As COVID infections surge in China, the things we can take away

Few countries can be said to have truly responded adequately to the deadly threat of the coronavirus, and ours certainly isn’t near the top, with a poisonous fixation on individual liberty that shot even basic collective efforts to ward off the crisis.

Neither is the originator of the virus, China, for the opposite reason. The country’s Communist Party dictatorship tried brute force to defeat the virus with the “Zero-COVID” strategy, characterized by heavy-handed lockdowns that kept people constrained to their homes, sometimes without the ability even to buy food, and the government’s now distinctive penchant for mass surveillance.

Like keeping the pressure on a wound without actually treating it, the strategy could only delay the deterioration, and the time of reckoning has come. Nearly three years in, after countries around the world have been battered by COVID-19, it is China again in the center of the maelstrom, with an exploding catastrophe in the form of hundreds of thousands of infections overwhelming an already-beleaguered health system as the government seems to exasperatedly wash its hands of the whole thing.

Countries including the U.S. are again imposing travel restrictions, and the administration of President Xi Jinping seems at a loss about what to do as it watches the order it tried to force into being collapse in on itself, endangering its grand designs for an ever-more prominent place in the firmament of the global economy. Perhaps it should be yet another reminder that totalitarian control, no matter how badly one wills it, is an unattainable goal, and is more like a mirage that will lure you out to your demise.

This illusion will, sadly, cost tens or hundreds of thousands of Chinese lives, just as our own flavor of self-delusion cost so many American ones. Let’s let these tragedies mean something by at least learning their lessons and pledging to never again let these weaknesses turn a threat into a full-blown cataclysm. It’s too late for COVID-19, but it could save us in the crises to come.

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