Tuesday, February 11, 2020

We're Only As Sick As Our Secrets: Wuhan Flu As Tsunami

Imagine if you could see a bullet coming for hours but never noticed in time to dodge it. My post on Dec 27, 2004, about the Indian Ocean tsunami, is as true of the 2019-nCoV as it was about the big wave.
In an abstract way, the information flows surrounding the Tsunami of December 2004 structurally resembled those preceding the Pearl Harbor and September 11 attacks. The raw data announcing the unfolding threat was there, yet the pattern so evident in hindsight was invisible to those who were not looking for it. But if tsunamis and asteroid strikes are rare events, they are comparatively more common than that still rarer object, the unprecedented event: the something that has never happened before. Threats like that can emerge suddenly out of chaotic systems, like WMD terrorism or new viral plagues. Against such events, specific precautions are impossible because no one can prepare for what cannot be foreseen. The real challenge is not so much to create a new dedicated network of staring systems against known threats but to tie current sensors to systems which are capable of cognition. The most valuable survival asset is situational awareness -- the ability to recognize threats you have never seen before and respond in an evolving manner -- and that capability has not yet come to the world as a whole.
For hours the giant wave traveled hundreds of miles toward unsuspecting victims, but the warning systems of the time were too slow to alert those in its path. It hit Indonesia, Sri Lanka, India, Thailand. It killed as far as Kenya. "According to the U.S. Geological Survey a total of 227,898 people died. Measured in lives lost, this is one of the ten worst earthquakes in recorded history, as well as the single worst tsunami in history. Indonesia was the worst affected area, with most death toll estimates at around 170,000."
The tally of fatalities for 2019-nCoV is still unknown. If it is on the scale of the Spanish Flu it may exceed the tsunami's. But like the Indian Ocean tsunami, one could see catastrophe coming if only the information about it were not filtered out. Chinese medicos saw the danger as early as December 2019, the New York Times reports. "The doctor, Li Wenliang, had been silenced by the police after warning about the new coronavirus that has killed hundreds in China and sickened thousands." Before he died of the disease himself Li told his deathbed story.

Q: When did you first realize that this new virus was highly contagious? It seemed that you hadn’t taken any precautions when you were infected.
A: I knew it when the patient I came in contact with infected her family, and I was infected right afterward. Thus I discovered it was highly contagious. The patient had no symptoms, so I got careless. ...
Q: Was that at the end of December?
A: Yes.
Q: Were there other doctors who shared the information and reminded others to protect themselves from this mysterious pneumonia?
A: There were discussions among our colleagues.
Q: What was everybody talking about? How did they evaluate the situation at that point?
A: It was that SARS might come back. We needed to be ready for it mentally. Take protective measures.
Instead, Dr. Li was reprimanded by the police, who compelled him to sign a statement that his warning constituted “illegal behavior.” The chance was missed and the rest is history. 

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

In a video discussion about Dr. Li upon his demise it was revealed his pregnant wife is also infected. Have yet to hear any update on her/their condition(s).