So lockdowns just deferred the problem, not solved it?
One of COVID-19's many side effects was to disrupt the technology industry's supply chains – especially when they linked to China. Beijing's policy not to tolerate even small numbers of infections – and the resulting strict lockdowns and movement restrictions – meant its factories and transport infrastructure often operated …
Monday 19th December 2022 07:32 GMT Michael Hoffmann
Monday 19th December 2022 13:45 GMT Charlie Clark
As more statistics become available the problems and the costs become clearer. Interestingly, deaths that can be attributed to Covid are at about the same level as a severe flu pandemic. Masks and quarantine are useful for protecting the most vulnerable, otherwise they can only defer infection. We were lucky to be able to develop and, more importantly, produce vaccines at scale, but these are now considered ineffectual at reducing the spread of the most recent variants. What we are seeing in most countries is herd immunity after infection.
The costs to the economy are staggering and the costs for the most disadvantaged children will be felt for the rest of their lives, not least due to the deferment of other illnesses.
But perhaps the most egregious mistake was failing to inculcate a culture of simply hygiene and responsibiity. among the population. Instead of learning to take respiratory diseases seriously and stay at home at the first signs, when state regulation was lifted, people largely went back to pre-pandemic behaviour, which is one of the main drivers of the current flu, RS and cold pandemics.
Why are there no tests for influenza or RS? Where are the mRNA flu vaccines. Why has so little money been devoted to the study of post-COVID symptoms? (There are some studies, but the budgets are tiny in comparison to vaccine and pharmaceutical treatment).
Regaring the modelling in the article, it's really best taken with a pinch of salt: vaccination rates in the general population China are very high, just not among the elderly. We're about to see just how well the vaccines can reduce the spread and help develop herd immmunity.
Monday 19th December 2022 16:08 GMT Anonymous Coward
Monday 19th December 2022 22:49 GMT ecofeco
Tuesday 20th December 2022 08:56 GMT gandalfcn
Tuesday 20th December 2022 10:37 GMT Charlie Clark
The effectiveness is not as high as mRNA or vector vaccines but comparable with other classically produced vaccines. But these comparisons were done against the originals strains where the specificity of the spike protein is key. We have little or no data about variants with changes in the spike protein, which have significantly reduced the effectiveness of the mRNA and other vaccines.
Tuesday 20th December 2022 10:12 GMT Oddlegs
It's easy to say with hindsight that lockdowns were correct to be put in place until an effective vaccine came along. At the time no one was expecting multiple vaccines to be developed and tested within months. We thought we'd be lucky if one was developed in a few years and there was real concern that there would never be one: afterall no one had developed an effective vaccine for any other human coronaviruses.
So no, lockdowns were not introduced as a temporary measure until we could vaccinate the population.
Preventing overwhelming of the health system I suspect is another red herring. Where, anywhere in the world, let alone the developed world, was a health system overwhelmed as a result of covid despite varying levels of restrictions in different countries and US states? If 'overwhelming' means 'patients unable to receive treatment for non-covid issues' then lockdown itself did that, not covid. In the UK at least lockdown deliberately stopped, or at least disuaded, non-covid patients from seeking help which has no doubt contributed to the large numbers of excess deaths now being experienced which will probably dwarf anything covid has done. It would not surprise me at all if these predictions of doom within China simply do not come to pass. They'll have a wave and then just as it's starting to look scary it'll fizzle out all by itself.
Monday 19th December 2022 07:59 GMT Anonymous Coward
I don't know how you could come to that conclusion reading the article.
Their vaccine is at the bottom end of the effectiveness table and they have no transition back to something approaching normality, that's the problem.
They government panicked because people were protesting as practically nothing useful has been done in all this time. If the Chinese government panics that tells you something about the scale of the protests, and now they have created yet another problem of their own doing.
You cannot generalise Chinese mismanagement to all lockdowns everywhere.
Monday 19th December 2022 11:45 GMT hoola
As you refer to, it is the lack of effective vaccine that is the crucial issue for China,
They have a very low vaccination rate of a vaccine that appears to not provide much mitigation. Unless something has changed radically with the Sino-Covid vaccine China is going to be in for a very rough time. That is going to have a significant impact on production and export of goods for the West and politically internally as the mortality ramps up.
What the Chinese population is prepared to accept remains to be seen.
Monday 19th December 2022 13:52 GMT Charlie Clark
The vaccination rate in China is around 90% of the general population, according to some studies. Unfortunately, this is not true for the elderly. While Chinese vaccines are less effective against the original strains, we have no data about whether they are as ineffective against omicron variants as mRNA ones were. This is important because most of them were developed using classical approaches and are less dependent upon the spike protein.
But, yes, we will see a huge spike in infections in the general population and probably high rates of hospitalisation and mortality among the elderly. Based on waves among vaccinated elsewhere in the world, the spike should be reached around mid-January, which would mean that Chinese New Year could largely go ahead as planned. There is no reason to suggest this is behind the government's change in policy but it is an interesting coicidence and certainly something Chinese citizens are actively discussing.
Monday 19th December 2022 17:03 GMT Filippo
That "just" there is doing a lot of work.
Deferring a problem is a key step in solving it, if what you need is time to implement a proper fix. That's what happened in Western countries: the lockdowns kept infection rates low while vaccines were developed and deployed.
The details could've been arranged better, but the high-level strategy was sound, and it largely worked: because of lockdowns, lots of people only got infected after being vaccinated. With a good enough vaccine, that makes all the difference in the world, and it did.
China has done a piss-poor vaccination campaign - few people, and with a not-so-effective vaccine. They bought time with lockdowns, which was the whole point of lockdowns, and then spent that time badly.
I don't think it's going to be disastrous: their vaccine is not as good as the Western ones, but it's probably still a lot better than no vaccine at all; plus, there's been time to prepare, and we now know a lot better how to treat the disease. It's also likely that a whole bunch of Chinese people have actually been infected some time ago, and either were asymptomatic, or managed to keep it quiet (they do have a lot of incentive in that sense). All of that is going to help, and when you put it all together, it's going to help a lot.
But it's still going to be significantly worse than it could've been, if only all that time bought with lockdowns, at such a dear price, had been invested better.
Tuesday 20th December 2022 10:50 GMT Charlie Clark
That's what happened in Western countries: the lockdowns kept infection rates low while vaccines were developed and deployed.
The correlation between vaccination start and excessive mortality isn't very good: the quality of primary and particularly care for the elderly is a much better indicator. The report from the expert commission of the German parliament this year concluded that restrictive measures such as lockdowns are effective for a short period of time only (6 to 8 weeks) and, in the case of schools, the costs outweigh the benefits. After any initial period, it's important to move to more standard approaches which shield vulnerable groups where possible.
Since mass vaccination, mortality in the over 80s and other risk groups has not declined siginificantly. In countries with the highest restrictions, the mortality rate has increased and started to catch up with (though still remains well below) that of other comparable countries.
It's a sad fact that future pandemics will also kill millions. While we have now demonstated that we can develop and produce relevant vaccines quickly and at scale, and there were some very impressive trials to find treatments – dexamethasone arguably saved more lives than any other single intervention – but we can't rest on our laurels.
It would be nice to see similar levels of effort and investment devoted towards antibioitics as, for example, resistant tuberculosis continues to spread.
Monday 19th December 2022 08:19 GMT DS999
It is probably timed well for minimizing business disruption
The peak of the outbreak is going to be coincident with Chinese New Year's, when "officially" they shut down for a week but a lot of places will shut down for 2-4 weeks. If they were already shut down when they would have had to shut down due to covid, it isn't really costing them anything.
Since the currently circulating variants aren't as bad as the original/Alpha/Delta strains, hopefully the death toll won't be too bad. China did such a good job of containing the less contagious strains that they took their eye off the ball getting older people fully vaccinated. Granted their vaccine isn't as good, but they have too many older people who haven't been vaccinated or exposed.
I guess we'll find out how deadly this strain is to someone like that, since in the US & UK by the time BA.5 and its more recent successors made their appearance there was almost no one left who had neither been vaccinated nor had a previous infection.
Monday 19th December 2022 11:30 GMT Steve Button
Yeah, you kind of lost me at that point.
Are these "experts" using the same playbook that predicted total chaos in the UK if we didn't immediately lock down last Christmas? And when we didn't, and there was just a mild wave, the "experts" just fade away into the background, with no apology, just mumbling something about "They aren't predictions, they are just scenarios"?
By all means listen to expert predictions, but apply a large bucketload of scepticism.
Monday 19th December 2022 12:14 GMT bravo6
Monday 19th December 2022 18:19 GMT Jason Bloomberg
Re: "Experts predict..."
Are these "experts" using the same playbook that predicted total chaos in the UK if we didn't immediately lock down last Christmas? And when we didn't, and there was just a mild wave ...
According to the government data I was logging there were 8,100 covid deaths in Jan 2022 compared to 4,720 in Dec 2021.
I guess "mild wave" is in the eye of the beholder but I don't consider the experts to have been wrong nor have anything to apologise for. One reason things weren't as bad as they could have been was because people heeded advice of the experts, imposed self-lockdown, kept themselves safe, avoided becoming part of that wave.
Monday 19th December 2022 19:23 GMT Steve Button
Re: "Experts predict..."
From SPI-M "... and deaths at between 600 and 6,000 a day." which equates to somewhere between 18,600 and 186,000. So YES, they got it monumentally wrong in that the actual number, without any interventions, was actually half of the very lowest prediction.
And bearing in mind around 58,000 people die every month from something, then yes that's a pretty mild wave.
They should not be consulted in future, or if they are it should be taken with more than a pinch of salt.
If insurance actuaries got it that wrong, they would be out of the job. Why should epi modellers be allowed to get away with it!?
Monday 19th December 2022 22:47 GMT ecofeco
Demand from the U.S. has been trending down for some time.
Someone is not telling us the whole story. Not to say there won't be disruptions, but between cries of shortages and documented demand being down, something isn't making sense.
Tuesday 20th December 2022 08:21 GMT thames
Not sure the evidence is there
El Reg referenced two studies. The link to one appears to be broken, but the Singapore study titled "Comparative effectiveness of 3 or 4 doses of mRNA and inactivated whole-virus vaccines against COVID-19 infection, hospitalization and severe outcomes among elderly in Singapore" had this to say:
"As BNT162b2 and mRNA-1273 were recommended over CoronaVac and BBIBP-CorV in Singapore, numbers of severe disease among individuals who received four doses of inactivated whole-virus vaccines or mixed vaccine type were too small for meaningful analysis." So, we may not want to draw too many conclusions from that study.
Another comparative study which is widely referenced is one in Brazil titled "Effectiveness of CoronaVac, ChAdOx1 nCoV-19, BNT162b2, and Ad26.COV2.S among individuals with previous SARS-CoV-2 infection in Brazil: a test-negative, case-control study"
June 01, 2022
Here's the link to the article in The Lancet (a major UK medical journal).
It had this to say:
"Effectiveness against hospitalisation or death 14 or more days from vaccine series completion was 81·3% (75·3–85·8) for CoronaVac, 89·9% (83·5–93·8) for ChAdOx1 nCoV-19, 57·7% (−2·6 to 82·5) for Ad26.COV2.S, and 89·7% (54·3–97·7) for BNT162b2."
The vaccines referenced are CoronaVac, Oxford AstraZeneca, Johnson & Johnson, and BioNTech/Pfizer respectively.
In other words, the Johnson & Johnson is not very effective, but CoronaVac seems to be only marginally less effective than Oxford-AstraZeneca or BioNTech-Pfizer in terms of hospitalisation or death.
Efficacy against infection is less impressive, but the same is true for the rest of the vaccines as well.
There are two main components in your immune system which vaccines stimulate. Antibodies prevent infection, but they are short acting (weeks or months at most) and sensitive to changes in variants. T-cells prevent severe hospitalisation or death and are both much longer lasting and far less sensitive to changes in variants.
The big problem in China isn't that their vaccines don't work. The problem is that the older people are the ones who are least likely to have gone out and gotten their jabs and the younger people are the most likely, while in many Western countries it's the other way around.
What this suggests it that there will be plenty of symptomatic infections among the general population, but hospitalisation and severe disease is likely to be mainly in people who are unvaccinated.
Since in China the unvaccinated are mainly the elderly who are much less likely to be part of the working population, the economic effects are at best unclear.
Among the working population there may be plenty of short term work absences due to mild illness, but we saw the same in Western countries a year ago when the omicron wave swept through and that didn't shut down the economies there.
I'm making no predictions here, just pointing out that it's a bit soon to be predicting pandemic induced chaos in the Chinese economy as the evidence isn't there yet.
That doesn't mean to say that there won't be plenty of unfortunate deaths, but the kit you've got on order from China may arrive safely after all.