Coronavirus and the precautionary principle

From a paper on the novel coronavirus co-authored by Nassim Nicholas Taleb:

It will cost something to reduce mobility in the short term, but to fail do so will eventually cost everything—if not from this event, then one in the future. Outbreaks are inevitable, but an appropriately precautionary response can mitigate systemic risk to the globe at large. But policy- and decision-makers must act swiftly and avoid the fallacy that to have an appropriate respect for uncertainty in the face of possible irreversible catastrophe amounts to “paranoia,” or the converse a belief that nothing can be done.

From a study published Friday in The Lancet and co-authored by Professor Gabriel Leung, chair of public health medicine at the Hong Kong University:

“Large cities overseas with close transport links to China could also become outbreak epicentres, unless substantial public health interventions at both the population and personal levels are implemented immediately,” the study said.

Press conference given by Leung on Jan 27:

Summary:

The number of people infected by the Wuhan coronavirus could potentially double every six days in the absence of a major intervention by public health authorities, according to Professor Gabriel Leung, chair of public health medicine at University of Hong Kong (HKU).

Leung, who is also the founding director of the World Health Organization Collaborating Center for Infection Disease Epidemiology and Control in Hong Kong, gave his forecast on the likely extent of the outbreak during a press conference held at HKU on Monday afternoon.

He said he had submitted his report to Beijing and Hong Kong authorities as well as to the World Health Organization (WHO).

Leung said according to his team’s model, the number of cases of Wuhan coronavirus including patients that are incubating (not showing symptoms) could approach 44,000 cases as of January 25. […]

Leung said people need to be prepared for the outbreak to become a global epidemic, though it is “not a certainty by any stretch of the imagination…we must prepare better for it.”

Contagion

More than 22 million are now cordoned off in central China. Seen around the web…

Caixin:

As of Thursday night, a total of seven cities in Hubei have imposed transport bans, including Wuhan, Ezhou, Huanggang, Xiantao, Zhijiang, Chibi and Qianjiang.

NPR:

Wuhan’s public health authorities say they are in a “state of war” as they quarantine the Chinese city in an attempt to halt the spread of a never-before-seen strain of coronavirus.

“Strictly implement emergency response requirements, enter into a state of war and implement wartime measures to resolutely curb the spread of this epidemic,” urged a committee of Wuhan’s top officials. “Homes must be segregated, neighbors must be watched.” […]

The sudden decision to lock down the city of 11 million residents, who were given less than eight hours’ notice of the suspension of public transportation, suggests the severity of the outbreak has alarmed China’s leaders. Wuhan’s lockdown comes only two days before the official start of Lunar New Year, a major, weeklong holiday during which hundreds of millions normally travel within and outside China. […]

Isolated cases of the virus, known as 2019-nCoV, also have been found in Japan, Thailand, South Korea, the U.S., Macao and Hong Kong. On Thursday, Singapore announced its first confirmed case — a 66-year-old Chinese national from Wuhan, according to the Ministry of Health.

NY Post:

The first US patient to contract the deadly coronavirus is being treated by a robot doctor in a tiny secured room to reduce the risk of the disease spreading, according to a report.

Decked out with a stethoscope, camera and microphone, the cutting-edge automaton has been tending to the 30-something man in a 20-by-20-foot “isopod” at Providence Regional Medical Center in Everett, Wash., a hospital chief told The Guardian.

The unnamed patient — who recently returned from a trip to central China — was picked up at his home, taken to the hospital by ambulance and placed in the closed isolation unit Monday, according to Dr. George Diaz, chief of infectious diseases.

Twitter has some wild stuff:

Wuhan people being smuggled outta Dodge:

And this… really makes you think. “Fortuitously,” said the Washington Post:

This is unfolding like the plot of The Stand.

I don’t why but this concerning story from last August feels relevant:

Bio-warfare experts question why Canada was sending lethal viruses to China

In a table-top pandemic exercise at Johns Hopkins University last year, a pathogen based on the emerging Nipah virus was released by fictional extremists, killing 150 million people.

A less apocalyptic scenario mapped out by a blue-ribbon U.S. panel envisioned Nipah being dispersed by terrorists and claiming over 6,000 American lives.

Scientists from Canada’s National Microbiology Laboratory (NML) have also said the highly lethal bug is a potential bio-weapon.

But this March that same lab shipped samples of the henipavirus family and of Ebola to China, which has long been suspected of running a secretive biological warfare (BW) program.

China strongly denies it makes germ weapons, and Canadian officials say the shipment was part of its efforts to support public-health research worldwide. Sharing of such samples internationally is relatively standard practice.

But some experts are raising questions about the March transfer, which appears to be at the centre of a shadowy RCMP investigation and dismissal of a top scientist at the Winnipeg-based NML.

“I would say this Canadian ‘contribution’ might likely be counterproductive,” said Dany Shoham, a biological and chemical warfare expert at Israel’s Bar-Ilan University. “I think the Chinese activities … are highly suspicious, in terms of exploring (at least) those viruses as BW agents.“

Posted without further comment.