World Review: America and China, Austrian vaccination and India’s farmers

It has been an interesting week for Sino-American relations and China in its own right. It started with the two countries agreeing to cooperate on climate change policies. There were no details in this proposed pact, but a start had been made. This was followed by a three-hour virtual summit between Joe Biden and Xi Jinping. Both sides basically re-stated long-held positions on trade, Taiwan, the South China Sea and human rights. But it was done in a friendly manner which meant another reasonable start. Then things started going downhill. The Americans are very upset about the new Chinese hypersonic missile and are being loud in their condemnation. Then Biden said he was considering refusing to send a diplomatic delegation to the Beijing Winter Olympics. The athletes can go, but the normal contingent of accompanying politicians are now expected to stay at home to protest Chinese human rights abuses in Xinjiang.

Where America goes, Europe and its allies are likely to follow which will take some of the gloss off the opening ceremony. Finally, there is the case of missing tennis star Peng Shuai. She alleged that she was coerced into an affair with Vice President Zhang Gaoli, a close friend and ally of President Xi. Shortly after making the claim, Ms Peng disappeared. All mention of her on the Chinese-controlled internet and media has been removed. An email was sent out—purportedly from the tennis star—withdrawing the allegations and saying that she was safe and well. Friends and family have dismissed the email as fake or—at best—coerced. The likely fate of Peng Shuai underscores the dangers of crossing the Chinese Communist Party. Zhang Gaoli is a prominent party member and ally of the President. Xi Jing Ping is the head of the party. Xi, Zhang and the Chinese Communist Party have been conflated to represent Chinese national interests so that anything that damages their reputation damages Chinese national interests.

The Austrians have come up with a novel way of combatting their anti-vaxxers (roughly a third of their population). They have ordered them to stay at home until they are properly jabbed. The police will be patrolling the streets with covid test kits. If they find someone who tests positive and is unjabbed then that person can be fined up to $1,500. There has been the anticipated outcry about individual liberties and body invasion from the anti-vax brigade. There has also been a reported rush for vaccinations. Meanwhile wave four (or is it five or six?) continues to gather pace as winter descends on Europe. The Austrian government is planning a full lockdown if the moves against anti-vaxxers fails. Germany is also talking about a full lockdown as are Belgium, Luxembourg, Italy and the Netherlands. The British are carrying on as if the pandemic has ended. Few wear masks. Football matches, night clubs, cinemas, theatres, restaurants, planes and trains are carrying on as if life is normal while the number of covid-related deaths rise.

A year ago, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi ended the state-run farmers’ markets that had for decades provided minimum support prices to the country’s agricultural community. In doing so he threw the nation’s farmers to the wolves of the market place. The result was demonstrations, riots and a rowdy farmer’s market on the outskirts of Delhi. This week Modi did a U-turn. He scrapped the three new market laws that ended support prices. The farmers rejoiced. An abashed Modi (not a common sight) admitted: “We have failed.” Of course, the reason for the U-turn was not all down to the farmers’ protests. Early next year there will be key elections in the big agricultural states of Utter Pradesh and Punjab. Modi needs to win them, or at least not do too badly. Punjab is especially important. It has a large Sikh population which has had historically troubled relations with the Delhi government. Modi has been bending over backwards to improve relations with the Sikhs, but has also added a string of other political failures which has damaged his credibility. His government has failed to pass controversial new citizenship laws, implement a land acquisition law and new labour laws have fallen by the board. Modi’s reputation is as an acute legislator and strong man. That now appears to be slipping.

* Tom Arms is foreign editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and author of “The Encyclopedia of the War” and the recently published “America Made in Britain". He has a weekly podcast, Transatlantic Riff.

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This entry was posted in Op-eds.


  • Brad Barrows 21st Nov '21 - 9:21am

    “The British are carrying on as if the pandemic has ended. Few wear masks….”

    I think you are confusing ‘British’ when you mean ‘English’ – face coverings continue to be required in Scotland, Wales and Norther Ireland and most are complying with the legal requirements.

  • John Marriott 21st Nov '21 - 10:46am

    @Brad Barrows
    We noticed on a short visit to Edinburgh a couple of months ago that far more face masks were being warned. We spent a few days in Scarborough last week and masks had largely disappeared.

    While still a supporter of masks I have to say that, at present, the wearing of face coverings does not seem to have made that much different to the relative infection rates between the four U.K. nations. It would appear that the epicentre appears to have moved to Central Europe.

  • Peter Martin 21st Nov '21 - 11:24am

    @ Brad Barrows,

    “face coverings continue to be required in Scotland, Wales and Norther Ireland and most are complying with the legal requirements.”

    Not at football matches, they aren’t! Scotland played Denmark, in a World Cup qualifier, at Hampden Park last week and there wasn’t a face mask to be seen anywhere on the very crowded ground.

  • Brad Barrows 21st Nov '21 - 11:36am

    @Peter Martin
    You are correct – face coverings are not required at football matches in Scotland as they are ‘outside’ events. That said, those attending are supposed to be spot checked to ensure they have ‘vaccine passports’, so called.

    As for evidence, latest ONS figures estimate that 1 in 65 has covid in England but only 1 in 95 in Scotland. A marginal difference, perhaps, but still a difference.

  • Peter Martin 21st Nov '21 - 2:54pm

    “The British are ………carrying on as if life is normal while the number of covid-related deaths rise.”

    They aren’t actually rising. In the last month, the 7 day average death toll for the UK peaked on the 5th Nov with 171 deaths per day whereas the latest figure is 147 deaths per day.

    That said, these numbers are too high and are largely caused by those choosing to remain unvaccinated. Lib Dems are keen on the EU but not so keen on the more authoritarian policies of the individual countries within the EU. Our policy seems to be to build up Covid immunity in the unvaccinated population by letting them catch the disease. If we have 150 deaths per day then so be it.

    Maybe a little more authoritarianism, EU style, would be more humanitarian?

  • Peter Watson 21st Nov '21 - 3:08pm

    @Peter Martin
    Strictly speaking, doesn’t that mean that the number of covid-related deaths is rising, but it is doing so at a decreasing rate?

  • Barry Lofty 21st Nov '21 - 3:08pm

    I am obviously keen on the EU and would welcome a bit more authoritarianism in the way our country is dealing with the on going Covid pandemic, my son and daughter in law and their two young sons have just tested positive even though he and his wife were double jabbed and about to have their boosters!! I still believe we in this country should much more aware.

  • The British are carrying on as if the pandemic has ended. Few wear masks…

    The ONS survey reports “most adults” are still wearing a mask, at least in some situations…

    ‘Coronavirus (COVID-19) latest insights’:

    Most adults reported wearing a face covering

    19 November 2021

    Most adults (85%) in Great Britain (GB) reported they wore a face covering when outside their home over the past seven days. This proportion appeared to increase with age; 71% of those aged 16 to 29 years reported wearing a face covering compared to 96% of those aged 70 years and above.

    While most adults (70%) reported wearing a face covering while travelling on public transport, just 24% said that everyone or almost everyone else was doing the same.

    John Marriott 21st Nov ’21 – 10:46am:
    It would appear that the epicentre appears to have moved to Central Europe.

    As I outlined a month ago…

    ‘Munira Wilson: Ministers are burying their heads in the sand over rising Covid cases’:
    Jeff 23rd Oct ’21 – 12:28pm:
    Infections are best considered as waves rather than a snapshot of daily cases. Scotland has most likely already seen the peak of its Delta wave, perhaps due to schools going back earlier and average vitamin D levels falling off sooner due to latitude. Across the rest of the UK, the Delta wave is likely to rise further and then fall over the next few weeks. Most west European countries are only just starting their Delta wave. It is currently sweeping through many east European countries and the Baltic states.

    As for evidence, latest ONS figures estimate that 1 in 65 has covid in England but only 1 in 95 in Scotland.

    But 1 in 55 in Wales which is more stringent than Scotland. There are too many confounding variables, known and unknown, to use these figures as evidence for the effectiveness of masks.

  • Brad Barrows 21st Nov ’21 – 11:36am:
    As for evidence, latest ONS figures estimate that 1 in 65 has covid in England but only 1 in 95 in Scotland.

    But 1 in 55 in Wales which is more stringent than Scotland. There are too many confounding variables, known and unknown, to use these figures as evidence for the effectiveness of masks.

    What would be most helpful now is a public health campaign to encourage more people to take a vitamin D supplement (4,000IU – 10,000IU daily). Evidence for its efficacy in reducing infections, hospitalisations and deaths continues to accumulate, but is still ignored by the medical establishment.

    Scots Need Vitamin D:

    On this page, below, are in reverse chronological order various publications all linking better vitamin D supply with better Covid-19 outcomes.

    In a nutshell: At our latitude and climate in Scotland, and because we all live and work indoors, we are ALL chronically undersupplied of vitamin D. I would recommend for ALL adults to take the safe maximal dose (defined by NHS, UK and European bodies): daily 4,000 IU (= 100 mcg), summer and winter.

    A look at the latest research with Dr. John Campbell…

    ‘Vitamin D, government inaction’ [10 minute summary]:

  • Peter Martin 21st Nov '21 - 10:31pm

    @ Peter Watson,

    Yep, you’re right. Lazarus may have risen from the dead but, usually, death is one way and irreversible process.

    If that’s what Tom Arms meant……………

  • Catherine Jane Crosland 22nd Nov '21 - 8:27am

    Tom Arms, I am disappointed by the tone of your remarks about Austria’s policy of mandatory vaccine’s. You give the impression that you consider that only “anti vaxxers” would object to such a policy, and you sound dismissive, even contemptuous, about what you describe as “the anticipated outcry about individual liberties and body invasion.”
    It is possible to be passionately pro vaccine, but also to believe passionately that being vaccinated must be an individual choice. The right to refuse any medical treatment is a basic human right. Why are so few liberals speaking out against what is happening in Austria?

  • Peter Martin 23rd Nov '21 - 11:53am

    @ Catherine Jane Crosland

    “Why are so few liberals speaking out against what is happening in Austria?”

    That’s because it’s an EU country. Next question?

  • Or maybe it’s because deep down we wonder if Austria’s decision is the correct one, but in truth nobody knows what is the best way to get people to recognise the importance of vaccination.

  • The vaccine protects yourself but it also protects others who might catch it from you if you are not vaccinated. Seems a no brainer to me. Seem to be three sensible options, Vaccinate, Vaccinate, Vaccinate!!

  • Peter Martin 23rd Nov '21 - 12:12pm

    @ Jeff,

    The best we can say about Vit D supplements is that they probably won’t do any harm and there may be some small benefit in promoting resistance to acute respiratory infections. Those who have a high confidence in the powers of Vit D will possibly obtain some extra benefit over those of us who are more sceptical. I’m often being told that Vit C tablets will help with colds and flu for example. I’m more inclined to take whisky and hot lemon myself! I’m sure if I really believe in that enough it should help.

    But, the effect is always likely to be small. As this article in the Lancet suggests:

    “Monthly bolus doses of 60 000 IU of vitamin D did not reduce the overall risk of acute respiratory tract infection, but could slightly reduce the duration of symptoms in the general population. These findings suggest that routine vitamin D supplementation of a population that is largely vitamin D replete is unlikely to have a clinically relevant effect on acute respiratory tract infection.”

  • Peter Martin 23rd Nov '21 - 12:32pm

    @ Barry Lofty, @ Catherine Jane Crosland,

    Very few people will argue that the Austrian decision is the correct one. Most will accept that we shouldn’t be compelled to have any medical intervention against our wishes and that this is a step too far. We’ll see martyrs to the cause, no doubt, and the overall effect of this policy will be highly counterproductive.

    On the other hand, we are entitled to say that if anyone wants to go to a restaurant, the cinema, use public transport, work in a communal area etc, then we do require proof of vaccination. The Singaporeans have gone one step further and suggested than anyone who needs hospital treatment for Covid but has opted, without good reason, to remain unvaccinated should have to pay the costs themselves.

    It’s always a good idea to listen to what people in the community, and outside usual political circles, are saying. They’d largely agree with the Singaporean approach but not the Austrian.

  • Barry Lofty 23rd Nov '21 - 2:40pm

    As someone who, aged 7,contracted Polio and luckily escaped relatively healthy compared with many contemporaries, you may understand why having vaccinations to save lives seems a no brainer to me. Even now, with me being in my dotage, Polio has still not been completely eradicated in the world, goodness knows when Covid will be brought under control if people who can have the vaccination continue to refuse them?

  • @ Peter Martin “The best we can say about Vit D supplements is that they probably won’t do any harm and there may be some small benefit in promoting resistance to acute respiratory infections”. You always write with great authority, Mr. Martin, but I don’t know what your medical qualifications are.

    Vitamin D tablets are one of the medications prescribed (and still prescribed) for me by the Professor in charge of the world class unit in Scotland where I had a transplant over ten years ago. Should I pass your comments on to him to ensure that he keeps up to speed ?

  • Peter Martin 23rd Nov '21 - 10:17pm

    @ David Raw,

    It’s not my opinion. I’m mainly paraphrasing and quoting from the Lancet journal I referenced. The placebo effect I mention is well established medical practice. My doctor friend openly admits that many patients do respond better by taking pills which really shouldn’t do them any good at all. But if they think they are having some benefit then they probably are.

    To quote another medical professional, Dr Claire Hastie from the Uni of Glasgow:

    “Vitamin D supplementation is a very low-risk intervention that is unlikely to do you any harm as long as you are following the guidelines and sticking to 10 micrograms per day, as taking too much vitamin D can be harmful to your health. But you should not be under any false reassurances that it will protect you from COVID-19.”

    Which is pretty much in line with my previous comment.

    Your professor will also be following NHS guidelines if his prescription of Vitamin D is within the 10 microgram per day limit.

  • Peter Martin 23rd Nov ’21 – 12:12pm:
    …the effect is always likely to be small.

    The many research papers linked from the above site suggest otherwise. As do comparative Covid hospitalisation and death rates in Nordic countries where foods are fortified…

    ‘Finland: the vitamin D pioneer: How fortification and supplementation has transformed the health of a nation’:

    When scientists analysed the vitamin D status of Finnish people after the second fortification programme in 2010, they found the average was 75.9 nmol/litre. This is important because many scientists now agree that a vitamin D status of 75 nmol/litre (30 ng/ml) and above is optimal.

    As this article in the Lancet suggests:

    60,000 IU in a single dose! That’s a load of bolus! Daily supplementation is intended to replace the vitamin D that we would normally synthesise in our skin from exposure to UV-B radiation when the sun is high in the sky during summer (or all year round in central Africa where we evolved with melanin-rich skin for optimal protection and vitamin D production). Taking a large dose far in excess of normal levels is likely to cause down-regulation which “inhibits immune-modulation for weeks or even months” as this peer-reviewed paper explains…

    ‘Vitamin D: Bolus Is Bogus — A Narrative Review’ [October 2021]:

    In this review we summarized and discussed growing evidence that large bolus dosing of vitamin D may have minimal benefit, or even be counterproductive, whereas small to moderate daily dosing in individuals at risk of deficiency is beneficial.

    The Australian study you quoted states that the population “is largely vitamin D replete” with even the placebo group having a mean serum 25(OH)D concentration of 77·5 nmol/L. This is a similar average level to the fortified Finns and is considered to be adequate. Not surprisingly, little benefit was seen from supplementation. By contrast, the mean level in Scotland is less than half that at 37.5 nmol/L with over 90% of Scottish (and 85% of UK) adults having less than the optimal 75nmol/L…

    ‘Vitamin D: data’:

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