the test reports were locked into the safety deposit box
January 29, 2020 7:48 AM   Subscribe

Wuhan journalist on the lengthy coverup of the coronavirus outbreak, saying that there should not be any praise for the government's "dramatic actions" in quarantining Wuhan.
Shortage of diagnostic equipment could be the main cause, Reuters reports, of the #WuhanCoronovirus outbreak: "testing kits for the disease were not distributed to some of Wuhan’s hospitals until about Jan. 20."
Overcrowding and desperation at Wuhan's hospitals, on-the-ground reports via the Chinese Storytellers network.
"I firmly believe that our people’s right to health should come before all political considerations": Taiwan's President Tsai on China's widely followed demand that Taiwan be excluded from international bodies, including the World Health Organization.

"Front-line doctors who spoke up about the outbreak were taken in for questioning. Eight Wuhan citizens who dared to post about the outbreak online were summoned by the police and singled out in public announcements through official media." When the official announcement of human-to-human transmission was finally made "no admission that the outbreak had been concealed, that there had been serious delays in reporting, that a “super-spreader” had infected more than 14 health workers in the city, or that hospitals in Wuhan were suffering shortages of critical resources." (China Media Project)
posted by spamandkimchi (41 comments total) 42 users marked this as a favorite
 
I was speaking to a friend who previously lived in China about this the other day and I noticed such a huge disparity from what she was describing and what I've been seeing in news and social media in the US. Thanks for posting this.
posted by xarnop at 8:07 AM on January 29 [2 favorites]


It's vital that these voices are heard.
posted by doctornemo at 8:12 AM on January 29 [2 favorites]


Speaking of which, one account from Global Voices.
posted by doctornemo at 8:12 AM on January 29 [1 favorite]


Yeah I have been thinking “they’re lying, fucking lying liars who lie” about the official Chinese response to this. There’s no way a cryptically infectious virus would spread like they were reporting.
posted by seanmpuckett at 8:24 AM on January 29 [2 favorites]


I noticed such a huge disparity from what she was describing and what I've been seeing in news and social media in the US.

It's been weird on US social media. There's always been suspiciously fast and ubiquitous cries of "bias" and "Sinophobia" that appear around any negative story about China, but with this virus outbreak their FUD system seems to have kicked into overdrive.
posted by the legendary esquilax at 8:30 AM on January 29 [4 favorites]


The China Media Project piece makes it sound as though the time to quarantine Wuhan (assuming a better quarantine) was actually December, but the administration didn't want to rock the boat and now it's a semi-useless measure.

It seems really obvious that cities everywhere need to get better plans in place, leaving all other questions of politics aside. Assuming that a disease can be spotted very early, there obviously needs to be a plan for the state to distribute supplies during quarantine, probably starting with surgical masks since if people have masks, they can go out to pick up supplies from central locations. And there needs to be public education scaffolding the whole thing, so that people know what is going to happen next - like a better version of earthquake preparedness on the West Coast.

It seems like it would be possible for city governments to distribute preparedness kits with a small number of masks, instructions and whatever other small things would be useful and reassuring (alcohol wipes? hand sanitizer?) so that most households would have them.

If anything, we might be a little bit lucky (unless the virus mutates to become worse) because the death rate is low and probably most people really can be treated at home. This would be a great time for cities around the world (but especially regions where viruses tend to start out) to plan, educate and distribute materials.

Everyone should have a limited kit at home, and there should be depots where people can get kits at short notice. It should be possible to provide reassuring instructions for home treatment of basic flu-like illnesses in otherwise healthy people. The state should have plans for transporting and distributing supplies to an area that is under quarantine, plus plans for some kind of distributed triage system so that people don't panic about crowded hospitals.

This is a rich world. We should be able to have a global response of material and personnel to substantially mitigate pandemics and render them less frightening to citizens.

It's worrying, because of course first you need a government that puts the people first, and who has that these days anywhere?

~~
I mean, obviously, I've seen all kinds of racist stuff about China and the epidemic. There is plenty of bias and Sinophobia. It's the same kind of racism and panic that greets anything from China. The signature feature is not treating this epidemic as something that's happening to regular people who have regular lives like anybody else; also the assumption that the Chinese government is uniquely bad and the US government government would be doing a bang-up job distributing immediate cures from our well-stocked, highly staffed and free hospitals while being fully transparent and using our well-staffed, well-funded government health service to make details available to the public.
posted by Frowner at 8:39 AM on January 29 [26 favorites]


Sinophobia ... [and] ... the assumption that the Chinese government is uniquely bad and the US government government would be doing a bang-up job distributing immediate cures from our well-stocked, highly staffed and free hospitals while being fully transparent and using our well-staffed, well-funded government health service to make details available to the public

Hah, yes. I'm assuming that the Chinese state is pretty good at what they have to do. But the fact that it is starting to show signs of panic in public is somewhat worrying.

Also, I know the emergency hospitals are probably a good idea, but they're also cramming together infected and uninfected people in confined spaces.
posted by carter at 8:55 AM on January 29 [2 favorites]


also the assumption that the Chinese government is uniquely bad and the US government government would be doing a bang-up job

This is kind of what I mean. No one here has said this. None of the article have said this. Yet every criticism of China seems to always be met with some variant of "Oh, so the US is perfect, is it?" Stating the simple fact that the Chinese government has, say, not been transparent about this viral outbreak is not a statement that China is uniquely bad or that the US is therefore good.
posted by the legendary esquilax at 8:55 AM on January 29 [42 favorites]


Yes, but literally on my twitter I have seen this, along with a lot of calumny about Chinese people (WHICH I DO NOT NEED TO LIST AND HAVE REMOVED etc etc). I've seen even people on the left repeat incorrect racist talking points about just regular, everyday Chinese life.

If you want to talk about a virus and be taken seriously as an adult, you [and by "you" I mean "people on Twitter'] need not to say obviously incorrect and racist things. If someone leads with a tweet straight out of Orientalism, I don't feel inclined to believe them when they start talking about viral sequencing, and I don't really feel happy giving people a pass on obviously incorrect and racist things just because there is a virus (which is likely to predominantly impact China, not Minnesota, so no "imminent emergency panic" excuses for people here).
posted by Frowner at 9:12 AM on January 29 [11 favorites]


I find that journalists, especially those who (if not ethnically Chinese) have been reporting out of Asia for a while, have a good calibration for what is xenophobic. For example: "I wrote a piece on that stupid bat video, and the frequent racism of stories blaming Chinese eating habits for disease."

I was in Seoul during the SARS outbreak, which occasioned lots of (ridiculous-to-me) nationalistic kimchi-touting media coverage in Korea about how fermented foods made Koreans immune to SARS, along with general reporting about the truly horrific coverup in China at the time. Even those who are critical (see China Media Report) of the Chinese government, acknowledge that the major media outlets have been on the story, even if the Communist Party-owned newspapers are still pumping out puff pieces about Winnie the Pooh.

So basically, Frowner, while I hear you on the tendency toward xenophobic China-stoking fears in North American public discourse, I'm with legendary esquilax on let's make sure we don't course correct into downplaying anything.
posted by spamandkimchi at 9:30 AM on January 29 [20 favorites]


From international relations/global health scholar Yanzhong Huang in the 2004 special issue "Learning from SARS: Preparing for the Next Disease Outbreak" U.S. Institute of Medicine, Forum on Microbial Threats
The government’s heavy reliance on quarantine during the epidemic also raises a question about the impact of future disease control measures and the worsening of the human rights situation in China. This question, of course, is not unique to China—even countries like the United States are debating whether it is necessary to apply mandatory approaches to confront health risks more effectively. The Model Emergency Health Powers pushed by the Bush administration would permit state governors in a health crisis to impose quarantines, limit people’s movements and ration medicine, and seize anything from dead bodies to private hospitals (Kristof, 2003).

... Official reports suggested that innocent people were dubbed rumor spreaders and arrested simply because they relayed some SARS-related information to their friends or colleagues (Xinhua News, 2003d). According to the Ministry of Public Security, public security departments have investigated 107 cases in which people used Internet and cell phones to spread SARS-related “rumors (Renmin wang, 2003d).” Some Chinese legal scholars have already expressed concerns that the government, in order to block information about epidemics, may turn to more human rights violations (ChineseNewsNet, 2003).
posted by spamandkimchi at 9:44 AM on January 29 [1 favorite]


The public health banners on the outbreak are intense.

“Facemask or on life support machine, you pick one.”
“Eat wild animals today, meet in hell tomorrow." (source)

带病回乡, 不孝儿郎
传染爹娘,丧尽天良
Returning home with your disease,
Will not make your parents pleased.
Infect mom and dad,
And you’ll be so sad. (source)
posted by spamandkimchi at 9:54 AM on January 29 [19 favorites]



The public health banners on the outbreak are intense.

“Facemask or on life support machine, you pick one.”
“Eat wild animals today, meet in hell tomorrow." (source)

带病回乡, 不孝儿郎
传染爹娘,丧尽天良
Returning home with your disease,
Will not make your parents pleased.
Infect mom and dad,
And you’ll be so sad. (source)


Spamandkimchi, I hear you re the intense PRC public health notifications, and I'm completely for this kind of notification! From last week:

The Chinese government warned that anyone who hides infections will be “forever nailed to history’s pillar of shame.”
posted by lalochezia at 10:02 AM on January 29 [4 favorites]


This is also an interesting case to look at how misinformation related to a popular news topic can spread and really affect the discussion.

Jane Lytvynenko, a disinfo expert, has a long and disturbing (and funny) Twitter thread with lots of examples.
posted by BlueTrolleybus at 10:02 AM on January 29 [11 favorites]


Johns Hopkins has a GIS map displaying confirmed cases and deaths by region as a way of trying to be transparent about what is happening.
posted by nubs at 11:12 AM on January 29 [4 favorites]


but seriously ...

Here’s some sensational, unconfirmed stories about coronavirus because we really need the website traffic

and

Report: Outbreak of idiocy spreading 10,000 times faster than coronavirus

Tens of thousands of people were affected by a novel fake news claim that the Chinese government was developing coronavirus at Canada’s National Microbiology Lab leaving at least 10,000 people stupider.
posted by philip-random at 11:17 AM on January 29 [5 favorites]


Journalist William Yang's piece for Nikkei Asia Review.

Yang wrote on Twitter: "I got in touch with interviewees when the lockdown was first introduced, but kept up with them over the course of the Lunar New Year holiday. Basically, the consensus was that the Wuhan City government has failed to warn citizens of the virus when pneumonia cases began to emerge." From the article, about the lack of info in late December as the outbreak began:
Rumors spread quickly on social media, but the local government assured residents that the disease was "containable and curable," so she didn't worry unduly. "I did go buy some masks and surgical spirit, but I wasn't immediately putting them on everywhere I go," [Wuhan resident Dorothy] told the Nikkei Asian Review... "I'm very angry, because I didn't realize the virus was so contagious," Dorothy said. "I visited museums and theaters in Wuhan on Jan. 17 and 18. If I had known how serious the outbreak was, I would have never left my house at all."
Last round of #WuhanVirus update from Yang: The number of total confirmed cases is at 6091, and there are 9239 suspected cases. Death toll rises to 133, with the latest case coming from #Sichuan province.
posted by spamandkimchi at 1:00 PM on January 29 [6 favorites]


This seems to be a comprehensive regularily updated map about the spread of
the disease.
posted by adamvasco at 3:55 PM on January 29 [1 favorite]


In news report I see complaints about lack of ability to test for the 2019-nCoV virus. So I'm wondering how we develop, manufacture, and distribute materials for testing for a new virus. This CDC page talks about detecting the virus by PCR. I assume that PCR is easier to do now than when I dd it in 1990, but it is a process requiring many steps, many materials, and experience. If PCR is the only available method now, it's no wonder that testing is not widely available. I have no idea how long it would take to develop a simpler, faster test (ELISA?) for field use.
posted by neuron at 9:00 PM on January 29


As the story has slowly slowly crept into the light it was striking how the Chinese Gov. was saying “everything’s cool! It’s all cool! Just a light scratch, really!” While scrambling frantically - the 1,000 bed hospital built in 16 hours - that made it all deeply suspicious and worrying. Knowing that they’re just covering up banal corruption and ineptitude and not a truly catastrophic, extinction-level viral outbreak. A bad virus, but just bad, not bubonic-plague bad.
posted by From Bklyn at 11:10 PM on January 29 [3 favorites]


I found this set of graphs somewhat worth looking at for a 'you are here" status regarding coronavirus. Basically, it compares coronavirus to 2009 swine flu and to SARS, two fairly modern 'epidemic' type diseases with well-documented spreads and fatality rates. As near as I can tell, the poster's data is solid and matches the official numbers for all three diseases. Let us hope that WHO and local governments do their best to get in front of it. The current trend line for "rate of infections" is somewhat worrisome.
posted by which_chick at 4:16 AM on January 30


whats troubling about those graphs is the way the numbers kind of explode. Especially considering that we don't know what they might actually/ should actually be - presuming that China's Gov has been fudging them out of some distorted sense of self-preservation.
posted by From Bklyn at 4:41 AM on January 30 [1 favorite]


Here's a somewhat contrarian view of the situation, not necessarily one I agree with:
The problem with the coronavirus is that we are not yet absolutely sure whether it is more like SARS, highly contagious and lethal, or like seasonal influenza, contagious and unpleasant but rarely fatal. Right now it appears to be closer to influenza (which is from a different family of viruses). If this continues to be the case, then we must question whether waging a full-scale war on the disease is really the best thing to be doing. Military language encourages the illusion that we can bring evolution under human control: Wars are to be won. The risks of death or serious illness from the coronavirus currently seem to be broadly comparable to those that we accept every year as a result of influenza.
posted by destrius at 6:56 AM on January 30 [2 favorites]


The risks of death or serious illness from the coronavirus currently seem to be broadly comparable to those that we accept every year as a result of influenza.

Yes, that's what it appears to be right now, but we're still in the early stages of this (according to the Johns Hopkins map, there are 7,783 confirmed cases right now with 170 deaths (2.2%) and 133 recovered (1.7%), which means we've only seen the outcome in 3.9% of the cases to this point). If it turns out that the rate of death or serious complications from this virus is actually much higher, then having done nothing has huge implications.

I feel like the people in charge of making these decisions are fucked either way - if it turns out to be no more dangerous than the flu, they'll be criticized for over-reacting; if it turns out the be more dangerous, they'll be criticized for not acting swiftly or harshly enough. I guess this is what comes of the the omni-present 24/7 need for news and reaction to news.
posted by nubs at 8:04 AM on January 30 [1 favorite]


it's not the various medical/organizational actions being taken that concern me at all -- it's the rather breathless and unrelenting media coverage it's getting (certainly up here in Canada), which is, of course, some kind of fusion of our (the public's) paranoia-xenophobia-ignorance and their (the media's) compulsion to keep pushing the story without, I fear, any serious contemplation of where our aforementioned paranoia-xenophobia-ignorance may take things.

A well informed public is a solid bulwark against a potential pandemic, no question, but given the current confusionism (not an official word yet, but it should be) infecting so much of our culture of late, are we (the public) capable of being informed without leaping to panic?
posted by philip-random at 8:21 AM on January 30 [1 favorite]


Nature has an updates page which, if you read through all of it, has a bit more information about the virus.

Things that I'm wondering:

1. How is the lag in reporting playing into the sudden leap in cases? Were these all cases that started on, like, January 27, meaning a very rapid spread, or were these cases where people have been low-grade sick and the reporting is only now catching up?

2. When is someone declared recovered? Who does this? If a lot of people are being treated at home, how is their condition being monitored? Like, right now there are ~179 deaths and ~133 recoveries, and yet I'm not seeing any scientific body saying that this means a more than 50% mortality rate, so there's obviously some calculation missing.

3. Less important, but I'm curious - why didn't scientists in China give the virus to other labs after they started to be able to grow it? Is this typical in epidemics generally as just a thing that countries don't do? Was it some internal political/scientific thing? Was it out of fear that there would not be reciprocity (ie, someone else develops a better test but won't share it with China)?
posted by Frowner at 8:25 AM on January 30 [1 favorite]


A well informed public is a solid bulwark against a potential pandemic, no question, but given the current confusionism (not an official word yet, but it should be) infecting so much of our culture of late, are we (the public) capable of being informed without leaping to panic?

On the other side of this question, is the media capable of informing the public without attempting to stoke panic & fear, because that is what drives eyeballs? The media is bad at presenting information, the public bad at interpreting it.
posted by nubs at 8:26 AM on January 30 [2 favorites]


Toronto is apparently out of hand sanitizer and face masks. City Councillor Krystin Wong-Tam is taking all the air time she can get to ask non-Chinese people to not be dicks to Chinese people. Seriously. Sigh.
posted by seanmpuckett at 8:49 AM on January 30 [5 favorites]


(according to the Johns Hopkins map, there are 7,783 confirmed cases right now with 170 deaths (2.2%)

IANAD, but does that mean the current case fatality rate is about 2%? According to Wikipedia, that still makes it significantly more lethal than influenza.

Because of that, I'm not sure I would also say that it's "no more dangerous" than influenza. Some people I've seen online and spoken to just cite that influenza kills thousands, so that means this disease is not dangerous at all. But influenza infects tens of millions of people (in the US), so I don't think it's comparable at this point.

I think whether or not the media is appropriately reporting this is a little difficult to determine when you also consider that some media organizations do have readers in China. For example, the NYT provides Simplified Chinese translation for it's Coronavirus updates page, which may have helped provide some critical information to those who could get through the firewall.
posted by FJT at 9:17 AM on January 30


A lot of this feels like security theater. I have no idea if measures like suspending flights and closing borders are better than diligent screening at ports of entry. From journalist William Yang:
British Airway announced that since the epidemic becomes more and more serious, they decide to cancel all the flights to #China for one month. But flights to #HongKong will not be affected.
And #Russia has just announced that they are suspending all Chinese nationals to apply for electronic visa starting today. Plus, Moscow will close it’s far Eastern border with #China as part of the disease prevention mechanism.
posted by spamandkimchi at 9:23 AM on January 30


Also if it is similar to the flu in both mortality risks and symptoms, this new coronavirus seems like it could be relatively easily treated, as long those who are vulnerable have access to medical care, and those who are infected aren't roaming around the universe getting more people infected.

My very limited understanding is that flu mortality risk is a combination of the individual's underlying health/vulnerability, and the increased risk of co-infection. From Nurse.com:
During the influenza pandemic of the early 20th century, secondary infections caused by S. aureus were a primary culprit in the staggering death toll of the time. Today, the relatively new and more virulent strain of S. aureus, the “superbug” MRSA, is being implicated in a disturbing trend in influenza-related deaths, especially in the pediatric population.
posted by spamandkimchi at 9:32 AM on January 30


The biggest unknown to me in terms of the magnitude of threat is whether this new coronavirus is infenctious before symptoms appear. I’ve seen reputable news sources report both ways—that the virus has been confirmed to have a lengthy incubation period and that we don’t know yet. If it does, then a lot of the measures do seem to be security theater, because short of a quick test for the presence of the virus, we can’t know if any given person is carrying it or not. Does anyone have solid information about that question?
posted by overglow at 9:35 AM on January 30 [3 favorites]


IANAD, but does that mean the current case fatality rate is about 2%? According to Wikipedia, that still makes it significantly more lethal than influenza.

I think the problem is, and I'm sure I saw/read an interview with somebody with much more knowledge on this (that I can't find back), is that it's too early to draw any conclusions one way or the other - there is a pool of confirmed cases, but not yet a lot of cases that can be put into an "outcome" pile. And there's problems with both sets of outcome data from my perspective - for those cases where this is fatal, what are the co-morbidities (i.e. are these people who also had other chronic health conditions that maybe increase the risk?); and for those who are "recovered", does that mean back to normal, or are there any complications that will persist after the virus?
posted by nubs at 9:56 AM on January 30


The biggest unknown to me in terms of the magnitude of threat is whether this new coronavirus is infenctious before symptoms appear.

The evidence seems to strongly point to yes, at least in some cases, but we don't know how long or how often. But there is one known case of an asymptomatic 10-year-old who was reportedly shedding the virus. The case was originally published in the Lancet, and summarized here.
posted by Emera Gratia at 10:18 AM on January 30 [2 favorites]


IANAD, but does that mean the current case fatality rate is about 2%? According to Wikipedia, that still makes it significantly more lethal than influenza.

Because of that, I'm not sure I would also say that it's "no more dangerous" than influenza. Some people I've seen online and spoken to just cite that influenza kills thousands, so that means this disease is not dangerous at all. But influenza infects tens of millions of people (in the US), so I don't think it's comparable at this point.


I think one of the problems comparing these statistics is that 2% represents 2% of the people who've gone in for treatment, not 2% of the total number of people who have been infected. If there's a large number of people who experienced only mild symptoms and, especially before it turned into an international news story, didn't think enough of it to seek treatment, they won't be counted in the denominator and, depending on how many people there are in that category, that could drop the fatality rate considerably. I would expect that now coronavirus is something people are more alert for, more non-fatal cases will be identified, and over time we might see a fatality rate that is more straightforward to compare to the flu.
posted by Copronymus at 1:13 PM on January 30 [5 favorites]


As a nervous person, I would like to subscribe to Copronymus’ “Don’t Panic!” newsletter.
posted by Don.Kinsayder at 1:42 PM on January 30 [2 favorites]


According to the WHO situation report : (pdf link)

Patients with 2019-nCoV infection, are presenting with a wide range of symptoms. Most seem to have mild disease, and about 20% appear to progress to severe disease, including pneumonia, respiratory failure and in some cases death.

I would guess 20% severe cases might put a strain on the system
posted by yyz at 2:13 PM on January 30 [1 favorite]


Hello from Hong Kong. Today:

- school was cancelled until March 2; Macau has already postponed school indefinitely. About 30,000 Hong Kong students live in Shenzhen, right over the border from Hong Kong, and commute over the border each day to go to school here.

- doctors and nurses said the health system could 'collapse' unless the border with China is closed; the current closures of some immigration checkpoints cover just 8% of the traffic over the border - the most common crossings are the MTR stations at Lo Wu and Lok Ma Chau

- we are one day past the day on which Ann Chiang, the head of the Health Services panel in the Legislative Council, told people to steam their masks to reuse them

There are still no masks in shops - the panic buying (and panicked use of them by asymptomatic healthy people...) has dried up supplies, leaving even private clinics short. Hand sanitiser is also impossible to find. I'm working from home for the foreseeable future and some friends have been told to take unpaid leave.

Scary times.
posted by mdonley at 11:51 PM on January 30 [11 favorites]


Mdonley, you all are really having the absolute worst stretch. I'm so sorry. I can't imagine being a parent or a student there right now.

Obviously much less important, but we had a fun extended trip planned in China, Hong Kong and Japan this spring. We were hoping to at least still make it to Hong Kong even if mainland China didn't work out, but I don't think we'll be able to. I am substantially less concerned about my own personal health in Hong Kong than I am about not being allowed into our next destination. It seems like a lot of the travel panic that has hit other countries about Chinese nationals and visitors is oozing out over Hong Kong, as well. I'm concerned about the growing disconnect between the WHO's caution not to excessively restrict travel, and how countries are responding. It became a lot harder to move around the world very abruptly this week.
posted by bowtiesarecool at 9:37 AM on January 31 [1 favorite]


From journalist Qingqing Chen's twitter: “The first thing I have been doing every day during these holidays is rebutting rumors in various family WeChat groups, as middle-aged and elderly groups are more likely to believe in online rumors.“ #coronavirus #China

Excepted from their Feb 1 article on internet/media-fueled frenzies within China
A report by the Xinhua News Agency on Friday night claimed Chinese patent medicine, Shuanghuanglian oral liquid, containing three herbal ingredients, is effective in containing the novel coronavirus infection, citing the latest joint research between Shanghai Institute of Materia Medica under Chinese Academy of Sciences and Wuhan Institute of Virology. The news was also reported by People’s Daily soon after. It emerged as the most searched topic on Chinese Twitter-like Weibo. People rushed to purchase the medicine online and offline, resulting in it to go off the shelves in quick succession.

Pictures circulating on social media showed residents queuing up in front of pharmacies late-night braving the chilly weather to purchase Shuanghuanglian oral liquid. Some netizens even comforted each other when they found the drugs have been all sold out, planning another try in the early morning.

However, the People’s Daily published a contrasting report Saturday morning, urging people not to rush to purchase Shuanghuanglian oral liquid, as there is no specific anti-viral treatment recommended against coronavirus infection so far. Besides, research for treatment measures is still ongoing but it is yet to pass clinical trials.
posted by spamandkimchi at 11:10 AM on February 1


If you need a break from the news, this Messycow comic about the quarantine is pretty cute.
posted by evidenceofabsence at 6:26 PM on February 1 [4 favorites]


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