Asia

Fear, Fact and Fiction: COVID-19’s Origins and Spread

 

Photo by Isabella Mori, who provides this context: In traditional Taiwanese night markets, since people / food stands are in close contacts, most people / vendors wear masks now, in order to protect themselves and others.

I gave a talk yesterday for WorldOregon on COVID-19, and what we know about it’s origins and spread, as compared to conspiracy theories. What you might not know when you watch this is that I wrote a talk before asking how long it should be. So I wound up having a fifty minute talk for a twenty minute delivery. Throughout the whole talk I was trying to summarize. My bad. But I had a good time and enjoyed hearing the questions. Thanks WorldOregon! …

COVID19 and teaching in China

This letter written by Mi Fei. By 米芾(べい ふつ、1051年 – 1107年、中国の北宋末の文学者・書家・画家) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
I am very grateful to our guest blogger, who teaches at a university in China, for this powerful guest blog post:

January 24th is the biggest holiday of the year in China: the lunar Chinese New Year. As usual, most Chinese prepared for it several weeks before the occasion: food, candies, tickets back home…Nobody expected this New Year would become a most unforgettable one even in his/her whole life. The coronavirus became a household word almost overnight and quarantine also came suddenly before people realized. Over the past almost a month, people, especially those in epidemic areas, went through hard times. On the other hand, we are moved by one story after another about the devoted doctors, nurses, volunteers and all those in the whole world that extended their hands to help.

The spring term in our university originally planned to start on February 17. At the end of January, it was clear that the starting date had to be postponed. The school administration sent some documents early in February notifying all the staff and faculty to make a plan for the month. We were asked to make better use of the online platforms and resources. As a result of the encouragement from the Ministry of Education and development of online courses, there have been thousands of moocs available on the Internet for free, which in my opinion cover nearly all disciplines. As for my course (college English), we have been utilizing the online platforms for the textbook developed by the publishing press over the past five years. Therefore, what we need is to transfer the platforms from kind of self-learning to more guided learning. At the same time, we selected some relevant moocs either as a required component of the course or as recommended resources.

Guest blog: Chinese student questions about nCoV

I want to say my deep thanks for today’s guest blogger, who looks at the questions that Chinese middle school students have about nCoV in China:

Rachael G.

Middle School Teacher

Hangzhou, China

Resident in China since 2017

My CoN experience started prior to leaving Hangzhou in January. Reports were filtering out over WeChat concerning a virus in Wuhan similar to SARS. While I wasn’t overly concerned, I did pay attention to the news as I had been planning to travel to China prior to the SARS epidemic and had also been in the Middle East a year or so after the MERS outbreak. Suffice to say, these diseases were on my radar.

While visiting Portland during Chinese New Year, I was kept abreast of the situation by my school, the US Consulate in Shanghai, and news coming out of China and the Western news media. As the days progressed, my concerns grew and led to questions as to whether I would be able to return let alone whether I should return. After assessing the Chinese response to the outbreak, I made the decision to return based on many factors, including the seriousness with which the Chinese government was working to mitigate the spread and help Wuhan.

I am neither naïve nor uneducated. I know that my access to the internet and information is more limited in China due to a variety of factors I will not be addressing here. What I’d like to focus on at present is my students’ questions in response to the CoN. I teach grades 7 through 9 at a private school here in Hangzhou, Zhejiang Province, China. Our students come from a variety of socioeconomic backgrounds as entrance to the school is based on entrance exams and not the ability to afford tuition.

Prior to my return, my middle school head of department sent out these questions that the students were asking in regards to the Con outbreak.

Student Questions:

  1. Why can’t the medical supplies get to the hospital?
  2. Where does my money go?
  3. Why can’t we go out for walks or to appreciate nature in unoccupied areas?
  4. Did the closure of Wuhan really isolate the disease? Is closure good or bad?
  5. How can Chinese people help during this time?
  6. What will be the impact on those who left the city hours before or after the closure?
  7. Should the city have been closed or not?
  8. Should foreign countries open their doors to China during this time?
  9. How can we continue eat wild animals without getting sick?
  10. Why did it spread quicker than SARS?
  11. Why are there so many false statements being circulated?
  12. How will this affect our country’s economy and international status after it is fully resolved?
  13. How many people are likely to lose their jobs after this?

These questions led me to think about what is being said on the media the students have access to, what their parents might be sharing, the freedom they felt in inquiring, and their understanding of how the CoN affects not only themselves but their country as a whole and its place in the global community. These questions posed by 12-14 year old students range from concrete to abstract thinking.

Our biggest issue at present aside from fighting the CoN is fighting erroneous information. My students are asking in-depth questions. The country is fighting rumors and inflammatory news reporting, none of which help people get the accurate information they need to avoid transmission or understand the situation. This is not unique to China, as we see it in the Western world as well. Our biggest obstacles are fear and greed.

Coronavirus data visualization

The South China Morning Post has an amazing data visualization related on the novel coronavirus outbreak and how it compares to the SARS epidemic. The data visualizations include a map of cases over time, graphs comparing the number of infections to SARS, point visualizations to illustrate the health status of coronavirus patients in China, maps to demonstrate the distribution and fatality rates of different infectious diseases compared to nCoV, an image of a person with a display of symptoms by body area, and a fascinating visual display showing where people from Wuhan traveled between the start of the lunar New Year and the imposition of quarantine, a map of the area around the seafood market where the outbreak began, a chart of the top ten international travel destinations from Wuhan, images of the kind of animals sold in the live market (who knew that it sold the Chinese giant salamander; and why are they selling the scolependra?), a labeled photograph of a live market vendor at work butchering a frog, a map of railway lines from Wuhan, a map of Chinese cities and lockdown and more. The page shows how data visualizations can be combined with art to convey information. Impressive work.

Caixin (this link is to global edition) and the South China Morning Post are doing outstanding work covering this epidemic. The New York Times has an excellent article talking about the Chinese media coverage of the epidemic in a broader context.

For anyone interested in more recent updates about this epidemic, you can also follow my Twitter feed. Lastly, I have a blog post about nCoV and quarantine here. 

Shawn Smallman, 2020

Coronavirus and Quarantine

Health education poster, Hong Kong. Photo by Shawn Smallman

As I write these words nurses in Hong Kong are on strike to protest the fact that the Chief Executive, Carrie Lam, will not close the border to China. To be clear, the executive has sharply restricted entry to Hong Kong, closed most crossings, and forbidden entry from the most affected Chinese state, Hubei.  But there are still strong calls for a complete border closure coming from within Hong Kong’s medical community.  Similarly, the United States has restricted flights from China to U.S. citizens only; some U.S. airlines had already canceled service to China. All such quarantine measures are controversial.

On social media, such as Twitter, and in the press, a number of experts have denounced all quarantines as being not only ineffective but also in violation of WHO guidelines. These authors worried about panic overcoming good judgement, the economic costs of restricting travel, the stigma imposed on those from affected areas (Chinese in particular, but also all Asia), and the importance of upholding International Health Regulations. These are valid and important points. Some authors have also pointed to studies based on computer models showing that quarantines are ineffective with highly contagious respiratory diseases.

Recently the tone has shifted in the discussion, as it has become clear that some cases of the virus are being spread asymptomatically. The number of cases has grown quickly. Some apparent facts (such as no human to human transmission) that seemed true in mid-January are no longer true. So the stridency of the debate about quarantine has declined, but the debate continues.

So is there any role for quarantines to manage such a pandemic? And is there some other way to make a judgement that relies less on computer models? I would suggest that looking at the past history of respiratory pandemics, such as the 1918 influenza pandemic, might be useful. Can history suggest particular circumstances in which quarantines may work? …

Coronavirus podcast

Window of Chinese medicine store in Hong Kong, China. Photo by Shawn Smallman

There is so much discussion of the coronavirus epidemic in the media that it can be hard to find reliable information. One good source of measured, thoughtful information is this podcast, “Coronavirus Infections—More Than Just the Common Cold,” which is an interview with Anthony, S Fauci, the director of the National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Disease. You can also find this podcast on Stitcher and other podcast platforms. To listen to it on Apple podcasts, please search for “JAMA Author interviews,” and go to January 27, 2020.

If you are interested in learning more about live markets, you can read my work here. And this blog posts discusses quarantine and nCoV based on some historical context from the 1918 influenza pandemic.

Shawn Smallman, 2020

Market Sign, Hong Kong. Photo by Shawn Smallman

 

 

The South China Sea

Are you looking for an online resource that students might use to quickly understand the South China Sea dispute between China and its neighbors? You could do much worse than this brief video that was shared on Twitter. I know that we sometimes think of Twitter as the host for emotional oversharing, Russian bots and disinformation campaigns, but @9DashLine and @SCS_news are good feeds to follow if you want to keep abreast of the latest information on the South China Sea issue.

Shawn Smallman, 2020

Ghosts of China

 

Temple dedicated to the goddess of the Sea. Located on Causeway Bay, Hong Kong. Photo by Shawn Smallman

Every year I do at least one post about international folklore, such as a haunted house in Hong Kong, because I love the mysterious. This year, since I am studying Mandarin, I want to explore the idea of the ghosts in this language itself. The idea of the ghost is key in Chinese culture. One of the nation’s major holidays is the Hungry Ghost Festival (中元节) on the 15th day of the seventh lunar month. It’s a date to honor your ancestors, while also being careful to propitiate any wayward spirits. But what kind of ghosts might you fear meeting?

Ghosts across cultures

The Old Burial Ground at the Boston Commons. Photo by Smallman

I’ve long loved Japanese ghost stories, ever since I came across the stories of Lafcadio Hearn. As the epitome of modernity, with its vast urban metropolis of Tokyo, sophisticated infrastructure, and advanced education, you might expect that these supernatural traditions would be fading in Japan. After all, Hearn recorded his stories in the nineteenth century. Instead, the traditions are evolving, as Christopher Harding has described in an article, “Ghosts on the Shore.” In the aftermath of the 2011 tsunami, ghosts didn’t disappear, but their role changed, as they comforted the living. Harding’s well-written and thoughtful piece is worth reading, particularly to hear the thoughts of one Zen priest who has an interesting take on the divide between the living and the dead. …

China, Hong Kong and cyber espionage

Poster at McGill University in Montreal, Canada.

In 2017 I spent some time in Hong Kong and Macau, and had the opportunity to speak to a number of academics. One of the most frequent questions that they asked me was whether people in the United States were following events in Hong Kong. I had to tell them no. There were so many major political debates taking place within the United States itself that events in Hong Kong hadn’t drawn much attention. That has changed now.

Britain returned Hong Kong to China in 1999, under a “one country, two systems” approach. In recent years, however, people have become increasingly concerned about their independence. For example, in 2015 five booksellers in Hong Kong went missing. At least one of the men later claimed that he had been kidnapped for selling books critical of China’s leadership. This context shaped how people in Hong Kong viewed a proposed law to allow the extradition of Hong Kong’s residents to mainland China. The bill was presented in April, and provoked massive protests by June. Even after Hong Kong’s governor withdrew the bill in September the protests continued to escalate. This issue has come to embody the fears of most people in Hong Kong that they will lose autonomy. For this reason, one of the protesters’ demand is for complete suffrage in the selection of their leaders, along with amnesty for those who have taken part in the protests, and an independent investigation of what they view as police brutality. …

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