Italy on full lockdown

It has been less than seven weeks since Wuhan and nearby cities began to impose travel bans – and only three weeks since Hubei province itself (population: ~58 million) was placed on full lockdown by the authorities.

Now the Western, democratic world is witnessing its first lockdown on a similar scale, with Italy (population: 60 million) extending quarantine measures across the whole country.

At this rate, how long before Governor Cuomo blocks the roads and trains out of New York City?

Bonus: notes from a very interesting podcast chat with Scott Adams and Naval Ravikant.

The effectiveness of a mass quarantine

Hypothesis: The effectiveness of a mass quarantine is greatly reduced when the target population is given several hours’ advance notice of it.

Item (Wuhan):

A sudden overnight quarantine, with a 7-hour grace period for people to leave, has predictably led to this. Can an epidemic both be severe enough to justify a lockdown of 10m people and sufficiently under-control to allow this?

Item (Northern Italy):

There was chaos and confusion in the hours before Conte signed the decree, as word leaked to the news media about the planned quarantine. Students at the University of Padua in northern Italy who had been out at bars on a Saturday night saw the rumors on their cellphones and rushed back to their apartments to grab their belongings and head to the train station.

Hundreds of passengers, some wearing face masks and rubber gloves, crammed onto the last local train leaving Padua at 11:30 p.m. Anxious students wrapped scarves around their heads, shared sanitizing gel, and sat on their suitcases in the aisles. No conductor came by to check tickets.

Italy quarantines a quarter of its population

Escape from Milan (source)

Wuhan-style mass quarantines come to the West:

Italy announced a sweeping quarantine early Sunday, restricting the movements of about a quarter of its population in a bid to limit contagions and end the virus’ advance at the epicenter of Europe’s outbreak.

Shortly after midnight, Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte signed a decree affecting about 16 million people in the country’s prosperous north, including the Lombardy region and at least 14 provinces in neighboring regions. The extraordinary measures will be in place until April 3.

“For Lombardy and for the other northern provinces that I have listed there will be a ban for everybody to move in and out of these territories and also within the same territory,” Conte said. “Exceptions will be allowed only for proven professional needs, exceptional cases and health issues.” […]

In its daily update, Italy’s civil protection agency said the number of people with the coronavirus rose by 1,247 in the last 24 hours, taking the total to 5,883. Another 36 people also died as a result of the virus, taking the total to 233.

There was chaos and confusion hours before Conte signed the decree, as word leaked that the government was planning the quarantine.

Packed bars and restaurants emptied quickly as people rushed to the train station in Padua’s Veneto region. Travelers with suitcases, wearing face masks, gloves and carrying bottles of sanitizing gel shoved their way on to trains.

All this over 233 deaths? Yes, yes, I understand the concept of exponential growth; still, this seems extreme.

Next up: Seattle?

The West Coast?

New York?

The Northeast? (Oh wait: “Amtrak to suspend nonstop Acela trains between DC, NY amid coronavirus concerns”)

South Korea, Italy begin to shut down as virus spreads

As if there wasn’t enough evidence already that COVID-19 is a lot more serious than your garden-variety seasonal flu, the mayor of South Korea’s fourth-largest city, with a population roughly the size of Chicago, is telling everyone to stay home:

South Korea reported its first death from the new virus on Thursday while the mayor of a southeastern city urged its 2.5 million people to stay inside as infections linked to a church congregation spiked.

The death was the ninth confirmed from the virus outside mainland China. Other deaths have occurred in France, Hong Kong, Japan, the Philippines and Taiwan. […]

Twenty-one of those new cases were in and around the city of Daegu, where the mayor urged citizens earlier Thursday to stay home and wear masks even indoors if possible.

In a televised news conference, Mayor Kwon Young-jin expressed fears that rising infections in the region will soon overwhelm the city’s health system and called for urgent help from the central government.

Update on caseload:

South Korea reported a jump of 142 additional cases overnight, bringing the country’s total to 346, according to the South Korean Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (KCDC).

Meanwhile, in Italy:

10 towns in northern Italy have been put on a virtual lockdown due to coronavirus, according to local media

More:

For those 10 towns (50,000 people):
– Residents are asked to stay at home for 1 week
– All public events are suspended
– No work and commercial activities
– No recreational activities
– All schools are closed
– Public transport won’t stop in those areas

Buckle up.

Direct-democracy-as-a-service

Luigi Di Maio and Davide Casaleggio

Luigi Di Maio and Davide Casaleggio

A brief explanation of Italy’s Five Star Movement, which won the biggest share of the vote in this month’s general election:

Davide Casaleggio is one of the top leaders of the Five Star Movement. He is president of the Rousseau Association, which created the movement’s digital platform. […]

Our experience is proof of how the Internet has made the established parties, and the previous organizational model of democratic politics more generally, obsolete and uneconomic. The Five Star Movement garnered around 11 million votes in the recent election. Each vote cost us about 9 cents — a cost covered by micro-donations from about 19,000 citizens who donated a total of about $1 million, supporting all the costs of our election campaign. For the traditional parties, according to the political group More Europe, a single vote cost nearly one hundred times more, about $8.50 per vote.

The platform that enabled the success of the Five Star Movement is called Rousseau, named after the 18th century philosopher who argued politics should reflect the general will of the people. And that is exactly what our platform does: it allows citizens to be part of politics. Direct democracy, made possible by the Internet, has given a new centrality to citizens and will ultimately lead to the deconstruction of the current political and social organizations. Representative democracy — politics by proxy — is gradually losing meaning.

The platform also allows registered users to choose parliamentary candidates through online voting and to propose, discuss and vote on legislative initiatives which, if approved, are submitted to parliament. This is direct democracy on the intraparty level, it’s very cutting-edge and frankly very cool. I suggest keeping an eye on Italian politics as I think they are simply ahead of the curve on this, and much of the West will soon catch up.

Anti-politicians

Beppe Grillo

Italy’s Beppe Grillo

The enigmatic Five Star Movement (Movimento 5 Stelle, or M5S) is now Italy’s biggest political party:

One person notably absent from the Five Star Movement’s triumphant celebrations at a plush hotel in Rome in the early hours of Monday morning was Beppe Grillo, the comedian who less than a decade ago founded the party that seized the biggest share of the vote in Sunday’s inconclusive election. […]

Grillo, who was instrumental in turning the movement built by a rabble of rebels into Italy’s strongest political force, said in January that unless it won an outright majority in the election it should remain in opposition. “It would be like saying that a panda can eat raw meat. We only eat bamboo,” he said of the prospect of sharing power.

But Di Maio, said to have been groomed by Grillo for the leadership, has other ideas. On Monday he said he was open to talks with all political parties, and he has already presented his would-be cabinet – a list of what he calls “anti-politicians”.

In light of the news from Italy, I remembered this prescient article by Francesco Sisci — from April 2013:

Italy over the past century was a staging ground for experiments with new political solutions that had global consequences. Fascism was born in Italy in the 1920s, although it also flourished elsewhere and caused the start of World War II. In the 1970s, the Italian pro-Soviet Communist Party supported coalition governments that included pro-American parties, showing that communism could be adapted to a democratic environment. Thus, it inspired reforms in Gorbachev’s USSR some years later, something that led to the collapse of communism in Europe altogether.

One then wonders whether the new Italian political entity the “5 Star Movement”, created by comedian-turned-politician Beppe Grillo, will also lead to something else – and what that could be. The “5 Star Movement” scored a huge success in the recent Italian elections while refusing to reach out to voters through talks and debates on TV, the traditional means of political campaigning for the past five decades.

It canvassed votes by means of old-fashioned public meetings and by modern web chats and Tweets shot through the Internet and mobile phones. He and his followers explained that this is the new web democracy. In fact, there is something extremely modern in Grillo’s political movement. Certainly, US President Barack Obama understood the importance of the web and relied on songs spread on Facebook and Twitter slogans. But he still went on TV and engaged in all the traditional campaign activities.

Grillo, conversely, refused TV appearances, political debates, and even interviews in the Italian press, and this magnified his image, bringing him almost 25% of the vote. The Internet is and was the ground for internal debates. Candidates were selected through mock elections on the web among Grillo’s supporters; policy discussions were held in web chats rather than in smoky rooms. There were no meetings, no cells, and no steering committees.

Actually, this is not the only new element of Grillo’s party. Contrary to all past practices, Grillo and his main partner, Gianroberto Casalegno, chose not to run for parliament. Notwithstanding that, these two extra-parliamentary leaders control all their elected deputies in parliament through a series of binding agreements. Meanwhile, the few top leaders decide the party line in informal gatherings on phone calls. It may not sound good – the party looks more like a private entity than an organization to promote political change and effective popular participation – but it has so far provided an organization that works similar to, if not better than, the old party systems.

Social networking is devouring the political systems of the West, starting in Italy and the US. It’s easy to imagine that in another five or 10 years, online networks will have taken over the machinery of the major parties, turning politicians into puppets for internet movements/mobs. Which may or may not be an improvement over the existing, obsolete party systems.

In any case, China’s prescience in censoring the internet more severely than Saudi Arabia is now clear. China’s rulers are extremely uninterested in dealing with uncontrollable, socially networked movements that could destabilize the country and threaten the Party’s grip on power, so it has opted to wall off China from huge swaths of the global internet.

Under this brutal logic, all major foreign social media platforms are blocked, and the domestic platforms are heavily censored and monitored. Weibo, the closest thing to Twitter, has recently been chastened (again). The closed nature of WeChat, which now has a billion active monthly users, does not lend itself to hashtag activism. There will be no Beppe Grillo on China’s watch.