Coronavirus: Contagion and Chaos [Episode 62]
Welcome to the Martin Looney. I'm Peter Scheckter. Thank you for joining us as we try to. Navigate the corona virus crisis. What's its impact on human lives on markets on politics in our hugely interconnected world so vulnerable to pandemics. We're going to dive into the geopolitical implications. And what can be done to prevent such a pandemic in the future and to help with this scary all encompassing issue. We're lucky to be joined by Narita Eisenman from NPR. Who's one of the most authoritative reliable and well informed journalists on the issue of international health since the coronavirus entered our global vocabulary? Some weeks ago. The expansion of the infections is staggering. It's almost like a live ticker and the global reach of the virus minds is exactly of how connected the world is today. Tens of thousands or sick hundreds have died. Dozens of countries have infected patients from Malaysia to Germany the US in Italy to Sri Lanka times and many other news outlets publish interactive maps that update every hour. So there's news coming from everywhere. An entire cruise ship filled with individuals who have tested positive for. The diseases has been quarantined Japan. There's hundreds of infected passengers and sewer dozens of travelers and millions of passengers as well in airplanes from China. You're in one of the most interesting parts of this story. Mooney is that we've seen Chinese. Social media exploded about the doctor who sounded the whistle about this deadly virus because he's dead himself and mistrust is growing in the streets of China's main cities and I don't remember at least hearing my friends were Chinese experts. Talk about the virulent and anger on social media against Chinese officials. It's shocked everyone. Because these usually stone-faced Chinese leaders aren't used to this type of criticism. Scientists are rushing to find a vaccine and specialized hospitals to has a sick or built only in like two or three days. Oh and good luck finding a face mask to protect yourself right now. Those are very very short supply. It's amazing Peter. The cases stretch the capacity of not only the Chinese government but very powerful and widespread organizations such as the World Health Organization who only recently acceded to call the corona virus a global health emergency that it has questions about whether China delayed letting the man or was the. Who late to react in any case. What's obvious with this crisis is that our world has really unprepared for surprises of this nature. And really there is no amount of tech and connectivity. That can control it their solutions quarantines travel restrictions. Curfews have been around for centuries. There's really nothing new I just wonder. Can't we find better solutions how to avoid and prevent something like this from happening? You any Bulla has not been eradicated years later. And SARS which is essentially corona virus parent also originating in China infected over eighty five hundred people and killed over seven hundred before it was contained. The biggest question now is how many victims will coronavirus claim. It surpassed SARS already Mooney. Let's talk about beyond the medical victims and and the people who are sick let's talk about the economic and political impact. That's being felt all over the place. But first and foremost in China China spend twenty nine teen continuing to flex and show its political muscle by expanding the belt and road initiative or banning the broadcast of NBA gains. I mean China was really feeling strong but in the past two weeks. China's Central Bank has been pumping over two hundred forty two billion dollars into the financial system to prop up weakening growth in amidst all this growing anger President Xi Jinping virtually disappeared disappeared for days on end as Chinese authorities resort to increasingly controversial accidents to impose curfews on information and movement across the country. China remains almost completely isolated as airlines across the world cancelled chips and businesses scrambled to rewire complicated supply chains and even outside of China. The world is Feeling all the effects across Asia weary travelers are canceling trips. Companies are taking really strong precautions. Tourist revenue is dropping from Indonesia to Thailand Hyundai and other companies have suspended production in South Korea. Companies like Amazon Sony. Lg recently announced the cancellation of their participation. In a very prominent `electronic convention in Barcelona employees in Spain or wearing face masks when they're in Chinese companies. How long will this last? Who knows so? There's all kinds of forecast. Peter experts from s and P global predicted. That it will run its course by April and end by May and even though as of right now. Financial Markets Look Stables. The virus is spreading and so as mistrust and many expect the measures taken by the Chinese government will be insufficient. All this fading Competence Could Cause Gouldman to stall and perhaps the most concerning consequences is that we have come from a pretty good run of world growth. Investors have become optimists as this starts to change the as the disease continues to spread. Are we all going to become global pessimists? You know one thing that nobody seems to be really able to address or want. Maybe people don't want to address is why do these outbreaks keep happening in China? What is it about China? Now I mean no doubt. Part of the blame goes to China's government which is always operating secrecy in silos information. I mean everybody knows. That's not the best way to combat a pandemic indeed the back and forth about the poor doctor who was first arrested for breaking the news and then he passed away and then you know it. It confirms all of this lack of transparency of the state. And how the restrictive flow of information is bad for controlling sicknesses but beyond the government Mooney beyond that is it the sheer size of the population. That makes it more likely I. I don't think so because these epidemics don't seem to be happening in India. Is it the lack of prevention is a slow reaction time? A lot of people are talking about this issue about the interaction of live animal markets within food markets and generally the causal relationship between animals and foods. I don't think anybody seems to know but it's certainly something that at least I would love to hear why why is. China seemed to be more often than not the epicenter of these epidemics. We do know for sure is that a vaccine is maybe a year or two away and until now until then there is very little that any government can do to contain this crisis beyond those primitive measures that are already being taken. In the meantime the scope of a long-term repercussion for China and the world are yet to be fully understood throughout the crisis. We have heard from one reporter who has provided consistent coverage and analysis of the crisis on NPR. And we're very grateful to very busy. Neural Eisenman for making time to talk to us today. She's a NPR's correspondent on global health and development a former writer at the Washington Post former editor of the new republic and Harvard Grad North Eisenman. Welcome to Ulta Mar. Hells glad to be here. You've been covering corner virus almost daily since the outbreak began. Can we start with basics? What is your assessment of the scope of the threat? And is it being overblown or under reported? What worries you the most really right now? This is an emergency in China The pretty much all of the cases are in China. It's true that there are several hundred outside of China but that's a tiny number compared to the tens of thousands in China And and we're still trying to get a sense of actually How fast it's spreading. Is it accelerating? We can talk about the reasons why. That's hard to know in a moment. In terms of things that are worrisome. Still enough unknowns. About exactly how lethal is it Another concern is that if it does spread to let's say countries in Africa that have less access to sophisticated healthcare. The lethality might actually go up because A lot of the cases that are surviving are surviving due to really intensive care in hospitals and that that could be a problem if it starts to spread too low resource countries. You've covered evola in person and Reports are it's well as much more deadly but also harder to get this disease kind of in reference using a bowl is a reference. It's more contagious. Less deadlier do we still not know for sure. Yeah I mean with the proviso that we don't fully know yet and I think we should talk about some of the reasons why we don't know all the answers yet. I mean it does so far. The evidence that's emerged so far is dumb. It is less busy. Bola you know it's seems to be easier to catch than Ebola in the sense. That with your Bala you know you have to touch the fluids of someone who is in later. Stage of the illness they have more viral load and In this case it's a little bit more akin to the way the flu might spread. You know someone sneezes on a surface and you touch those droplets and then you know you touch some mucous membrane of your own. In terms of how lethal it is a positive thing to say. Is that about eighty percent plus of cases this is based on seventeen thousand cases that the W. H. O. The World Health Organization was able to analyze the symptoms seem to be mild and In terms of the death rate it's about two percent of the confirmed cases have resulted in death and the death rate may end up being substantially lower once. They're able to test for people who might have contracted this virus and shown no symptoms at all you know so it might be substantially less lethal but again you know there's a lot that we don't know and maybe talk about about why Let's let's talk about why. Why don't we know how? How the mortality of this disease and what else. Don't we know that we should know and probably will know but too late. Yeah I mean one of the challenges is that while China has been reporting daily the cases of that are confirmed according to the World Delve Organization. To which this information is imparted. They're often not including underlying information about the cases. That is really key such as you know when to that person develop symptoms you know. How did they seem to get exposed? are they healthcare worker and those those are the kinds of underlying facts that you need to construct the epidemological curve to see like what direction is headed. Is it accelerating? Where is it spreading? And how so? A lot of underlying data is still not fully being transmitted. But not one of the things that sort of you know I as a civilian so pick up just from the press is that the Chinese citizens themselves don't seem to believe their government has huge amount of anger and disbelief. So I guess one question I have is. Is there a problem with Chinese numbers with with an are those believable? And is that something that the world can rely on? Yeah it's it's very hard to tell I mean earlier on there. Were some modeling that we're trying to you know that we're suggesting that based on the numbers that were showing up overseas the underlying number of cases in China had to be much greater than what China was reporting and then in China. There's definitely been a lot of concern expressed to the extent that can be expressed and then there's also been a lot of censorship since then about what seems to have been early on just like a soft pedaling of how you know of how much they knew about the fact that there was human to human transmission as opposed to just a you know a small collection of people who were infected directly in a in a seafood meat market and the fact that several health workers at least eight Eight health workers in China in Han in the epicenter of the outbreak in various ways tried to spread word of what seemed to be these unusual pneumonia cases. And then were brought in by police and sanctioned Early on and then now you know there's there's been sort of a rehabilitation of them but You know by the Chinese authorities but there that has left just to sort of lingering question about how much has really been communicated and also concerned that early on Chinese authorities didn't do enough to alert people in Wuhan. They might have been even they might have been possibly more communicative to the outside world and they were to people in Iran about the risk at the very earliest stage. So that's just sold a lot of of questioning doubt about what's currently being reported and I've heard you say that somehow you've put this in a forgive me if I'm putting words in your mouth you've made juxtaposition between the flu and the Corona virus and sort of have wondered aloud whether what you know with so many people dying from the flu wire wire. Are we getting as upset about the flu as we get about the corona virus? I think that's a that's a great question I mean. What's interesting? Is The flu seasonal? Influenza kills hundreds of thousands. I mean. It's it's incredible the numbers It's not so much kind of critique as much as just trying to lay this out for people why. Why are we mobilizing so much especially in the earliest phases of this outbreak? It's it's only been going on for two months but still it's the there's already a long history you know of how it's changed and the biggest thing is that it's new. You know end end so number one when you have a wholly new virus introduced in the human population. You don't know a lot of things about it. How it transmits. How lethal it is really and you certainly don't want to wait until you know for sure before you take precautions in case it really is going to be a problem you know. Everyone's the sort of nightmare that everyone lives with is the nineteen eighteen Spanish flu pandemic which killed at least fifty million people worldwide. You know so. People are always worried about that kind of situation and then you know with the flu. If we could get rid of the flu we would right. I mean you know but it's it's endemic. It's just that that ship has sailed and we're just trying to combat the flu in a much more incremental way when there's something new that's introduced you know there's a sense of well let's try to just quash it before it it can become Endemic and there is a success story of doing that for example with the SARS. So it's not a crazy notion to try so you mentioned when there is something new that introduced and you're moody and I were wondering before it often seems that the new thing being introduced a new virus being introduced emanates from China. Why is that? Why is China the epicenter of so much of this high would hesitate to put it all in China? I can't tell you that I've done an analysis of like how many things have emanated specifically from China versus other places but that's I think I think it is interesting to explore. Some of what seems to have been at work in the case of this and other viruses. That have emanated from China. And they're a couple of factors one is and this is the case not just for China but there are a number countries. Share these these features and one is you have like a an animal population at some wild animals. Often bats That harbors a lot of viruses. The Bat doesn't really affect the bat too much. But it's kind of in the bats and there's you know I've been doing some reporting on. Scientists have been tracking how many corona viruses are bats. And it's quite a large number. You know spoiler alert. This is just one of many. And then the thing that happens is either because people consume bads or because they're brought into contact with other wild animals that people than consume or bring into these live animal markets where they also have domesticated animals. There's this sort of this mingling of species. And that sort of a way for viruses that are circulating in wild animals that humans normally wouldn't really be encountering too then have that jump into humans and certainly this corona virus has been found in bats in China so that seems to be possible mechanism although again one more thing that they don't really fully understand in this particular outbreak. How does the interaction between bats and humans work so it could be a number of things right it could be it can be that the bat has the virus in it and the human comes into contact with the bat? Let's say there are some places where it's a delicacy the bat is consumed and it goes directly from the bat to the human. Another scenario is the bat is consumed and is brought into a marketplace or or the bad is is near some other wild animal which which it gives the virus either in the marketplace from the wild and then that animal is consumed in the market and the virus enters of jumps from this intermediate host for example with SARS. It was civic cats that was the host from bats civic cats and then people eating of cats civic cats are in the market. They're getting it from from that. Intermediate host. Another thing that happens there's not necess- not necessarily the case in this particular instance but another concern is always that you can have like the bats or the intermediate host has that virus and maybe it's not a virus that can easily infect humans but that same animal is also infected with something that in the can infect humans let's say an influenza and then the genetic material gets swapped in the body of the animal in the cells and suddenly you have a new virus. It's kind of created that has all the features of this one virus that couldn't infect humans and now you have a virus but it also has the aspects that can infect humans and so again something new is introduced so essentially the bottom line of what I'm saying here is that situations where there's a lot of mixing of different kinds of species many of them alive. Pooping you know liquids flowing people in contact. That is kind of life for this kind of spread of viruses. That wouldn't otherwise be entering the human population so nerve. After this terribly disturbing description we are living in this very medically advanced world and yet these explanations both of the causes and the way this disease has been treated with the same things as they did during the Spanish flu probably curfews and quarantines and facemasks. Doesn't this seem like in this world? There should be more responses both in in preventing and intriguing or trying to avoid contagion. Yeah I mean I think you know one of the things with coronaries warranties are controversial in the way that they are applied is very important and they can be applied in ways that are completely counterproductive and make people go underground or you know or harm people unnecessarily so with that proviso there is something to be said for. You know identifying cases isolating people so that they can't spread it to others that is kind of tried and true. It's true that it dates back to you. Know I was looking at the history of quarantines date backs to the Bible hippocrates you know I think the word comes from thirteen seventy Venice denial Peter can tell us the Italian side of that. It's it's the forty days that people had to be in quarantine. There's plague in Venice. I think so part of it is at its tried and true and then of course we also are living in this time of a lot of progress. It it's interesting. How quickly in this case they were able to China's credit to identified? The virus communicates genetic sequence. Which has been very very helpful in terms of them being able to bind it in people. That's how they're testing and figuring out if people have been infected and then I think it also does point to the need for more work you know I was talking about those markets and that research about what's in bats and that's part of an effort that has been ongoing but perhaps more is warranted of trying to proactively identify. You know what viruses are out there in the animal reservoir. That could be a problem such that you know we can quickly respond to them in even have some some out of setup of like you know precursor vaccines that might work. So we don't invent the wheel and in fact. Some of that work is why they were able to identify that. This particular corona virus was in in Bats because they had done that groundwork to on the list there's been some back and forth between fingerpointing between the Chinese government and the World Health Organization. The World Health Organization came in too late that China didn't let them in what is Who's role in the crisis? Right now. I wouldn't say finger-pointing which what's really stood out to me is just how complementary The deadliest show and in particular the Director General. Tatum braces has been towards China. I mean on the one hand you can imagine that. He's got to be diplomatic right. I mean everything with the. Who is a function of its spike? You know the consent of sovereign nations. He can't force any country to do anything and he's desperately needs China's cooperation but that said So so you would necessarily expect him to be critical of China but it's really been noticeable early on you know statements from him about how much they were getting information from China. You know no intimation of a problem. let's see what else like. Also you know. They've been asked about whether he's been asked whether he didn't eat messages for people in Wuhan and even though the World Health Organization very early on seemed to sort of in a very diplomatic way indicate that they didn't think that the kind of transportation locked down That was imposed on. Wuhan was based on Rational science based evidence in most recently you know he's been totally complementary You know to to China in that regard in the sense of saying like thanks to the people who on your doing what needs to be done. I'm sorry that you're going through this. But it's what needs to be done. Very complimentary of Teaching Pang just saying that he's leading the charge and how involved he is completely who in the notion that there might be additional cases or that cases were circulating beforehand so just really kind of bending over backwards to be complementary which is interesting I love. You ended that look I. I know region not an economist. But I just wanted to. I wanted to ask you financial markets even though the is taken over the headlines Financial Markets. Really haven't dropped or at least haven't dropped yet. And but supply. Chains are affected. Air travel has been cut off tourism. Not only to and from China to other countries but certainly to a number of other Asian countries is affected. The seems to be a lot of economic costs and I guess one is. I'd asked you about that but I've also was very interested to see that standard and Poor's was saying that the crisis is going to be over by May two. Do you think that's right. I mean I really don't feel like I have enough information to hazard a prediction at this point. I just think it's it's dangerous to make that kind of prediction at the stage. You know what do you think they did it? I can't speak for them. I mean I think yeah I I can't i. Didn't I haven't seen their particular analysis of why they've done that. I just. It's hard for me to answer. Honestly I mean I think yeah. It's it's really hard to know it's just hard to know. I mean it's on right now. There's like the numbers are still coming out fast out of Han. Although again we don't know how much of that is. New Infections are just confirmation of existing cases. That alone is a city of eleven million people. And you know a lot of them left. I think at least five million appear to have left just before the shutdown of transportation We're now starting to see the ramp up. You know the the whole country was kind of more on a holiday footing with the Lunar New Year. That's over now. It's just kind of ramping up more fully. I just think there's it it's just hard to know. I don't feel like we have enough information to really be able to chart a trajectory yet. I really just don't since you started covering this. Do you feel that there begins to be any encouraging news on the horizon or are we still in the thick of things? Well I mean look I think it's just encouraging for example. What I said about the eighty three percent of cases having mild symptoms the death rate you know even not taking into account the likely significant numbers of people who get this and don't show any symptoms. You know that that often happens being it sort of one percent maybe two percent so presumably it might end up being much lower so those are the things I think that are. That are hopeful. Yeah and then there's a there is certainly going to be a lot of mobilizing around the science. And it certainly has like the attention of of world class people and there's a lot of energy being put into moving quickly so that gives me hope. I don't mean to be all doom and gloom here. Yeah well let me ask you a couple of questions about the future. Which gives you an opportunity to be optimistic and upbeat if you WanNa since you were warned about doom and gloom. So how does the world's deal in five ten years with pandemics like this? I mean they do seem to be coming more often more vast and furious and so how does the world deal and I guess. Is there any country that really stands out in your mind as a sort of really best practice example of? Who Does this well? I can't speak to like one country that I would point to just off hand but which isn't to say there isn't one out there but I just you know I tend to focus heavily on the United States is preparedness and then you know and then preparedness in in below resourced countries. I think that in terms of the the answer of how do we prepare? It seems like the most important thing is to just recognize that these are not fluke events like this is entirely predictable that this sort of thing should happen. You know we have. We have a situation. Where there are these viruses that circulate in animals that we are because of climate change because of the way that these markets work the way that you know. There's so much more travel in the world that this kind of mode of transmission of jumping from a wild animal into a human and then you know in a place where people then will travel and spread it further. This is sort of the world we live in now. You know and to the extent that we can just sort of accept it. That's how it is and then just really be looking for. What are the potential viruses out? There what are what's the architecture things that we can prepare that you know we we sort of have ready made you know kind of almost complete vaccines and almost complete therapies that we can kinda then fit to whatever emerges that left that kind of preparedness and then again just really beefing up preparedness in the poorest countries. Because I think that doesn't get enough attention of how much of a threat this this is really more than anything to countries that already have weak health systems. So that that I think if we focus on that On all of those things then we'll be in better shape and some of that has been happening and arguably a lot more needs to be happening. Nouri thousand men you so much for making time for to talk to us today is my pleasure is great to talk to you. Peter knuth was incredibly thorough in her evaluation of what the health repercussions are and kind of the outlook of this virus. Worldwide in and out of China. But I think there's another aspect that we touched on briefly which is what's going to happen to the world economy. I have so many questions about tourism in Asia about air travel about all. These convey no conventions that are being canceled. Financial markets holding on still precariously. Is the other shoe really going to drop in the next couple of weeks or months? Well I have two thoughts on that Mooney one is I agree with you and the other ones. I don't agree with you. I I know I know that sounds a little schizophrenic. But let me take on the agree with you. I'm I'm Talked to a number friends of mine in New York today. And we're in end of quarter reporting season and a lot of companies are really freaking out about the guidance that they are about to give to analysts and shareholders because they don't know and that's one of the things that is so scary. About what new reet. Who is a real expert in? This transmitted. Here is how much we don't know. And so you know. People need to give guidance about what's going to happen to their companies and in particular people are very freaked out about supply chains which China's so-so integrated in and they'd really don't know what to say and so that leads me to the part that I don't agree with you with which is there really is just a ton of UNKNOWNS YEAR. That could lead this to be The huge doom and gloom story of of twenty twenty but it also could lead This thing to disappear as quickly as SARS ended up disappearing nearly ten years ago so with that we leave you. Thank you for joining us an Ulta Mar.