For many of us, the year 2020 is broadly marked as a year spent at home with a mask, and sadly for some, death. Some lost family members, some lost businesses and investments, and some lost connections with friends, but almost everyone lost their normal livelihoods. General anger and discontentment is certainly understandable. However, despite the initial reaction to point the proverbial finger at the virus itself, the responsible party for a large portion of the fallout lies in the governmental response.
In fairness, any new virus is going to be problematic for authorities. Preparedness, response, containment, and testing are all predicated on not only the virus itself, but also the public view of the virus. As it is in military planning that the enemy always gets a vote, so it is when countering the effects of a pandemic. However, the enemy in this statement is not just the virus. China has an indisputable role in the inception of this crisis.
To understand much of the response, a closer look at the initial phases must be examined.
China is notoriously void of freedom and truth. Their control of people and ideas is unrivaled in the modern world, and in virtually all of history. Their state security elements are masters of their craft, and their foreign operations detachments have the ability to influence other nations and corporate entities like a conductor to a symphony. In a theoretical vacuum, it could be quite admirable. The Uyghurs would surely not agree.
These tactics were used to masterful effect in the outbreak of the virus in the now notorious city of Wuhan. According to most sources at the time, it’s most likely that the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) authorities surmised that the virus was of little effect and the death rate was low enough to not warrant further action. Because of this, they resorted to their tried and true method; suppression of information and letting the clock run out in an effort to get people to forget all about it.
However, what they didn’t count on was the social media dissemination of this information, and this put the CCP on the defensive. They have to look like the “good guy” in this at all costs. The CCP went into full Hollywood mode, putting on staged displays of special disinfection teams clearing public buildings, police vehicles with water cannons (usually reserved for the people) were outfitted to shoot disinfectant through the streets. Altogether, these were complemented with images of a heavy police and military presence. Their mission was aggressive lockdown enforcement, amplified by now-famous imagery of apartment entrance doors being welded shut.
All of this, including further imagery from places such as Italy, prompted so much of the world to mirror the lockdown and masking initiatives. Since China had first begun to report its death numbers, they had dropped precipitously. The CCP released COVID-19 case numbers at 6,900 per day mid-February, to only 15 a day just over a month later, and total deaths at only about 5,000. In a nation of more than 1 billion people, this is highly dubious. Despite the obvious use of their well-oiled propaganda machine, so much of the world believed its sophistry.
The seeds had been sown for the spread of a fictitious “killer virus,” and the story was being pushed by conventional press as well as social media. According to these outlets, the reaction and data from China affirmed the drastic measures being taken by more democratic and Western governments. Those in these countries saw the measures as reinforcement of their fears, initially created by the first wave of CCP propaganda. The two factors became a vicious cycle; the government acting for fear of underperforming and losing popular support, and the people having their fears confirmed by more lockdowns and restrictions.
“The Chinese leadership reacted very consistently to the Covid-19 epidemic. Apparently it was less about the threat of ‘a virus’ than about the chance to consolidate the neo-Confucian state model. A strong, external enemy was defined (and exaggerated). And at the same time suppressed other factors that favored respiratory infections and were partly responsible for the outbreak (including the air quality in Wuhan),” said Dr. Helmut Jäger, M.D.
Like many governments, Georgia has followed the reactions of other “leaders” of truth; the US, UK, and much of Western Europe. Repeated lockdowns, mask mandates, and closure of businesses and facilities have racked the country. Despite the lack of quality research and evidence showing the effectiveness of masks and lockdowns, authorities have played the emotional strings of the people to encourage compliance. Statements such as “save others, stay home” and other absurd attempts at soft tyranny are all too easily convincing with the stain of Chinese propaganda on the table.
With all of these measures, they have backed themselves into a dark corner. As mounting studies and evidence becomes available, the government is coming to a terrifying reality. Silently, in the high offices after all the staffers have left, the leadership is realizing that so much was overstated and how they were woefully wrong with their overreacting. However, to admit this would be political suicide and destroy an already precariously held reputation.
Altogether, this would come at a time when popular support for the government isn’t at particularly high levels anyway, and many political opponents are hunting for reasons to have them ousted. Their only hope is a miracle, their saving grace. Anything to rescue them from fault, wrongdoing, and even prosecution and incarceration. Specifically, something to distract the attention of the masses; something like a vaccine.
With the help of a vaccine, Parliament, the Ministry of Health, and other national authorities can claim a victory and be given their medals, as well their absolution from any guilt. All of their overblown and destructive rhetoric from the recent past swept away only to be replaced with laurels and praise. One year ago, the slogans were “wash your hands”, and “don’t touch your face.” Now they have become, “wear this mask everywhere, at all times, or else” and “if you don’t let us inject this in you, you can’t travel.” This is the pacification of the people by the State, and it’s not ok.
It is the duty of organizations and human rights groups to investigate this, and not just on the global scale to hold the CCP accountable. The Georgian government and authorities need to be held responsible. Hundreds of thousands of people forced out of work, thousands of businesses closed, and a shrinking national economy with monumental economic, socio-cultural, and national security concerns on the horizon.
The Georgian people are resilient, and left to their own devices will unquestionably rebuild their world. However, with such poor performance from certain offices upon high, it’s imperative that those responsible be held accountable and resumption of what can only be described as “normality” be enacted at the earliest possible opportunity. The people demand it, research supports it, and the nation’s vitality requires it.
Op-Ed by Michael Godwin