No Western politician, as far as I can see, is insulting the protesters. They are not dismissed as selfish or sociopathic, nor as dupes of conspiracy theories. Sen. James Lankford (R-OK) captured the mood: “To the people of China — we hear you and we stand with you as you fight for your freedom.”
Broadcasters and columnists who spent 2020 calling anti-lockdowners kooks and criminals are now uncomplicatedly applauding their Chinese counterparts. They see ordinary people standing up against an authoritarian government the anti-COVID policies of which were crushing liberty.
So, what changed? Perhaps pundits tell themselves that the disease is less virulent now, or that vaccination has altered the balance of risk, or that, in some other way, Beijing’s crackdown is less proportionate than those of 2020. But none of these explanations stacks up.
Yes, the coronavirus became less lethal. All viruses that spread through human contact eventually become less lethal because they have an evolved tendency to want to keep their hosts up and active and therefore more infectious. For this to happen, they require a critical mass. Enough people need to be incapacitated or killed by the original version to give milder strains an advantage. And, yes, the vaccines helped, too.
But the trade-offs are essentially the same in China today as they were three years ago — coronavirus deaths versus other deaths. The current unrest was sparked by a fire in Xinjiang, which was allowed to become needlessly deadly because the authorities were following COVID protocols. In other words, they were elevating COVID above other forms of harm.
Most countries did the same in 2020 with, as we now see, disastrous results. The lockdowns did not just cause an economic meltdown from which we will take years to recover. They also failed on their own terms. They killed more people than they saved.