Maybe a global pandemic will eventually shake Prime Minister Justin Trudeau of the philosophy that Canada can afford to be the “first post-nationalist state,” as he expressed to The New York Times a few years ago. But so far it appears his government still prefers to imagine there are no countries, which seems as out of touch as celebrities singing John Lennon lyrics to us on Instagram. On Thursday, Health Minister Patty Hajdu channelled the worst excesses of Lennon and Yoko Ono as she scolded a CTV reporter for “feeding into conspiracy theories” for questioning whether Ottawa should trust China’s data in its efforts to beat COVID-19 now that U.S. intelligence officials have reportedly concluded that Beijing has been issuing fake infection statistics.
“We’re all in this together,” Hajdu admonished the journalist, and “the most important thing to understand about this pandemic is that as long as the coronavirus exists in one country, it exists in all of our countries,” and “we actually have to work collectively as a world now,” and “there is no way to beat a global pandemic if we’re not willing to work together as a globe,” and “that’s going to take everyone working together.” Imagine all the people, sharing all the world.
Sure, the COVID-19 battle might be easier if the world played together nicely. But such co-operation has never been the way of the world and it won’t happen now. There are still countries. And most of them right now — to quote another rock classic — are looking out for number one. China is hardly the exception. A recent tally counted at least 60 nations imposing export restrictions of medical supplies, prioritizing their own needs over others. Britain banned the export of antimalarial and anti-viral drugs that have lately shown promise in treating COVID-19. India banned the export of ventilators. European countries have put export controls on any gloves, masks, goggles and testing swabs.
Last week, the U.S. began yanking protective masks out of the hands of other countries for its own use, including arranging the effective hijacking of a shipment of 3M masks from China that was originally headed for Germany and rerouting it to the States. U.S. President Donald Trump also told U.S.-based 3M it should stop shipping masks to Canada and Mexico and focus on its home country, if it knows what’s good for it.
But China did these things first. In February it commandeered foreign-owned factories that produce masks and medical equipment (while it accepted supplies donated by well-meaning countries like Canada). It began rapidly importing medical supplies while blocking exporters. Beijing just recently began re-allowing limited exports, apparently satisfied it has now properly supplied itself — although some of the N95 masks its sending to Canada and elsewhere have been found to be counterfeit or don’t work properly.
Of course it’s natural for China to put its own interests first in how it manages its medical supplies — and its coronavirus data. And, as the National Post’s Terry Glavin pointed out on Twitter the other day, Chinese authorities had already effectively acknowledged their data were flawed when they announced last week that they would now start including asymptomatic cases in their case numbers, which they hadn’t been doing before, essentially admitting they failed to report literally millions of cases. They revealed that the day before Hajdu scolded that CTV producer for questioning their data.
“There’s no indication that the data that came out of China in terms of their infection rate and their death rate was falsified in any way,” went Hajdu’s lecture. “In fact, if you look at the death rate overall in China, it’s much higher than what we’re seeing now.” But that’s actually a very serious problem: because it failed to report asymptomatic cases before now, China’s data are unreliable. Its death rate must be artificially inflated.
That, in turn, compromises the World Health Organization data that Canada and other countries have relied upon, which is amassed from China and other countries. The projected mortality models that are the basis for shuttering our economies and throwing masses of people of out of work — including the ones that Ontario Premier Doug Ford soberly revealed last week, the ones that Britain’s Imperial College published that shocked the U.K. government into draconian action and, yes, the models Hajdu is using, but so far refuses to show Canadians — are made of counterfeit parts from China.
With so many lives and livelihoods at stake, Western governments would be as unwise to blindly trust Chinese-made data as they would be to blindly trust Chinese-made masks. Besides, Beijing has already proven that it should not be trusted. First it suppressed the reporting of the initial outbreak, censoring and arresting Chinese citizens who tried warning of the Wuhan virus. Then after admitting it existed, claimed — falsely— that there was no human-to-human transmission.
Hajdu has been weirdly defending the communist regime ever since, but it’s only looked weirder the more we learn about China’s ongoing chicanery. Hajdu’s insistence that “as long as coronavirus exists in one country, it exists in all of our countries,” to take another example, ignores findings last month from the University of Southampton that suggest 95 per cent of global COVID-19 infections could have been avoided if China had taken the threat more seriously and taken action just three weeks earlier. Meanwhile, the bureau chief of China’s communist propaganda outlet, China Daily, praised Hajdu as a “role model” for putting “paparazzi journalists and fearmongers” in their place. He was talking about our free press.
What would sound a lot more sensible — and believable — is if Hajdu had acknowledged that this is a fast-moving pandemic; that no government has perfect data; if, instead of defending its irresponsible behaviour, she insisted China absolutely must do better; but explained that in the short term, dramatic precautions are essential as we learn more about how dangerous this thing really is. But since those measures include unprecedented and mounting economic self-destruction, we could at least be mature enough to admit that our decisions are relying in part on faulty data made in China. And if merely raising such questions weren’t considered uncouth, we might even ask whether misrepresenting the virus’s lethality may have even served Beijing’s national interest.