March 14, 2022 - 1:19pm

If you think Covid is over, then think again. The southern Chinese city of Shenzhen, home to 17 million people has just locked down. Other cities including Shanghai (26 million people) are also imposing restrictions.

The consequences won’t just be felt in China, but around the world because these are major global hubs for manufacturing and trade. Western companies with outsourced factories are suffering halts to production. With rocketing energy prices already stoking inflation, further disruption to supply chains is the last thing we need.

It not very long since the western media was full of breathless commentary about China’s Covid response. Though qualms were expressed about the more draconian measures, there seemed to be little doubt as to their effectiveness. For instance, back in April last year, the New York Times published this:

With equal measures of coercion and persuasion, [China] has mobilized its vast Communist Party apparatus to reach deep into the private sector and the broader population, in what the country’s leader, Xi Jinping, has called a “people’s war” against the pandemic — and won.

We were told that China was “reaping long-lasting benefits” as a result. And yet just one year on, which country is the first to shake-off the shackles of lockdown? Certainly not the People’s Republic, but some godforsaken place that the New York Times, in a separate report, was pleased to call “plague island” — i.e. the United Kingdom. 

Of course, it’s too early for us to declare victory against Covid either. Cases are currently trending upwards. Nevertheless, something close to normal life has been restored. It turns out that the British state isn’t quite as dysfunctional some narratives would have us believe.

A classic of the genre, is Pankaj Mishra’s essay on “Anglo-America” for the London Review of Books. Lumping together Brexit Britain and Trump’s America — always a sure sign of impending nonsense — he seized upon government failures on either side of the Atlantic. Thus, “British ministers, chosen for their devotion to Brexit and loyalty to Johnson, have revealed themselves as dangerous blunderers.”

Well, they certainly made mistakes — as have decision-makers in every government across the world. But the overall thrust of UK government policy has been vindicated. Despite EU attempts to sabotage the early roll-out of the AstraZeneca vaccine and the hysterical ‘expert’ reaction to the start of unlocking last summer, the British approach has prevailed and succeeded.  

To be fair to Mishra and the other Brit-bashers, the UK’s share of failure was front-loaded. We got better as we went along. However, the foundations of our eventual success were laid down at the outset — especially in regard to vaccines. 

While there’s ample room for improvement, the British state is not completely dysfunctional. And while there’s always an opportunity to learn from others, the Chinese state is not the scarily-effective super-government it’s been cracked-up to be.

Peter Franklin is Associate Editor of UnHerd. He was previously a policy advisor and speechwriter on environmental and social issues.