Coronavirus Response: Behind the Curve

BRANDON J. WEICHERT | THE WEICHERT REPORT

The World Health Organization (WHO) and other international health agencies have resisted the urge to label the ongoing CoVID-19 (coronavirus) in China as an “pandemic.” The reason is because in 2009 the WHO changed their parameters for defining an “influenza outbreak.”

Back then, a pandemic influenza strain A(H1N1) occurred simultaneously in the temperate Southern Hemisphere as well as the Northern Hemisphere (which was not in influenza season at that time). The WHO and the US Centers for Disease Control (CDC) declared A(H1N1) an “influenza pandemic” a few weeks after detecting the disease because it met their newer criteria.

You see, there is a classical definition of “pandemic” that the WHO and CDC opted to forego beginning in 2009. Yet, according to Heath Kelly writing for the WHO several years ago:

The classical definition includes nothing about population immunity, virology or disease severity. By this definition, pandemics can be said to occur annually in each of the temperate southern and northern hemispheres, given that seasonal epidemics cross international boundaries and affect a large number of people. However, seasonal epidemics are not considered pandemics.

The classical definition of “pandemic” is this:

An epidemic occurring worldwide, or over a very wide area, crossing international boundaries and usually affecting a large number of people.

So, Kelly is correct in that the international medical community, by refining its parameters in 2009, was actually working to ensure accuracy in treatment and to prevent overcompensating or overreacting to what might not be a pandemic. This makes sense, after all, since during the Ebola scare several years back and, later, during the Zika scare, people grew wary of the constant media sensationalism surrounding those outbreaks.

Of course, the context of those outbreaks were different. In both cases, the relatively open and free regimes of the West controlled the information flow about the disease. They not only had an interest in resolving those crises in a timely manner (which, by the way, those specific incidents may have been mitigated but both diseases remain prevalent even today) but they also had an institutional and, dare I say, moral imperative to resolve those outbreaks in as open of a way as possible. So, the definitional restrictions the Western medical community had imposed upon itself beginning in 2009 was not a bad move.

Repeat After Me: Communists LIE!

Today, however, the United States and its allies faces an outbreak of a truly unknown nature. Most of the data sets from the original outbreak in the Hubei Province city of Wuhan in China originated from the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).

As I (and others online) have documented, the Chinese regime has been caught repeatedly lying about the extent, nature, and severity of the CoVID-19 outbreak. What’s more, colleagues on social media who are in China (or, more generally, nearer to the source of the outbreak in Asia than any of us observers in the West are) insist that the situation in China is far bleaker than the regime (or the Western press, for that matter) is letting on.

Here is an interview I recently gave with the Steel on Steel podcast with John Loeffler:

Courtesy of the Steel on Steel Podcast with John Loeffler. PLEASE NOTE: I mistakenly referred to Harvard Professor “Stephen” Lieber. His name is, in fact, Charles Lieber.

China officially declared that there was a CoVID-19 outbreak in Wuhan in the middle of January. But, we now know from the recently deceased Wuhan-based Chinese ophthalmologist, Dr. Li Wenliang, that the outbreak started at least in the winter of 2019 (Li was himself exposed to it at the hospital where he worked in December).

But, just looking at the rate of progression of the disease since China began releasing their official numbers (which, official numbers in China, like back in the Soviet Union or in present-day Cuba, are never accurate) one can see how there is no way that the disease just popped up at the end of December. For example, after China decided to change the way they were reporting cases of the outbreak in mid-February of this year, the number of cases spiked.

Here is a February 13 Financial Times article on the matter:

A large one-day surge in reported cases of coronavirus in China has once again trained a spotlight on the consistency and accuracy of data being used by experts and governments to assess the path of the deadly outbreak. On Wednesday, the number of deaths rose to 1,367 and there were 15,152 new cases of the virus, taking the total count to 59,804, according to Chinese state media. Authorities in Hubei province, where the outbreak started, reported the number of cases had risen tenfold to about 14,840 and the number of deaths had doubled to more than 242.

Several experts, such as Neil Ferguson an epistemologist from Imperial College in London, are concerned that “as few as 10 per cent of cases were being properly detected. He added that in Wuhan, the city at the heart of the outbreak, the official figures might only be capturing 1 in 19 infections.”

Now, it’s fair to say that China may have misreported or misinterpreted some of the data on the cases simply because the situation there was so fluid. Yet, this has been going on for at least several months. The Chinese regime knew that CoVID-19 was spreading like wildfire. And, according to the same February 13 Financial Times article, “medical experts and frontline health workers warned China was under-reporting the severity of the outbreak.”

On social media I, and several others who’ve been closely tracking this story, have seen videos sent by frontline workers fighting against the disease in Wuhan that visibly show how underreported the disease in China is–and how terribly mismanaged the response to the outbreak has been globally, because the bulk of the data being relayed to the outside world is being done so through strict CCP control of the information flow.

The researchers at Imperial College in London concluded earlier this week that, “about one in 100 people with the disease would die. To reach this conclusion, the researchers used statistical models that combined data on deaths and recoveries reported in China and for travellers outside mainland China, as well as infections in repatriated citizens.”

But the conclusions are only as good as the data they are receiving from China!

In the last week, we have received reports that the medical testing kits the Chinese were relying on were not produced in abundance and the Chinese doctors diagnosing the disease in the field did not have the testing kits on hand. Further, we have since learned that the way the Chinese doctors were testing the patients suspected of being infected with CoVID-19 were insufficient.

In fact, many people may have been declared as being disease-free or not infectious when, in fact, they were. Then, there is the fact that, even as the officials at The WHO and elsewhere in the Western medical community were assuring us that this was not a pandemic event, cases proliferated everywhere from South Korea, to Singapore; from Italy to Iran; and now, possibly, 325 cases in Michigan!

At each turn, governments are caught unawares, the flow of people cannot be stemmed–meaning the infection cannot be contained–and, basically, no institution involved in responding (or preventing) a global outbreak of the disease has been able to do accomplish its mission of disease prevention because no central institution can save us–particularly when their standard operating procedures are so inefficient and when they rely on inherently unreliable data from closed-off Chinese regime.

What’s more, the nature of the disease is now being called into question: initially everyone was saying that the CoVID-19 may be a nasty bug to get, but its mortality rate is relatively low as its transmission rate. In fact, Merrill Perlman (who should know better, given her 20 years experience in major newsrooms), whistles past the grave in her recent piece entitled, “Why COVID-19 Is Not the Problem,” in the Columbia Journalism Review this week.

Here is Perlman excoriating us for worrying about a disease (which is still in progress and the bulk of the research data on the disease emanates from the toxic, guileful CCP) whose transmission pattern, death rate, and even basic voracity of its reporting has been called into question at every turn by people who actually understand the pathology of the disease:

Journalists have the responsibility to put things in context. Cover COVID-19 and its effects, be they economic, physical, or social. But acknowledge its place in the pantheon of disease. Reporting as if it were the end of the world is an epidemic of a different kind.

It’s not the end of the world, Ms. Perlman.

Humanity has suffered through pandemics before. We will ultimately survive. It’s a question of our medical community getting it right in time to avoid the kind of crushing death toll that we experienced during the Spanish Flu or the Black Death.

Although, Western scientists cannot do that without data, or information, dominance–and the West does not have that regarding COVID-19 so long as China sits atop the information flows coming from the source of the outbreak in Wuhan.

Again, this is not a matter necessarily of the scientific community in the West obfuscating (though there is some evidence to suggest that, institutionally, they are trying to manage perceptions, so as to avoid panic which many CDC and medical professionals erroneously believe is a greater threat than the actual disease outbreak itself).

It’s a matter of the utopian-minded and naysaying Western science community being purposely obtuse or, worse, willfully accepting the Chinese government’s data at face-value (despite China’s regime having a clear interest in managing perceptions of their own people and the international community).

Even as Perlman and other mainstream media-types chortle about the need to remain calm (well, of course, we should remain calm but we must also do what we can to raise awareness), Kaiser Health News issued this press release earlier this week:

COVID-19 Is More Contagious Than Its Coronavirus Brethren, But It’s Not As Fatal On A Case-By-Case Basis

Yes, Perlman and the WHO leadership are technically correct: there are other infectious diseases out there that have caused more death and suffering (so far) than the CoVID-19 strain. Where they get it wrong is that, usually, there is an honest attempt by the scientific community to combat the disease.

This is not the case with CoVID-19, since much of the information flows emanate from the opaque Chinese Communist Party.

And just because the coronavirus today is not as fatal on a case-by-case basis, it has claimed the lives of two percent of those infected. Writing in Foreign Policy earlier this month, Laurie Garrett put it starkly:

Even if the coronavirus disease kills only 1 percent of its victims, 1 percent of 60 percent of 7 billion people is a staggering death toll, placing the coronavirus alongside the three biggest pandemics of human history—the 14th-century plague, the 1918 influenza, and the current HIV/AIDS toll.

The WHO has issued headline-making statements about how people should not worry. Earlier today, for example, Michael Ryan, the executive director for health emergencies at the WHO, said that, “We’re still in the balance. We are in a phase of preparing for a potential pandemic.”

This all sounds wonderful.

Of course, the reality is somewhat different. Because, even as he was making these claims the number of cases globally spiked–all as China was reported earlier this week as having yet again revised the way that they counted the disease, lowering the number of those they claimed were infected (but not actually mitigating the disease, the CCP simply decided to stop counting some people as being diseased).

As Bharat Pankhania at the University of Exeter Medical School, told the Financial Times:

We now consider this to be a pandemic in all but name, and it’s only a matter of time before the World Health Organisation starts to use the term in its communications.

In other words, given the dearth of reliable data coming in from China, there is little reason to suspect that this CoVID-19 spread will abate any time soon. As I wrote earlier this week here, why assume that warm weather will mitigate the spread of the disease? If it mirrors influenza, there are influenza strains that happen all of the time during the warmer months.

What’s more, China has recently released another tranche of data about the CoVID-19 indicating that there is a fecal-oral transmission component to the disease, meaning that those who claim the CoVID-19 is less contagious than other coronaviruses or influenza strains are wrong. Plus, there isn’t even any consensus on the incubation and transmission rate of the disease (another thing that the world medical community has relied on China for–much to our detriment).

Initial reports from China indicated that the incubation time for the disease was 14 days (which is not uncommon for this sort of disease). Now, however, China is releasing information about those who’ve been infected–showing no outward symptoms–with an incubation time of around 27 days!

This, even as nations refuse to entirely cut off travel from China or nearby states.

When Definitions Are Too Constraining, They Are Unhelpful

One of the myriad of reasons that many countries have eschewed from totally sealing their borders is because the WHO and its partner organizations in the West have refused to declare this CoVID-19 outbreak in China a “pandemic.” This is partly because, as I noted above, the definitional parameters for “pandemic” are very rigid over at the World Health Organization.

Their definition takes into account risk and rate of infection. The WHO definition also considers how populations would respond to certain proclamations, such as the declaration of a “pandemic,” and attempts to link such statements to the manufacture of a vaccine.

That is all fine, in most ordinary circumstances, where the very information that is essential to the conduct of an adequate response–both medical and governmental–is readily available and trustworthy. But, in the case of China, there is no telling what they haven’t told us–or what they’ve honestly missed in the hurly-burly of the outbreak of CoVID-19.

When one reads between the lines of statements from experts, such as Bharat Pankhania at the University of Exeter, or from officials at the WHO, they haven’t a clue as to whether or not this is a pandemic. What’s more, judging from the fact that the head of the WHO flew to Beijing at the end of January and met with President Xi Jinping, after which the WHO opted not to declare CoVID-19 a “pandemic,” there is something foul at play. Under any other circumstance, a pandemic would have likely been declared, if only as a preventative measure.

But, I suspect that the WHO, seeking to keep the information flow with China active as the disease progressed, opted to cooperate with Xi’s absurd desire to “save-face.” After all, it is Xi who will be most harmed from an inadequate handling of this disease outbreak in China.

Researchers at the MRC Centre for Global Disease Analysis at Imperial College came up with this kitschy graph attempting to predict the outbreak pattern of the disease earlier this week:

Courtesy of the Financial Times.

Although, we’ve no clue as to whether or not the data set the MRC Centre was using was in any way reliable–or if it was merely what the Chinese government wanted the West to see. After all, if they did know about the outbreak in Wuhan earlier than they did (and it seems obvious that elements of the CCP leadership were aware of it earlier than officially declared), then it stands to reason that the regime would be feverishly attempting to not only address the disease in their country but to also stage-manage perceptions, so as not to appear weak or incompetent before their people and the world (since that is the surest way throughout Chinese history for regimes to lose their grip on power).

Even without the WHO officially declaring the CoVID-19 outbreak globally as a “pandemic” (which, they should, given the unknown variables and its obvious spread beyond China), the markets–the stability of which is likely one of many reasons why the CoVID-19 has not been declared a pandemic–have tumbled by 1,000 points today. Clearly, the world is not buying the strict definition that the WHO and Western medical community has for officially declaring a “pandemic.”

For the sake of containing the disease and making people far more alert to its threat everywhere, the WHO should now officially declare it a “pandemic” lest the WHO and their fellow medical institutions in the West lose what little credibility they have left with people, especially as the disease proliferates globally–even to the United States.

There is an air of superiority and confidence in the WHO and other institutions related to the response of this disease that is a thin mask for the fact that these organizations are swamped and haven’t an actual clue as to the extent and severity of the disease. They’ve little understanding of it, because they’ve been made to rely on what is likely bad or incomplete data from China–as the regime there has a clear motive for keeping things quiet about the disease.

Their actions only underscore why most Westerners have lost faith in their institutions. Far from being led by a competent, managerial elite, the institutions are themselves led by people who are quite fallible and motivated to misbehave for political, or institutional, biases. The refusal to acknowledge the fact that a) the data from China is completely skewed and b) that the CoVID-19 outbreak is, in fact, a pandemic is just another nail in the coffin for centralized solutions.

Our elites fear that allowing for the spread of panic will cause markets to contract and potentially gut the already-vulnerable global supply chain; thereby threatening the viability of the globalized economy. Yet, that globalization has been called into question since the election of Donald J. Trump in 2016.

As 2020 progresses, and both Trump and Bernie Sanders are the two most popular presidential candidates in the United States (as “Brexit” occurs and other nationalist movements arise globally), it should be clear to all that the old neoliberal system is dying. Whichever power embraces the national sovereignty concept undergirding the Trump movement will be prosperous in this age of Global Decentralization and Contraction.

The game is no longer about boundless global growth and expansion through international openness. It is now about preserving that which we have by making our countries as survivable; as disconnected and robust–decentralized networks come to mind–from the larger system as possible.

My prayers are with the doctors, however, as they are ultimately the only thing standing between us and the abyss. It’d just be nice if they stopped thinking like mere technicians and started thinking in innovative ways, not just in terms of the scientific research, but if they also listened to those of us who have a professional and academic background in understanding the nature and threat that the Chinese Communist Party poses the world. Because of their naiveté and unwillingness to accept that science just might not be the only thing that matters in this case, the disease may spread beyond where it could have been contained.

©2020, The Weichert Report. All Rights Reserved.

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