COVID-19 shutdown?

Epidemics generally have a bell-shaped curve. There’s a steep exponential climb, then a plateauing, then an exponential tailing-off. So the question is, when will the tailing-off start with the coronavirus? Official figures show that this is already happening in China and South Korea, as I said yesterday. But commentator dearieme (himself a distinguished scientist) wonders about the Chinese figures:

Here are the views of My Source in Singapore based on his conversations with expat Chinese and Japanese and with native Chinese Singaporeans.


(0) It probably goes without saying but they all think the Singapore government and people are doing a grand job.
(i) Nobody believes the figures from China.
(ii) They all think that the figures from South Korea are probably the best quality available from countries with lots of patients. (They also think the S Koreans are doing a grand job.)
(iii) Because of the Olympics the Japanese figures are not to be trusted.

DM has a point about the figures from China (and Japan, for that matter, although I wouldn’t expect them to be as bad as the Chinese). Any figures from China, on anything, are to be treated with great suspicion, and especially on something like this, where they are keen to save face. However, the scale of the drop-off is very large, and the presence of WHO in the country makes it harder (although not impossible) for the Chinese to dissemble too much, so I’d say that the disease really is dropping off in China.

Some say that the drop-off is caused by China’s drastic, totalitarian measures, which we can’t emulate even if we wanted to, so it will be worse in the West. No doubt that these measures have helped. Should we have a shut-down here to emulate that? The sense I am getting from academic contacts (from a distance, mind), who know of other academics who are advising the government, is that a lot of these people are in favour of a shutdown. The current thinking seems to be that it’s better to have a shutdown earlier rather than later, it will be more effective. Don’t let it spread, because then it gets harder to stop it. (This is contrast to the idea going around a few days ago that it’s better to have the shutdown later because if it’s too early people won’t take it seriously). These people seem to think that CV-19 will go pandemic if there’s no shutdown.

(It’s probably true that medical scientists and doctors are more authoritarian than other people, and less concerned with the other effects that a shutdown would have.)

But there will also be people advising the government who will be against a shutdown, because that may be a cure worse than the disease, that a shutdown would be pretty ineffective here anyway, and also because they think that COVID-19 will die off or at least slow down considerably anyway soon, especially with the warmer weather.

There are, of course, many complicating issues. One is the possible lack of respirators for patients whose lungs are under attack. We should definitely prioritise medical treatment for the at-risk categories.

Update: Also worth pointing out that South Korea’s figures are improving well too, without any dictatorial shutdown (click to enlarge):

What did South Korea do?

South Korea’s government opted against localised lockdowns, concentrating instead on testing large numbers of people in an attempt to identify infection “hotspots”, along with encouraging social distancing. As one of three designated “special care zones”, Daegu received extra medical supplies and staff, and troops were sent to disinfect the streets.


The country is conducting about 15,000 tests a day, free of charge, and has carried out almost 200,000 screenings so far. It has also set up about 50 drive-through testing centres and distributed smartphone alerts about the movements of people who have tested positive.


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2 thoughts on “COVID-19 shutdown?

  1. There seems to be a parallel between the “Climate Change” scam and the response to the coronavirus — the actual data (warts & all) is not too bad; it is the models which predict that it is all going to spiral out of control.

    I don’t know the numbers for the UK. In the US, where 7,800 people die every day, the flu is only the 8th largest cause of death — and this virus is so far about 2 orders of magnitude less than the flu. (Ah! But the virus is going to expand exponentially and we are all going to die, their models say).

    We know we should be very careful of the “post hoc, ergo propter hoc” fallacy. Has South Korea’s testing regime really made that much of a difference? So South Korea tests 200,000 people (out of a population of 52,000,000) — what do they do with the people who test positive? And what are the rates of the False Positives & False Negatives which bedevil every testing regime? Every False Negative means an infected person is left to walk the streets.

    Realistically, with a virus which gives most infected people no or minimal symptoms and which has a long incubation period, containment is not possible. The virus will get through! Fortunately, it is “Not even the flu”. Instead of wasting resources trying to impose shut downs, it would be more productive to help the ‘At Risk’ population of the old & infirm to isolate themselves.

    But politicians and bureaucrats in the West can’t be rational about this. China over-reacted, so they feel they have to keep up with the Chinese. In the meantime, the probably more serious coming economic impacts from supply chain disruption are being ignored.

  2. There is usually a sustained bleating (in the Guardian, on the Beeb, and among the usual suspects) about how “poverty” is killing people in Britain.

    Why has that bleating been suspended? Surely the same people should be protesting at the very idea of shutting down the economy because that policy is bound to lead to more deaths. The irony is that, just for once, they would perhaps be right because a shutdown would cause many people to be genuinely poorer i.e. to have less money. And the disruption could impoverish people in the sense of making it difficult for them to get the food, and perhaps medicines, that they need.

    This contrasts with the Poverty Industry’s preferred definition of poverty which is, in fact, a deceit – it’s really a measure of inequality.

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