I want to thank my colleague Dr. Pronoy Rai, who joined me on my Dispatch 7 podcast to discuss labor migration in India. I enjoyed hearing about how he does fieldwork with the migrants. Towards the end he talked about COVID-19, and how it’s impacting labor migrants in India now. You can find the podcast episode here.
This week my Mandarin homework was to write tips to avoid novel coronavirus. I cheated and used Google Translate at points, so don’t think that my Chinese is this good. Here is what I wrote (after editing from my teacher) in Chinese first and then English. More importantly, please remember, I am not a doctor or scientist. I have written this assuming that the reader lives in a place with active coronavirus cases in their local area:
In order to keep you and your family safe from coronavirus, you should:
Be careful to avoid Fake News, especially on social media. There are many rumors. It’s best to trust experts.
Practice social isolation. Work from home if possible. If not, try to keep more distance from people at work.
Wash your hands frequently. Avoid touching your eyes.
Get as much sleep as you can. Take good care of your overall health.
Get a flu shot. This may keep you out of the doctor’s office where people are sick. It will also help to keep you from catching both the flu and the novel coronavirus at the same time.
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.
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? …
As we track the spread of the coronavirus outbreak, it’s helpful to have maps and other data visualizations to understand the data.
One useful site is Ncov2019Tracking, which says that it: “taps into the Twitter Streaming API and monitors tweets mentioning keywords related to the Novel coronavirus (2019-nCov) outbreak. A machine learning system trained with the supervision of experts filters informative tweets. Geographical entities mentioned in tweets – such as country and city names – are identified using the GeoNames database and used to place tweets on a global map.” This tool provides a useful means to track where people are discussing the epidemic on Twitter. It’s very clear (based on the map on January 31, 2020) that there is a lot of discussion related to the coronavirus taking place that concerns Indonesia and the Philippines.
Researchers at Johns Hopkins Center for Systems Science and Engineering have also created an excellent map and dashboard which shows the geographical location of 2019-nCoV cases (we need a better name). A dashboard also shows total deaths (213 at today’s right), the total number of recovered (222 today) and the total number of confirmed cases (5,806). On the left hand side of the screen there is the total count of cases (9,925) and their geographical locations. At this time, there are 9,783 cases in mainland China, 19 in Thailand, 15 in Japan, and 13 in Singapore. There are also an eclectic group of countries that have a single case: Cambodia, Finland, India, Nepal, Philippines, Sri Lanka, and Sweden.
This map allows us to understand China’s growing power from not only a financial but also a demographic standpoint. It’s also just fun to see which country has an equivalent population to a Chinese province. As someone who grew up on Canada, it was interesting that Canada’s population is roughly equivalent to that of Shanxi. And Germany’s population is roughly equivalent to that of Sichuan. Of course, in the long term China faces a future defined by a declining population, so this map lacks some context.
After the emergence of H5N1 avian influenza in 1997 Hong Kong implemented a sophisticated system to regulate live poultry markets. While this system is well designed and thorough, it also has limitations. The rise of H7N9 avian influenza (which is typically acquired through contact with poultry, including in live markets) makes this an appropriate time to revisit the ethical and practical issues related to this trade. Based on data from field observations of live markets in Hong Kong, and interviews with experts in the field, this paper recommends that the government of Hong Kong create a committee to examine the pros and cons of ending live poultry markets in this Special Administrative Region.
Although we think of arms control and peace treaties as relatively modern concepts, they have ancient roots. I’ve been reading Richard Louis Walker’s book, The Multi-State System of Ancient China, which was published by Shoe String press in 1953. He describes major negotiations that followed a period of devastating warfare during the Spring and Autumn period, as contending states struggled for primacy in China. Interestingly, his description of how the ancient states of China interacted would be all too familiar to a scholar in the modern Realist School. The idea of a Balance of power dominated Chinese politics in this distant time period in the same manner that it did in Europe in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.
In the sixth century BC a Sung statesman named Hsiang Shu (p. 56) lobbied the courts of multiple Chinese states, to try to reach an agreement to end the perpetual warfare. Even states that had little interest in negotiations found that they had no choice but to at least pretend to take part:
“The states had, of course, at least to pretend an interest in his idea. A Chin leader said, “War is destructive to the people, an insect that eats up the resources of a State, and the greatest calamity of all small States. If any one try to put an end to it, though we think it cannot be done, we must sanction his proposal. If we do not, Ch’u will do so, and proceed to call the States together, so that we shall lose the presidency of the covenants.” (Walker, 56).
As Walker describes (56-57) fourteen major states took part of in the discussion. Predictably, once an agreement was reached there was a dispute between the two most powerful states over who should sign first (57). The negotiations had gone so poorly that during the meetings “the Ch’u representatives even wore armor.” (57). In the end, even though an agreement was reached to end warfare, many states refused to sign, while the signatories ignored it (57).
As for statesman and peace-maker Hsian Shu, he sought a reward from the Prime Minister of Sung, to whom he presented a signed copy of the treaty. The Prime Minister responded with scorn, in a speech that deserves to be as frequently remembered in International Relations studies as the Melian Dialogue recorded by the Greek historian Thucydides. According to the Prime Minister of Sung, war was an inevitable tool of statecraft. To seek to abandon these tools was a delusion. He told Hsian Shu that he was lucky to have escaped without punishment, but now he was coming to him looking for a reward. The Prime Minister cut the copy of the treaty to pieces and threw it away (58).
Without the signature of all major states the peace treaty had no power, and the bitter wars continued.
I think that we have reached the point with global warming where we can no longer pretend that we’re going to meet our goals. That doesn’t mean that citizens globally can stop the effort to limit climate change. There is a vast difference between the worst scenarios and the best. There are also reasons for hope, from the plunging cost of solar power, to the rapid development of offshore wind power. At the same time, in the end it’s not enough. Given the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, the changing albedo of the Arctic due to declining ice cover, and the warming of our oceans, global warming will be continuing for centuries. At this point, human societies will be adapting to climate change far into the future, especially coastal communities. …
Every Halloween I write a blog post about the supernatural or the mysterious, from a book review regarding a Russian mystery, to a description of the best podcasts to make you afraid. Last summer I did fieldwork on public policy and infectious disease in southeastern China, during which I traveled to Hong Kong, Macau and Shenzhen. I was delighted by the ancient temples in Hong Kong, and fascinated by the enduring strength of traditional religion in the region. In fact, I was very disappointed to find that I was leaving Hong Kong one day before the “Festival of Hungry Ghosts” began on August 25th. But I was surprised to find that even urban and energetic Shenzhen is haunted by its past. This is surprising since the city has a population of perhaps 12 million people today, while it had a population of at most 30,000 in 1979. When I visited the Shenzhen Museum (which is both free and excellent, if you are interested in urban development) they had pictures of neighborhoods in the 1980s that were little more than fields. These pictures were juxtaposed with photos of Shenzhen currently, where developers compete to build the highest skyscraper. There can have been few places where development has so quickly erased the past. The city is filled with sweeping avenues, towering sky-scrapers, world-class architecture and graceful parks. It was painful to contrast the new public works in Shenzhen with the sometimes antiquated state of subways, bridges and roads in the United States. Yet even here, the city is haunted by disturbing memories. …