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It is hard to be grateful that the coronavirus is now working its way through us, but it is certainly a vivid illustration of evolution at work. With no motivation beyond the joy of reproducing itself, it hops from one host to another, an equal-opportunity free rider. If it becomes too greedy in taking over the hosts, then the hosts die before they can pass on the invader to the fresh blood of gullible victims. So, without understanding that term, viruses compromise, leaving the walking wounded with enough energy to walk their way to the next victim. Delay in killing the host pays dividends as the number of infected hosts increases. In this way some strains become more lethal, but then may die out, and others become more benign, though that may make them more costly to us in the long run. Influenza no longer terrifies us, but it still kills large numbers by being so endemic. Coronavirus is probably an order of magnitude more lethal, and if it can retain its lethality while still hopping from host to host it might be a very painful unwanted long-term guest.

While the virus goes its merry way, on a path that can be modelled by looking at the number infected, and the number subsequently dead, damaged, or cured, other battles are taking place. The virus has been fully characterized, and should be open to attack, if a chink in its armour can be found as it mutates into different forms which might defeat any vaccination. Ideally, one crucial segment can be found which stays stable long enough for an attack to be mounted against it. This is an IQ test of the highest order, requiring the talents of very bright people who have had long exposure to these problems, probably at least ten year of lab work. Approving vaccines is a lengthy process, but genetic analysis is speeding up the discovery rate, and testing on animals might soon generate compounds worth trying on humans. Depending on the spread of the virus, and its lethality, more risks should be taken to find treatments or prevention. No need to take precautions about unwanted effects if you are at high risk of unwanted death.

Yet the biggest dilemma is the one every person now faces: is the risk high enough to warrant costly personal and social costs? It is said of epidemics that all measures taken against them are seen as exaggerated initially, and subsequently as inadequate. Is it worth wearing a mask? Worth washing hands more often? Worth avoiding crowds?

Naturally, what seems costly in terms of behavioural change in the initial stages of an epidemic can result in far more costly effects when the epidemic takes hold. This is a real test of forward planning: precautions have to be initiated when they are unnecessary, because once they are necessary it will be too late. That is a hard message to sell.

There is also a dilemma surrounding the overall strategy countries should adopt: go for strict quarantine, restrict all movements, cancel meetings, trace all contacts, and deny the virus access to human beings; or let people flow, test only those likely to be at risk and their contacts, restrict only the biggest meetings and let the virus sweep through the population, with any luck at a rate that services can cope with. The Wuhan strategy, imposed from a central government, seems to have worked. Deaths are on a downward trajectory. The Italian strategy may yet have the same good outcome, which will be testable a month or so from now.

The laisser-faire approach might prove to be the correct balance between maintaining economic activity and accepting some casualties. This is not the worst infection the world has coped with over the last few decades. However, it seems to be too lax in several ways. Restricting world-wide travel for a few months will restrict the virus without destroying the economy, since goods can move freely and are not a vector of infection. Self-monitoring of temperature is a very sensible policy. Avoiding non-essential contacts again is a worthwhile strategy for a month or two.

In the midst of all this, we have to look at the down-sides of all precautions. Avoiding planes after the twin towers attack caused more people to die in car accidents. Removing people from the Japanese nuclear power station led to more deaths among the elderly because of the disruption to their lives. Sometimes keeping calm and carrying on (with some restrictions) is the best policy.

 
• Category: Science • Tags: Coronavirus, Disease 
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  1. This is another Iraq imaginary WMD-tier media hysteria, just another nothingburger being pushed by the press for nefarious purposes, in its never ending pursuit of mass consent manufacturing.

    • Disagree: Pheasant
  2. dearieme says:

    “The Wuhan strategy, imposed from a central government, seems to have worked. Deaths are on a downward trajectory.”

    (i) I have no reason to believe the numbers. My Source in Singapore tells me that neither Chinese Singaporeans nor the Chinese expats he’s spoken to in private believe them.

    (ii) But even if the figures are OK I’d be unimpressed. What matters isn’t how things are now, it’s how things will be after everyone in China has gone back to work for a month or more.

    As someone who is no fan of the British civil service I nonetheless take my hat off to the evident rationality of this: UK Influenza Pandemic Preparedness Strategy 2011. Do google it and have a look.

    It is, I assume, the model on which current UK policy is based. I hope that Boris continues to take the advice of the Chief Medical Officers and his Chief Scientific Adviser. Copying grandstanding foreign governments would be a mug’s game.

    Quietly learning from Singapore, S Korea, Taiwan, and Hong Kong would probably be wise; learning need not be the same as copying, mind.

    Meantime our American cousins, as we used to call them, should be wondering about the performance of their CDC and FDA. Lamentable.

    • Agree: unit472
  3. Pheasant says:

    ‘Probably at least ten year of labwork’

    *years typo.

  4. Pheasant says:

    ‘precautions have to be initiated when they are unnecessary, because once they are necessary it will be too late. That is a hard message to sell.’

    In other words I am a clever boi for stockpiling before the panic buying ensued.

    Always nice to have one’s worldview validated.

  5. Pheasant says:
    @dearieme

    ‘It is, I assume, the model on which current UK policy is based’

    It’s Boris Johnson I wouldn’t count on it.

    If Ireland has closed it’s schools why not Britain?

    • Replies: @dearieme
  6. On this channel, people pride themselves on disbelieving the MSM. Except now.

    Sheesh.

  7. Thanks. Reading it now.

  8. dearieme says:
    @Pheasant

    If Ireland has closed its schools why not Britain?

    If Britain hasn’t closed its schools why has Ireland?

    The report explains why closing schools may be a counterproductive move. It really is worth looking at.

    • Thanks: Pheasant
  9. dearieme says:

    What matters isn’t how things are now, it’s how things will be after everyone in China has gone back to work for a month or more.

    On reflection I may be wrong about that. Maybe it’s better to say that what matters is how everything looks in a couple of years time, or even five. In other words, after a spell long enough for the various consequences foreseen and unforeseen, intended and unintended, have become plain.

    • Replies: @yakushimaru
  10. @dearieme

    “(i) I have no reason to believe the numbers. My Source in Singapore tells me that neither Chinese Singaporeans nor the Chinese expats he’s spoken to in private believe them.”

    ‘Private’ sources are worthless in a country as large as China–and probably anywhere. The only reliable source for Chinese stats is the Government of China. So say statisticians, like HKU’s Carsten Holz, who have spent their lives verifying them. There has never been serious reason to doubt Chinese stats. Our media’s ‘dodgy stats’ allegations are sour grapes.

    • Agree: Realist
  11. As Am0maly has pointed out, it doesn’t matter what an individual should or should not do about the virus, because governments and companies are already doing and will be doing the actions.

    It was nice to see the chart though and get more info on the relativity of this virus though.

  12. Pontius says:

    This whole episode has me thinking back to Y2K. Was it overblown, or did the massive effort to re-write old code pay off in terms of mitigating the damage?

    • Agree: houston 1992
    • Replies: @Realist
    , @yakushimaru
  13. LondonBob says:

    Given the big names reportedly infected it is clear there is already widespread infection worldwide, I expect the cfr will end up around where swine flu did.

  14. It would for sure be easier to understand the CO-19 – measures being taken right now in GB, if Labour was in charge. The difference Boris Johnson makes as far as rationality of the basic measures is concerned, might not amount to much really.

    A GB government cyber unit seems to have blocked off Anatoly Karlins blog. That will do wonders. People, who would never have looked into Karlin’s articles anyway, will not be disturbed by somebody who might have looked at Karlin’s work and then misguided the good-spirited Britons.
    Good gosh.

  15. Realist says:
    @dearieme

    (i) I have no reason to believe the numbers. My Source in Singapore tells me that neither Chinese Singaporeans nor the Chinese expats he’s spoken to in private believe them.

    My cousin’s wife said her mother knows a man, whose brother works with…blah, blah, blah.

    • Replies: @dearieme
  16. Realist says:
    @Pontius

    This whole episode has me thinking back to Y2K. Was it overblown, or did the massive effort to re-write old code pay off in terms of mitigating the damage?

    It was way overblown.

  17. dearieme says:
    @Realist

    What other check do you suggest of data from despotisms? Were Stalin’s data honest or accurate? Hitler’s?

    • Replies: @Realist
  18. Realist says:
    @dearieme

    What other check do you suggest of data from despotisms? Were Stalin’s data honest or accurate? Hitler’s?

    Or the US government? All the current talk is just supposition. I don’t trust the US government anymore that China’s government.

    • Replies: @dearieme
    , @Realist
  19. dearieme says:
    @Realist

    Neither do I. But you are evading my question.

    • Replies: @Realist
  20. Realist says:
    @dearieme

    Neither do I. But you are evading my question.

    Look to private organizations without government ties. Wait until the investigations are more mature.

  21. Jamie_NYC says:
    @dearieme

    Quietly learning from Singapore, S Korea, Taiwan, and Hong Kong would probably be wise; learning need not be the same as copying, mind.

    Well, yeah, if your goals are different, then definitely don’t copy what they are doing.

    • Replies: @LondonBob
  22. Realist says:
    @Realist

    Should read…anymore than China’s government.

  23. The ebola R0 there seems very high

  24. LondonBob says:
    @Jamie_NYC

    Italy is located in Europe though, hard to underestimate just how much Italy has exploded this virus across Europe.

    • Replies: @Twodees Partain
  25. Fine statement, at this point. To the matter, Dr. Thompson. Give us more, when reliable data can be grabbed somehow. Covid-19 indeed is a problem-solving test to the lucky ones involved. A crux to proof and beat the race.

    This is such an issue where “global-nazism” limited in time and to the scope of Covid-19 would be welcome. This matter seems to be ill attended by the existing power structures, and the Chinese approach and speed, any alternatives, should be well defined, so this becomes a readable outcome of what approach is best, and speeds up vaccine and medication hints.

    Another interesting data-read would be the selectiveness, the discretion of the virus itself, and the modals different population groups react to it in their measures. Our guess is that the caution of simple measures, and elaborate containment, speak for the better cognitive able. Secondly that no, the virus is not yet a better bio-weapon, in the sense that it attends different population groups discriminately and predictably.

    We still are still stuck with nuclear in the lack of containment issue. One single advantage as a bio-weapon stands though, no real infrastructure challenge and no long lasting toxification of the environment.

    Just some thoughts,

  26. @LondonBob

    Funny, isn’t it, that Italy was in the grip of a TB epidemic, which suddenly became a corona virus epidemic? it’s almost as funny as your claim that “Italy has exploded this virus across Europe”.

    That was the silliest thing I’ve read today.

  27. Treatments have been found and are being used in China and South Korea. In China, they’re using chloroquine, and in South Korea, hydroxychloroquine, both anti-malarials. Other treatments involve zinc and zinc ionophores, such as quercitin, a bioflavonoid, available OTC. See https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vE4_LsftNKM and https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4808895/ and https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25050823

  28. LondonBob says:

    Notable how much more deadly the Spanish flu was, CFR looks like being between 0.3 and one for the Wuhan Flu, although the R value looks like it is higher. Also notable how targeted this virus is at the old and already ill.

    Sorry this just so overblown and I am proud of the measured approach we have taken in Britain.

  29. @dearieme

    It is called Monday morning football. 🙂

  30. @Pontius

    That mental tendency probably contributed to the early mess in Wuhan.

    If you go crazy fighting it early on, the problem goes away, leaving you with a costly bill to pay and people simply do not appreciate you for, look, where is the problem?

    If you just “keep calm”, the problem might go away as well, but it also might explode in your face. So, what do you do?

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