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On ICU bed capacity, Japanese GDP per capita, and the alternate timeline where the Taipei model governs 1.4 billion lives instead of the Beijing model
China's government has taken a turn away from the draconian "Covid zero" policies without having taken the time to implement a sensible alternative policy. The government's resistance to the use of Western mRNA vaccines and underwhelming efforts to vaccinate (and boost) the elderly have set up the country to encounter real hardships in trying to move away from quarantines and lockdowns as the primary mitigation mechanism.
■ It also harms the country's chances that it has much lower ICU capacity than many other countries. Japan has twice as many ICU beds per capita, South Korea has three times as many, and Taiwan has nearly eight times as many. No single metric tells the whole story of a country's health system, but it's a distinctly unflattering comparison.
■ It can be hard to process the hypothetical conditions of an alternate reality where 1.4 billion people live not under the Communist Party of China, but under the increasingly competitive democratic system of Taiwan. In nearly three-quarters of a century, tiny little Taiwan -- diplomatically constrained, resource-limited, and under persistent threat of invasion -- has effectively tripled mainland China's GDP per capita and become comparable with Japan and South Korea.
■ Openness matters. Liberty matters. The consent of the governed matters. Taiwan proves the case for what mainland China could have been: Wealthier, freer, and more progressive. A country where proven vaccines from abroad are eagerly embraced and where a transition from one phase of a pandemic to the next is made smoother by a well-prepared health system.
■ The consequences of decisions often last much longer than anyone realizes at the time -- in this case, multiple generations and billions of lives have been affected by the outcome of China's civil war at the time of World War II.
■ But it is also true that the right time to change directions is just as soon as you discover you've gotten off course. It cannot go unnoticed that things don't have to go on this way for the "People's Republic" forever.