The age-old race for leadership between East and West may have begun a new phase, as revealed by the response of each to COVID-19. East Asia was hit first, having neither warning nor knowledge of the threat. China, a large and relatively poor nation, was hit first – while in the midst of a flu epidemic (both have roughly similar symptoms). The epidemic quickly spread to its neighbors, and became an epidemic in South Korea. All successfully fought it off despite lacking any pharmaceutical tools – and in China, without the lavish supply of advanced medical equipment (e.g., ICU units with ventilators) taken for granted in the West.
They used the ancient tools of lavish testing (using both clinical methods and kits), contact tracing to identify who was exposed, quarantines for the sick and exposed, cordons sanitaire around areas with raging infections (to prevent spread). As the leaders of WHO have repeatedly said, China’s response was record-setting. Compare this timeline of China’s respsonse to COVID-19 with the CDC’s timeline of the US response to the 2009 H1N1 (swine flu) epidemic – remembering that the US has almost 4x China’s per capita income and spends 2x to 3x more of its GDP on health care than its peer nations. The Swine Flu epidemic emerged in the US and spread across the globe.
“From April 12, 2009 to April 10, 2010, CDC estimated there were 60.8 million cases (range: 43.3-89.3 million), 274,304 hospitalizations (range: 195,086-402,719), and 12,469 deaths (range: 8868-18,306) in the United States due to the (H1N1)pdm09 virus. Additionally, CDC estimated that 151,700-575,400 people worldwide died from (H1N1)pdm09 virus infection during the first year the virus circulated.”
The West began vastly better prepared than China for an epidemic. The US was considered the best prepared in the world (see here). We had two months to prepare and the models of East Asia’s successful defenses. Yet we appear to be on track to suffer far more from it. After action analysis will determine why, but three things are now obvious.
First, we were arrogant. Asia was hit but we are great, without need to mobilize or even plan. The rest of the world used effective kits, but the CDC and FDA had to produce their own better kits.