I have a unique perspective on the outbreak of the 2019-nCoV Coronavirus in China. First, let me make clear something – I am not a medical professional, nor am I a doctor. But, I am in China, and I am around 200 miles from the epicenter of the outbreak in Wuhan.
It is very easy for facts and reality to become diluted by the overflow of stories, narratives, and reports coming out on social media and through various media channels.
I am going to offer some insight into the present situation based on the information available (facts versus rumors), and the firsthand information available to me inside of China.
There are so many media sources out there and it is impossible to cover all of them here. I will highlight the top media outlets since they appear first in internet searches.
They appear to be filling their front pages with “opinion” pieces designed to promote anxiety and feed on the emotional response most people have to empathy for others in distress.
As I scrolled through many of the other media websites, I found much the same – death, chaos, gloom and despair – along with conspiracy theories as well – pointing out people as whistle-blowers (if someone is trying to offer up firsthand information for the benefit of others, I would hardly call them a whistle-blower). All this label does is make that person feel like they need to be more guarded and hidden. It also challenges the Chinese authorities by making them out to be the adversaries – I mean, come…China put up a thousand bed hospital in less than a week to address this issue. The authorities are not the adversaries.
There is the possibility that the first doctor to report the incident was not taken as seriously as necessary; however, that opinion is also coming from the same media outlets.
I can tell you from where I am, the authorities are extremely serious, and extremely dedicated to getting this under control. Even outside of Wuhan (the city where the virus reportedly originated) schools and businesses are closed; people are mostly staying home; and, checkpoints are everywhere monitoring everyone’s comings and goings – especially at mass transit locations like bus and train stations, as well as airports.
I think one of the biggest issues is that the media’s perspective is flawed. Wuhan is considered a small city in China – with the city itself having about 11 million people. If you include the surrounding area of Wuhan you have a population (Hubei province) of nearly 60 million people. That is about half the population of the entire US East coast, and nearly the entire population of the UK.
The authorities in China have, for all practical purposes, closed off the entire province in less than a week. Additionally, the rest of the country is like a large ghost town as well.
So, what the media is showing, and saying, is only bits and pieces of the truth. They take photos and piece them together with bits and pieces of information, then “create” a narrative that incites emotional distress in its viewers. This is precisely why the Chinese authorities are shutting down access to information, and why they are strongly criticizing the reports coming from the media. It causes distress and causes chaos and is not helpful in resolving the problem.
I am a huge advocate of a free press and freedom of speech – but, with freedom comes responsibility. If the media outside China would just report and stop narrating and creating, there would be more access to the truth. More access means finding the solution quicker and more efficiently. Stories, tales and narratives do not help.
There are reports circulating about the origin of this virus that are unsubstantiated and very problematic. Some reports claim it came from “bat soup” – reportedly a delicacy popular in Wuhan. Others theorize that the virus was intentional released as a “bioweapon” against the Chinese. And, the most recent gossip comes from many sources claiming that pangolins spread the virus to people.
The truth is…we don’t know the truth yet. If you watched the video at the beginning of this post, you saw that even the WHO (World Health Organization) acknowledges that the origin of the virus in people is still in question.
At this point, the media (and, many opportunists throughout social media) are circulating unsubstantiated rumors and gossip with a total disregard for facts and truth.
The Latest Information from the Chinese Media
From inside China, the reports are very basic.
The numbers and statistics are what you get from the outside, but without the fictional narratives.
It is possible the numbers are not being reported accurately; however, it is possible that the reporting agencies in China don’t really know the real numbers – the numbers could be less, or they could be more.
This has only been going on for about a month and a half as far as we know. Many cases of the virus may have been reported as other illnesses – this is likely since they virus wasn’t recognized until recently.
Instead of guessing, and instead of creating a story-line for their reports, the media inside China simply report what is known to be true. This may not be the free press others are used to, but it is keeping one and a half billion people from becoming overly emotional, and overly anxious – call it crowd control if you will.
Most other countries don’t have to worry about the well-being and stability of one and a half billion people, so their perspective is flawed. Unless you live it, you can’t possibly understand it. It is no secret the media in China is controlled by the government. It is also no secret that rumors and factually flawed story-lines create chaos and frustration for both the authorities and the people themselves.
The influx of rumors and gossip is also taking a toll on the internet – it’s a complete mess here in China. Speeds are either being squeezed to 1980’s 300-baud, dial-up modem paces, or, the internet is just slammed by the more than a billion people in China using it all at the same time.
The Facts as We Know Them
The WHO (World Health Organization) has a fairly comprehensive section of their website dedicated to the virus and its outbreak. It is best to leave the reporting of the truth to trustworthy organizations. Some people might not agree with the WHO, but they offer the most current and accurate information at present.
Inside Information from Near Ground Zero
The people in China love to use WeChat – a social media platform with many other benefits such as financial payment and transfer features.
They love to chat and talk, and everyone – and, I mean everyone – in China uses WeChat. Messages travel fast and it isn’t hard to find raw videos and first hand accounts about any situation around the country.
I haven’t been to Wuhan, but I know people there. I know doctors and I know business owners, and I know regular citizens. From what I am being told, the situation is tense, but well-controlled.
There are a few out there attempting to get on-board the same ship as the outside media (rumors and gossip). I’ve seen images of dead bodies lying in the streets, and bodies in the hospital corridors. I have also seen images of a thousand bed hospital being constructed in a week. There are images of police barricades, and pictures of people walking about with medical masks on.
I’ve read some reports from doctors in other cities – mostly just warnings for people to be cautious and aware. I learned about some of the cases in other cities prior to that information getting to the outside media.
I take any information I get with caution, though. The people sending out photos just want attention. The people passing on usable information are the people I pay attention to. Mostly it’s just common sense information – don’t travel unless necessary; practice good hygiene; don’t eat under-cooked meat; don’t approach unfamiliar animals, etc.
The most important information is about the empty grocery stores and the reduction in home delivery options. Let me explain that briefly. In China, everyone buys online and everyone has things delivered. Deliveries in China are fast, efficient, and mostly 24 hours. In Shanghai, for example, I can order groceries, furniture, liquor, or even a new TV at 10 o’clock at night and have a delivery received within a few hours or less. At present, from what people in Shanghai are telling me, deliveries are still possible, but extremely limited. At gated communities (and, almost every community in Shanghai is gated in some fashion), the gate guards must stop the delivery at the entrance point and make the delivery to the home or apartment within the community themselves. Also, construction workers, housekeepers, babysitters, and any other outsiders are not permitted into communities if they are not actual residents.
What’s the big deal with all this? Well, if you work, and most people in China actually work, you must shop for groceries in person now. Because of the panic and chaos created by the outside media, most grocery stores have been emptied – so, there is nothing on the shelves for patrons to purchase. Deliveries are still possible; however, there is nothing on the shelves to deliver. If you are lucky enough to find some groceries, and have them delivered, the guards at your community are so swamped with having to deliver every package personally, that you might not see your delivery for hours or days – most likely, you won’t see your package(s) at all.
Along similar lines, if you can’t have a someone come look after your children (and schools are closed at present throughout China), then you cannot go to work. Some people are lucky enough to have other family members around to look after the children, but many businesses are remaining closed, and mass transit is considered unsafe. As a result, people aren’t able to work which is obviously causing a strain on their ability to financially support their families.
How Does 2019-nCov Compare to the Seasonal Flu (or, influenza)?
I know the arguments about comparing the flu and this new coronavirus – but, in all fairness, I feel the flu (influenza) is a much bigger problem.
The US population is about 330 million – China’s population is 1.4 billion. The world’s population is about 7.7 billion people.
As of February 9, 2020, the total number of people in China infected is 34,598, with 3,401 new cases in the last 24 hours; the total of severe cases is 6,101 with 1,280 being new severe cases, and the death toll being 723, with 86 new; globally, there are 34,886 with 3,419 new cases in the past 24 hours, with a total death toll being 724 – covering 24 countries (288 cases outside of China for infected and 1 death) – source, WHO (World Health Organization), Situation Report – 20.
For the Flu (or influenza, as reported by the CDC), in the US, at least 22 million people infected, 210,000 hospitalizations, and 12,000 deaths. World-wide for the flu, based on information from the WHO, 3-5 million with severe illness, and 290,000-650,000 deaths.
So many statistics and numbers. Basically, and comparatively speaking, the flu is a much more severe problem.
I’ve read the arguments that the flu has a vaccine, and the coronavirus does not; or, the flu only really endangers people 65 years old and older, and children 2 and younger. First, the coronavirus has no vaccine because it is new to people – it is assumed to come from animals, and infections in people creates a new situation.
The coronavirus spreads rapidly, as does does the flu.
If you compare this coronavirus, or 2019-nCoV, to SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome, 2003) and MERS (MERS-CoV, Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus, 2012), the situation is similar – new virus; from animals; spread rapidly; and, is considered deadly. SARS, which also reportedly originated in China, only infected about 9,000 people of which only about 800 died.
My Conclusions Regarding the 2019-nCov (Coronavirus)
China has an unpopular government in several influential circles of the world. This makes it very easy for the media to get away with exacerbating anything that goes awry there.
From an insider’s perspective, much of what you read and hear is from opportunists grabbing hold of an opportunity to troll some likes and shares on the internet. The people living in China are definitely concerned – as they should be – but, their level of apprehension is a bit elevated due to the rumors, gossip and narratives spread about by such opportunists (most of which are thousands of miles away from any direct threat of infection, and totally disconnected from the people and culture of China).
I am concerned. I am cautious. But, I am not hysterical. I have no reason to be hysterical – or crazy-afraid. I would have to be seriously paranoid to allow so much fear to interfere with my rational behavior – only 0.0025% of the people I live amongst have become infected, and only 0.00005% have died from 2019-nCov; where, 0.3% of the people on this planet have become infected with the flu and 0.008% have died globally – in the US that’s, 6.7% infected and 0.004% have died – these numbers come from general population statistics.
From an infection versus death perspective: 2019-nCov, 2% of the infected have died; influenza, 22% have died. Which is the greater threat? You are much more likely to get the flu, and if you get the flu, you are much more likely to die.
Preparedness, Safety, Prevention, and Treatment Considerations
Your first consideration ought to be protecting yourself.
As far as the myths, the truths of what we know, and treatment options, the WHO has a nice guide for you to review.
You can listen to the podcast here: