This week, we quote from writers about two common themes – China’s population and compulsory instructions to citizens for COVID-19. Both articles (far longer than we quote) reflect the level of debate in Chinese media and implied criticism of officials, contrary to what many believe.
Census: China’s population may only be 1.26 billion in 2020 instead of 1.4 billion
Since 1990, the National Bureau of Statistics in China has not estimated the number of births based on fertility rates and sample surveys as one might expect. It has done so based on the number of primary school enrolments. However, educational institutions generally falsely report their number of students to obtain funds for education.
Thus, the number of births announced, and the total population, is distorted. To maintain continuity with published population data in the 2000 and 2010 censuses, the original data were significantly modified, which resulted in data distortion and misleading decisions.
This writer re-evaluated China’s fertility rate and births based on various social indicators such as medical care, education, marriage, and believes that the actual population in 2020 is likely to be only 1.26 billion. It is impossible to exceed 1.28 billion.
Demographic data is the basis for many decisions in society, economy, politics, education, science and technology, culture, national defence, and diplomacy. In the Western Zhou Dynasty (c.1500-790 BCE), there was an official who was responsible for collecting of population data. Every year, he solemnly dedicated the population data to the king. The king relied on him as the basis for governing the country.
Incorrect population data distorts decisions. Shang Yang (3rd century BCE philosopher) believed that, if you do not know accurate population data, “Although the land is good and the people are many, the country will become weaker and weaker.” Demographic fraud has existed since ancient times. Shang Yang stipulated that those who falsified population data should be “cut in half” and “punished with the same penalty as the enemy.”
From a certain perspective, the Yuan Dynasty (1271-1368 CE)) died out because of statistical corruption. The central government was unable to obtain accurate data of population and arable land. What should have become the source of national taxes, soldiers, and service became the private property of the powerful.
One of the reasons for the disintegration of the Soviet Union was that the low fertility rate led to negative growth in the labour force, which was unable to support extensive internal programmes and diplomacy. Professor Anatoly Vishnevsky of the Russian Academy of Sciences said that as early as the 1960s, the fertility rate was already below the replacement level, but the people involved covered up the problem with complicated “games”. If the relevant departments had not concealed the truth about the population, the government could have avoided disintegration.
Using different demographic data, judgements about the future economy and society will draw completely different conclusions. For example, some predict that China’s economy will be 2-3 times that of the United States in the future. But this is based on erroneous population data. In fact, even if China had never implemented family planning, it would not reach that number of people. The fertility rate will drop as rapidly as South Korea and Taiwan, and the future population structure and economic vitality will be lower than that of the United States.
Based on real population data, the author predicts that China’s economy will barely exceed the United States. Restoring the truth about China’s population can not only provide a reliable basis for population policy adjustments and other decisions, but also help strengthen international mutual trust, reduce misjudgements, and contribute to world peace and prosperity.
Behind mandatory testing – how to balance personal rights with public health?
Mandatory testing and health codes (virus-free certification) have met with some resistance in Hong Kong. What should the balance be between law, ethics, and effectiveness? Must personal interests make concessions for the effectiveness of public health?
A director of the Department of Infectious Diseases said that an invisible chain of transmission may appear in Tai Po (a town in the north of the SAR). He pointed out that the Hong Kong government must increase the amount of testing, and that mandatory testing in specific areas is “not impossible.” However, the word “mandatory” inevitably makes people fearful of human rights violations.
Public interest VS personal rights
On April 24, 2003, the Taipei City Government suddenly announced that the Municipal Peace Hospital must be shut down immediately due to a large-scale SARS virus infection in the hospital. Moreover, all hospital employees must immediately report to the hospital and be quarantined. Without any supporting measures, about 1,200 doctors, patients and their families were forcibly sealed in the hospital, resulting 150 people infected. 35 died of the illness. One hanged himself in the hospital.
The Director said:
We learned a lot from this incident. So later, the relevant laws have protections for human rights. It is obvious, from our COVID-19 epidemic prevention measures, that although the Taiwan government protects public health, it also protects human rights.
In response, the deputy director of the Centre for Bioethics of the Chinese University of Hong Kong and a professor of philosophy, has said that human rights have certain “limitations.” Although the government will not release names of confirmed cases, for example, he believes it will. He believes that it is not wrong to announce patients’ addresses with COVID-19, because it is a matter of public interest. The public has the right to know to avoid entering dangerous places.
Compulsory isolation is an example to explain public interest and personal autonomy. The relationship between isolation and autonomy must be tense because isolation limits personal freedom. This is a very serious matter. Therefore, from the legal point of view, personal freedom should not be restricted lightly, but when dealing with public health incidents, it depends on whether the restriction measures are justified.
Effectiveness vs. necessity
Discussions about the conflict between individual civil liberties and social public health are not new. Take mandatory testing as an example. Five conditions need to be met:
- Effectiveness – that is, whether mandatory testing will be effective.
- Proportionality – Is the benefit of testing people greater than the infringement of personal privacy?
- Necessity. Is compulsory testing is the best option now? Are there more effective measures?
- Least infringement – not difficult to understand.
- Public justification. When an individual is required to undergo compulsory testing, the government must clearly explain the reason, and maintain the security and uses of the samples.
If COVID-19 can be transmitted through the air, can compulsory screening be carried out for example? Many experts are quite suspicious. Because of its effectiveness, for example, the test cannot guarantee that the next day a person will not be infected. There will be false positives and false negatives. Therefore, to implement such measures, there must be great necessity: the benefits will obviously outweigh the disadvantages. The administration must be trustworthy, that is, “trustworthy”, so that people will hand over the most private life and health information to cooperate with policy implementation.
As an example, there are a total of 62 infectious diseases that must be officially reported in Hong Kong in 2020, including infectious diseases such as chickenpox, tuberculosis, influenza, food poisoning, and viral hepatitis. Doctors should report suspected and confirmed cases to the Department of Health so that the Department of Health can monitor and control infectious diseases. The local infectious disease surveillance system unites general outpatient clinics and private doctors’ clinics to monitor and evaluate other infectious diseases and diseases that have an important impact on public health.
However, in public health, balancing monitoring with ethics and laws must always be treated with caution. The government must recognize the fact that although the relationship between citizens and the government is not good, citizens are still very cooperative in public measures. After the effectiveness of the epidemic prevention, there has never been deliberate non-cooperation due to disapproval. “Therefore, if the whole matter is explained clearly, the public will be more aware of the purpose of the various measures. At the same time, the government must also hear many different opinions to write the law more appropriately and get more support,” a doctor said.
Earlier, the Hong Kong government launched a national testing programme. 1.7 million people in Hong Kong were tested, and 32 positives were found. The number of voluntary tests was lower than expected because the authorities failed to inform the public clearly of the purpose of the move. The central government must know the situation across the country, so it is natural to understand the actual situation of the Hong Kong epidemic. In other words, in the face of a crisis, despite the tension between citizens and the government, the more they learn about the government’s anti-epidemic strategy and the considerations behind them, the more they will understand.
Academics point out that in public health, there is no such thing as ‘just reading a book’. Therefore, we must learn lessons and sum up experience from different events. As everyone knows, despite the seriousness of the epidemic, the United States still has no “mask order” because the government has no legal authority to force all people to wear masks. However, after Biden announced that he was elected President of the United States, he listed on his website the focus of his work after taking office. The section “Responding to the epidemic” stated that he planned to implement a “mask order” within the scope of the federal government building. Thus, even in a society that emphasizes human rights, in the face of a serious public health crisis, one must make choices in response to the situation. There may never be an exact standard for the balance between human rights and public rights, but discussions on related issues should start from multiple parties and should also be included in the decision-making of government departments.
(Of interest is that the Portuguese high court has recently ruled that there is no case at all for any isolation orders based upon testing and subsequent isolation. Testing is the basis for pretty much all supposed COVID-19 ‘cases’.)