Monday, March 16, 2020

What China's Response to Coronavirus Tells Us About Future Actions in the US

What China's Response to Coronavirus Tells Us About Future Actions in the US

Nothing quite captures the dilemma and absurdity of the current situation like Facebook.  Take one look and you might think we're at the end of times or we're completely overreacting to this virus.  So what is it and what does the future look like for America?  Should you run to the store by 1030 this morning before the stores close as one friend suggests?  Should you avoid taking your kids to the playground as another suggests?  Or should you just go on living your life like nothing is going on as others suggest?

Viral Seriousness

My main point in writing is not to convince you this is serious or not, but to instead give future predictions on what life in the US will look like in a month or two.  That being said here are some facts of the virus.

  • The virus has a much higher mortality rate than any other rapidly transmitted virus on the planet.  (Do note this is based on early and definitely flawed numbers, we'll get to that later)
  • The virus is highly contagious
  • Most people who get the virus have mild symptoms and don't get tested (meaning the number who have the virus is much much higher everywhere than the numbers show)
  • There are already two confirmed strains of coronavirus.  The original virus that hit Wuhan, and a second strain, meaning the virus could replicate and survive like the flu.
  • There are zero deaths in children ages 0-9 reported, but that percentage goes up rapidly for the older age groups.
  • Since the onslaught of the virus markets around the world have gone into free fall, creating a world of uncertainty for employer and employee
  • Vaccine trials began this week, but it could be 12-18 months before we see a usable vaccine.

China's Response

China was first and hardest hit by this outbreak, but recently they have reported a huge drop in the rate of transmission of the virus. China's official report was that their extreme measures were working.  They were beating the virus.  However, this assertion is inaccurate. A week prior to claiming the virus is coming under their control, China changed the official reporting statistic of how the virus is counted.  Prior to the change, any case of the virus was reported as a case of the virus.  China worked hand in hand with the WHO to create testing facilities and mass quarantines where the virus was tested over and over again.  Any person testing positive was reported as having the virus.  A week ago, however, this statistic changed and now China only counts a new case of the virus if the person needs emergency attention and tests positive for the virus.  If a person tests positive, but shows no to little symptoms, the patient is released and the positive case does not count against the greater statistic.  Additionally, while much of China is on lock down, China is not widely testing outside of the Hubei province.

You might ask, why in the world would China do this?  Are they inflating the numbers to make the virus seem more dangerous?  Why not count all cases?  Also why the limit on testing?  China has put enormous restrictions on its citizens.  There are many accounts of actual dissent within China over these restrictive measures.  This puts China in a dangerous situation.  A halting economy, riddled with debt, and restrictive government measures don't go well together.  So what's China's solution?  State propaganda that they are beating the virus, and stopping testing.  What does this mean for the world and for the rest of us?  I think it means that in a very short time, you will see China ease up on restrictions for the virus.  People will go back to work, the economy will awaken, and most importantly for the current regime in China, the economic situation will stabilize, but what about the virus?

Here, friends, is the truth.  The virus is out.  It cannot be stopped, and as much as we care about flattening the curve, our economies can't handle it.

Flattening the Curve

We've all heard the term now of flattening the curve.  The idea is to prevent the spread long enough to allow the virus to affect people slowly.  The problem is that that curve is impossible to reach.  In order to spread it out long enough for the virus to infect just enough people but not too many people, we would need to have some kind of controlling mechanism, which we just don't have.  The measures we have in place work relatively effectively, but in many cases they are too effective and cause too much of a drain on the economy.  The end result is the virus isn't at a high enough controlled potential to reach limits in hospitals while also not overly spreading.  

China is the great example, that even in a government controlled space, the economy eventually reaches a breaking point.  The same will happen to the US.  Large companies are already asking for bailouts, stocks are in free fall, so much so that trading has been stopped twice in a week.  Our economy is breaking.  Trillions of dollars of private and government debt looms over investors heads.  Eventually, the economy will win the argument.

Coronavirus is serious, it is being treated seriously, but the reality is that no state has the capacity to really flatten the curve.  The curve will flatten out a little with these month long measures we are putting into place currently, but I seriously doubt these measures will be able to continue in the future.


So what should you do?  Should you make a run on the stores and get 3 months supply of goods?  Should you avoid going to parks with kids?  Should you just live life like normal?  I think we should all try to fall somewhere more in the middle.  Eventually, the virus will affect our families whether we like it or not.  Stores aren't going to close, so this isn't the end of times (although it might be if you are out of toilet paper).  Be kind to those parents who do take their kids to the park.  Be kind to those who have to travel now. At the same time, however, travel restrictions should be heeded to the best of your ability, do your best to prevent the spread.  But the sad truth is that eventually, we will most likely all have to live with this virus and its effects.

My name is Bryson, I have a master’s degree in International Politics and Economics, and I have lived and traveled far and wide. I have worked for multiple international organizations like the United Nations, the World Trade Organization, the World Bank, the International Visegrad Fund, and the US Dept of State.

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