Who would have expected this 6 months ago? Right in the midst of one of the most dire moments of the pandemic, when the UK became the first country in the Western World to approve a vaccine, the overwhelming attitude towards Covid-19 was still characterized primarily by fear. Yes, the vaccine offered a glimpse of hope, but still hospitalizations and death rates were at their highest level ever.
Half a year later, people in the transatlantic sphere largerly seem to live in a different world. Notwithstanding the fact that the pandemic is far from over and despite the myriad of challenges we are still facing (anti-vaccine movements, variants etc.), many freedoms have finally returned, hopefully for good. In a large majority of places in Europe and North America, people are returning to restaurants and cinemas, start to meet in person again and will soon be flocking back to offices and universities. Even transatlantic travel is on track to be back on the table soon.
Meanwhile, the Chinese government has tried to control the narrative since the beginning of the pandemic and will relentlessly continue to do so. Trying to hide its own mistakes and attempting to exploit the pandemic in order to present the own oppressive system as superior to Western democracy, Beijing has engaged in misinformation at every turn.
It is therefore important to set the record straight.
From the very beginning, it was the strategy of cover-ups and lies (which are inherent in the Chinese autocratic system lacking checks and balances as well as a free press) that caused the new virus to spread almost unhindered around the globe. Had it not been for the threats against and oppression of doctors and scientist, the world might have had a chance to take action in time to prevent the worst. Since China will continue to stall any serious attempt for an independent investigation, the true origin of the virus and the effects of governmental actions might never be fully disclosed, hence also hampering the efforts to prevent future pandemics.
However, after these early missteps, Beijing has been eager to point out that it was able to suppress the spread of the virus domestically much better than the West, implying that this is the result of the superiority of their autocratic system.
But is that really the case in the long run?
Once they had eventually admitted that Covid actually exists, the Chinese authorities did what they do best: apply sheer force. At the beginning, it seemed to be the better approach – being two of the most individualistic countries in the world, particularly the US and the UK suffered heavily, while the almighty Chinese state appeared to be well-positioned to suppress the pandemic by all means, no matter how intrusive the methods. But while admittedly quite effective in curtailing the spread of Covid, there was one thing that they could not simply coerce from their scientists and entrepreneurs: innovation and creativity. Whatever the amount of force was which might have been applied behind the scenes, an effective Chinese vaccine was not the outcome.
Consequently, there is a lack of immunity within the population, leaving the authorities with no choice but to impose the harshest measures time and again whenever even a small number of cases arises. So whoever thinks that the Chinese approach was effective shall not forget that it comes along with two major side-effects: In addition to the aforementioned brutal measures that are required wherever there might be a case (including forced hospitalization), it can only work if the country is virtually cut off from the outside world – potentially forever. In China, this currently means that even the few people being still allowed to enter the country are at risk of indefinite quarantine in hospitals where they might even be subject to arbitrary medical examinations.
Since the Chinese approach can be ruled out as unacceptable for us freedom-loving people in the West, the question arises: Do we have a better solution? Oh boy, sure we do!
From the very start of the pandemic, in Europe and America we focussed on what we do best as well, especially when combining our forces: Finding creative solutions to problems. In record time, numerous scientists and companies developed vaccines which proved to be effective. Whether the American Moderna vaccine, German-American Pfizer or British-Swedish AstraZeneca, new and innovative approaches where tested and tried successfully, allowing us to return to freedom as soon as possible. It is anything but a coincidence that three of the most effective vaccines where developed in the Western World. The source of innovative ideas is the freedom to research, argue, try and fail, retry and succeed. And it is the power of innovation which solves problems and triggers progress.
Making a long story short: Do not be fooled by Chinese history rewriting and propaganda. Autocracy is neither a solution to the pandemic, nor to anything else. Quite the opposite, it was dictatorship that at least partially caused all the trouble. It is the combined power of American and European freedom which put us on a course out of the mess.