Yellow-caking an epidemic
The Chinese “fight for mankind” against Coronavirus
In the end, the plague touched us all…it was not confined…, breeding in a compost of greed and uselessness and murder… and delivering death…[serving] as furnished rooms for ideology.
—Peter Hamill, Liner notes to Blood on the Tracks
The 2019 Novel Coronavirus, Covid 19, first detected late last year in the hub city of Wuhan, China, is a rapidly-spreading viral disease, often characterized by a cluster of acute respiratory symptoms. To date, over 85,000 people have been infected, and nearly 3,000—and counting—have died.
The virulence of this outbreak has put most of China under different degrees of lockdown: over 50 million people were quarantined in the immediate region; the majority of neighboring Chinese cities implemented restrictions on travel and movement to stem the tide of infection; and across the country, all of China has been facing restrictions and hardship. As we speak, the disease has spread to every continent except Antarctica, and is recorded over 50 countries across the world, with serious outbreaks in Korea, Japan, Italy, Iran, and possibly undetected clusters across the world. In the face of this sudden and tragic crisis—and the extraordinarily responsible and responsive measures the Chinese government has taken to safeguard public health and prevent its spreading outside its epicenter and regional/national borders—buying the world time to respond—the western media has made a highly political choice on how to report about it.
Instead of voicing support or encouraging solidarity—”We are Wuhan”—and commending the extraordinary efforts and sacrifices the Chinese have taken to fight a disease that, in the words of epidemiologist Zhong Nanshan, “all of mankind is facing,” western corporate media have chosen to go all out to criticize and demonize China, sparing no effort to rekindle ugly, racist, orientalist, and dehumanizing tropes, using any perceived or imagined misstep, pretext, and shortcoming to tar China and the Chinese. Arguments for economic decoupling, predictions of political collapse, efforts at global delegitimation, as well as general racist fearmongering are pandemic.
One crackpot narrative, peddled at the highest levels of U.S. government, is that this is deliberate Chinese bioweapon. Another narrative, no less toxic and virulent, alleges that the Chinese leadership, suppressed free speech and silenced the flow of information, thus creating needlessly a preventable epidemic. The Chinese government, “out of a “fear of political embarrassment,” “allow[ed] the virus to gain a tenacious hold,” thus “creating the conditions for a lethal epidemic” that has led to the deaths of thousands and the infection of countless more.
The New York Times (“NYTimes” hereafter) takes the (yellow) cake for sowing this toxic, racist disinformation, alleging in numerous articles and opinion pieces of a “cover-up” at “critical moments.” They claim that “China’s old habits put secrecy and order ahead of openly confronting the crisis”; that China “played down dangers to the public, leaving the city’s 11 million residents unaware that they should protect themselves”; and the NYTimes presents this as dispositive proof that the Chinese system is fatally flawed. All this while reveling in and boosting on its website an unseemly schadenfreude that suppression of information and free speech has led to condign and expected catastrophe.
One key element of this disinformation/delegitimation campaign concerns the tragic passing away of a Dr. Li Wenliang. Dr. Li spoke of the disease at an early moment in the outbreak (12/30/2019) to a group of colleagues. He was later reprimanded by the police for “spreading rumors.” After going back to work, he himself contracted the virus, and despite being young and seemingly healthy, he tragically passed away. Latching onto this unexpected fatality like a deadly virus itself, the NYTimes grafted onto his death, the “authoritarian suppression of the truth” meme: that Dr. Li was a valiant, dissenting whistleblower who had “tried to sound a warning that a troubling cluster of…infections…could grow out of control,” thus exploiting tragedy to concoct and circulate a political myth: Dr. Li had tried to warn the public early on about the virus, but had been brutally silenced and suppressed.
In particular, the NYTimes claims that Dr Li was arrested by the government, “in the middle of the night,” no less; and suggests in multiple articles that had he not been silenced, countless lives would have been saved, and countless infections prevented. In other words, the Chinese communists, because of their obsession with political appearances, their mendacious secrecy, and totalitarian control, instigated a cover-up that has had nightmarish consequences for global health.
This disclosure would be truly extraordinary, heroic, award-meriting journalism. Except for one small problem: none of the assertions are supported by the facts, and none of the conclusions withstand the slightest scrutiny.
In order to peddle this toxic canard, the NYTimes has had to yellow-cake up a foul brew of innuendo, half-truths, misrepresentations, outright lies, spiked fiercely with stereotypes, racial hatred, and red-baiting, while torturing the English language, eliding logic, ignoring science, and shredding the credibility of the fourth estate—yet again, as it did with its gutter journalism justifying the 2003 Iraq War.
These are the facts.
1. Not a whistle blower
The NYTimes suggests that Dr Li was a whistle blower, “sounding a warning.” But Dr. Li was not a whistle blower by any usual definition of the word. He did not notify the Chinese CDC or any public health organ. He did not notify the hospital authorities. He did not warn the public of wrongdoing, danger, or a cover-up. What he did do is share information with seven school colleagues on December 30th, 2019 over a private messaging group. (He also shared a photo of a confidential medical record). How that constitutes “whistle blowing” is not explained by the NYTimes.
2. Fraudulent Timeline
The NYTimes claims that the sanctioning and silencing led to suppression of timely and important information—a cover-up of a dangerous but necessary truth. This assertion is not borne out by the facts, including the actual timeline of disclosures. The “whistle”—if we can call it that—had already been blown. For example, Dr. Zhang Jixian, the director of respiratory and critical care medicine at Hubei Provincial Hospital, had officially notified the hospital on December 27th, 2019 of an unusual cluster of viral cases, and the hospital had notified the city’s disease control center. After further consultation, the regional CDC was notified on the 28th. By the 29th full scale research and field investigations had been started and isolation measures had been imposed. The government was already actively investigating and doing their due diligence with other cases long before the NYTimes allegations (constructed, as always, from anonymous sources). Zhang herself, contrary to the “suppression and punishment” narrative, was recognized and commended by the government
3. Wrong Claim
Dr. Li had asserted—without any proof and in error—that it was SARS, a related, but different coronavirus. In fact, it was not SARS. Why is this important? Because the 2003 SARS epidemic caused widespread panic; authorities were clearly concerned that this incorrect information might feed another panic event. The NYTimes tries to massage this narrative by asserting he had said it was a “SARS-like” disease, although the record clearly shows that he asserted it was “SARS”. This misreporting tries to blunt the error and make Dr. Li seem more prescient or authoritative than he was.
4. No Evidence
Some might ask: Well, what’s in a name? Whether it was SARS, “a SARS-like” disease, or no SARS, it was still dangerous. So why was the claim suppressed?
In claiming there was some sort of cover-up, the NYTimes suggests that the authorities recognized and understood that the disease was dangerous but covered it up anyway. This is far from the truth at the time: there was little clear evidence that this was a dangerous or severe epidemic at the time of the outbreak. More specifically:
- There was no clear evidence of human-to-human transmission at that time (see the Appendix 1. Partial Timeline of Outbreak and Responses). The first case happened two weeks later, on January 14, 2020.
- There had been no fatalities (the first fatality was January 9, 2020—ten days later), and there were only a handful of cases.
- Even later, as more casualties started to appear, most of the casualties were older people with serious existing pathology or co-morbidity.
In other words, it was unclear how serious this was or whether serious actions should be taken: commonsense tells us in winter, colds, flu and pneumonia are not uncommon; discerning a novel, serious outbreak is not a simple task. The mere fact that the Chinese authorities were able to identify and take action so rapidly—despite its resemblance to existing coronaviruses—indicates how competent, alert, and conscientious many of them were.
5. No Expertise or Qualification
The NYTimes claims the “doctor tried to sound a warning,” but it is important to note that there was little reason to sound the alarm over Dr. Li’s warning. He was not an infectious disease specialist, nor was he treating any suspected patients. Dr. Li was an ophthalmologist (not an epidemiologist, virologist, infectious disease specialist, internist, ICU specialist, or even a GP or X-ray/CT technician). Further, there is no evidence that he was privy to any specialized insider information that was being “covered up.” Before Dr. Li even issued his warning the hospital was already taking all known precautions—including isolation—with suspected patients.
6. Not arrested
Dr Li was not arrested, as the NYTimes reported. The Times uses the word “summoned” interchangeably with the term “arrested”, apparently to heighten the dramatic sense of injustice. The doctor was called in, lightly reprimanded (talked to, and signed a document not to spread incorrect information) and then went straight back to work. This begs the question: if a non-specialist (for example, a podiatrist) at a large general hospital in the U.S. claimed that there was an outbreak of infectious disease (for example, bubonic plague)—and privately shared HIPAA-protected documents (as Dr. Li did)—is it conceivable they would have escaped some sort of official sanction?
7. Understandable Reasons for Acting Methodically
The government had reasonable and defensible reasons to act prudently and methodically at the time. While the jury is still out and the timeline bears more elaboration, there is still little evidence that this was a deliberate attempt to “stifle criticism” and “silence” to avoid “embarrassment.” Based on the available evidence, we can reasonably surmise that:
- The authorities didn’t know how serious this was at the time—a reasonable assumption given the known evidence at the time.
- The “nocebo” effect (negative placebo) is real—people can take any ambiguous symptoms (that are always present in the body) and think they are sick. This attribution can induce measurable negative effects in the body.
- Panicked, mass hysterical responses are not uncommon, and can constitute a public health hazard on their own. Either of these effects, caused by premature or careless disclosure could have resulted in:
- People erroneously believing they are sick.
- Overcrowding at hospitals, stretching resources and preventing genuinely sick people from being seen or getting care, while spreading the infection faster through contact (all at a time when public services are winding down).
- Mass exodus away from the center, spreading the infection outside of Wuhan much faster.
- Hoarding and scarcity of masks and other supplies, vigilante quarantines, and other hysterical, dangerous, and unproductive behavior.
It’s also essential to note also that this was the period of the Spring Festival, the busiest and most important holiday of the year. While it is easy to criticize the cautious, tentative responses in hindsight, it is understandable that authorities sought to avoid immediate and extreme measures in the moment.
8. Upfront Transparency
The NYTimes alleges “cover-up” and “secrecy.” However, the Wuhan authorities publicized that the doctor had been sanctioned. In this way, they actually spread information about his “whistleblowing” and the fact of the disease symptoms. As a matter of fact, they have publicized all the people sanctioned for similar actions. This would seem to indicate that, at the time:
- they genuinely believed they were taking correct actions—actions that would be justifiable and vindicated—and they did not know that this disease was as serious as it turned out to be (and it’s not clear how could they have known);
- it is unlikely they were trying to hide or cover-up anything. If they had been trying to silence or cover-up something, this incident would most likely have gone unannounced.
9. Not Ahead of the Government
The NYTimes claims that Dr. Li sounded an alarm in a context where the “initial handling” by the government was slow, negligent, or reluctant. The facts belie this assertion.
Dr. Li was not ahead of the government. As we noted above regarding the timeline, the government (Wuhan disease authorities) had already been informed at least 3 days prior, and they delivered their own internal and public warnings the same day as Dr Li’s sharing with his friends. There is little evidence to show that this was “forced” or “compelled” by the ophthalmologist’s message (as the NYTimes has claimed).
In fact, as is usually the case with public announcements, the health department had likely been discussing, drafting, and planning their statement prior to release on that day.
Note, also that this information was released before Dr. Li was called to the police for reprimand on 1/03 (in other words, accurate information had already been put out, and the reprimand can be interpreted as a critique of the speculation, as well as the how, why, and who of sharing than an attempt at erasure). Whether the reprimand was judiciously or skillfully delivered is another matter, but the facts remain that no cover-up can be asserted from this incident.
10. “Yellow-Caking” the Experts, Again.
The NYTimes implies that the Chinese government knew the outbreak was serious, but covered it up and delayed notification anyway to avoid political embarrassment. But again, the facts refute the assertion: The WHO was also notified on December 31st, 2019 (the following day) of an “unknown virus” but did not consider it serious. The WHO did not suggest any quarantine or extreme public health measures. On January 5th, 2020, they advised against a travel restriction. Some 10 days later, they again indicated there was no human-to-human transmission. On January 23rd, they indicated it was not a public health emergency. Only on January 30th did they declare an emergency—fully 30 days after the so-called NYTimes-imputed “whistleblowing.”
11. Communist Catastrophe, really?
The NYTimes, in particular, along with its ideological cousin, the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR), has been avidly red-baiting, pumping up the narrative of “whistleblower-cover-up” and “weak governance” endemic to “authoritarian-dictatorships-that-create-catastrophes-like-Chernobyl” trope. “Undemocratic Governance is dangerous for your health” claim the ideologues at the CFR. But freedom-loving capitalist America easily outclasses and outdoes any modern socialist state in its negligence and damage to public health and wellbeing. A comparable event is the 2009 H1N1 A “San Diego” virus. It took the U.S. nearly six months to declare an emergency and take meaningful active measures. Because of U.S. government inaction and lack of containment, between 150k-575K people died all over the world. Eighty percent were under 65 years old. Last year’s flu is suspected to have caused 61,000 deaths in the U.S. This year’s flu is estimated to have caused 16,000 deaths since October, including 1,400 dying in a single week. Oh, and let’s not forget the AIDS crisis. The opiate crisis. The lead crises. The homelessness crisis. The list is endless, repetitious, and atrocious.
12. New Standards in Crisis Response
Contrary to NYTimes’ claims of incompetence, “weakness,” and slowness, the Chinese have been setting new, groundbreaking standards and practices in outbreak detection and response. Examination of the facts shows that the Chinese were actually highly vigilant, agile, well prepared and well-coordinated in their response—this has been acknowledged and commended by the WHO, and other public health agencies and experts of repute. They had a centralized database and control tower, which is why they were able to react so quickly to isolate, identify, sequence, and take public action. They built two fully-functioning, state-of-the-art isolation hospitals in a matter of days, and dispatched a dedicated army of 40,000 medical professionals who have worked tirelessly to heal the afflicted. They implemented large-scale treatment, quarantine, and social distancing measures; took unprecedented steps in risk communication and community engagement; put into practice systemic detection and contact tracing practices; organized mass logistical coordination and supply; implemented price controls; put a moratorium on all debt and rent impacted by the outbreak, and recessed/damped down their economy to prevent/minimize loss of life. In addition, all patients and suspected patients are screened, tested, and treated free of charge. These are responses to an outbreak on a level and scale that have never been seen before, and they have been widely lauded by professionals as having changed the direction of the Covid 19 outbreak.
13. Monday Morning Schadenfreude
The NYTimes has been willfully ignoring all of that is positive: vigilance that detected the disease early; skilled, coordinated mobilization; technical and medical tour de force; mass acts of solidarity, generosity, and kindness across the country; and valiant, extraordinary medical and medical worker competence and heroism. Instead the Monday-morning epidemiological quarterbacking of the NYTimes (and derivative media) has been savage, vicious, and odious in exploiting every perceived mishap as a pretext to pile on and attack the Chinese people and the Chinese system while fanning discord and criticism. For example, theFebruary 1, 2020 NYTimes article insinuates “cover-up,” and “systemic weakness” (but it has to ignore the specific timeline [see Appendix 1 below] in order to make up its case).
Nicholas Kristof is especially toxic in his offensive, red-baiting misrepresentation:
Xi used his tight rule to control information rather than to stop an epidemic.… China makes poor decisions because it squelches independent voices…[it listens only to] flattery and optimism. Xi is a preening dictator, some citizens are paying a price.
In times of crisis, for western nations, the normal response is “We are Paris, NY, etc.” When it comes to China, the measured response is: “You brought this on yourselves—you deserve this because of your dirtiness, immorality, and bat-eating communist dictatorship”; “You would rather control your citizens than save lives.” This is often followed up by some variant of “nuke China.”
We also see direct acts of hate against Chinese and Asians: Chinese viciously insulted, shunned, or assaulted all across the world.
Kristof and his ideological teammates can be isolated here, patients zero with their null set of facts, turning up the dials to 10 in this toxic wind tunnel of Sinophobia and hate speech.
14: Bashing China on “Free Speech”
Running lapdog-parallel to Kristof, taking the baton/bone from the NYTimes, The Guardian opines, “if China valued free speech, there would be no coronavirus.” This is the offensive, viral meme fabricated, cultured, and replicated from the death of Dr. Li by the NYTimes. It has become the standard trope of the outbreak in the media, the blogosphere. Of course, even cursory critical reflection might lead one to consider—in the capital of “Free Speech”—lead poisoning in Flint Michigan, the AIDS crisis, the aforementioned A H1N1 pandemic, mass shootings, not to mention Global Warming. It also bears emphasizing that the HK rioters—and their media backers—have an unbeatable track record of opposing any “Free Speech” that doesn’t agree with theirs, by burning, beating, lynching, threatening, and doxxing everyone who disagrees with them.
Of course, fetishized “free speech” is not a panacea to all political or social ills. Certainly in a public health crisis, unbridled “free speech” which is factually incorrect or misguided is hardly beneficial (cf. “yelling fire in a crowded theater”). The WHO has pointed this out by warning that the outbreak has been accompanied by an “infodemic” and highlighting the need for accurate risk communication.
Underlying this fetishized concept of “free speech” as the solution to all woes, is the liberal/anarcho-capitalist conceit that “in the marketplace of ideas” the correct one will naturally emerge to benefit all. Of course, history has shown, time and time again, that this is hardly the case. The “free speech” of the “anti-vax” movement is a case in point: it increases the chances that the U.S. will be subject to a deadly pandemic. Various local and international epidemics, as well as the deadly U.S. (San Diego) H1N1 A Pandemic of 2009 signal to us this potential risk.
Another point of comparison: 11,435 people died in the first 2 weeks of August 2003 in the free-speech epicenter of Europe, Ile-de-France/France. This was from heatstroke, dehydration and their sequelae—all easily preventable and predictable deaths which happened under a government with a commitment to public health.
French capitalism/governance was not raked through the coals for this, nor considered to have lost fundamental legitimacy because of this tragedy—nor charged with covering it up or underreporting (although they did)—although to prevent these deaths required no special treatments, hospitals, protective equipment, medicine, research, or technology. It just required, some extra water, some common sense, and perhaps a few public shelters. And political will and care. Can you say “politique de deux poids, deux mesures” (political double standard)?
15. Amateurism Trumps Experts
In order to bolster their trumped-up case, the NYTimes, along with others like CFR and Foreign Policy magazine, has trolled out a shadowy truck-load of ideological scientific amateurs (“global health fellows”, “science reporters”) to bolster and backstop their case. Of course, it is convenient to overlook the fact that epidemiology is a complex science—and that predicting the course, virulence, and lethality of an outbreak is not unlike predicting the strength, path, and effects of a hurricane. Trotting out ill-informed amateurs, generalists, and ideologues from the NYTimes or the CFR to troll the epidemiologists and the WHO is like getting amateur bloggers to attack atmospheric scientists over global warming.
16. Was the Chinese response fast enough?
There is a perpetual insinuation by the NYTimes and its ideological allies that hide-bound, “authoritarian” bureaucracies cannot respond appropriately, quickly, or effectively to such outbreaks: “Weak, undemocratic governance is dangerous for your health,” intones the self-righteous CFR.
This question really begs others: fast relative to what? China achieved some of the fastest institutional responses ever in modern epidemiological history.
Appropriate relative to what? This was the period of the Spring Festival, with the largest mass migration in history (billions of trips taken) with all the conflicting demands, uncertainties and strains such an event entails.
Effective relative to what? Modern responses under the neoliberal capitalist order (MERS, Ebola, A H1N1) have been an endless catalog of global catastrophes.
In the meantime, China seems to be moving towards containment of the disease (although it’s still too early speak definitively), while the virus seems to be spreading liberally throughout the rest of the world, oblivious to the “democratic” or “non-democratic” governance of the state. The responses across a cross-section of the 50+ countries, where the outbreak has now spread, constitute an instructive comparative study. Despite clear and transparent information about the disease from China—modelling strong measures to prevent transmission across national borders; clear, field-tested detection, prevention, and isolation protocols/practices—almost all the other country’s responses have been marked by serious, and potentially disastrous, errors. For example, 443 passengers were allowed to disembark from the Diamond Princess by the Japanese government on February 19th, despite very poor preventive and isolation measures from the infected. South Korea has seen an explosion of cases; despite previous experience with SARS and MERS its military is infected. Iran and Italy are facing serious pandemic risk, and many other countries, including the U.S. have seen “inexplicable” community transmission. To date, none of these other countries have been raked over the coals like the Chinese—accused of political and cultural practices that promote disease or that their political system is fundamentally illegitimate because of these errors . Nor has the media acknowledged or appreciated the extraordinary sacrifices and efforts the Chinese have taken to contain the outbreak, which has bought the rest of world time to prepare: it’s not an exaggeration to say the Chinese have fallen on the epidemiological grenade for the benefit of the rest of the world. Their sense of duty to humanity is summarized in the words of one medical professional: “It’s our responsibility to do this for the world.” The message here is plain: no matter what they do and how much they sacrifice, China is systemically delegitimated; when imperial-capitalist countries botch a response, kid gloves are put on and pockets are turned out so excuses can be found.
When the investigations are completed and the history finally written—and the Chinese government is ruthlessly investigating itself—the record may conclude that these were the best possible actions (see Appendix 2. Measures Taken by the City of Hefei, below) of an alert, organized, conscientious government, trying to do the best under difficult, almost impossible circumstances. Few other countries could have responded with the same level of vigor, organization, mobilization, and care for the wellbeing of its citizens and the world. Were the responses perfect? Of course not. Were there gaps and lapsus? Absolutely, yes. Was there over-and-under reaction? Yes. Did the central and local governments work hand-in-glove perfectly? No. Was there discontent expressed on Weibo and other public fora? Most certainly. Yet, given the extraordinary complexities and challenges of responding to the outbreak—its timing, its conflicting priorities, the size of the population, its stresses, strains and demands—we can be sure that this response will be written up in the Public Health textbooks. When the final judgement call is made—relative to responses by states in similar situations—it will be largely favorable to the Chinese government: bloviating ideologues, orientalists, and racists be damned.
Appendix 1. Partial Timeline of Outbreak and Responses
|Date||Event||Deaths / Cases|
|12/08/19||First suspected cases|
|12/8-18||Seven cases documented of suspicious pneumonia; Two linked to seafood market.|
|12/21||First cluster of patients identified with “an unknown pneumonia” (reported 1/01).|
|12/25||Report of medical workers possibly infected.|
|12/27||Dr. Zhang Jixian, the director of respiratory and critical care medicine at Hubei Provincial Hospital, notifies the hospital of an unusual cluster of viral cases that are not responsive to treatment; the hospital notifies the city’s’ disease control center.|
|12/28||Hubei CDC notified.|
|12/29||Hubei Provincial hospital convenes and consults with a group of experts; field investigations started; patients isolated.|
|12/30||An ophthalmologist, Dr. Li Wenliang, in Wuhan, China, posts a warning about a cluster of patients diagnosed with SARS to colleagues. patients quarantined. The doctor is censured by authorities for spreading unconfirmed rumors.*|
|12/30||Notice issued and public health announcement made by Wuhan Municipal Health Committee of an unknown viral illness.|
|12/31||Chinese government informs WHO of existence of a new unknown virus; emergency symposium held on treatment; experts dispatched to investigate.|
|1/01/20||Seafood market shut down as potential cause of outbreak. Chinese researchers at the CCDC publish an article on suspected outbreak.|
|1/02||41 patients confirmed with nCoV 2019.||0 / 41|
|1/05||WHO advises against travel restrictions.|
|1/06||SARS, MERS, Bird Flu ruled out. Human to human transmission not confirmed.|
|1/07||Mayor’s Party meeting (didn’t mention virus, human transmission unclear at this time); virus identified.|
|1/09||First casualty of outbreak (61 yr old with co-morbid symptoms—liver disease and stomach cancer)—death publicly reported on 1/11 after autopsy. No one knew that the disease was fatal until this case, nearly one month after the initial case, and this person was already seriously sick.||1 / 41|
|1/9-10||First genetic blueprint sequenced and posted of nCoV 2019 (this is a medical accomplishment).|
|1/12||“Surge in chest illnesses” reported; Dr. Li Wenliang hospitalized.|
|1/13-15||Japan and Thailiand confirm first infections outside of China (based on publicly released blueprint)—transparency assisted identification.|
|1/14||First suspected human-to-human transmission (the wife of the first casualty).|
|1/15||WHO indicates no sustained human-to-human transmission.|
|1/17||Second death, a 69 year old man in Wuhan.||2 / 62|
|1/18||Community “potluck” in Baibuting, Wuhan with 40,000 attendees (severely criticized afterwards; however, human-human transmission was still unclear at this point).||2 / 121|
|1/20||Premier Li Keqiang urges decisive and effective actions.|
|1/22||People in Wuhan told to wear masks.|
|1/23||Quarantine announced of Wuhan; all outbound traffic frozen, WHO states this is not Public Health Emergency of global concern.|
|1/24||Thirteen Hubei cities quarantined; Seven provinces declare public emergency; Lancet article published.||16 / 830|
|1/25||10 provinces declare public emergency; NY Events cancelled around China; 5 other cities quarantined in Hubei; 56 million affected; Xi declares “grave situation.”|
|1/26||All wildlife trade banned; Spring Festival Holiday extended||56 / 2,000|
|1/27||The number of deaths and infections more than double.||106 / 4,515|
|1/30||WHO declares Global Emergency.||170 / 7,711|
|2/01||1st death outside of China (Chinese man in Philippines)||304 / 14,280|
|2/02||Huoshenshan hospital, dedicated to treatment of nCov 2019 opened; new mask factory commences production in Beijing.|
|2/03||Hong Kong medical staff go on strike, demanding that all non-Hong Kongers and mainlanders be banned entry (but Hong Kong citizens are allowed entry).||361 / 17,205|
|2/04||Second death outside of China (Chinese man from Wuhan in Hong Kong).||427 / 20,000+|
|2/05||Diamond Princess Cruise ship quarantined; Americans evacuated from Hubei.|
|2/07||Dr. Li Wenliang dies from 2019 nCoV.|
|2/10||Death toll surpasses that of SARS (774).||908 / 40,171|
|2/13||Party Secretary of Hubei, and the top official of Wuhan sacked from their positions; 5th Diagnostic and Treatment Plan issued by the National Health Commission directs cases to be confirmed on the basis of clinical diagnosis, including CT scans/chest x-rays. This resulted in a jump in 15,000 cases, of which 90% came from a clinical diagnosis.|
|2/14||First death in France; Westerdam cruise ship, docked in Cambodia, disembarks tourists who continue their travels.|
|2/19||443 passengers disembark from the Diamond Princess despite inadequate screening; some take public transportation home.|
|2/20||China changes the criteria in the sixth national treatment and diagnostic plan. All confirmed cases must be determined using laboratory tests (NATs; nucleic acid tests;). Cases that have not been RNA tested to be considered Covid 19 if other symptoms correspond.|
|2/21||Shin Cheon Ji Church in South Korea is linked to a surge of infections (this church also has a branch in Wuhan); Hong Kong rioters celebrate the infection of a HK police officer by handing out beers.|
|2/26||U.S. & South Korea postpone military exercises on the Korean Peninsula.|
|2/27||Australia declares pandemic inevitable.|
|2/29||First U.S. death from Covid 19 in Seattle. U.S. imposes travel restrictions on Iran.||2,950 / 86,000|
* The incident is characterized by the western media as “suppression.” However, it’s important to note: 1) he was not a virologist or epidemiologist; 2) he was not treating these patients; 3) it was not SARS; 4) the nature of the disease was being investigated, but was still unknown at the time; 5) and, most importantly, all of the patients were quarantined.
Appendix 2. Measures Taken by the City of Hefei
The following are some of the measures taken by the city of Hefei,Anhui province—a neighboring region of Wuhan—to minimize contagion. Many cities have flexible but similar measures.
1. Epidemiological Bulkheads/Silos
Contrary to Western media, most people are not quarantined, unless they have been diagnosed with the virus. Each Chinese city has a neighborhood block (“family garden”). You are generally free to move inside the neighborhood. In large cities, it’s a usually complex of apartment blocks with gardens. This is a siloing/containment of risk: restricting the risk of contagion to small manageable/isolable units. It’s the epidemiological equivalent of a bulkhead—which the Chinese invented for ships—whichcontains a problem (breach, damage, incident) to small contained area without it affecting the whole.
2. Risk management/social distancing
Outside the neighborhood, for most people, the number of times you enter and exit is restricted to 3 times a week at the current moment. This puts a numerical limit to the amount of people who can interact with each other, and statistically reduces risk. Public gatherings/interactions are restricted/banned. At the current moment, people who are going to work are exempt from this limit if they present a paper from their company. Public transport is running but nearly empty. Each time you re-enter your neighborhood, you are scanned with an infrared scanner for fever.
3. Vector management
There is constant sterilization of potential vectors. For example, grocery stories, where people have to interact with each other and goods, are sterilized every two hours with chlorine bleach (on all contact surfaces). This is comparable to turning every public venue into the equivalent of a hospital in terms of hygiene procedures.
People are required to use gloves, masks, and other PPE relative to the risks involved. All physical money deposited in banks is sterilized before it re-circulates. However, almost all transactions are cashless using electronic wallets (WeChat or Alipay). There have been a number of creative measures to prevent contamination of surfaces touched by multiple people (for example, using post-it-notes on elevator buttons, to be removed after each contact).
4. Rapid screening and hospitalization
The hospitals and clinics are constantly upgrading and improving their screening, assessment, and treatment procedures using state of the art processes. (Across the country, the number of people treated and healed is over 12x the casualty rate. This is despite the pulmonary complications requiring tremendous resources and other specialized equipment (ventilators, ECMO (extracorporeal membrane oxygenation) machines). There is real-time contact tracking/mapping/monitoring of cases, and constant updating of measures, allocation, tactics using massive computational resources.
All virus-related medical services are free.
5. Whole-of-Society Approach
The above measures are examples of what the WHO commends as a systematic, whole-of-society approach that has “changed the course of the outbreak” and prevented the infection of “hundreds of thousands”. The WHO notes that China is using the “standard tools of public health” and applying them with “a rigor and innovation of approach, on a scale never seen before in history”. This involves:
- A differentiated, scaled approach tailored to the needs of each province, municipality, and locality, depending on the level of outbreak, and the specific local context.
- A phenomenal level of organized, collective action and cooperation
- A repurposing of the machinery of government and infrastructure towards prevention and health
- An agile, science-based approach, turbo-charged through the use of technology (AI, Big Data and 5G).
- Advanced logistics, distribution, and communication.
We can note that these things themselves are possible because of China’s political economy:
- Good central coordination, driven by a well-informed, well-designed, science-driven policy for the common good (that can suspend or override market forces)
- Enthusiastic, voluntary compliance from all sectors of society
- Well-coordinated, well-managed neighborhood units on the ground taking charge of local task management
- Incredible logistical coordination and supply of goods and supplies
- World class, state-of-the-art web, tech, and computational infrastructure—as one of the most wired societies in the world, people are able to communicate, work from home, hold meetings, do medical consultations, order consumer items over the internet (and deliver with drone and robots), as well as apply advanced computational tools towards contact tracing/mapping/tracking, logistics, education, and policy adjustment.