This Wuhan coronavirus (Corona) is very contagious: The WHO gives an estimate of r0 = 1.4 to 2.5 (this means that control measures must prevent 29%-60% of transmissions to stop the epidemic from growing further). There are 41 deaths / 1,287 confirmed cases as of right now (i.e. 3% mortality like 2 days ago). Hopefully, that mortality rate is a substantial overestimate, since symptoms are mild in many people and who would not have been registered as having been afflicted with Corona, whereas deaths would be more noticeable. In any cases, videos from Wuhan suggest that the scope of the epidemic is an order of magnitude bigger than the official figures.
Approximately 40 million Chinese are barred from leaving Wuhan and a cluster of smaller cities around that megapolis, making this the largest quarantine in world history. Today, all movie theaters have been shut down, all domestic and foreign tour group expeditions have been canceled, and there is a crash effort to construct a 1,000-bed hospital in Wuhan over 6 days. The scope of the response surely dwarfs what any other country can manage without China’s unique combination of state capacity and authoritarian wherewithal. Its sheer scale also suggests that we have a very serious situation on our hands.
There’s no good way to estimate mortality during the early stages of an epidemic. We must note that some of those currently confirmed cases may yet die, and there is a possibility that even some deaths are going uncounted (or being suppressed); there is one disturbing video that appears to be showing apparently unclaimed corpses in a Wuhan hospital.
I don’t think there’s any hope of containing it at this point. As mentioned, it is very contagious – the WHO r0 estimate might be too optimistic, with a just published preprint by Read et al. 2020 give an estimate of 3.6-4.0 (for comparison, r0 = 3 for the Spanish Flu). Early detection is very hard on account of Corona’s long incubation period. And we live in a world where China has become quite rich, crisscrossed with High-Speed Rail, and connected to the world through budget airlines.
Remember this memetic photo of Chinese bullet trains?
It was from Wuhan. Wuhan is a city of 11 million people that serves as the central railway hub for China. 400 million Chinese migrate during the Lunar New Year (which happens to be today), most of them by train, of whom many pass through Wuhan, of whom many will have traveled before the Wuhan quarantine kicked into effect. So now there’s new spores growing all over China: The only Corona free province now is Tibet. All the major East Asian countries have also seen cases, and the virus is already confirmed to have spread to North America (3 cases in the US) and to Europe (2 cases in France). Attempts to control it, from China’s hardline quarantine measures to the recent suggestions by US Senators to restrict air travel from China, may slow down the spread of the pandemic but are ultimately just attempts to shore up a crumbling dam.
Though had we heeded Hakan’s wisdom from the start, mayhaps we could have avoided all this.
In terms of contagiousness (adjusted for the Age of Car and Airplane), mortality, and mortality profile (overwhelmingly affects the elderly), I think this most closely resembles the first wave of the Spanish Flu.
At that time, around a third of the world population became infected at some point. That means about 2 billion people today, which can translate into as many as 60 million deaths using the 3% mortality estimate. For comparison, the “normal” flu kills about 500,000 people annually.
Needless to say, there’s much uncertainty. We can only guess at the ultimate infection rate, though as per above, I don’t see how it can now be contained; the study by Read et al. 2020 projects that even a 99% success rate in quarantining Wuhan from the time of its imposition on January 23 will only result in a 35% reduction in the number of cases in other Chinese cities by February 4 (see projections from the paper right).
Ergo for the number of deaths. It is possible that the real mortality rate is closer to 1%, in which case ultimate global deaths may “only” number 20 million, at least unless the virus mutates into a more harmless form.
Though it could also go the other way, as in the second wave of the Spanish Flu, when mortality soared to 10%-15% and started to overwhelmingly kill young people with strong immune systems by provoking cytokine storms. This is hopefully less likely today, because the Spanish Flu spread in the context of World War I and its perverse selection effects for virus lethality. In civilian life, people with mild symptoms remain at work, while the heavily afflicted stay at home. However, during World War I, soldiers with mild symptoms remained at the front, while the heavily afflicted were taken to hastily expanded field hospitals that served as hotbeds for the further spread of the disease.
Scientists are still unsure what animal played host to Corona. One interesting thing is that Wuhan saw China’s first maximum biosafety BSL-4 facility open in 2017. Disgusting as that food market is, this does seem like quite the coincidence. It was reported to be working on coronaviruses, amongst other things. So the possibility that this is, at least in part, a bioengineered virus, can’t be entirely excluded.
Obviously I am no expert in this domain, but my suggested “to dos” at this point would include the following:
- Follow the news, e.g. WHO, /r/China_Flu, visualizations, e.g. here and here.
- Don’t worry much if you’re not a boomer – for now.
- Once it lands in your region, try to minimize contacts with other people. Brush up on your hikikomori skills, they’ll finally come in handy.
- Obviously no idiot-tier things, like going to restaurants, cafes, concerts. Minimize public transport usage.
- Try to get a work-from-home arrangement.
- Be aware that face masks offer minimal protection (and this Corona can spread through the eyes).
- Keep hands away from face.
- Do the usual prepper things: Get supplies of grains, meat in bulk for the freezer, water, coffee, etc. Even better, get to an isolated rural retreat, if it’s a realistic option.
- Make sure any entertainment is strictly thematic:
- Maintain positive outlook. At least we’ll get a temporary reprieve from cheap Chinese tour groups.
- Most importantly, follow the right protocols: Say a prayer to Papa Nurgle and poast “I LOVE YOU CORONA-CHAN!” in the comments.