Life imitates art

Did China take a page out of a bestselling American author’s book?

The Eyes of Darkness, a 1981 thriller by bestselling suspense author Dean Koontz, tells of a Chinese military lab that creates a virus as part of its biological weapons programme. The lab is located in Wuhan, which lends the virus its name, Wuhan-400. A chilling literary coincidence or a case of writer as unwitting prophet?

In The Eyes of Darkness, a grieving mother, Christina Evans, sets out to discover whether her son Danny died on a camping trip or if – as suspicious messages suggest – he is still alive. She eventually tracks him down to a military facility where he is being held after being accidentally contaminated with man-made microorganisms created at the research centre in Wuhan.

If that made the hair on the back of your neck stand up, read this passage from the book: “It was around that time that a Chinese scientist named Li Chen moved to the United States while carrying a floppy disk of data from China’s most important and dangerous new biological weapon of the past decade. They call it Wuhan-400 because it was developed in their RDNA laboratory just outside the city of Wuhan.”

In another strange coincidence, the Wuhan Institute of Virology, which houses China’s only level four biosafety laboratory, the highest-level classification of labs that study the deadliest viruses, is just 32km from the epicentre of the current coronavirus outbreak
. The opening of the maximum-security lab was covered in a 2017 story in the journal Nature, which warned of safety risks in a culture where hierarchy trumps an open culture.

There’s a twist, though:

However, Wuhan wasn’t even originally mentioned in The Eyes of Darkness. The first edition of the book, written under Koontz’s pseudonym Leigh Nichols, concerns a virus called Gorki-400 that was created by the Russians and emerged from “the city of Gorki”.

The change to Wuhan came when the book was released in hardback under Koontz’s own name in 1989. The year of the book’s re-release is significant – 1989 marked the end of the Cold War. And with the collapse of the Soviet Union, the country was no longer communist.

What are they spraying?

Episode II: Attack of the Bleach? (Source)

Robots are also being enlisted in the Corona Wars:

SNAFU! comments:

This thing must still be raging in China. It’s obvious too that N. Korea must be getting SLAMMED by this thing if S. Korea and Japan are affected. Wonder if this could lead to the death of the little fat bastard and calamity or an opportunity.

Also its apparent that WHO is not declaring a pandemic for one reason alone. Economics. A pandemic declaration could literally destroy globalization (although many here seem to doubt that).

Last thing.

You know what everyone is missing about the Spanish flu? The first wave wasn’t anything. It was considered a seasonal flu and was basically ignored by any and everyone. When it came around the next year (after mutating) is when we saw massive deaths.

My view of this thing has changed. I think its gonna sputter out by the end of March, early April.

Later this year and early next is when we’re gonna get body slammed by this thing. I think most will forget about this thing (except for govts and the scientist that work for them) and you’ll see everyone attempt to go back to normal just in time for this thing to go sideways just in time for the Christmas season.

Stock up on masks this summer. I believe you’ll be ok for the first wave of this thing.

Corona’s extremely low death toll

This is what I can’t wrap my head around. If coronavirus is a true global public health emergency… then why have only ~3,500 people (reportedly) died from it, the vast majority of them in China? As pandemics go, this is pretty lame. Furthermore, the death toll seems to be increasing in a linear rather than exponential fashion:

Not to be callous, but that is a really *tiny* number of people on a global scale. For comparison, the swine flu epidemic in the US killed some 11,690 people, including 1,180 children, in 2009, and as I recall, the US mostly shrugged that off.

On a Chinese scale, ~3,000 deaths over two months is basically a rounding error. That’s fewer than the number of people that died in the flooding of May through August 2010, which barely elicited comment at the time (I think it was mentioned once in my office in Shanghai that summer and I never heard anyone speak of it again).

Of course, the death toll could get way higher as this virus spreads to every corner of the globe… but the point is, it hasn’t yet. We’re still chugging along in the low 4-digit range, and it seems we’re going to be “stuck” there for a while, unless there is a sudden surge in the number of deaths – perhaps in a country or region where the health care system has broken down and the hospitals become super-incubators of the disease. But so far (with the possible exception of Iran), that doesn’t seem to have happened yet.

if this virus is truly dangerous – dangerous enough to warrant locking down half the population of the world’s largest nation – we should be seeing tens or hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions of deaths worldwide by now, should we not? What gives?

Final thought: the above assumes that China is accurately reporting the death toll. If the actual body count is far greater than 3,000 – could that be hidden? Could China sweep 100,000 deaths under the rug? As returned expat Nate Mesics suggested to me, in a country with 14,000 times that number, it’s possible. How about a million? In China, anything is possible.

760 million people on lockdown

One-tenth of the human race is under some form of quarantine… but “it’s just the flu, bro”…

From the NY Times:

To stop the spread of the coronavirus much of China has effectively shut down. What’s not been fully appreciated is how extensive the closures are. By our calculations 760 million are living under some kind of residential lockdown.

A friend of mine in a large city not in Hubei province wrote (Feb 7):

A lot of companies are going to shut down soon. No business is allowed to open. Shopping malls are closed. There is nobody in the street. It’s like a zombie movie.

This person, who runs a small business, a few days later told me his office lease was about to expire and he had fired all his staff.

I cannot even go to my office. The government is asking all companies to apply for a certificate to open a business. Before you get the certificate you cannot go back to the office. But you are still paying for the rent and your staff. Amazing. In order to get the certificate, you need enough supplies: masks, sanitizer… make sure it’s enough for all your staff to use for at least a month. Nobody is going to want to do business after this. I cannot even get enough supplies for myself, now I have to provide for my staff.

Today I received the following messages:

Supermarkets and pharmacies are open. All restaurants are shut down. Malls are open but nobody goes shopping. They only go to the supermarkets in the mall. Cinemas are closed. Some companies are back to business. Most are still not open. Employees work at home. There were some incidents where employees got diagnosed with the virus after back to office. Then the whole company/floor has to lock down. All people have to be isolated.

A Reddit user comments:

It might not fit the true definition of a a quarantine, but the restrictions are still locking everything down. You can’t enter certain cities, currently, schools are going all online or cancelling altogether, 95% of all businesses are closed or operating on a skeleton crew with limited hours, and restaurants are banned from dine-in in most cities. Couple that with being required to wear a mask outdoors and constant temperature checks, plus most housing districts not allowing visitors inside, it’s as close as you can get without locking the front doors.

John Robb, a former advisor the Chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff who is not given to hysteria, comments thusly:

Top tier US Government national security insiders all saying the same thing:

China’s extreme mismanagement of the virus (Chernobyl-like reflexive information control, refusing intl aid, etc.) makes it very likely it will become a pandemic. US needs to prepare.

Simple way to think about this:

Very easy to get sick with this virus (possibly very high % of people getting sick).

80% get a little sick (as little as a slight fever).
20% get very sick.
2-3% die (mostly elderly + smokers) vs. 0.1% w/flu.

And this is hardly reassuring:

As the number of coronavirus cases jumps dramatically in China, a top infectious-disease scientist warns that things could get far worse: Two-thirds of the world’s population could catch it.

So says Ira Longini, an adviser to the World Health Organization who tracked studies of the virus’s transmissibility in China. His estimate implies that there could eventually be billions more infections than the current official tally of about 60,000.

“Shut your damn mouths,” she explained

Somehow this is one of the less reassuring public statements I’ve read. But the virus-as-punishment explanation is very interesting indeed:

When virologists and medical experts around the globe discussed the suspicious nature of the novel coronavirus and pointed to Wuhan’s P4 lab as a likely source, netizens inside China were watching. A Chinese scholar recently challenged Wuhan’s P4 lab to explain how the proteins of the novel coronavirus seem to have been precisely engineered to enable the virus to bind onto human cells. He also disclosed unethical and unprofessional practices he previously observed in China’s bioresearch labs.

According to Wuhan-based Yangtze Daily, Shi Zhengli, Deputy Director of Wuhan’s P4 Lab, publicized a statement on Feb. 2 saying: “I pledge with my life that the 2019 novel coronavirus has nothing to do with our lab. This virus is a punishment imposed on mankind from nature, to condemn mankind’s uncivilized way of living. Those of you who believe rumors or so-called scientific analysis by unqualified researchers, I advise you to shut your damn mouths!”

One WeChat user chimed in:

“For instance, some researchers in these labs kept the laboratory dogs as pets; some disposed of animal carcasses casually because following the biosafety rules and cremating them costs a lot of money. Some cut up the laboratory pigs and took the meat home to eat. I know this happened at Beijing 301 Hospital’s spine surgery lab. Worst of all, some laboratory animals were sold to wet markets as wild-caught animals for profit,” he wrote.

In other news, the death rate for coronavirus is almost certainly way higher than you’ve been led to believe:

On 7 Feb 2020, 22:17 Singapore time, the latest figures are:

Confirmed: 31586 Deaths: 639 Recovered: 1777

A large number of commentators, including mainstream media, report this as a 2% CFR, calculated as 639/31586 = 2%. While this is worse than the seasonal flu, it is much less than SARS (10%) and MERS (30%), so no need to worry, they say. We, the smart informed people who watch CNN and the like, can feel smug, having made our part in avoiding a panic by relaying this reassuring information to our friends.

HAVE THESE PEOPLE NEVER HEARD OF COHORT ANALYSIS?

Of the 31586 confirmed cases, about 85% have been diagnosed in the last 10 days. Many are in worsening condition and we do not know if they will die or recover. Therefore, to estimate the CFR, we can do one of two things:

– We can consider only the cases for which an outcome is known: dead or recovered. This would lead us to estimate the CFR as 639/(639+1777) = 26%.

– We can assume that after a certain time period, e.g. 1 week, the patient has either died or recovered. A week ago, there were 9803 confirmed cases. This would lead us to estimate the CFR as 639/9803 = 6%. Obviously, we do not know the right lag, but something between 1 and 2 weeks seems plausible given what we know about the disease. And it is certainly not zero.

Somehow this very simple logic seems to have escaped most of the people that are commenting and reporting on the issue.

Fire up the crematoriums

Can this possibly be true? Take it with a healthy dollop of salt…

Wuhan crematoriums are reportedly working around the clock to cope with the extra workload during the coronavirus outbreak.

It comes as the death toll from the virus climbed to 490 in China on Wednesday.

The bodies of victims who have died from the virus must be cremated rather than buried, China’s National Health Commission ruled on February 1.

A crematorium worker in the epicenter of the coronavirus outbreak has revealed the long working hours he and his colleagues are putting in to transfer bodies from hospitals and private homes.

According to Mr Yun, at least 100 body bags are required every day. The bodies are collected from Wuhan’s three main hospitals plus other small hospitals, as well as private residences.

‘Since Jan. 28, 90 percent of our employees are working 24/7 … we couldn’t go back home,’ Mr Yun told The Epoch Times.

‘We really need more manpower.’

He explained that the funeral homes in Wuhan are struggling to cope with the influx of bodies. ‘Almost all staff at each funeral home in Wuhan are fully equipped, and all Wuhan cremation chambers are working 24 hours,’ he said.

This obviously would mean that the official death toll (490) is a massive undercount. Is it true? I don’t know.

And then there’s this. Again, take it with an ample quantity of sodium chloride:

As many experts question the veracity of China’s statistics for the Wuhan coronavirus outbreak, Tencent over the weekend seems to have inadvertently released what is potentially the actual number of infections and deaths, which were astronomically higher than official figures.

On late Saturday evening (Feb. 1), Tencent, on its webpage titled “Epidemic Situation Tracker,” showed confirmed cases of novel coronavirus (2019nCoV) in China as standing at 154,023, 10 times the official figure at the time. It listed the number of suspected cases as 79,808, four times the official figure.

The number of cured cases was only 269, well below the official number that day of 300. Most ominously, the death toll listed was 24,589, vastly higher than the 300 officially listed that day.

Moments later, Tencent updated the numbers to reflect the government’s “official” numbers that day. Netizens noticed that Tencent has on at least three occasions posted extremely high numbers, only to quickly lower them to government-approved statistics.

Fortunately for Americans, the virus seems to be well-contained in the US, so far.

Meanwhile…

Economic damage

Mark Kern’s thinking about the global economic shocks being set in motion by the coronavirus outbreak is likely to prove prophetic, even if the virus itself doesn’t morph into a devastating pandemic:

CNN 3 days ago: It’s just the flu bro.

CNN today: It’s a full blown global emergency.

I think the risk in US is still low. If the graph starts to climb next week (which would be after the 14 day incubation period following Chinese New Year Travel), then we’ll see.

People think in linear terms. We aren’t wired for exponential curves…they are non intuitive in everyday thinking.

The grains of rice on a chessboard example is mind blowing to most.

Not many considered the economic problem as well. I started talking about it many days ago..the shutdown of cities and factories in China affecting global supply for raw materials, processed materials and electronic component supply.

You’re only starting to hear the press now.

There is also the terrible problem of all those shut down cities with people who can’t go to work, open their shops. And food. Things can get very ugly fast when the supply chains for food get disrupted to these large cities.

We really need to all work together on this one, and we should have acted much faster.

Instead the WHO sat on their hands, and no China rep was ever on hand during press conferences. Travel needed to be shut down during Lunar New Year, when millions flew, not 10 days later.

China is huge and wealthy, but that just means the logistical problems are beyond the scope of any single nation, even China. They need to be more open and we need to figure out ways to help everyone trapped in these quarantined cities as a single world problem.

He also points to this article in the Straits Times:

Thanks to the coronavirus outbreak, working from home is no longer a privilege, it’s a necessity.

While factories, shops, hotels and restaurants are warning about plunging foot traffic that is transforming city centres into ghost towns, behind the closed doors of apartments and suburban homes, thousands of businesses are trying to figure out how to stay operational in a virtual world.

“It’s a good opportunity for us to test working from home at scale,” said Alvin Foo, managing director of Reprise Digital, a Shanghai ad agency with 400 people that’s part of Interpublic Group.

Telecommuting? What a novel idea! Why not make it worldwide and permanent? But wait:

You can’t manufacture components at scale from home.

The coronavirus will be very damaging to the world economy.

ASUS is already having supply chain issues caused by “the prevailing situation in Asia”:

More:

The economic damage the the US economy is currently more of a risk than infection and is already underway thanks to supply chain dangers of coronavirus.

“Likely to become a pandemic”

I believe that many media outlets have been significantly downplaying the seriousness of the Wuhan virus situation. The New York Times is a notable exception. Today we learn that many scientists view the globally spreading virus, which has infected perhaps 100,000 people and has an estimated mortality rate of 2%, as a probable pandemic and possible catastrophe:

The Wuhan coronavirus spreading from China is now likely to become a pandemic that circles the globe, according to many of the world’s leading infectious disease experts.

The prospect is daunting. A pandemic — an ongoing epidemic on two or more continents — may well have global consequences, despite the extraordinary travel restrictions and quarantines now imposed by China and other countries, including the United States.

Scientists do not yet know how lethal the new coronavirus is, however, so there is uncertainty about how much damage a pandemic might cause. But there is growing consensus that the pathogen is readily transmitted between humans.

The Wuhan coronavirus is spreading more like influenza, which is highly transmissible, than like its slow-moving viral cousins, SARS and MERS, scientists have found.

“It’s very, very transmissible, and it almost certainly is going to be a pandemic,” said Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease.

“But will it be catastrophic? I don’t know.”

Well, that’s reassuring. Not to be alarmist, but an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, and it may be time for individuals in America – particularly those in major, globally connected population centers – to start thinking about sensible measures to reduce their exposure during a potential outbreak. Good question to ask yourself: what would you do if your town/city became Wuhan?

Meanwhile:

Good question from LZ (website here):

Wear your mask, comrade

Gaungdong province enforces compulsory mask order:

The death toll has reached 304 in China.

The US has seen its first case of the virus spreading person to person, in Chicago. They are a couple; the wife had been to Wuhan in December.

Panicked buying of foodstuffs:

What is he spraying?:

Disinfectant drones:

Preventive measures:

People lining up nearly one kilometer to buy masks in Changhua, Taiwain:

Meanwhile, in eastern China:

Interesting on why the entrepreneurial hub Wenzhou has the most coronavirus cases outside of Wuhan. Wenzhounese consider Wuhan a 2nd home, about 3,600/day have left since the quarantine. Wenzhou also 5.5x denser than China’s average #WenzhouWuhan: https://t.co/XcCMZCmlkt?amp=1

Ruh-roh:

Virus-stricken province bans marriage

Probably not a bad idea under the circumstances:

Hubei Province, home to Wuhan city where the outbreak began, is suspending all marriage license registrations until further notice.

The suspension will begin on February 3 to prevent the spread of the outbreak, “protect public health, and safeguard public interests,” said the province in a statement on its website.

It’s just the latest of a series of drastic measures in the province — in one other city near Wuhan [Ed: Huanggang], every household is only allowed one representative to leave the house and buy groceries every other day.

Nearly 60 million people, mostly in Hubei, are under partial or full lockdown — this means limited movement in or out of cities and towns, closed roads, and suspended public transit.

Speaking of Huanggang:

The virus outbreak in Huanggang city is especially severe, the governor of Hubei province said on Wednesday, adding the city cannot be allowed to become the second Wuhan – the provincial capital and epicentre of the epidemic.

Wang Xiaodong said during a press briefing that companies in the province should not resume work before the end of Feb 13.

Huanggang, a city of 7.5 million people, is one of more than a dozen cities that have been under virtual lockdown as China seeks to curb the spread of the virus that has killed 132. The city has reported five deaths and 324 cases as of end-Tuesday, the second-most in both accounts among the cities in the province behind Wuhan.