Last Friday Dr John Campbell’s covid vlog had the title China and zero covid. This is odd, because the vlog hardly dealt with China at all. This is interesting because it illustrates a broader problem in coverage of this issue; that attitudes are often expressed without them then being buttressed by facts. This stands out on Campbell’s vlog because he usually presents it as a simple explanatory space with no particular axe to grind, and he has built up quite a big following here and in the US on that basis.
His style is usually to go through a summary of official stats or reports, slowly enough for people to follow and calmly enough for people not to be put off, while circling key statistics and ticking them – usually in a very reassuring way. He seems to embody an old fashioned deference to authoritative medical knowledge. One of the men (got to be men) in white coats taking the time to explain.
Occasionally a darker view slips into sight. Wikipedia notes that he has put forward one unsound treatment and – possibly inadvertently – given credence to another. A long interview with David Davies MP gave an extended platform to Davies’s view that if only we all took vitamin D supplements all would be well. While vitamin D is helpful with immunity in general – and taking them wouldn’t hurt – this is in the same territory as the assertion by the South African Ministry of Health in the early days of the AIDS epidemic there that this was primarily a disease of poverty that could be cured by better living conditions and better diets. True up to a point, but insufficient on its own and, when counterposed to retrovirals rather damaging. In a post as the Omicron variant was picking up, Campbell noted that rapid and widespread mild infection would be a good thing because it would develop immunity on a bigger scale. Which, of course, presumes that all these infections would be mild, that those for whom it was not could be ignored, and that developing antibodies means immunity from reinfection. Which it clearly does not.
His “China” post started with an uncharacteristically huffy rhetorical question – put in tones that mixed bewilderment with a kind of condescending exasperation. Why is China persisting with its Zero Covid approach in the face of Omicron which, in his view, was bound to overwhelm it. He made no attempt to answer this and, to be fair, seemed genuinely puzzled.
If he wants an answer, there is a clue in the statistics he gave – and the complete lack any China figures in the rest of his vlog. He cited dozens of cases in several cities. I’d invite him to compare that with the number of cases in the UK right now. If we had dozens of cases in several cities the government here would be trumpeting how “world beating” we are all over the airwaves (and it would be hard to argue with it).
All the graphs then cited in his vlog – showing the Omicron wave passing its peak – exclude China data – because, instead of the wild roller coaster peaks and troughs with hundreds of thousands of cases and thousands of deaths that are now reassuringly slightly less bad than they were, China’s line would be a barely discernable flat one running straight along the bottom. To put this another way, China persists with Zero Covid because of the several million people who died of it last year just two died in China. Thats 2. Not really too hard to understand once you look at the figures.
Later on Campbell similarly huffed at New Zealand and Western Austraila for keeping their borders closed – on the bais that “they have to open up” at some point and would then be hit by Omicron all at once. This would only be true if they failed to quarantine people coming in.
The emotional clincher in his introduction was the expression of disgust at Hong Kong killing 2,000 hamsters to prevent inter species transmission after a positive test. Because hamsters are cuddly pets in a different category to the uncountable number of lab rats killed developing the vaccines. Campbell’s moral indignation at this might carry more weight if he had made a comparable fuss when Denmark slaughtered 17 MILLION mink on the same grounds earlier in the pandemic. I may be wrong, but I don’t recall him doing so.
Double standards illuminate blind spots quite dramatically.