When I first heard about the Wuhan Pneumonia( Coronavirus), I could not have imagined what appears to be happening now. When Chinese authorities realized something had to be done, the world learned that the most populace country would implement strict and immediate mobility controls. This meant that China locked down multiple cities of tens of millions of people. Some estimate that nearly sixty million people are now being quarantined inside of China. In addition to the strict quarantine zones, cities like Beijing, shanghai and others are encouraging people to stay home. Students and workers across the country do not know when they will be allowed to return to their normal activities.
As the situation began to unfold in China one thing became immediately clear: China’s medical system was not ready to handle the masses of people flooding hospitals to get tested and treatment for the virus. Just before Lunar New Year, videos and pictures of lines stretching for blocks began emerging online. Some videos appeared to show people dying while waiting in line to be treated. This is how I realized an essential issue in any pandemic situation. If masses of people become ill, or are worried about illness simultaneously, then medical resources will be severely stressed, and may not be able to deal with large influx of new patients. This could cause many deaths as many people who need treatment would not get it.
While the lines at Chinese hospitals were filling up so were lines at the grocery store. As quarantines began spreading across China, people rushed to the stores to buy up as much food as possible. The most desperate of circumstances showed people fighting over the last few bags of rice at a grocery store. This was my next pandemic lesson: when people realize the gravity of the situation, food and water resources will be severely stretched if they can even handle the situation. In the United States this has been demonstrated multiple times during hurricane season. As hurricanes approach, effected areas regularly run out of supplies at the grocery store. In a deadly flu pandemic the same situation may unfold at is has in China.
As the coronavirus has continued to spread throughout China and the world two factions have emerged with opinions on the matter. One group thinks the world should immediately take a precautionary approach. This means we should view this virus like it has the potential to wipe out many people, as it has already demonstrated. Therefore we should implement mobility controls such as banning flights from China, and encourage people to isolate as much as possible. The other group believes we should treat the outbreak in China as nothing more serious than a typical flu. These people do not advocate for flight bans or mobility controls, but instead do their best to down play any potential threat as merely “hysteria”. While I do not believe people should run around hysterically, it is better to err on the side of caution and paranoia when the world faces a systemic risk. Additionally, I advocate for paranoia because the situation is China looks terrible.
Anyone who studies China knows how important economic growth is for the communist government to remain in control. The government must demonstrate it can grow the economy or people might lose faith. The fact that industries across the entire country have been effectively halted is a gigantic risk to economic growth and the legitimacy of communist party rule, but they are taking that risk. This suggests that whatever is going on in China is extremely serious. Beyond official data points, there videos and pictures emerging of very concerning scenes in China. Videos of body bags piling up at hospitals, police patrolling with hazmat suits and automatic rifles. Nearly everyday I am reading about new facilities the government is building or utilizing to house increasing numbers of sick people.
In many respects the scenes that are coming out of China look like they are coming straight out of a movie. Except this situation is not a movie, and the world should be ready to deal with what is happening inside China.
“The central rule in life is that it is much, much better to panic early than late. ” – Nassim Taleb