CDC Director Rochelle Walensky Lauded the Success of China’s ‘Really Strict’ Lockdowns

A little over a year ago, Rochelle Walensky—then a professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School, now the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)—gave an interview to WBUR in which she noted the purported successes of lockdown policies in authoritarian countries.

“To give you a sense of what lockdowns were able to do in other countries—and, I mean, really strict lockdowns—in China, their death rate is three per million,” she said,It was sad that death rates in the comparatively relaxed countries of Sweden and the U.S. were so much higher.

Whether China’s “really strict” lockdowns can truly be deemed a success largely depends on whether that government’s reported COVID-19 cases and death totals are accurate—an important question, given how much the Chinese Communist Party has already lied about the pandemic—and whether it will ever be possible to relax them. One year ago, Walensky made an admiring comment. China’s pandemic autoritarianism continues to be in full swing despite occasional shutdowns of whole cities. There are dozens of cases being reported each day, making it difficult to determine if these numbers reflect undercounts. Chinese officials deceived their citizens and the entire planet about the pandemic at every step.

Even though China may have COVID-19 under its control, severe pandemic prevention measures come at a high price. The government recently repressed a Chinese village bordering Myanmar. NPR says:

The makeshift shelters made of shipping containers were set up to provide food for the starving residents. Businesses forbidden from selling goods – even online. A baby reportedly tested for COVID 74 times.

His wife was forced to relocate to another place for quarantine. The quarantine period started earlier this year after her husband went to work. Her wife was taken into custody and given shelter in place. There were no dates for her release or food supplies. Wang said that Wang was finally able get her out after asking a trusted friend to transport her to hospital. She then spent two more weeks in quarantine at a hotel before she was permitted to return to her home.

Yet despite the anger in Ruili, most people in China support the country’s strict pandemic prevention policies, despite their huge economic cost and the risk of being suddenly quarantined or tested during frequent contact-tracing investigations. Officials who fail to protect the population are publicly shamed, and often fired. Local government officials are subjected to enormous pressure.

People unlucky enough to test positive or — more commonly — cross paths with a close contact can find themselves ensnared in successive and expensive quarantines. Other people have been trapped in limbo. They are not allowed to leave their cities (including Ruili) and they cannot return to their homes.

As ReasonEric Boehm pointed out that China isn’t an exception. The search for “COVID Zero” has led many countries to illiberalism, oppression, and the pursuit of this goal. Boehm cited a report by the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance that stated “more than 20% of countries have used military force to enforce COVID control.” “According to the report, 69 countries have made violating COVID restrictions an imprisonable offense, with two-thirds of those countries being ones the group considers to be democracies. Mexico and Albania are the countries with the strongest laws, which allow for prison sentences of between 15 and 12 year respectively for pandemic protocol violations.

Walensky and other health professionals fantasize about the possibilities if they were less restricted by civil liberty protections. It is those repressive regimes they want to imitate that are what they dream of.

But tellingly, this kind of fantasizing only ever seems to run in one direction—toward bigger and more powerful government. Is Walensky ever imagining how a smaller government could have improved the U.S. Coronavirus response? It’s possible to make a strong argument that We offer less Authoritarianism would reduce the number of Americans who die from COVID-19.

This point is best illustrated by the failure of FDA to approve Paxlovid (Pfizer’s COVID-19 Therapeutic in Pill Form), which could reduce someone’s chance of dying from COVID by an astounding 89 percent. Scott Alexander, Substack’s writer, notes that the FDA approval of the drug is expected to be in January or March according to prediction markets. For the FDA, this is remarkably fast—but it still means that thousands of people will die needlessly between now and the date that the drug is approved. People could be given the drug sooner if the FDA was more proactive. This would save lives.

“It’s pretty weird that the FDA agrees Paxlovid is so great that it’s unethical to study it further because it would be unconscionable to design a study with a no-Paxlovid control group—but also, the FDA has not approved Paxlovid, it remains illegal, and nobody is allowed to use it,” wrote Alexander. The FDA is expected to approve Paxlovid within the next few days. But the prediction market expects it to take six weeks— during which time we expect about 50,000 more Americans to die of COVID.”

This delay is costly and not unexpected. The FDA has failed repeatedly to approve COVID-19 testing that would save thousands of lives, if it were legalized for Americans.

Eric Umansky and Lydia DePillis, respectively, wrote in their article, “Companies trying get approval by the Food and Drug Administration to rapid COVID-19 test” ProPublica.

Even worse!

This May, the FDA revieweder quit and described the internal causes of the delays. Because he had a background as a virologist, he was capable of quickly evaluating hundreds pages contained in an application. However, something was strange: After evaluating the hundreds of pages in an application within a few days, he found that they would not be accepted by higher-ups because they were unable to make a decision.

While I could handle dozens, only one or two of them remained in my queue. He said that they would remain there for ever. I had lots of free time.”

His experience is reflected in an outside review of the EUA process conducted by the consulting firm Booz Allen Hamilton, which found that the median number of days it took the FDA to issue a decision on original applications rose to 99 in November 2020 from 29 the previous April, with denials taking substantially longer than authorizations. It was also revealed that the community of test developers had limited knowledge about validating diagnostic tests.

It would be nice for federal health officials to admit that their authority is not the best, most perfect scenario. Instead of talking about how it might have been possible, More Limitations are better than a lot. Walensky and her associates should dream of smaller government.