Coronavirus: China’s Perfect Storm?

This could be worse than the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) outbreak of 2002/3. Vlogger and former China-based businessman Matthew Tye (aka ‘laowhy86’) says that the new strain of coronavirus seems to be more transmissible than SARS; and early indications are that more people are dying than recovering. That makes the need for containment even more urgent.

Yet officials have been slow to admit the problem and respond accordingly, so exacerbating the spread of the disease. The first case appeared in Wuhan on 8 December, but a planned food-sharing public banquet for 100,000 people there went ahead on 18January, by which time 49 cases had already been made public, and the next day the populace was assured that the sickness was not very infectious. When a number of performers fell ill during the Government’s New Year celebrations on 21 January the State media merely praised them for carrying on with the show and showing great spirit. The following day came the order to wear masks (not enforceable with fines until a week later), and on 23 January Wuhan was finally quarantined and the airport closed. However, by this time five million people had already left the area and passengers had been allowed onto planes if they showed no symptoms, which unfortunately in the case of this virus take a long time to manifest themselves – as the authorities already knew - so many infected persons may have travelled out by air.

As China urbanises, many millions of people are moving around the country in pursuit of work. For example in Wuhan’s province of Hubei, the 2000 national census showed 2.8 million migrants  moving north to Beijing and south to Guangdong (both c. 700 miles distant) and to other coastal cities. This central region is well served with modern rail and road networks, and although Wuhan’s airport is now shut, there are huge numbers of other aviation routes in China, both internal and international, so air travel threatens to be an especially powerful disease vector.

The initial concern of officials, says Tye, was to suppress news of the outbreak. Eight people were arrested on 1 January for talking about the existence of the virus, and on 14 January media reporters were detained and their phones and cameras searched for information. By the end of the month the government was still arresting those who spoke out, and (26 January) banning articles on the internet.

Fellow vlogger and Tye associate Winston Sterzel (aka ‘serpentza’) reports on a doctor who treated the first cases and informed his clinical WeChat messaging group on 30 December, telling them not to make it public for fear of being closed down, but to warn family and friends. The authorities picked up on this and made him sign an undertaking not to spread rumours: ‘If you continue to be stubborn and don’t repent […] you will be punished to the full extent of the law! Do you understand?’ Subsequently he contracted the virus himself and is still fighting for his life.

Seeing the intensive preparations now ongoing (e.g. new hospitals being set up in days), it seems that the government’s media are under-declaring the number of cases. Sterzel says he receives feedback from Chinese followers saying more people die of the flu in the USA; but he points out that with coronavirus a higher proportion are hospitalised and there is no vaccine. Further, although China reports improbably few cases of flu annually, Sterzel’s doctor wife tells him that this is because their method of recording causes of death is different than in the West. Rather than report the immediate cause, they will write down any pre-existing condition (e.g. a heart problem) and attribute the death to that. That is the opposite approach to that used by the USA and UK (for an example of ours see page 5 here). So, this is a way in which the true state of affairs can be disguised.

The crisis management has moved on to scapegoating since (says Tye) the Chinese Communist Party’s focus is on maintaining its power and the confidence of the populace. The mayor of Wuhan resigned on 27 January, becoming a target for public shaming and hatred, but later laid part of the responsibility on the central government in Beijing, which in turn seeks to blame the local administration in Hubei, which had been downplaying the scale of the emergency.

The Chinese strongly resent critical comments from outsiders, says Sterzel, and are quick to accuse the latter of racism. It’s understandable, given China’s treatment by foreigners in past times; but it encourages a culture of denial and disinformation.

Some may say that Tye and Sterzel may not be entirely unbiased, since they have abandoned their businesses in China because of difficulties with the authorities. For his part Sterzel says that since President Xi came to power attitudes to foreigners have hardened and the ‘golden age’ of opportunity there for non-Chinese is over.

It is also most unfortunate that this epidemic, which needs close international cooperation, has come during a developing trade war. In 2018 President Trump imposed tariffs on Chinese imports, and China has retaliated with a reduction and then a total ban on US agricultural products, which were worth $19.5 billion to the US in 2017. This, added to other factors, is causing American farmers to suffer terribly. Trump is trying to protect US employment and Americans' standard of living, but the path down from globalisation is far more difficult than the way up and at the same time international relations are souring.

Perhaps, as this potential pandemic looms over us, we will start to work together again for the common good.

Excellent blogpiece by 'Legiron'
A more sanguine view from 'Moon of Alabama'
A pro-Chinese Westerner, Godfree Roberts, defends Beijing's approach

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Roger Morris 4 years ago Member's comment


Beating Buffett 4 years ago Member's comment

While I agree with most of this, what evidence shows that the #coronovirus is so deadly? Everything I've read has put the death rate at only about 2%, as opposed to about 10% for SARs.

Ayelet Wolf 4 years ago Member's comment

Yes, this map tracks the virus in real time:

As of a few minutes ago, out of the 14,637 confirmed infections, recoveries have outpaces deaths - 443 vs. 305. Of course these are just the official counts. It's likely considerably higher.

Duanne Johnson 4 years ago Member's comment

How can the mortality rate be only 2% if those who died from the disease are almost equal to those who have recovered. Seems almost like 50/50 to me.

Alpha Stockman 4 years ago Member's comment

Doctors in Taiwan have made some significant progress with a cocktail of flu drugs and HIV medicines. Apparently it significantly helped those who were infected including a 70 year old woman who has now fully recovered. So there is hope. (Source: CNN).

Rolf Norfolk 4 years ago Contributor's comment

The HIV connection is odd.

Alpha Stockman 4 years ago Member's comment

Yes, it is. I thought so too. Though Zero Hedge has reported about the odd HIV connection. It's not on TalkMarkets' main site but you can read it on Zero Hedge's TM personal blog:

Gary Anderson 4 years ago Contributor's comment

This is worth the read. Will the disease morph into a severe killer, percentagewise?

Rebecca Duncan 4 years ago Member's comment

If they don't find a cure, yes it will. Even with a low death rate, if enough people get infected, the death toll will be very high.

Rolf Norfolk 4 years ago Contributor's comment

Obviously I don't know and viruses can and do mutate. But you bet our scientists are on it. The biggest worry must be for the poor Chinese - all those millions in the sticks. Thanks for your appreciation.

Backyard Hiker 4 years ago Member's comment

Yes, I've been following the progression closely and I'd say that the poor people in China are in big trouble - the situation will only get worse, much worse. And even though the mortality rate is relatively low, it will decimate their economy.

Rolf Norfolk 4 years ago Contributor's comment

When they reviewed the stats in 2003 the overall figure was higher, esp. for the over-65s:

But in the current case there is concern that this virus seems more transmissible (the doctor who handled the first cases has come down with it, and presumably he will have taken all possible precautions); and the delay in tackling the problem has allowed millions of potential carriers to move out of area. The timing is terrible - imagine an outbreak in the US around the Thanksgiving homecoming period.