Laos has had 22 cases of C19, 3 currently active, 0 deaths. Cambodia, Vietnam, Thailand, Nepal, Myanmar, are not quite so low, but very low. These are not South Korea or Taiwan, where we can point to cultural support for masks and distancing and good medical care and awareness. It is fair to note that there is little testing and there might be deaths out in the boonies that are just “Eh. Death. Who knows why?” that leave actual CoVid unreported, but these national numbers are ridiculously low. If there were a CoVid holocaust in these areas word would be leaking out. Even though no one, left or right, pays much attention to what is happening in these places, if there were some serious bump in the data, someone would be twisting it around to make some political hay out of it on NPR, The Nation, or some fringe right-wing sites. It is, of course, very cool to be walking around knowing stuff about some country that everyone has heard of but no one has been paying attention to, so some news would get out.
If you go to Worldometers.info and look at the lower reaches of the list you see patterns. You see islands, whether in Oceania, Indian Ocean, or the Caribbean, or essential islands like Gibraltar, Vatican City, Liechtenstein. Yes, they can keep others out, and are in fact used to keeping others out. There are also a lot of African countries, with similar poor medical care, low social cohesion for masks and distancing, but likely also poor reporting. Yet I will note again, not that poor reporting. When there are lots of deaths, word leaks out. The outside world may not believe those reports of death because they are uncomfortable, as the Gulag deaths, 6M Jews, or 25M Great Leap Forward deaths in China leaked out in the 20th C were ignored, but the reports were there.
These places border China, including well-populated areas of China. I have no doubt that China is lying hugely about its current cases, but do we really think that only 1% of the deaths are being reported out? If the true tale of deaths were 2-300 times higher, wouldn’t there at least be crazy rumors of this, and fringe sites talking about it? These places are influenced by China and fear it, but they also can score points by snitching on it to Western media sources. They chafe under the bonds and break free whenever they can.
I suggest something else is going on. These SE Asian countries in such close contact with China, often hundreds of miles of border, have some sort of immunity to C19. If it can’t be masks, distancing, handwashing, or isolation, what else is there? While this could be a generalised immunity, I think it is more likely that they have a general coronavirus immunity, not because they were exposed to a similar disease ten years ago, but because they have been exposed to a hundred similar diseases over their lifetimes.
If that is true, then the possibility that the Chinese information reflects more truth than we thought becomes possible. Regions share immunities, but within that context cities and rural areas have different disease pools. Wuhan has been a city for thousands of years. A disease that crosses over between pangolins and bats (or escapes from a lab after being developed from such crossovers) might be just subtly different enough that it kills city dwellers, but people in the provinces are immune. Because they have been exposed to coronaviruses based on bats and pangolins before.
We have tended to look at the behavior and results of countries we think are like us, such as developed nations with lots of international contact, and that is quite reasonable. But it pays to look through the other end of the telescope and see what nations are having no problems at all, and ask ourselves why. It is quite possible that the rural regions of China are not much affected and even large areas not so dangerous, even as there are historical cities that are so easily devastated that there is not much even draconian measures can accomplish.
I have an apples-to-apples take on the American responses and projections which I may get to this week. (I am working the murderers unit this week where lots of people are concerned with the tiniest shades of disrespect to their rights, making even simple tasks difficult. I haven’t got much left when I get home.) But for the moment, consider what is happening in Laos and similar places.