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Daily Archives: May 30, 2022

Charts: Typical U.S. Household Have to Spend 70% more on Gasoline This Year Over Last Year

Estimated US$4,800 in 2022, a $2,000 increase over last year

Hefty financial burden is piling up even more for the working poor in other countries

Source : Bloomberg

Chart: Germany Harmonised Inflation Rate YoY Surged in May 2022

Consumer price inflation rate is the highest since the winter of 1973/1974

Source : Bloomberg and Trading Economics

In Pictures: Food of Twins Garden in Moscow, Russia

Fine Dining Russian Cuisine Highlighting Home-grown Vegetables

No.30 of The 50 Best Restaurants in the World 2021

The Pitfalls of the “Ming Dynasty” for Mr. Xi – The Storm Caused by the Collapse of Zero COVID-19

習近平氏に明王朝の落とし穴 ゼロコロナ破綻が招く嵐

秋田浩之 wrote . . . . . . . . .

China’s “Zero COVID” Policy is continuing. A lockdown was taken place in Shanghai, and houses, shops and subway stations were closed in various districts in Beijing. The Chinese government has also decided to strictly limit unnecessary and unurgent departures. The city blockade in Shanghai is set to be lifted in June, but there are no signs that the policy will stop.

There is growing voice among US and European hygienists that China’s approach could lead to a major outbreak of infection, rather than contain the new coronavirus.

WHO Secretary-General Tedros said on May 10th that China’s Zero-COVID policy is unsustainable. Control infection while coexisting with COVID to some extent like major countries is a better choice.

Of course, the Zero-COVID policy has its own merit. Compared to the United States, where the death toll has exceeded one million, the number of infected people and deaths in China is much smaller. It is worthy of praise for preventing the fragile medical system from collapsing and saving people’s lives.

However, since the highly infectious Omicron type appeared in the fall of 2021, it has become extremely difficult to contain the virus by force… Sticking to the Zero-COVID policy can have dire consequences.

Enemy threatening the Communist Party system

With very few infected people in the population, the proportion of people without immunity is also high. A British infectious disease expert said, China is virtually 19 years old, with no one infected with COVID. Extremely vulnerable to new variants. China should adopt transition to “live with COVID” while using US and European vaccines that are effective against mutants.

However, Xi Jinping, instead of revising the Zero-COVID policy, is willing to continue.

On May 5, just before being criticized by the WHO, Mr. Xi said at the Party Political Bureau Standing Committee, “I have doubt and deny Japan’s epidemic prevention policy. As the consensus of the leadership, we also confirmed this. We have succeeded in a defense battle in Wuhan. We can definitely win in the bigger Shanghai.”

Xi’s sticking to Zero COVID isn’t just because of epidemics.The virus is an enemy that threatens the Communist Party system and believes that this “war” must be won.

Two years after the COVID spread from Wuhan City, Hubei Province, China suppressed the infection by blocking the city. He argued that the Communist Party rule was superior to the democratic system, with the US and Europe struggling to respond. If I gave up on the containment of COVID now, I would have lost the political war with the West.

When Mr. Xi digs deeper into the true intention of sticking to the Zero COVID policy, he comes to a special view of history.

Learning from “Zero Pest”

Xi may refer to the Ming dynasty as a model for state governance. It is a dynasty established by the Han Chinese and lasted for about 300 years from 1368. Actually, just before the launch, Black death (plague) is rampant and was in the midst of causing great disaster in China.

Takashi Okamoto, Professor of Kyoto Prefectural University, who studies Chinese history, “Zero pest was a policy of the Ming Dynasty at that time. Building on that success, the Ming dynasty builds a huge controlled empire.” Okamoto analyzes that this historical fact also influences Xi’s style of governance.

“Ming dynasty deal with recession and infectious diseases at the time of inauguration using policies such as restricting movement and trade. Even if the infection subsided and the world economy started to move again, the Ming dynasty continued to have strong central control and adopted a policy close to isolation. Mr. Xi may be learning from that line.”

However, if the Zero-COVID policy is continued as it is, not only will the risk of an outbreak increase, but the stability of governance may be impaired. In late May, students at a university in Beijing were angry at strict behavioral restrictions and had a series of protests. The impact on the economy was also great. Production, retail and employment deteriorated across the board in April.

Policy mistakes fear swelling

In a democratic nation, people’s will works, and mistakes in the policies of the leadership are corrected by the change of government. However, the Communist Party cannot easily change the policy of its leaders. The aides who want to be praised by the top will inflate policy mistakes. This is another fear.

Chinese expert Shin Kawashima, a professor at the University of Tokyo, said, “Mr. Xi ruled out living with COVID and said Zero COVID, but in reality he didn’t even say that he should eradicate it to zero. Aides, government and party leaders are competing to eliminate them in various places. The policy decided by the top cannot be flexibly revised, which amplifies the contradiction. This is the disadvantages of a Communist Party system.”

If the Ming dynasty is the model, Mr. Xi should learn from that failure. Extremely strict central control helped to strengthen the emperor’s power, but of course it also produced a reaction. The opposition and dissatisfaction of the private sector, whose freedom was restricted, increased, and it became a magma that broke the foundation of the dynasty.

Professor Okamoto says, “The power line that Mr. Xi has continued for 10 years may increase the risk of causing similar confusion.” Even if the Xi administration wins the virus by the Zero-COVID policy, if excessive tightening ignites people’s anger and shakes the stability of society, it will be useless. The end of the Ming dynasty implies such a danger.

Source : Nihon Keizai Shimbun

Read more

Strategies for reopening in the forthcoming COVID-19 era in China by Wei-jie Guan and Nan-shan Zhong . . . . .

U.S. Dominant Coronavirus Mutant Contains Ghost of Pandemic Past

Laura Ungar wrote . . . . . . . . .

The coronavirus mutant that is now dominant in the United States is a member of the omicron family but scientists say it spreads faster than its omicron predecessors, is adept at escaping immunity and might possibly cause more serious disease.

Why? Because it combines properties of both omicron and delta, the nation’s dominant variant in the middle of last year.

A genetic trait that harkens back to the pandemic’s past, known as a “delta mutation,” appears to allow the virus “to escape pre-existing immunity from vaccination and prior infection, especially if you were infected in the omicron wave,” said Dr. Wesley Long, a pathologist at Houston Methodist in Texas. That’s because the original omicron strain that swept the world didn’t have the mutation.

The omicron “subvariant” gaining ground in the U.S. — known as BA.2.12.1 and responsible for 58% of U.S. COVID-19 cases last week — isn’t the only one affected by the delta mutation. The genetic change is also present in the omicron relatives that together dominate in South Africa, known as BA.4 and BA.5. Those have exactly the same mutation as delta, while BA.2.12.1 has one that’s nearly identical.

This genetic change is bad news for people who caught the original omicron and thought that made them unlikely to get COVID-19 again soon. Although most people don’t know for sure which variant caused their illness, the original omicron caused a giant wave of cases late last year and early this year.

Long said lab data suggests a prior infection with the original omicron is not very protective against reinfection with the new mutants, though the true risk of being reinfected no matter the variant is unique to every person and situation.

In a twist, however, those sickened by delta previously may have some extra armor to ward off the new mutants. A study released before it was reviewed by other scientists, by researchers at Ohio State University, found that COVID patients in intensive care with delta infections induced antibodies that were better at neutralizing the new mutants than patients who caught the original omicron.

“The omicron infection antibody does not appear to protect well against the subvariants compared to delta,” said Dr. Shan-Lu Liu, a study author who co-directs the viruses and emerging pathogens program at Ohio State.

But Liu said the level of protection a delta infection provides depends partly on how long ago someone was ill. That’s because immunity wanes over time.

People who got sick with delta shouldn’t think of themselves as invulnerable to the new subvariants, especially if they’re unvaccinated, Long said. “I wouldn’t say anyone is safe.”

One bright spot? Booster shots can provide strong protection against the new mutants, Liu said. In general, vaccines and prior infection can protect people from the worst outcomes of COVID-19. At this point, scientists say, it’s too early to know if the new mutant gaining ground in the U.S. will cause a significant uptick in new cases, hospitalizations and deaths.

Scientists are still trying to figure out how virulent these new mutants are. Long said he hasn’t seen anything that answers that question for him, but Liu said emerging data points toward more serious illness. Liu said the subvariants have properties suggesting they spread more efficiently cell-to-cell.

The virus “just hides in the cell and spreads through cell-to-cell contact,” Liu said. “That’s more scary because the virus does not come out for the antibody to work.”

Dr. Eric Topol, head of Scripps Research Translational Institute, said the new mutants certainly don’t appear less virulent than previous versions of omicron, and whether they are more virulent or not “will become clear in the months ahead.”

In the meantime, scientists expect the latest powerhouse mutants to spread quickly, since they are more transmissible than their predecessors.

Though home testing makes it tough to track all U.S. COVID cases, data from Johns Hopkins University shows that cases are averaging nearly 107,000 a day, up from about 87,000 two weeks ago. And new hospital admissions of patients with COVID-19 have been trending upwards since around mid-April, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“I’m hopeful that we don’t see a similar increase in hospitalizations that we’ve had in prior waves,” Long said. “But with COVID, any time you have lots of people being infected, it’s just a numbers game. Some of those people are going to be severe. Some of those people are going to need hospitalization. Some of them, unfortunately, are going to pass away.”

Source : AP

In a Lockdown, Hard Lessons for Shanghai’s Government Reformers

Yu Ping wrote . . . . . . . . .

As Shanghai prepared to enter what was supposed to be a short, targeted lockdown in late March, local officials had reason to feel confident. Over the last decade, the city has heavily invested in modernizing its urban governance structures, reforming its subdistrict systems, strengthening neighborhood committees, and setting up citizen services platforms to identify and respond to problems as they emerge. The city’s ultimate goal — the creation of a diverse network of governing bodies and mechanisms as part of a transition from a government-dominated society to a “small government-big society” model — seemed within reach.

Nearly two months later, the lockdown has revealed cracks in that dream. Residents have clashed with ineffective neighborhood committees; community workers are suffering from heavy workloads and a lack of support; and the city’s hotlines have struggled to respond to a deluge of calls. For all the very real progress made in recent years, the current state of grassroots governance in Shanghai suggests the city is still far from meeting its goals, to say nothing of the needs of its residents.

Shanghai’s urban governance reforms date back to 2014, when the city made grassroots governance a major research priority. The following year, the city published what came to be known as the “1+6” documents, which sought to strengthen the provision of government services by devolving more power to grassroots organizations at the subdistrict and town level. (The “1” refers to a list of governance recommendations published by the municipal Communist Party committee and the city government; the “6” are six supporting documents outlining reforms to subdistrict governance, village and neighborhood committees, grid management systems, the participation of social forces in urban governance, and the role of community workers.)

Prior to the pandemic, these reforms were showing real results. They were also generally popular among the public, especially new, single-window service centers and the 24-hour “12345” public service hotline, which cut down on red tape and gave individuals and enterprises a means of communicating issues to officials. From about 2017, the Shanghai municipal government doubled down on these initiatives, calling on bureaucrats to cultivate a “service provider spirit” and further streamlining official work.

I conducted a survey last year that found satisfaction with the organization of public services had increased by 50% since 2015. Yet these successes masked very real challenges faced by the grassroots bodies now expected to shoulder the burdens of urban governance, challenges that have been exacerbated by the ongoing pandemic.

To start, inertia at the grassroots level and longstanding official preferences for administrative, bureaucratic approaches to governance have slowed the pace of reform. Many officials prefer a traditional, top-down approach to governance and are wary of democratic consultation. As early as 1998, the city’s Wuliqiao subdistrict piloted the now national “three-meeting system,” which sought to include the public in meetings related to decision-making, conflict mediation, and governance evaluation. Yet, most of the grassroots organizations included in the 1+6 reforms still function like quasi-official subcontractors: They undertake administrative tasks assigned by bureaucrats at the subdistrict level, but they lack the initiative to respond to public concerns or make independent decisions.

This can be seen in the uneven performance of neighborhood committees during the lockdown. Although theoretically autonomous organizations, neighborhood committees generally play an invisible role in most residents’ lives. The exception is when they are mobilized by the government to carry out directives, provide services, or, in the case of the lockdown, enforce often harsh “closed management” rules meant to halt the spread of infection.

As a result, residents naturally see neighborhood committees as part of the government. Few recognize the committees as a potential source of support or defender of their rights.

Compounding the problem, the bureaucratic focus on “advanced” governance and scientific work mechanisms has sometimes obscured the importance of human interaction and community building. Since the lockdown started, residents’ perception of their neighborhood committees as either bureaucratic tools or allies has played a significant role in determining communities’ willingness to cooperate with the city’s enforcement measures. Some committee leaders have lived or worked in their neighborhoods for many years. They not only understand the local situation, but also have good personal relationships with residents, making it much easier for them to communicate with and mobilize their communities. Leaders without these ties have had a much tougher time.

The more technical governance models favored by many bureaucrats have also had their weaknesses exposed by the lockdown. As mentioned above, many bureaucrats are uncomfortable with the devolution of power and elevated resources afforded to the grassroots. They feel the same way about digital governance tools. Shanghai has spent heavily on the creation of big data centers and a unified online city management network. This was supposed to improve digital governance and give officials the ability to make decisions based on emerging data trends. But access to this data is controlled by the traditional administrative hierarchy, meaning many grassroots organizations can’t access the data they need, or even update or modify it in real time to reflect changing local conditions.

Underlying these problems is a fundamental contradiction between the notion of grassroots governance as a closed system, in which local resources are used to manage local matters without broader coordination, and the city’s increasingly diffuse social governance model.

The grassroots are not trivial. They are the foundation of public governance. Effective grassroots governance not only requires top-down guidance, but also bottom-up engagement and horizontal collaboration. If Shanghai accepts this and consistenctly practices it in everyday governance, then perhaps the city won’t be thrown into confusion the next time a crisis hits.

Source : Sixth Tone

Infographic: The 10 Largest Gold Mines in the World, by Production

See large image . . . . . .

Source : Visual Capitalist