We’ve been getting so many fake health scares for so long that I’m having real difficulty even beginning to think that the latest coronavirus scare isn’t just Yet Another Empty Scare alongside tobacco, alcohol, obesity, sugar, salt, global warming, etc, etc, etc. Anyone remember Chief Medical Officer Liam Donaldson ordering up millions of ‘flu shots 10 years ago, none of which got used? So I’m actually expecting this latest scare to be as empty as all the others.
But leaving the epidemiology aside, and even supposing that this latest epidemic is actually just another run-of-the-mill ‘flu epidemic, the Chinese government has responded to it with a draconian lockdown of several huge cities in China. Nobody is allowed to leave them. And that’s something very serious in itself.
In a piece in ZeroHedge yesterday – Some Practical Questions About The Coronavirus Epidemic – , Charles Hugh Smith asks:
1. When public transportation is halted and commerce grinds to a halt as people avoid public places and gatherings, thousands of employees no longer go to work. Who pays their wages while the city is locked down? The employers? Then who compensates the employers, since their income has also gone to zero?
Does China have a universal unemployment insurance system that can quickly issue payments to all people who are no longer going to work and getting a paycheck from an employer?
What about the thousands of migrant workers who don’t have regular employers? Who pays them? If they’re technically not officially sanctioned residents of the city, they don’t exist in government records.
2. If people idled by the lockdown are supposed to live off savings, what about all the marginal workers with few resources? What are they going to live on once their meager savings are gone?
These are very good questions. And he has quite a few more. I might add a few of my own. For example, never mind whether workers are being paid or not, what are they supposed to eat once a city is isolated? Are food shipments to Wuhan continuing from outside? When the trains and trucks and ships bringing food arrive, are they then allowed to leave?
5. The typical city has about a week’s supply of food, fuel, etc. at best. If the lockdown runs longer than a few days, scarcities of essentials will ignite hoarding, and remaining supplies will be snapped up.
It’s worse than that: Scarcity of essentials will not just result in hoarding, but in starvation. Now in the sixth day of the lockdown, how many people in Wuhan already have no food, and have begun to starve? What do people do when they starve? Beg, borrow, and steal.
Of course, perhaps supplies of the essentials for Wuhan have been continuing, and nobody’s starving at all. But where’s it all coming from? And who’s paying for it? The Chinese government?
The Chinese government has just switched off the economy in huge areas of China. Nearly all internal trade around Wuhan will have ceased. Millions of workers will be out of work. Stocks of absolutely everything will be running down.
Forget the epidemic: what’s now unfolding in China could well be far, far worse than any epidemic. By locking down these cities, the Chinese government has in effect created a huge traffic jam in the middle of China, and that traffic jam has now lasted five days. Ever been caught in a five-day-long traffic jam? Can you imagine what it’s like to be stuck for days, with just a single bar of chocolate to eat? And what if you know that it’s only happening because the traffic lights up ahead have been deliberately locked on red by the police? Wouldn’t you be hopping mad after five days of that?
However great the medical emergency in China may be, it’s now likely to be overtaken by an even greater economic emergency, as stocks of more or less everything run out over large areas of China around Wuhan.
And on the heels of the economic emergency, there’ll come a political emergency, as law and order completely breaks down over large areas of China, with roaming gangs of looters breaking into shops and warehouses.
It could well be that the coronavirus outbreak has triggered the economic and political implosion of China.
I sincerely hope that I’m wrong. I sincerely hope that there’s plenty of food and fuel and other basic essentials flowing into Wuhan and surrounding cities. But right now I can’t see how that can possibly be happening, if free movement in and out of these cities has been frozen, the entire economy closed down. It seems to me that the Chinese government will be very soon forced to lift the lockdown almost as abruptly as it imposed it. And with that the Chinese economy will splutter back into life, and the normal flow of goods will resume, probably with multiple shortages for months to come.
What that will mean for the epidemic, I have no idea. But I bet that right now there are shouting matches going on in the Chinese politburo between those who think that containing the epidemic is the most important thing, and those who think that the lockdown can’t be maintained without starting an insurrection.