[Note: I’m just calling it the “wuflu” for convenience, rather than the “Novel Coronavirus 2019”. Also made the graphic above for fun.]
At this point there’s nothing I can do other than wait for the inevitable spread of the virus — if science is correct — to the city where I live. I’m too close to China, and just 45 miles from the city which has been declared the most likely in the world to become infected outside of China. I just checked our airports, and there are currently flights arriving from provinces already in lock-down in China, including Guangdong (1,151 cases of wuflu), and Zhejiang (1,092 cases). Compare that to India, where all flights to and from China are banned. Either India’s crazy or this country is crazy. Some 200,000 tourists from Wuhan alone visited here since the outbreak of the virus. The wise people in power believe it is more important to show support for China in this time of need, rather than impose harsh measures to protect the public health on the ground. The long-term economic ties with China far outweigh, it is supposed, the spread of an infectious disease among the general populace.
While I trust the science, I don’t trust the numbers it is based on, and that gives me more hope that I can escape the virus and all its related destruction. We determine how infectious the virus is based primarily on stats coming out of Hubei, where it all started. Having lived in China — and unless things have changed a lot — I can tell you the standard of sanitation leaves really a lot to be desired. Restrooms can range from passably bad to absolutely horrendous, and in ways one would not imagine (I’ll spare you examples I’ve encounterd that were the stuff of nightmares). Where I lived in China it was customary for there to be no soap in bathrooms (people would steal it), no toilet paper (people would steal that, too), and no hot water, and this was even in restaurants. People would spit on the ground, including in restaurants, as a health practice: better to get it out than let it clog you up inside. Flushing was, well, a bit of an exceptional courtesy practiced far too infrequently. Colds were always because one didn’t wear “enough layers”, and not because of bacteria or viruses.
Food is shared communally, as in you don’t have your own plate with your portions on it, served with serving utensils, but you help yourself using your own chopsticks. Everyone gets everyone else’s germs during a typical meal. Maybe that’s just where I lived, which was kinda’ backwater, and this was more than 8 years ago now. But that could have improved dramatically and still be well below what would be considered acceptable in the West, or other parts of Asia. And of course, many Chinese would observe higher standards of hygiene and sanitation even where I lived, but there were indeed posters warning us that the restaurants within our city were cooking our food with gutter oil. If people are willing to cook your food in gutter oil, all standards of sanitation are out the window.
The point of all that wasn’t to put down China, but I’m thinking maybe people aren’t taking the rather dramatic lack of hygiene into consideration because they don’t know how outrageous it is. There was that “10,000 Family Banquet” to bolster confidence that nothing was wrong, in which an alleged 40,000 families showed up. If THAT wouldn’t shoot up the rate of infection, I can’t imagine what would.
There is additionally evidence that the virus spreads through feces, as in it becoming aerosol. This would be similar to SARS, where an entire building was infected because of one man having diarrhea, and the central air carrying the aerosolized fine particles throughout the building. This, again, would be much more of a risk in areas with public squat toilets, where the feces aren’t submerged in water, but sit on porcelain until flushed down, if the person could be arsed to do so. It’s an indelicate point to make, and no it’s not racist (other Chinese countries I assume are much better, and I don’t remember this problem in Hong Kong): it’s just something that might be a factor.
I can also hope that the serious complications rate, and death rate are also highly inflated because most people who are infected and don’t have serious symptoms won’t know that it’s not just your garden variety cold, flu, lung infection, or whatever. In that case, if there are far more cases than reported, than the difficult and fatal cases are a smaller percentage. While this would indicate the virus is more infectious than documented, that might be worth it being less deadly if you catch it. And then my mind goes back to the couple in China that was apprehended and forced into a metal box on the back of a truck, screaming as the doors were closed on them. Why such drastic measures if they aren’t remotely necessary?
The death reach may also be much higher than reported. There is the anecdotal evidence of crematoriums running 24/7 in Wuhan, but there’s also just the fact that if someone dies before being diagnosed with the wuflu, than they are not counted as dying from it. Only people who made it to the hospital, were diagnosed, and then died are included in the count. And THAT is assuming the numbers from the Chinese government can be trusted at all. While having roughly 5 times the population of America, and being subjected to the same seasonal flu last year, they lost only 50 lives compared to our tens of thousands, if their numbers are to be trusted. I’m not saying doctors or hospitals can’t be trusted, but there’s an intermediary, which must take how China is perceived, and issues of economics into consideration, and perhaps provide the most acceptable plausible loss of face in terms of reportage. I’d be a little less cynical about that if we hadn’t been subjected to so much praise of the CCP’s handling of the crisis, including their transparency, when in fact we now know doctors who tried to warn us about the virus were arrested and forced to sign confessions stating that they were wrong. That little mistake cost us nipping the virus in the bud.
I cant evade dealing with this issue, and at the same time need to function knowing there’s diddly-squat I can do to really protect myself from it, beyond what I’m already doing. This causes some philosophical issues. How do I assess the reality of the situation? There’s the science, which says that every person infected infects 2-3 more; 20-25% of people infected require hospital care; and 1 in 50-100 die if infected. There’s the statements from people of power and authority. They say to not worry, but do spend money. There’s the actions of countries, which are much stronger than their official statements of danger to the public would warrant (ex., in the States you should be more worried about the common flu, but we are banning all foreigners who have been in China in the last two weeks, just to be safe, even though they are more likely to have the common flu themselves. Keep in mind, this flu is currently thought to be 10-20 times more likely to kill you; and 2-3 times more infectious. It’s only less dangerous if it hasn’t yet established itself in your community). There’s the anecdotal evidence, including leaked videos from China. We see people dragged from their homes, and carted off to quarantine centers with doors that lock them in from the outside — wouldn’t want escapees — and where they don’t receive treatment so much as are just isolated from everyone else. There’s one’s gut instinct. There’s hope and faith. And there’s the general sense of how everyone else is acting, and here it’s business as usual.
I have to try to weigh all that and make smart decisions, even if it’s just what I do with my free time today. My general sense is that the virus must be here in this country far more than reported (and scientists have marveled at the miracle of our low reported confirmed cases). Note that I’m not naming where I live because there have been threats of punishing anyone who spreads fake news, and to the full extent of the law,. I can only safely assume that “fake news” is anything that the government isn’t itself declaring.
There’s also been some rather startling anti-foreigner (using a term that applies to “white” foreigners, not Chinese, mind you) rhetoric coming from the head authority on health. He stated that if said foreigners don’t wear masks, they should be kicked out of the country. The above brings me back to the ever-present topic of “racism”, of which this was the rare, truly institutional example. People who aren’t even associated with the virus were the targets of his wrath, because some of them were apparently declining to accept masks that were being handed out publicly. While I can understand his frustration, the risk of white foreigners bringing in the virus is astronomically small compared to the thousands of Chinese coming directly from provinces that are already in lock-down. But it’s the easy resort to kicking people out, based on race, that is a little startling. In most cases, the problem isn’t racism proper, but rather stigmatizing the presumed infected, and literally avoiding them like the plague. I’m just saying that if there’s a crackdown on anyone who speaks out about the virus (similar to what’s going on in China), and anti-non-Asian-foreigner resentment is beginning to surface, than it’s not a good time to stick my neck out, even if I’m only really focusing on my philosophical quandaries in regard to an existential reality.
Because the virus is coming, I’m assuming I’ll lose work, and I may get sick. There’s all this focus just on how many die, but a week or more in the hospital (and paying for it) isn’t anything I want to experience, and even just getting as sick as my last bout of bronchitis is highly unpleasant and counterproductive. I was already boosting my immune system and being cautious about germs before the wuflu made the news, because I’m sick of getting lung infections. Most likely the financial loss, lost productivity, and general negativity will hurt more than the illness, if I’m lucky.
I don’t want to believe that the wuflu will come here and immediately impact my life. Logic, however, can’t find a way out of that conclusion, hard as I’ve tried. I have to set reason aside and root myself in faith, optimism, luck, and hope for faulty data or something undiscovered to have skewed the science. No, it could never happen to me! What I really want is for the people in power to take the sort of action that would help curb the spread of the virus — and which other countries in the vicinity have already taken — but they seem to be waiting for the shit to hit the fan before moving the fan out of the way. As I said before, showing support for China (in which case one anticipates reciprocal economic support) seems more important to those in charge than averting an epidemic among the general population.
It seems most people have opted to act as if the virus will not come here, until it does. And that’s pretty much all you can do. Just ignore it and hope it goes away. And often it really does. And if we do believe the stats here and in a few other places — Indionesia, Laos, and Myanma, have zeo cases, and Cambodia just one — than maybe there’s just something we don’t know about how the virus spreads. Some are speculating that it can’t handle the heat. And wouldn’t that be nice?
But if I had to bet on it, I don’t like the odds. And that’s another weird part of this, which is trying to predict the damned future. Forced to gamble, I’d go with this country suffering a serious outbreak of the wuflu in the next month or so. And as much as I need to be right about my general handle on reality in order to be successful in this world, I hope in this case I’m wrong, even if it reflects poorly on my toe-hold on reality.