Chan Kung's Comments on the Covid-19 Pandemic in the U.S. Based on China's Experience
Introduction: Chan Kung is ABNBOUND's chief researcher. As a policy expert who analyzes, he participated in the Beijing SARS committee and joining the city's effort in the battle against the SARS epidemic during 2003. 16 years on today, beginning late 2019 to date, he is once again participating in China's battle against COVID-19. Throughout the epidemic, Chan Kung has been working closely with local governments from various regions such as Beijing and Sichuan to get the latest updates surrounding the epidemic. Furthermore, he also proposes various policies to the Chinese government in order to enable the government to better cope with the epidemic. Drawing upon his deep wealth of knowledge regarding China's policies, this article, taken from an exclusive interview with Chan Kung will focus on his views towards the state of the epidemic that is currently plaguing the United States and the issues that it presents.
Q: Did the novel coronavirus (Covid-19) cause the plunge of the U.S. stock market?
CK: Certainly, though only at a surface level. The U.S. stock market is in deep water now because of the Covid-19. It's a given the citizens there are bound to panic, don't you think? In fact, the President's anxiety is certainly not unfounded. That said, there are other reasons apart from the virus that are causing the U.S. stock to plummet currently, though no one intends to know why, which causes them to lose all sensibility and patience even Warren Buffett admitted he has never seen such situation in the stock market.
Q: What do you mean by "the President's anxiety"?
CK: President Donald Trump's initial gut feeling about the Covid-19 being a severe viral flu was right. Unfortunately, the amount of professional opinions he had received over the course of the events eventually led him further from the truth and eventually caused him to make a series of horribly informed decisions that were nothing but extreme and irrational, thereby resulting in the anxieties or worries that he has that we speak of now.
Q: Do you think this is viral flu?
CK: Absolutely, always have and always will. I know that there are other professionals out there in the rest of the world who share the same sentiments too, though they are being silenced. We live in an age of iInternet, so the authenticity of something rarely matters. These days, what truly matters is your voice and how outspoken you are about things. A viral flu is fatal, and it can kill. It is also spreading at an alarming rate and can cause lung damage. During the 2019 flu season, 13 million people were infected in the States. Among them, 120,000 were hospitalized and 6,600 died from the flu, with elderly over the age of 65 accounting for 74.8% of the deaths. It's a fact, but people refused to face it. Instead, they preferred to remain in the dark, all because they can't accept what they don't know.
Q: The United States is a country known for its scientific breakthroughs. Surely their experts wouldn't make such obvious errors, would they?
CK: The experts that you speak of are highly qualified academicians who are either professors or doctors who have written many thesis and books. In order and to invite them to give talks, you would need to pay them hundreds of thousands of dollars. They are rational, friendly, well-respected and knowledgeable. Some of them are even academics in medical history. Unfortunately, they have never experienced SARS or the coronavirus personally. As such, what they focus on tends to be the results and only the results, this makes their researches deductive in nature, and their findings nothing more but mere possibilities. In fact, I must note that we have not received any help or advice from experts from the rest of the world, the States included on how to deal with the public health policy crisis caused by Covid-19 outbreak. So far, I have only met one expert who was deployed by the U.S. CDC to understand the situation better in China, and even then, he was merely an observer. Most of the rest are still either guessing or inferring based on past experience. It's clear that that rest of the world lacks experience in handling the Covid-19. The sooner the States acknowledges this, the better they'll be at containing the outbreak in the country.
Q: You have experienced both the SARS and the Covid-19 that is happening currently. What do you think about the state of the outbreak in the U.S.? How well do you think the U.S. CDC is doing their job when it comes to containing the virus?
CK: Poorly and with lots of mistakes. The virus created 30% of the problems for the country, yet it is their inexperience and panic that gave way to the remaining 70% of the problems. This situation mirrors that of China. We need to discard ideological perspectives and look at the issues objectively during public crises. The fact of the matter is China and the States are dealing with the same situation at the moment, even when their ideologies differ from one other.
As far as the States is concerned, their biggest mistake was not providing a clear distinction between treatment for the virus and viral infection control measures, which are two very things that involve different professionals from two very distinctive fields. Doctors specialize in treatment while policy experts specialize in control. Antiviral drugs are part of treatment, but vaccines and testing go under control. Given viral mutations can happen, the odds of developing a vaccine and utilizing it are limited, which makes detection of virus the most practical form control measures for the time being. If we can detect it early, we can prevent further spreading.
In the case of the United States, the most important thing for them to do now isn't to develop vaccines and drugs soonest, there just isn't any immediate and reliable results in this field that would enable them to do that for the time being. Rather, they should work on ensuring the public has an easier time accessing detection devices, something similar to the thermometer and see to it being sold in CVS. By conducting a simple test using the thermometer, people will have immediate result on their health status. It is akin to pregnancy test device for women to know if they are pregnant at any time. In my many discussions with several biologists in the States, I understand that the country has a lot of reliable scientific results that can be used for the develop a reliable testing instrument and I believe it will only take 2-3 weeks for the States to develop it. The key is to know the direction to steer infectious disease control measures to. If we rely on antiviral drugs and place our hope on vaccines alone, then the Wall Street stock market may crash several times and we still won't see any hope of controlling the outbreak.
Many in the States have expressed their opinions on controlling the contagion, though most of them are laymen and bureaucrats. They spend too much time talking about things. Even the matter of who is responsible for controlling the pandemic has become a matter of dispute. I personally don't know who is accountable now, if it's Mr. Pence or Mr. Azar. What I do know however is from the perspective of infectious disease control, patients must be given the rights to understand the basic symptoms of viral infection via using simple devices to obtain reliable result with a high probability, and strive to find and control any cases the soonest time possible to avoid further spreading. This is the key. The original CDC system program has centralized certification, which is a huge and appalling disease control loophole. While it helps to regularize R & D funding, such a system cannot keep up with the highly infectious coronavirus. By the time people can be diagnosed, they might have already been dead and even if they're not, the virus would have spread to others by then.
Q: Do you think U.S. CDC and university professors are inexperienced?
CK: They are all highly qualified teachers and good folks. They are adept on telling the stories of the past experience. Be it papers or lectures, you can always count on them to produce the highest quality of research results. That being said, they lack experience at the forefront and often have their words or statements twisted by the media and the internet, who are to known to comment on professionals across all fields.
Q: There is a very interesting and commonly asked question. Is the virus afraid of high temperature? Various experts and scholars have expressed conflicting opinions regarding the matter. For example, data showing the virus is weak against high temperature, at the same time however, many experts and scholars believe that the virus will not disappear as the temperature rises. What seems to be the case?
CK: German health officials recently used a refined model that the Americans came up with to put that to the test. The model purports that the coronavirus virus will not disappear as the temperature rises, resulting in the great disappointment of many. I personally don't have time to build a model to verify their claims though I can provide my empirical observation and research to refute to their matter. If you ask me, I believe the effect of temperature can affect the virus, in two ways specifically. One, the activity of the virus decreases, the temperature rises and the patient's mortality rate decreases. Two, the body's tolerance increases, the production of antibody increases and over time, the body develops the necessary immunity to cope and deal with the symptoms posed by the virus.
My view is certainly different from that of many scholars, but I stand by them. The temperature in Southern Italy is much higher than the north, they're located in the Mediterranean and they only experience a mild epidemic. Countries such as Singapore, Bahrain, Qatar, Israel, Malaysia, Thailand, Vietnam, Indonesia, etc., are all tropical climate countries and their mortality rate is low, if not zero. Therefore, I believe that my logic is right. Perhaps that means my empirical research may not far off compared to the American model. Of course, it also goes without saying that if anyone wishes to develop further models to verify the claim, that would be good.
In short, my empirical research shows the temperature at which virus infection can be suppressed is about 24 degrees Celsius, which is about 75 degrees Fahrenheit. At that temperature, the Covid-19 will begin to decline in the U.S. around late April, given the East Coast of the United States will be at that temperature during that period. President Trump can then boast about how he has successfully quelled the virus. I guess we'll just have to see if that comes true or not.
Q: Time for a controversial question, does locking down cities really help?
CK: That depends on your definition of being "helpful". The purpose of locking down a city is to control the spread of the virus as well as to reduce rate of infection, morbidity and mortality. If we were to judge the usefulness of city lockdown based on these conditions, then answer is a no.
Wuhan might be locked down now, but many its denizens had left the city prior to the lockdown, resulting in the virus spreading to all parts of China. Despite the authorities' best efforts to limit the number of people leaving Wuhan, the spread of the epidemic continued to spread to the whole country, none spared. Cases were found everywhere. Wuhan was particularly known for its mortality rate given its high morbidity. At 5% mortality rate, it was certainly much more the 0.9% mortality rate in non-Hubei regions. This shows that locking down the city has not reduced the mortality rate. Instead, it can be assumed that it may have caused the mortality rate to spike up rather abnormally in the city. Morbidity rates are much more complicated, and the way to measure it statistically is very different. That being said, the number of nearly 50,000 confirmed cases in Wuhan does not give us a reason to be optimistic. Furthermore, cross-infection caused by unmanned management following the lockdown of the city is likely to cause the number of incidences to further increase rather than decrease.
Most people throughout China will tell you the low mortality rate is attributed to the lockdown of the cities. Honestly though, this only serves to prove that Wuhan's lockdown was ineffective. If it was truly effective, the other cities would not have been subjected to a lockdown too. My empirical research shows that "locking down" the city as an emergency measure only applies in communities with less than 30,000 people and cities with a population of less than 300,000 under extreme emergency situations. If that isn't the case, then we should avoid "locking down" cities as so to avoid facing an ineffective management in the city instead.
Q: Do you think Gilead's drugs is the solution to all this? Their stock prices have risen as of late.
CK: I noticed that even when the U.S. stock market plummeted and went into a meltdown, Gilead's stock price continued to rise, that shows that people still have hope for a cure. However, the presence of virus mutations renders such hope rather slim. There have been many COVID-19 mutations discovered so far, and there will be more to come. In fact, the current COVID-19 itself is a mutated virus, and most of its strains are consistent with viruses from the past. Even if an ordinary medicine can cure the virus, it remains questionable as to whether it can treat a mutated one.
Also, I'd like to say that humans have never historically won their battle any virus! And that's because viruses are constantly mutating. They undergo metabolism, evolve into a new strain return. The COVID-19 that is happening today is an example of that. It's a natural cycle. In other words, these viruses can be controlled, but never disappear. The medical world loves myths, like the story of the Rod of Asclepius. Unfortunately, such myths never turn out to be true.
Q: Can China's "measures" help the world?
CK: What "measures" are you referring to? Wearing masks, locking down cities, having a high death toll, chastising the nation's doctors? I think that the degree and level of civility varies from country to country. China's "measures" can't possibly benefit others as the fruit of its measure has yet to properly materialize itself just yet. Simply put, the matter is not over yet. After the world has completely understood China's "measures" and the price it had to pay, hopefully the issue of "plagiarism" will not appear elsewhere.
Q: The person in charge of the U.S. CDC thinks many flu cases in the U.S. are related to the COVID-19. What are your thoughts about that?
CK: I'm aware of said person's remarks, and I've read it in news reports and the Congress respectively. However, the lack of detailed and professional explanation makes it confusing. If the COVID-19 was truly misdiagnosed with another virus, then surely crucial information like the presenting symptoms and miscellaneous info like the number of people transmitted would have surfaced by now, right? What about questions like the presence of a persistent outbreak in the entire region, or how did the patients recover from COVID-19 when it was misdiagnosed as a flu, or how did the local hospitals overcome them anyway go? All these questions will tell if a patient has contracted COVID-19 or if it was truly just a flu.
Apart from cases of cross-infection, the U.S. CDC's speculation should be seen an unprofessional opinion, or at least be considered a possibility derivation caused by the detection method due to the lack of such reports and the lack of other evidence to support such claims.
Q: What should the rest of the world pay attention to during their fight against Covid-19?
CK: I think all countries' priority for the time being should lie in protecting the elderly's health, since the COVID-19 has shown to have a very high mortality rate among the elderly, similar to influenza virus. Currently, my observations show that countries around the world, the United States included, lacks sufficient protective measures for the elderly, and it's worse off in Italy. The elderly experience a high mortality, where the average life expectancy is 81 years old, which is alarming. As it stands, many countries lack any good protective measures to protect the elder generation and we're now facing a situation of humanitarian crisis, which is unacceptable.
Q: President Trump has just announced a European travel ban for the next 30 days. Meanwhile, China's contact with the rest of the world has been disrupted throughout this extended period. What are your thoughts regarding these measures?
CK: I think the act of putting the brakes on traveling was done rashly. Some people think putting the brakes onto things now would somehow enable them to "go further" in the future, which is very naïve honestly. Putting the brakes onto things hastily is no different to abusing public power, it's basically saying the government gets to do however they want and whatever they want. "Going further" on the other hand, is a systematic process of reorganization the economy and the economy will not boom overnight just because they want it to. If that were the case, there would not have been a Keynes or Hayek and it would be easier for politicians to boast their economic achievements. Put simply, it is easy to cool down the economy but it's difficult to get it back up. Cooling down the economy is just the first half of the whole process. On the other hand, getting it back up is the second half of the process, but the second half of the process probably won't even happen, which will cause the economy to fail.
Now, both the China and the U.S. economy have been halted by politicians, and the U.S. stock market has fallen from 30,000 points to 20,000 points. I don't quite believe that they are really ready to let the economy heat up at any time.
Q: How serious do you think the COVID-19 is in the States, and when will it end?
CK: That's a question of prediction. I had posted my thoughts on Twitter on March 11. The basic data showed the number of confirmed cases in the United States will reach 3,000 and the death toll at 70. It mainly depends on whether the protection measures for the elderly are done effectively. If not, the number of deaths will rise sharply. Under normal circumstances, there will not be too many deaths. Another point is medical resources, whether the hospital system can function normally. Of course, there is a phenomenon of "bragging" in various countries as well. When there was not outbreak, people often claim there was no problem, that the medical conditions were sufficient. When the outbreak happens. It was the same group of people who suffer, and everything went wrong. This s the lack of experience, which will lead to an increase in social mortality and the collapse of the medical system. These so-called experts should be held accountable.
I also predicted that beginning of April or early May, the outbreak in the States will show a remarkable improvement. Of course, these predictions are not based on analysis results generated from exquisite models, but basic calculations based on personal experience for references only.
Q: What do you think is the most valuable part of the "Chinese experience"?
CK: There are two ways to resolve Covid-19 around the world, one is to defensive, and the other is the flu strategy. Wuhan's strategy in China that adopts defensive measure is very costly and can even be described as a disaster. Another strategy is the flu strategy. Now the British are beginning to try this flu strategy. Singapore has already tried it, and Japan is trying it. The most basic start of such a strategy is to have a clear definition. The coronavirus I started talking about is a viral flu. As long as the definition is clear, the rest of the solutions are readily available-rest at home in mild cases, go to hospital for treatment in severe cases. So, people should stay at home and work from home, as well as practice social distancing. If the temperature rises, that would be good. Of course, if such a flu strategy is successful, the price paid for the defensive strategy will inevitably be investigated. I think the key issue that the world needs to think about calmly is such a basic definition. This is also the most valuable reference that the "Chinese experience" can really provide to the world.
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