Corona Virus – Not The Flu

Greg Cochran blogs:

I’ve seen people compare the new coronavirus to influenza. Some have said that we should worry more about the flu, since it kills every year (maybe 10,000 in the US last year). They are mistaken. The danger in this case is not entirely clear, but on the high end, we’re talking big trouble, way bigger than current influenza strains.

Current flu strains seem much less severe that this new coronavirus, much less likely to put you in intensive care or kill you. Fewer people are susceptible to the flu: we have a vaccine, and most people already have some degree of immunity from vaccination and past bouts with the flu. We have somewhat useful antiviral drugs for the flu.

2019-nCoV: it’s new, nobody is immune. As yet we don’t know of antiviral drugs that are effective against it, although people are certainly trying out existing ones. Perhaps we will get lucky. We will be working on a vaccine, and that is likely to succeed eventually, but that takes time, on the order of a year or more. Supportive care is helpful: ventilation and oxygen can give you time to beat the virus…

The only thing you can be confident of is that the situation is no _better_ than the official line – the current story is against interest, very bad for business.


* Neil Ferguson, a mathmatical biologist from Imperial College UK, believes the amount of infections is 50k per day right now. He also said the infections would peak in 2 months in the Wuhan epicenter.

At first I thought he was alarmist, but then I googled him and saw he actually had a good predictive record during the Zika & Ebola outbreaks (which, at the time, was non-alarmist).

* There’s a luxury cruise liner (the Diamond Princess) currently anchored in quarantine in Yokohama. It had one old guy on board who disembarked in Hong Kong before it sailed for Japan, and he tested positive for 2019-nCoV in HK. The ship has 3,100 passengers and crew. All passengers are now confined to their cabins for 14 days straight, and it’s no longer luxurious; it’s a floating prison. But it seems to represent a nice little confined sample to get some numbers from, although I suspect the R0 might be at or towards the upper end. Cruise ships are floating coffins at the best of times, and this is not the best of times.

So far they have tested 273 passengers. 61 of the 273 have tested positive for the coronavirus, and they have been taken off and hospitalized. People who have tested negative have to stay on board, so they could still yet become infected by multiple different pathways, despite cabin confinement. Eventually they will have to test all 3,100. It seems to be taking them a long time, or maybe I’m just impatient. Or maybe for me time has dilated because I’m now in a constant state of being hyper-alert, induced by the ‘situation’ (which is really not a good way to be for very long, and I’ve been through this shit three times – once during a polio epidemic which I still vividly remember when I was 3 years old before there was any vaccine, once during the SARS epidemic in Hong Kong in 2003, and now this, and it gets very old very quickly).

* This is a great example of watching what people do versus what they say. The way China has responded is far out of line with a severe flu outbreak. Instead, they are acting on the belief this thing is both highly contagious and deadly. At the minimum, the party sees this as a threat to stability.

I think the way to bet is they are acting out of ignorance. They don’t know what they have on their hands in terms of the disease itself and just how many people have been infected. The fear of the unknown is driving the response.

There’s also the endemic dishonesty in the Chinese bureaucracy. The people at the bottom lie to their bosses, who then lie to their bosses. The people at the top understand this and they may be trying to motivate these people to exaggerate the severity. That way they are always working from the worst case scenario.

About Luke Ford

I've written five books (see My work has been followed by the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and 60 Minutes. I teach Alexander Technique in Beverly Hills (
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