18 January 2022
This is a timely view shared and edited from the Economist:
To a great number of Chinese, their country has never been as impressive as it is today. They see it as self-evident that China—their increasingly strong, modern motherland—is a worthy host of uplifting global events such as the Winter Olympics, which are set to open in Beijing on February 4th.
At the very same moment, an opposite consensus is forming in the West. In many free societies, China’s rulers are increasingly seen as capable but cruel. They are credited with prodigious feats, whether that means girdling the nation with high-speed railways or sending rockets to the Moon. But they are seen as unbearably repressive, too, notably towards ethnic and religious minorities in such regions as Xinjiang. To Western sceptics, it is grotesque to allow the pageantry of the Olympics to be co-opted by such a regime.
The USA and Australia announced their diplomatic boycotts of the games, citing both China’s record on human rights and its use of economic coercion. Others, from Britain to Canada and New Zealand, are declining to send government ministers or high-ranking officials.
China has responded with scorn, anger and censorship. The Olympics are a party “by invitation only” to which American politicians had not been asked, the foreign ministry’s spokeswoman, Hua Chunying tweeted, though in reality each national Olympic committee issues its own invitations.
Ms Hua’s pugnacious deputy, Zhao Lijian, went further, warning of unspecified “firm countermeasures”.
Online, censors blocked most discussion of the boycotts.
These seemingly arcane official boycotts are a glimpse of a real-world diplomatic crisis. America’s government uses the gravest of terms, including crimes against humanity, to describe China’s behaviour in Xinjiang/
That stance is morally coherent. Even if China’s own policy papers and work reports, public procurement documents and official speeches are the only evidence taken into account, its government is indisputably committing horrors in Xinjiang.
At a time when many ordinary Chinese have rarely been so proud of their country, Western governments are telling them that they live in a form of pariah state.
Second, China’s management of the games is itself likely to provoke mutual incomprehension between the publics of China and the West. China has spent almost two years trying to eradicate the virus with ferocious testing and tracing regimes, by locking down whole towns when a handful of cases emerge, and by tightly controlling international borders.
Soon, many thousands will arrive from a world that is living with covid—though not foreign spectators, who are barred.
China plans to manage this threat by sealing games venues inside secure bubbles. But it is inevitable that some participants will test positive or have fevers on arrival. Under China’s rules, they will be hauled off to quarantine hospitals, and team-mates in close contact will be isolated in hotel rooms.
In Beijing foreign embassies are anxiously sharing tales from a Luge World Cup staged as a test event last month. The sporting facilities were stunningly advanced but pandemic controls were a shock, from the moment a charter flight with over 200 athletes and sports officials landed in Beijing. Because two athletes were flagged as suspect on arrival, their plane-mates were held on airport buses for hours, forcing some to pee in bottles.
On November 16th, diplomats relate, a German athlete was grabbed from the luge track by staff in hazmat suits after what turned out to be a false positive test, and isolated for two days before being declared safe. A Polish competitor injured by a faulty barrier on the luge track reportedly had to wait for a negative covid test before doctors would touch his shattered leg.
China’s controlling ways will extend to the press. A Western diplomat predicts “journalists will be kept like monkeys in a cage”, denied free access to athletes.
Yet if foreigners complain about a sinister “autocratic Olympics” many Chinese will be livid. They will see proof that Westerners are too irresponsible to control covid: witness the grumbling about being kept safe in Beijing.
Outsiders will sound all the more ungrateful because 100,000 Chinese volunteers and staff working in the Olympic bubbles face 21 days of quarantine, away from home, at the end.
Two worldviews are about to collide. The effects may be felt long after the final race.
Reality is, Covid or no Covid – Beijing should never have been given these winter games. Tokyo felt unreal. Beijing will be off the charts.
5 January 2022
This is a great description of what is happening in Sydney as the Ashes continue in Sydney despite the ongoing Covid crisis: Geoff Lemon writing in The Guardian:
“Sydney is complicated, a town built on blood and corruption from the first days of its colonial founding. It is beautiful, with a beauty bought by wealth and subsidised by poverty. When you walk its hills at night it can be disarmingly gentle, the humid air curling around you, distant lights on quiet streets, the leaves of the Moreton Bay fig trees or the white-gold petals of frangipani unbearably lush.
The harbour unwinds through the city’s core, unspooling in all directions, those waters captured in the words of Kenneth Slessor. To the east is the ocean coast and its storied beaches. To the west it becomes another city, growing ever outwards.
In the past year, Sydney has also become the centre of Australia’s viral explosion. By now nobody can remember which wave this is, but a country that successfully held back a global inundation for nearly two years has now given in. Political leaders have sold the idea of a harmless variant and the fantasy that everybody getting sick and getting better will mean an end rather than just another waypoint on a road that has miles to run.
For those in countries that have suffered worse and earlier, Australia’s situation may seem tame in comparison. But there has been an abdication of responsibility, leaving people to fend for themselves.
It is in Sydney, as cases leap by the day and as leaders find ways to stop counting, that the fourth Ashes Test will be held. It is safe to say that had this series been played at any other time in the pandemic era, in any other country, between any other two teams, it would have been called off by now.”
4 January 2022
Key points from a long thread by the FT’s excellent John Burn-Murdoch on Omicron>
1) With Omicron, share of cases going to ICU, ventilator or death will be lower than in past waves. Partly intrinsic, partly immunity
2) But sheer volume of people going to hospital with Omicron will cause intense hospital pressure
3) So rather than thinking “only for-Covid patients or vented/ICU matter, ignore with-Covid”, a better framework is “for-Covid and vented/ICU indicate the toll this wave will take on lives. With-Covid numbers indicate the toll on the health service”
4) This will play out differently in different countries depending on the level of existing hospital pressure Omi arrives into
5) Part of why we see more mild cases now is immunity — the unvaxxed continue to make up majority of ICU cases. Get boostered (or get primary vaxxed!)
3 January 2022
As this web site enters its 20th year I do wonder if anyone reads it or whether it is just a small personal account of the last two decades.
What started in Hong Kong in 2002 just to see how building a web site worked – has since been to Thailand, the UAE and back to Thailand – it has seen good days and bad…and still keeps plodding along.
The one major software change from MS Front Page to WordPress is still a problem in terms of updating the old pages. One day I will get around to it.
Thank you, dear reader, for staying with me all this time.