Saturday, 31 October 2020

Covid 19 - A Timely Lesson from Asia

An extract sourced in El Pais.

The Japanese finance minister, Taro Aso, responds with one word when asked how Japan has dealt with the pandemic so much more successfully than the West: mindo – literally meaning “people’s standards.” A complex term, mindo, is also used in Japan to indicate national superiority and can be translated as “cultural level.”

Aso says the Japanese have been vigorously complying with strict hygiene measures, despite the fact that the government has never had any intention of imposing fines. He adds that, in other countries, people would be incapable of behaving like that, even if the measures were enforced.

It should be pointed out that other Asian countries such as China, South Korea, Taiwan, Singapore and Hong Kong have also managed to keep the pandemic under control. In fact, in Asia, there has been virtually no reinfection and current infection rates are so low they are of little consequence while Europe and the United States are being completely overwhelmed right now by the second wave of the virus.

It is precisely these Asian countries that demonstrate that the pandemic can be successfully dealt with, even in the absence of a vaccine. Meanwhile, Asians watch in astonishment at the helplessness of Europeans who appear to be at the mercy of the virus, and the impotence of Europe’s governments in combating the pandemic.

Given the striking contrast in infection rates, it is almost inevitable that we ask what Asia does that Europe does not. The fact that China has been able to successfully contain the pandemic is partly due to the rigorous surveillance – inconceivable in the West – that individuals are subject to. But South Korea and Japan are democracies. In these countries, digital totalitarianism such as exists in China is impossible. However, in Korea, the digital monitoring of contacts is relentless and is the responsibility of the police rather than the health authorities; contact tracing is done by applying the kind of methods used by forensic criminologists.

Obviously, the liberal West cannot impose surveillance on individuals the way the Chinese do. And that, of course, is as it should be. The virus must not undermine our freedom. However, it is also true that, in the West, as soon as it comes to social networks our concern for privacy rights go out the window. Everyone suddenly bares all. Digital platforms such as Google or Facebook have unrestricted access to the private sphere. Google reads and analyses emails without anyone complaining about it. China is not the only country that collects data from its citizens in order to control them and keep discipline. A person’s credit rating in China, for example, is based on the same algorithms as Western credit assessment systems, such as FICO in the US or Schufa in Germany. Looked at like this, panoptic surveillance is not an exclusively Chinese phenomenon. In light of the fact that we are already subject to digital surveillance, anonymous contact tracking via the Corona-App could be considered quite harmless. But digital contact tracing is unlikely to be the main reason Asians have been so successful in fighting the pandemic.

It is important to have civility, collective action during a pandemic. When people voluntarily follow hygiene rules, there is no need for controls or enforced measures, which are so costly in terms of personnel and time.

Europe is failing to show character in the face of this crisis. Rather, what Western liberalism is showing is weakness. Liberalism appears to be conducive to the decline of civility, evident in the fact that groups of adolescents are holding illegal parties in the midst of the pandemic, that police who try to break these parties up are harassed, spat at, or coughed on, and that people no longer trust the state.

Paradoxically, Asian communities who voluntarily follow the hygiene guidelines actually have more freedom. Neither Japan nor South Korea has imposed a total lockdown. And the economic fallout is far less serious than in Europe.

One ends up having more freedom if one voluntarily imposes restrictions on oneself. For example, those who reject the use of masks as an attack on freedom end up having less freedom.

Boris – you need to answer the questions this summary poses, as shown in El Pais, if you are to save the economy from ruin. Self-discipline is seriously lacking in the population.

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