Mostly uniformed notes on Coronavirus, Wuhan, China, and the online responseI'm not a sinologist, sinophile, nor antisionist. I'm not an expert on China, or epidemics, or eastern-region politics. But I watch and observe, and occasionally comment. This story is an interesting one, but my observations are largely speculation, exceptions generally being cited or referenced.
There are two elements of this story I'm finding fascinating, both involving viral propogation. One is biological, the other epistemic.
It's been about nine days since I posted my exponential growth 2019 nCoV observation
, followed (in comments) by predictions that containment efforts begun arond 22 Jan would start showing clear evidence in new case data by early February, and that mortality should start falling by the 15th - 22nd, another 2-3 weeks out.
The first is bearing out, the second may be beating my initial projection. Both of these trends are encouraging.I'll emphasise: I'm not a medical professional or epidemiologist. I read and study a lot, I've watched earlier outbreaks, and I've a fairly strong stats and data background which informs views of data. But really: I'm just some guy in a cat mask making guesses on the Internet.
* Signs are encouraging.
* The risk remains very real. We'll likely see somewhere in the neighbourhood of 100,000 cases (plus or minus a factor of 2) and 1,000 or so deaths (same). I think it's unlikley
we'll see grossly more, say 10x, that.
* Quarantine, containment, education, public awareness, travel and commerce restrictions, and (within pandemic regions) frequent decontamination, are very much the order of the day.
* Effective treatments are few and will probably not
emerge before the epidemic peaks or subsides. Mostly health professionals are limited to treating symptoms and secondary infections, with mixed effectiveness.
* There may be some nontraditional treatments or precautions which prove effective. No, I'm not talking crystals or Goop, but potential practices to reduce particle spread or make the virus less comfortable within hosts. Salt-impregnated masks have been mentioned favourably. I could think of other possible approaches, I won't bother mentioning them simply as rumour and misinformation spreading is already more than problematic.
* Given limited treatment, beds, an diagnostic kits, I'd argue that conclusively testing every presenting case is not a useful use of resources
. Confirming infections among medical personnel
is, but otherwise, triaging serious cases in
to care, and directing less-serious cases to self-quarantine
seems reasonable. We're talking city-wide, province-wide, and country-wide control where populations number to 10 million, 100 million, and 1 billion, respectively. This is a very large-scale problem.
The goal is containment
, not acute treatment of every individual case.
* Limitations on public knowledge of disease, germ theory, medical capabilities and
limitations, and public health methods, is a challenge here. China's large population includes a very large undereducated
population. (Though its educated
population dwarfs that of any other country on Earth, possibly excepting India.)
to continue effective management could change all of this. The goal is to work effectively.
Media and Politics
The media and online response is ... interesting.
I've seen several long YouTube monologues, the first I believe by the individual known as "Brother Mask", another by a civil rights attorney, giving first-hand reports from within Wuhan itself. Many of the reports of conditions seem accurate. Some of the criticisms arising from them ... possibly less so. There have also been numerous posts in various places -- Mastodon and Diaspora, though of course many on Twitter, Reddit and elsewhere.
It's clear that many are seeing this as a propaganda opportunity to be used against
the Chinese government. And there are certainly numerous criticisms which are valid.
Given the flood of online propaganda aimed at Western states in recent years, notably by Russia, but also China, generally following a "torrent of distraction" rather than "hose of reality distortion" favoured by Moscow. Seeing this now turned at China is ... interesting and ironic.
I don't consider myself a supporter of China, though I am impressed by the progress it's made most especially in recent decades. China is simply huge, and operates at scales the rest of the world fails to comprehend -- Wuhan is the city of 11 million you'd never heard of until two weeks ago. The country has faced, and does
face immense challenges, and whilst not executing perfectly, has
succeeded in many ways that deserve recognition. As do its failures. I'm often critical of elements of China's behaviours, both domestically and abroad (Uyghers, Tibet, and elsewhere). China is much like the proverbial Chinese symbol for crisis: opportunity and threat.
The main reason ideologically-driven discussions, debates, or (far more often) screaming matches are so boring is that they're simply so uninformative. The positions are well-established, the participants rarely principled or in good faith, and quite often themselves blinded to realities they'd prefer not to confront.
clear that China grossly mishandled the outbreak of 2019-nCoV, much as it did SARS in 2003, though not managing to cover up the epidemic as long in this instance. The death, or is it martyrdom, of Li Wenliang, is portentious. Unconfirmed reports of 800 million Weibo posts within 2.5 hours of its annoucement.
It seems at least possible
that changes to central control over information flows may
occur, though the legacy of Tienanmen Square
still looms large, and information regarding it remains tightly controlled. Chinese partisans have been engaged in petty battles over map definitions within the 2019-2020 Wuhan Coronavirus Outbreak
Wikipedia page, as evidenced by the Talk page
. Yes, Wikipedia has its conflicts and attempts at manipulation, but they occur in public and are often countered.
China's own meddling with both independent Taiwan and Hong Kong appear to be backfiring badly in terms of trust in the CCP and central government. That seems somewhat just desserts, though not always epistemically valid information.
At the same time, there's what seems strongly to be hay-making by opponents of the government, quite possibly even factions within the CCP battling against each other (my speculation), and quite likely entities or factions within Taiwan and Hong Kong, as well as the usual rabble-rousers, xenophobes, ecouragers of chaos (viz: Stephen Bannon), and general whackadoodles worldwide.
The interesting situation is that China seems to be approaching a point at which neither
a closed-down media system, nor a wide open one, is risk-free. The first, had it persisted only a few weeks longer, could have had us talking a bound an epidemic ranging into the millions of cases and tens or hundreds of thousands of deaths, as well as global economic disruptions lasting months (and a likely risk-based reduced exposure to China). The second, while guarding against the "tell the emperor what pleases him" failures of rigid control, also enables the enemies of the emperor to speak freely. It seems all but certain that China will have to move out of its comfort zone here.
Or ... and if this path is chosen, all but certainly with the assistance of all the usual Silicon Valley suspects we've come to know and love ... institute an even more
pervasive, flexible, and effective set of internal and external informational firewalls which permit the flow of critically important information whilst somehow managing to disrupt attempts at political opposition.
I don't find the second possibility overly likely from a technical standpoint, but Orwell and Huxley seem to have been winning the War for the Internet so far, and it seems unwise to not give them their nod.
Norbert Wiener, the father of Cybernetics, had a strong experience with information controls during World War II, as he worked on numerous research projects for the US government and military. After the war, his assessment was that the security restrictions on communications hurt the Allied forces more than they helped. For the most part, the enemy was already aware of the research projects, so the spread of information to the enemy was not meaningfully curtailed. But the Allies, working with limited technical and intellectual personnel resources, were hurt more
by the duplicate, slowed, and inefficient progress made on the projects due to the communications restrictions.
Whether Wiener's view was accurate or merely his own personal bias, I'm not sure. But China is likely to be debating the same question, if not now, then soon.
The Wuhan 2019nCoV Coronavirus Epidemic is growing by a factor of ten a week A semi-log plot at Wikipedia shows the exponential growth of this epidemic over the past two weeks. On such a plot, a straight line corresponds to an exponential growth in linear scale. This trend need not continue, but if it does, the implications are ... severe. And efforts at containment will be measured against any reduction from this trend. Keep in mind also that this tracks confirmed cases, which is a subset of total actual infections. As of two days ago, January 26, 2020, total cases stood at about 2,000, and deaths at 100. If trends continue we'll see, in very rough numbers: In 1 week: 20,000 cases, 1,000 deaths. In 2 weeks: 200,000 cases, 10,000 deaths. In 3 weeks: 2,000,000 cases, 100,000 deaths. In 4 weeks: 20,000,000 cases, 1,000,000 deaths. Again, this is not certain to happen, but is projection based on current trend. An epidemic is comprised of an infectious agent, a host population, s...joindiaspora.com