closed by March 3; on March 16, France was one of the first Western countries to go into lockdown. I have also heard anecdotal reports of teachers driving the lockdowns and other restrictions in many countries. And here’s a very telling fact: in Sweden, where the schools stayed open, the country’s main teaching union didn’t want the schools to close (or the kids to be masked). Go figure. I think Xi figured that closing schools would be a simple and effective way to shut down the world, and he probably used whatever leverage he had within teaching unions to help make it happen.
A mass panic for a mass panic, institutional pressure for institutional pressure, mutinous unions for mutinous unions – I think these were the main mechanisms by which Xi shut down the world. If he didn’t plan the global lockdown in advance, the simplicity of the mechanisms makes sense. If the operation happened fairly spontaneously, you would expect a simple strategy. Moreover, if the global lockdown campaign was an of act retaliation, you would expect to find a parallel between the pressures that Xi himself had faced and the pressures he inflicted on the world: an eye for an eye.
People often ask me why the global lockdown happened so fast, why the global economy collapsed like a house of cards, countries trashing themselves, one after another, in rapid succession. Xi’s shock and awe campaign is part of the explanation. The CCP’s global lockdown campaign was sudden and overwhelming, like an explosion that detonated the foundations of the world order. Normal human emotions evaporated into an intercontinental mushroom cloud of paranoia and lies.
However, let me repeat my words from earlier: there is a risk of overstating the role that Xi played in the world’s descent into lockdown hell. He didn’t plan everything in advance, and he didn’t control everything as it unfolded. You can’t control the whole world, and you can’t control an explosion. The mass panic and the media fearmongering were brewing long before Xi’s bots fanned the flames. And the hysteria continued to have its own momentum long after the bots appeared. Xi was pushing at an open door. Moreover, around the world, institutions were perfectly capable of going mad by their own accord. And the same goes for the unions; for instance, when the Australian Workers Union started asking its sheep shearing members ‘Is Your Shed Really Covid Safe?’, it’s hard to believe the CCP was behind this particular episode. Finally, I am sure there were plenty of politicians, including leaders, who bought into the Covid madness willingly because they were panicking too. Human nature is the same worldwide. The lockdowns spread like wildfire because, during a mass panic, by definition, most human beings spontaneously behave how most human beings behave.
And there’s another reason why Xi’s campaign wasn’t the only trigger for the global lockdown: Xi wasn’t the only leader who tried to export lockdowns. On March 16, the leaders of the G7 announced that they were overseeing a ‘coordinated international approach’ to Covid-19. The G7 is a group of countries comprising Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the UK and the USA, seven of the world’s biggest economies. The G7 leaders made a joint statement in which they promised to take the ‘necessary public health measures to protect people at risk from Covid-19’, and to ensure ‘the stability of the global economy’. The statement added: ‘We call on the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank Group and other International Organizations to further support countries worldwide as part of a coordinated global response’. Reading this, a cynic would argue that the G7 bribed other countries to lockdown. ‘Stability’ was a euphemism for ‘we don’t want our economic rivals to outcompete us while we’re trashing our own economies’. Having imposed monstrous restrictions on their own countries under the pressure of a global mass panic, the G7 leaders had an incentive to mitigate the damage, by stopping other countries from profiting. When communists suffer misfortune, they use violence and manipulation to drag their rivals down. When capitalists suffer misfortune, I guess they pay their rivals to suffer.
Don’t you just love politicians? But it gets darker still. There was one final aspect of the G7’s efforts to globalise the lockdowns: safety in numbers. Acting in unison meant that the G7 leaders would be less exposed if they made the wrong decision. And they weren’t the only ones who sought the safety of the herd. Very few leaders wanted to be the odd one out. In the final analysis, the global lockdown was one giant spin operation that almost every leader in the world, including Xi, participated in. A great global frenzy of political arse-covering. The world was trashed because of a mass panic, and because most leaders weren’t brave enough to stand up to it, the whole sorry flock of them grabbing and grasping at each other, dragging each other in the same direction, as they collectively ran for cover and plunged their countries into a nightmare.
Covid-19 was a bad cold with an average age of death of around 82, and a fatality rate comparable to the flu, yet, in a stupendously stupid attempt to stop the spread of this cold, more than half of humanity was placed under some form of lockdown. You can hardly begin to quantify the damage done during those barren months when 3.9 billion men, women and children were barred from their usual life-sustaining activities. Crazed governments pulverised their own countries, the attacks coming in wave after wave, capricious but merciless, unimaginably cruel. If an alien invader had inflicted this wanton punishment on humanity, the episode would rightly be considered a genocide on a global scale, not to mention an act of mass torture.
When Stalin said a million deaths is a statistic, he showed more compassion than most lockdown zealots, for whom the damage inflicted by the world’s lockdowns didn’t even register as a thought. Millions of deaths from treatable conditions such as tuberculosis, AIDS and malaria. Up to 12,000 starving to death every day, according to Oxfam. 132 million malnourished in Africa. Scarcer treatment for heart disease and stroke. Cancer screenings and treatments plummeting, with 1 in 7 cancer surgeries postponed worldwide, and a reported 65% decrease in screenings in the USA. The global economy decimated, with over 100,000 businesses lost in the USA alone. Mass displacements in third world countries, where workers were laid off in their millions. Around 255 million jobs lost worldwide. Increases in homelessness and bankruptcy. Mental illness running riot. Alcohol abuse, drug abuse and drug deaths soaring. Domestic abuse surging, the victims trapped with their abusers. Families and relationships ripped apart. Elderly people brutally isolated, in their own homes or in nursing homes. People dying alone, or saying their final farewells over an iPad.
And the children and young people. Weep for them. They were virtually invulnerable to Covid-19 but suffered the most from the abominable lockdowns. The shame will echo down the centuries. Millions of children dead worldwide. Excess deaths in the young increasing more than in the old, according to a study conducted in the US. 150 million children pushed into multidimensional poverty – deprived of education, health, housing, nutrition, sanitation or water – according to UNICEF. Child abuse soaring. Female Genital Mutilation increasing in Africa. An estimated thirteen million more child marriages. HIV infections in children potentially doubling. Childhood mental illness spiralling. Eating disorders more prevalent. Up to 65% of kids struggling with feelings of isolation, according to Save the Children. Billions of days of education lost. Achievement gaps widening. In the USA alone, millions of kids falling off the grid, not showing up for online or in-person teaching. And then came the ‘lockdown-lifting’ policy of schoolchildren being forced into masks. Pointless, dehumanising, stifling masks, for 8 hours a day. Children in their crucial developmental years unable to even smile at each other. Terrorists aren’t treated this badly.
The masks didn’t work. The reason was obvious: you can breathe through a face mask. And the lockdowns didn’t work. Again, the reason was obvious: sick people stayed at home whether or not there was a lockdown; lockdowns made no difference to the spread of Covid-19. All this harm for nothing. But of course the lockdowns and other Covid mandates would have been morally wrong even if they had worked. How dare the government confiscate our freedom? We had done nothing wrong. We had responsibilities to live up to. Our freedom was the most precious resource on the planet. All hell broke loose while we were shackled.
And all this harm before you even take the Covid vaccines into account. With reports accumulating about adverse effects, including, notoriously, blood clotting leading to heart attacks, there are serious questions to be asked about whether the vaccines are safe and properly vetted. No one has been able to quantify the exact numbers killed worldwide by Covid vaccination programmes, but one estimate is 20,000 in the UK and 120,000 in the USA. Healthy adults and children have been blackmailed, literally or emotionally, into taking a vaccine for a cold, when the vaccine could end up doing them more harm than the cold ever would.
The coronapanic debacle was one of the greatest crimes in history. Having participated in this crime, very few leaders have been brave or honest enough to admit their wrongdoing. In May 2020, the Norwegian PM Erna Solberg, who locked Norway down, acknowledged ‘I probably took many of the decisions out of fear’. However, she added: ‘Was it necessary to close schools? Maybe not. But at the same time, I think it was the right thing to do at the time. Based on the information we had, we took a precautionary strategy’. Ron DeSantis, the governor of Florida, USA, has been the most candid. Although he locked Florida down for a month at the start of the coronapanic, he later admitted that the policy was a ‘huge, huge mistake’. In fact, it was a huge, huge crime. But at least DeSantis had the integrity to recognise that he made the wrong decision. He even had enough courage to admit that he locked the state down because he had caved in under pressure: ‘All I had to do was follow the data and just be willing to go forward into the teeth of the narrative and fight the media.’
Almost everywhere, a miasma of untruth has continued to swirl. Leaders have deployed various ‘lockdown lifting strategies’ – mass testing, new hospitals, mass sanitising, mask mandates, mass vaccination, vax mandates – but the strategies were also designed to entrench the disgusting lie that the lockdowns were ever justified. The public would have been outraged if they knew they were being lied to. No leader could feel secure in office unless the public continued to believe the lie. However, with the same lie being repeated around the world, and the world’s leaders in the same jeopardy, none of them were content merely to ensure that their own populations remained duped. No leader would feel secure unless the whole world remained duped; if just one country broke ranks and embraced the truth, every country could follow suit. Hence, once again, leaders sought safety in numbers. Having flocked together to shut the world down, they collaborated on a global spin operation designed to move the world on from the coronapanic debacle.
In June 2020, the World Economic Forum (WEF) launched its ‘Great Reset’ initiative, to be followed by the organisation’s (ultimately cancelled) 50th annual meeting on the same theme in January 2021. The idea behind the theme was that the pandemic had created an opportunity to rebuild and make the global economy better than before. The lockdowns were a tragic necessity, so the idea went, but economic activity could now resume, and a greener, fairer and more harmonious world could be created in the process. The WEF attracts support from over 100 nations as well as hundreds of global businesses, but the main cheerleader for the Great Reset nonsense was the WEF’s Chairman, the academic Klaus Schwab. In his painfully turgid book, Covid-19: The Great Reset, Schwab explained what the world’s rebuilt economy would look like: basically, it would look like Marxism with a sprinkling of modern business jargon. After the June announcement, the world’s leaders began parroting the slogan ‘Build Back Better’. A global anti-lockdown spin operation was in full flow: leaders were accentuating the positive, heralding a better future to distract people from the crimes of the past.
The Great Reset spin operation was the apotheosis of the Janus Strategy. The ‘reset’ concept pointed backwards and forwards – backwards to the lockdowns, implicitly justifying them, but forwards to a brave new world that would make the whole debacle worthwhile. Why would anyone want to dwell on the rights and wrongs of the lockdowns when the policy was tragically necessary and a better world would come from it? That was the question implicitly being asked by the world’s leaders. At the same time, the reset concept was also a call to action, as though the leaders were saying – let’s restart the economy, let’s move on, let’s put all this trouble behind us.
Unfortunately for the politicians, most people weren’t convinced by the Great Reset; the idea was generally ignored. The mass lunacy over Covid-19 surged onwards, almost everywhere. Most people didn’t want economic life to resume; they were still panicking about the virus, and still demanding a draconian response from their governments. Second and third lockdowns followed in many countries, while the demonization of the unvaccinated made a mockery of the idea of a harmonious new future for humanity.
But some people did take the Great Reset seriously. Many lockdown sceptics reacted to the idea like they’d seen the light. I don’t mean that they embraced the concept; rather, they saw the scheme as a genuine undertaking that could explain everything that had happened since the start of the pandemic and everything that would happen going forwards. In other words: instead of seeing the Great Reset as a contemptible piece of post-hoc political spin, many lockdown sceptics concluded that the world’s leaders had always planned to reset the global economy, and now the plan was being executed. In turn, many lockdown sceptics felt vindicated by the Great Reset. They had long claimed that the coronapanic debacle was a plandemic. And here was the proof! What’s more, the Great Reset was being masterminded by a man who was worthy of such a cataclysmic plan: Klaus Schwab, a dastardly bald German who looked like a Bond villain.
The lockdown sceptics’ Great Reset obsession took me by surprise. As a prominent anti-lockdown campaigner, I felt we were making progress, gradually winning the argument, winning back our freedom, but suddenly everybody was raging at Klaus Schwab, agonising over his every utterance. I was dismayed. The plandemic theory has always struck me as inherently implausible. The idea that thousands of politicians and bureaucrats and scientists in over a hundred countries all planned in advance to shut down their economies on the basis of a viral outbreak is just barmy. Don’t you think the news of such a far-reaching plan would have leaked at some point? Do you think the leaders would have staked their futures on such an absurdly improbable undertaking?
Moreover, in my own country, the events of March 2020 could hardly have looked less planned. Boris Johnson and his science advisors favoured the laissez faire strategy of herd immunity, before U-turning amid a mass panic and a union mutiny. A similar dynamic seems to have occurred in many other countries too – leaders dragging their feet over the lockdowns then facing immense public pressure and caving in. In Britain, the plandemic zealots either ignored Johnson’s herd immunity phase or came up with the twisted explanation that Johnson had tried not to impose a lockdown because he wanted to make people demand a lockdown.
Then of course there were the countries or regions that didn’t lockdown in the early stages (or ever), or merely imposed guidance, not a legal lockdown. They included: North Dakota, Sweden, Japan, South Korea, Iceland, Estonia, Latvia, Hungary, Mexico, Jamaica, Uruguay, Mongolia, Cameroon, Belarus, Somalia, Gambia and Chad. Had these countries opted out of the Great Reset? Don’t you think the countries that had opted in would have been unhappy about trashing their economies while other countries didn’t? And remember: only 4% of China was locked down. Do you think the resetting G7 countries would have been happy about trashing their entire economies while China didn’t?
Plandemic zealots kept telling me that every country in the world had adopted the same pandemic policies – ‘it’s the same everywhere’, I kept hearing – but it wasn’t true. Some countries imposed national lockdowns. Some imposed national guidance. Some imposed local lockdowns. Some imposed local guidance. Some imposed no Covid measures at all. The plandemic zealots also kept telling me that countries had shut their economies ‘in lockstep’. But that wasn’t true either. The world’s initial lockdowns happened over the course of months, not simultaneously, albeit with a burst of lockdowns happening in mid to late March.
As for the global reopening heralded by the Great Reset, the countries that had locked down didn’t reopen in lockstep either. Covid policy disparities grew between countries as the pandemic wore on. Nor did the great reopening look anything like the brave new world promised by the Great Reset. When economies reopened, they carried on exactly as they had done before.
In the confusion of spring 2020, I could just about get my head around the idea that the CCP alone may have planned a global lockdown operation. But after the Great Reset conference, I was supposed to believe that Klaus Schwab and most of the world’s governments had devised a plan to shut down the global economy based on an outbreak of a cold, so as to install a global communist regime led by Schwab himself? And I was supposed to believe that the inherently evil vax passes that had been rolled out in various countries were an embryonic global surveillance system for the WEF regime? I’m sorry, but the whole theory was just farcical. Yes, the WEF is a dreadful and dangerous communist organisation. Yes, during March 2020 and beyond, the WEF produced a malignant splurge of pro-lockdown propaganda. And yes, I’m sure there are senior politicians and maybe even a few leaders worldwide who are sympathetic to Schwab’s demented aims – he boasts of ‘penetrating’ governments worldwide. But there is simply no way that over 100 national leaders agreed in advance to relinquish their powers to a global communist regime led by an academic and his think tank. Trump’s USA and Xi’s China? Pakistan and India? Australia and, I dunno, Belize? They all surrendered their sovereignty to Schwab and the WEF? The whole idea was so fantastically ludicrous it made my head spin. And, of course, the more I’ve learned about what really happened in Wuhan, the more I am sure that the global lockdown happened because of the opposite of a plan, and that Schwab was marginal or irrelevant.
In late 2020 and throughout 2021, I found myself arguing on Twitter with Great Reset obsessed lockdown sceptics. I simply couldn’t get them to understand that I was offering a serious alternative theory. They kept saying I believed that the lockdown policy was caused by ‘incompetence’. The whole idea of a mass panic followed by coagulation and a spin lockdown was just lost on them. These people were so irrational – and hostile too – I was reminded of the types of interactions I had had when I was being assailed by lockdown zealots at the start of the coronapanic. Many of those early interactions were almost certainly with CCP bots. This made me wonder: perhaps the CCP was now pushing the Great Reset plandemic theory. You could see how such a strategy would have advantages for the CCP. The more that Western lockdown sceptics obsessed about Klaus Schwab, the more that Western populations would be kept in the dark about the real dynamics of the debacle. Instead of talking about the public pressure that had pushed governments into a pointless atrocity, instead of clearing the air and persuading the public that no Covid measures were ever justified, lockdown sceptics would continue peddling an implausible conspiracy theory, thus giving the public no credible alternative to the pro-lockdown narrative. Also, the CCP will have had the same motive as any country in not wanting the truth to emerge: spin lockdowns disgraced every government that participated in them. Moreover, having participated in the additional crime of exporting lockdowns, the CCP will have been relieved to see the whole malign episode blamed on Klaus Schwab, especially given that Schwab is an environmentalist; Xi has no great love for environmentalism, a movement that threatens to curtail his country’s economic development.
I decided to do some digging: I consulted a few Great Reset obsessed Twitter accounts and looked back at what they were tweeting at the start of the coronapanic. I found something intriguing: in the early days, many of these accounts were engaged in fearmongering. That is to say: there were numerous accounts that became Great Reset accounts, but they started off as pro-lockdown accounts, pushing lockdown propaganda in March 2020. For instance, on March 19 one of the Great Reset accounts was sharing a meme about ‘The Power of Social Distancing’, and commenting ‘It’s not too difficult to understand or follow’. On March 22, another account was accusing the CDC of ‘genocide’ for trying to keep businesses open. On the same day, there was an account sharing a graphic about a rise in cases and urging people ‘Wherever you are, stay home’. The day before, there was an account shrieking at Boris Johnson: ‘Please can you bring in a lockdown?? Too many stupid people in Britain letting their kids out to play in groups. Putting us all at risk and undermining the whole closure of the schools to protect vulnerable’. I couldn’t help noticing the missing ‘the’ at the end of the second sentence – a slight Chinese tinge? Indeed, there were other examples that had more than a slight Chinese tinge. On March 22, one account was flipping out about ‘mass death’ and talking about the Italians ‘turning to China’ for ventilators. And on March 12 an account was saying: ‘In the case of the new coronavirus, according to Zhan, doctors don’t think the antibodies patients develop are strong or long lasting enough to keep them from contracting the disease again’. This seems to be a reference to a Chinese doctor, as well as an exercise in fearmongering, basically claiming that lasting immunity to Covid-19 was impossible.
I repeat: all these accounts became Great Reset-obsessed lockdown sceptic accounts. In other words: it seems possible that there are some twitter accounts that started out as CCP bots before being converted into Great Reset obsessed accounts. Did the CCP not only export lockdowns but, later, export the deranged idea that Klaus Schwab had planned the whole operation? The question needs more research, which will be difficult because, in June 2020, after the US media had started reporting the issue, Twitter deleted 170,000 accounts suspected of being CCP bots. Some of the suspicious accounts that I spotted have also been deleted, in the last few months. But if I’m right, the CCP has been engaged in a classic ‘controlled opposition’ exercise – infiltrating an opposition movement in order to undermine it. Here is Senger’s useful description of the phenomenon:
Used throughout history, controlled opposition can disinform and discredit a regime’s opponents by convincing them of false information. Second, it can lull opponents into complacency with leaders who give them false hope. Finally, it can misdirect opponents to focus on activities that do not threaten the regime.
The lockdown sceptics who obsessed about Klaus Schwab went down a blind alley, and I suspect they were led there by the CCP. Maybe, indeed, other governments engaged in the same type of campaign. Xi wasn’t the only leader who pushed lockdowns worldwide, and he wasn’t the only leader who would have been relieved to see the whole debacle blamed on Klaus Schwab. Maybe Matt Hancock and the CCP officials discussed the idea at their May 2020 meeting.
Of course, not every Great Reset obsessed lockdown sceptic was a CCP bot, or even influenced by CCP bots. And plenty of lockdown sceptics of all persuasions started off as lockdown zealots; this fact alone isn’t suspicious; most people started off in favour of the lockdowns. Indeed, you can see how paranoia about the virus could easily morph into plandemic zealotry; both types of paranoia involved a fear of a hidden, ubiquitous threat. Many lockdown sceptics also had cynical reasons for becoming plandemic zealots. Having panicked at the start and demanded that their freedom be confiscated over a cold, many were simply ashamed of themselves. They felt exonerated by the idea that the whole debacle was based on a ‘plan’ which would have been carried out regardless of their personal behaviour. They also felt exonerated by the idea that the plan had involved ‘deceiving’ them into supporting the lockdown. Even better if the deceiver was a marginal German academic; the Great Reset theory was a complete distraction from the truth. Wuhan, the mass panic, the global clamour for lockdowns – it was all obliterated by the cartoon figure of Klaus Schwab, a scapegoat for the failings of the plandemic zealots.
Perhaps the biggest problem with the plandemic theory is this: the whole idea of a plandemic has often served as an implicit endorsement of the lockdowns. After all, if the lockdown policy was wrong only because people were deceived into supporting it, then the policy would have been justified if people hadn’t been deceived. Instead of declaring unequivocally that the lockdown policy was an abomination that had no place in a civilised society, many plandemic zealots have insinuated that the real abomination was the fact that the lockdowns were based on a pretext, a hidden plan. When criticising the lockdowns, many plandemic zealots have, in effect, been merely complaining about the mismatch between what they believed they were supporting and what actually transpired, namely, the execution of the plan. Granted, some plandemic zealots have criticised the lockdowns directly, or criticised the policy from the start, but there is definitely a tendency among plandemic zealots to focus on an imaginary plan and not the inherent evil of the lockdowns.
There is another kind of lockdown sceptic who has implicitly endorsed the lockdowns. I have come to think of this kind of lockdown sceptic as a ‘quibbler’. Like many plandemic zealots, quibblers supported the lockdown at the start and then afterwards changed their minds, but instead of repudiating the entire policy, they quibbled about its execution; they complained that the lockdown was ‘too long’ or ‘too harsh’. Needless to say, these complaints were absurd. If you willingly surrender your freedom, you don’t get to choose when you’ll have your freedom back, or how much freedom you’ll be given. But the quibblers were unrepentant; they refused to accept any blame for the lockdowns, instead pinning all the blame on the government, despite the policy being supported by most of the population, including the quibblers. In Britain, this exercise in self-exoneration was especially perverse, given that the government had initially tried to avoid locking down and then caved in under pressure, including pressure from many of the quibblers.
All in all, very few people have been willing to say unequivocally that the lockdowns were a communist atrocity from day 1. Politicians, lockdown zealots, plandemic zealots and quibblers… they have all refused to acknowledge that they participated in a terrible enterprise. Only a tiny minority of people opposed the lockdown policy from the start or, if they didn’t, were subsequently brave and honest enough to admit that the policy was never morally acceptable. The lockdowns may have been lifted in most places, but the miasma of untruth hasn’t.
It’s an ending fitting for the start. From those very first stirrings of trouble in Wuhan, dishonesty has been the driving force behind the coronapanic debacle. Dishonesty combined with its shadow, distrust.
Wuhan doctors dishonestly spread the idea that the new virus was SARS. The CCP dishonestly tried to cover up the new outbreak. The Wuhan public, remembering how the CCP had dragged its feet over SARS, became distrustful, spreading dishonest rumours and fake videos. The CCP, distrustful of the public, and fearing further unrest after the summer protests by environmentalists in Wuhan, arrested the rumourmongers instead of having an honest conversation about the outbreak. CCP scientists dishonestly denied that human-to-human transmission was occurring, and the dishonest WHO backed them up. Medics and the public in Wuhan, knowing they were being lied to, started panicking. International scientists, distrustful of the CCP, pressured the regime for more information about the outbreak. The world’s leaders, no less distrustful, pressured the CCP for action. Journalists around the world, whether due to dishonesty or distrust, began fearmongering. Chinese journalists, for the same reasons, stoked up the pressure on the CCP. Amid the growing tornado of dishonesty and distrust, Wuhan residents began spontaneously shutting the city down; possibly unions also agitated for a shutdown. There were calls for the region’s CCP leaders to be overthrown; the CCP responded by immediately slamming Wuhan and whole of Hubei into lockdown. This was an act of astonishing dishonesty; the CCP pretended that the policy was about containing the virus, when the truth was that the regime was simply trying to quell the public unrest and stop it from spreading throughout China. The lockdown was a spin lockdown, purely an exercise in the CCP trying to maintain authority.
The CCP then shut all schools in China, probably because teachers were causing unrest; the regime dishonestly pretended that the closures were to protect people. Xi then started trying to spin China back to sanity, through mass testing, new hospitals, mass sanitising, mask mandates, mass vaccination, vax mandates and more. This was Xi’s fundamentally dishonest ‘Janus Strategy’, endorsing the lockdown policy while also trying to lift the lockdowns. The WHO, for its part, discarded its own pandemic plans and dishonestly praised the Wuhan lockdown, while also trying to calm the world. This was a fundamentally incoherent stance from the WHO; the lockdown was bound to make the world terrified of Covid-19. In turn, the world’s leaders adopted a similarly incoherent stance. They dishonestly declined to condemn the Wuhan lockdown but they tried to calm their publics by isolating China, in defiance of the WHO’s advice. Xi, with his longstanding distrust of the West and his obsession with prosperity, became furious.
Meanwhile, in Lombardy in Italy, the locals who didn’t trust the region’s Chinese population became paranoid. A mass panic gripped Italy, probably combined with union unrest. The Italian PM sent Lombardy into what looks like a dishonest spin lockdown followed by the whole of Italy the next day. The WHO dishonestly refused to condemn this atrocity too. Suddenly the whole world was a tinderbox. Xi, sensing his moment to retaliate against the countries who had shut their borders to China, initiated a worldwide pro-lockdown propaganda campaign. A tsunami of dishonesty – social media bots, Wuhan fear videos, Facebook adverts and media articles agitated for the deranged lockdown policy. Politicians, journalists, academics, scientists, officials and other influential figures with connections to China dishonestly pushed for lockdowns. Unions began mutinying around the world, especially teaching unions, and the CCP probably helped stoke some of these mutinies. The mutinying unions dishonestly claimed they were acting in the public interest, when in fact the perpetrators were motivated by extreme selfishness. Amid all this, a mass panic gripped the world, fuelled by dishonest journalists stoking up fears. Hardly any journalists spoke out in defence of freedom, as the world lurched towards an atrocity. Journalists who had built their careers on being freedom fighters were now screeching for lockdowns or running for cover. Journalistic honesty simply evaporated. One by one, the world’s leaders moved with the flow the people, plunging their countries into lockdown. Hardly any leaders were honest enough to do the right thing and keep their countries open.
The dishonest leaders soon adopted Xi’s Janus strategy, to spin their countries out of lockdown. Very few leaders were honest enough admit that the entire policy was a huge mistake from the start. No leaders were honest enough to admit that it was a huge crime. Almost no one, anywhere, who participated in the crime in any capacity was willing to tell the truth: that the entire debacle was a monstrous overreaction. People didn’t trust each other to back each other up in being honest; a great arse-covering pact descended on the world, like a vast dark night of the human soul. Throughout public institutions, governments, international organisations and the media, the collaborators maintained the abysmal lie that the lockdowns or any of the other Covid measures were ever justified. While children suffered, the adults lied and lied and lied and lied and lied. Dishonest and deranged lockdown zealots continued stoking fears and hatred, demonising the unvaccinated and anyone else who took a stand for human rights. Journalists and celebrities and politicians raged for further restrictions, dishonestly profiting from the destruction of their own countries. Even most of the lockdown sceptics weren’t honest enough to call the coronapanic debacle what it was: a communist outrage from day 1. Ashamed that they had ever supported the atrocity, they quibbled or exonerated themselves with plandemic nonsense. Lockdown sceptic journalists touted themselves as brave heroes for campaigning for freedom, despite having supported the lockdown and never apologised or even retracted their original support. Finally, the entire planetary frenzy of dishonesty was sealed by the Great Reset spin operation. Lockdown sceptics dutifully responded by becoming obsessed with Klaus Schwab, egged on it seems by CCP social media bots. All eyes on the German academic! A relentless pantomime of dishonesty from beginning to end.
Honesty is long overdue. The people who have been dishonest need to find a way to come clean, to say: the entire episode was appalling and shameful, and no such lunacy must ever happen again. They need to find a way to break out of their mutual dishonesty. They need to trust each other enough to embrace honesty together. The world became Wuhan because the world was engulfed by dishonesty and distrust. Only honesty and trust can turn back the clock.
Justice is long overdue too. There is a difference between a member of the public who was dishonest and a person in a position of authority who was dishonest. As a member of the public, participating in a mass panic and supporting an atrocity – these are moral failings, not crimes. The crimes were committed by people in authority. There isn’t a human being on the planet who doesn’t sometimes behave immorally. The most important thing is to be able to admit wrongdoing and make amends. The only way that members of the public can make amends for their role in the coronapanic debacle is by demanding that the people in authority who committed the crimes are held to account. Whether national leaders, or leaders throughout the public sector, the health sector, the unions and local or central government, any leaders who played a decisive role in shutting their country down must face justice. The same goes for the emerging scandal of the Covid vaccines – any leaders who played a decisive role in harming the public must face justice. And the same goes for the rights-violating measures that were imposed to lift the lockdowns, for instance mask mandates, especially the mask mandates in schools – there must be justice. And the children must receive an apology, for everything that has been done to them.
Speaking of my own country, I have always believed that we in Britain have a special opportunity and responsibility to pursue justice for the crimes that have been committed in the name of Covid-19. The way that events played out in March 2020 in Britain, we have a very clear insight into the truth. We can see clearly that our country was shut down for dishonest reasons. We can see clearly that the scientists favoured the sensible policy of herd immunity. We can see clearly that the combination of a mass panic and a union mutiny pushed the government and the scientists into a U-turn. Anyone in a position of authority who openly rejected the herd immunity policy in Britain, who shut down crucial services and ultimately shut down the country, and who oversaw other pointless and harmful Covid measures thereafter, must face justice.
But I wrote this book because, in fact, every country in the world has the same opportunity as Britain. The events of January 2020 in Wuhan are a clear demonstration that Covid lockdowns were based on a despicable lie. Wuhan was not locked down for health reasons. Wuhan was not locked down to contain the spread of a virus. The virus was already everywhere and the virus was a cold. Covid-19 couldn’t be stopped, and it didn’t need to be stopped. Wuhan was locked down because the public went mad and started demanding the measure, or else demanding new leaders. On the basis of this fiasco, a mass panic spread around the world. At the same time, the world came to believe that lockdowns were a health measure, and one that was worth taking. These grotesque, rights-violating, ludicrous, evil lockdowns were never a health measure and never will be. The world needs to understand this, the truth about the Wuhan lockdown.
Justice matters, but most of all the future matters. The children have suffered enough. There are still pathetic Covid rules in place in almost every country, and, even though freedom has undoubtedly mounted a comeback worldwide, future lockdowns remain a possibility almost everywhere, because hardly anyone will reject the policy as inherently wrong, and the usual suspects keep agitating for further restrictions. Until the truth is widely embraced, the world will remain soaked in the paraffin of dishonesty. Our freedom will never be ours as long the politicians think our freedom is theirs to give away.
That is no empty warning. In Britain, which is now one of the world’s freest countries, Boris Johnson has recently refused to rule out future lockdowns. And in China, where it all began, the madness has flared up again. Some 31 million Chinese citizens are currently under lockdown, including 25 million in the city of Shanghai. The emerging news from China is threadbare, but there are reports of people being sent to ‘quarantine camps’. The authorities in the city of Langfang even issued a psychotic order to kill the pets of people who tested positive for Covid-19. China’s regional arms race of Covid-overreaction seems to be alive and well. There are also hints of other familiar dynamics in China. One report suggested that, in Shanghai, ‘Workers shut down an entire shopping centre in the city where a case had been detected’. That sounds like coagulation to me. Presumably the CCP moved with the flow of the people again. Xi seems as powerless as ever to do anything other than lead the madness while trying to spin China back to sanity. He has spoken of the need to ‘minimize the impact of the epidemic on economic and social development’, and called for officials to ‘strive to achieve the maximum prevention and control at the least cost’. I wonder if he is still visiting people’s houses.
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine had the effect of jolting much of the world back to reality. But we should be under no illusions that the dishonesty around Covid-19 has gone away. The lies are so deep-seated, it took a war to stop people from obsessing about the virus. Indeed, that statement may contain more truth than anyone realises. In December 2021, Vladmir Putin, Russia’s President, ordered a week-long national lockdown of the country. The Moscow Times reported that ‘Putin’s approval ratings have declined amid weeks of record Covid-19 infections and deaths’, and that ‘key Putin allies’ had likewise seen their approval ratings drop, including the Prime Minister and the Defence Minister. Clearly, the Russian government isn’t averse to moving with the flow of the people; Putin locked Russia down under immense public pressure. But the Moscow Times added an intriguing comment: ‘Putin’s approval has yet to return to the highs it enjoyed following Russia’s 2014 annexation of Crimea from Ukraine, as unpopular pension reforms and lagging living standards have fuelled public discontent.’
Two months later, Russia was facing another Covid uproar, with cases at a ‘record high’ in mid-February. But this time, it seems, Putin ripped up the coronapanic rulebook. On February 24, he invaded Ukraine. Announcing the operation in a bitter, rambling speech, he complained about ‘the expansion of the NATO bloc to the east’, even though there was in fact no prospect of Ukraine joining NATO, he claimed that the USA and its allies have conducted illegal military operations in Yugoslavia, Iraq, Libya and Syria, as though this justified his own illegal war, and he accused the Ukrainian government of being ‘Nazis’ and engaging in ‘genocide’, while he himself was engaging in Nazi-like military expansionism. Whatever Putin’s grievances – it is true that Eastern Ukraine was already a conflict zone, and one battalion in the Ukraine army does seem to contain some Nazis – the invasion of Ukraine was no more sensible than if the British Army had invaded Ireland to resolve the troubles in Northern Ireland. I challenge anyone to make sense of Putin’s pre-invasion speech, which is barely coherent. It reminded me of one of Boris Johnson’s pre-lockdown speeches – vague, shallow, shifty, an obvious pretext for a policy that had no intrinsic justification. You cannot help but wonder if Putin invaded Ukraine to improve his approval ratings and shore up his own power, by deflecting his country away from self-destructive Covid mania. Better a spin war than a spin lockdown; if Russians must be harmed, they might win new territory in the process. And surely Putin will have calculated that the West, weakened by two years of Covid lunacy, was in no position to offer effective peacekeeping.
A month after the war started, Johnson made a revealing remark. He said Putin has ‘been in a total panic about the so-called colour revolution in Moscow itself, and that’s why he’s trying so brutally to snuff out the flame of freedom in Ukraine’. The phrase ‘colour revolution’ is a reference to a series of pro-democracy coups that took place in former Soviet bloc countries. But what is a so-called colour revolution? Perhaps Johnson knew that the unrest Putin was facing wasn’t exactly a colour revolution but something different, something he himself had faced in March 2020: a coronapanic uprising, an attempt to force through a Covid lockdown by forcing out a leader who refused to comply.
War follows plague, so they say. The Covid-19 outbreak wasn’t a plague. The virus was a cold. But tragically the world reacted in a fashion that wouldn’t have been justified even if there was a plague. The lockdowns were unspeakably crazy, and the world still hasn’t recovered its sanity; very few people have even acknowledged the loss. In a world soaked in the paraffin of dishonesty, fires are bound to keep reigniting, as they have in China and Russia. If we’re not careful, the whole world will ignite. And next time the conflagration could be a global war, not a global lockdown.
However, amid all this talk of a conflagration, I don’t wish to frighten anyone. There has already been quite enough global paranoia, whether about a global virus or a global takeover. The coronapanic debacle will end only when enough countries calm down, return to the here and now, and start functioning normally again. You cannot solve all the world’s problems, but you can help fix your country. Talk to your countrymen. Tell them the truth. Tell them the truth about what happened in Wuhan, about spin lockdowns, and about the pointlessness and dishonesty of every single Covid-19 measure. Do not relent until your government tells the truth. When one government is honest, other governments will soon follow. A wave of truth will surge around the world. Perhaps the wave will even wash up at Xi’s door. In March 2020, most of the world’s countries raced to the bottom. Unbelievably dark depths were reached. Let us now race back to the light.
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