Coronavirus world: Science and math key to managing

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A pandemic is changing the world.

To start with the Human, Spiritual aspect, a Wuhan resident shares: “We are at peace in the epicenter of the virus.  Our family life has never been better.  Usually one weekend is long enough before I’m ready to send each of us back to school or work.  But for SEVEN weeks, we’ve been home together with very little outside influences.  Right now I hear birds outside my window (on the 25th floor).  I’ve reconnected with lots of old friends.  We still work and do school, but all from home.  I could devote a whole post to the amazing community we’ve been blessed with because of this lockdown.  We had ‘church’ via Zoom!”  This reconnection to fellow community is something no seminar or retreat could have done for our societies today steeped in social media, fake news, bourgeoning forms of entertainment, consumerism and politics.

Science and math are at the center of the solution in decision-making.  Exponential modeling, and now confirmed by actual experience, shows where the infections will grow fastest — that every day delayed in taking distancing and quarantining procedures compounds the infected by thousands, and numerous added deaths that could ensue if a region or country delayed lockdown in the hopes of saving its economy.  Graph 1 shows the early flatlined infections of Chinese regions compared with what happened to countries that delayed the decision, waiting for the manifestations of an incubating, invisible virus.
This means that government officials around the world are forced to make bets based on mathematical models.  The spread, mostly invisible, is a factor of the average number contacts of the population, the travel links of population centers, the percentage infections once exposed (just below 1 percent up to 20 percent), and percentage deaths based on demographic age characteristics of a population (e.g. even when exposed, less than 5 percent of those under 18 years had significant illness, while those above 70 years once exhibiting illness have some 16 percent chance of fatality).  The infrastructure of detection and control will determine how early the detections will take place and be acted on.

Graph 2 shows how the Chinese monitored then traced back by lag data the infection rates, made the decision early to lockdown the entire country.  The data allows pattern analysis and prediction, the incubation lag means by the time of manifestation, you had a much larger infected base that was not yet visible. (The analytical information and graphs are adapted from an article written for sharing by Tomas Pueyo, a brilliant explainer of the models, at https://medium.com/@tomaspueyo/coronavirus-act-today-or-people-will-die-f4d3d9cd99ca)

A Perfect Storm — oil and stock markets crash; travel, business and logistic lockdowns; health facilities swamped.  In the midst of a worldwide trade and tech war, the new virus health problem appearing, combined with Russian and Saudi disagreement leading to a crash in oil prices last week (threatening to go below $30 a barrel), led to a worldwide crash of the stock markets.  The United States Dow dropping 10 percent to the limit in one day; the S&P dropping more than 9 percent in 1 day; the Philippines dropping from an index high of nearly 9,000 to almost going below 5,100 before recovering to above 5,700, still P933 billion lower in one Thursday last week!  Classes have been closed, health facilities are swamped.  If the drops are sustained on top of falling commodities, closed factories and possible panic, the world may edge to the brink of a perfect storm.

Disasters move us to unprecedented world cooperation… for now.  Fear of this possible chaos has brought the top scientists from the World Health Organization (WHO) working with China, where the genomes were mapped and shared, and analytical kits were developed, in record time (China has offered thousands of sets to the Philippines. Russia as well has offered medicines shown to be effective in treating the illness…).  Countries, even rivals, are sharing infection data: labs everywhere are racing to test possible vaccines; Iran asks for help from WHO; China’s Jack Ma offers 500,000 kits donation to the US; Bill Gates commits a hundred million US dollars to speed research on and treatment of the coronavirus disease 2019; and the Japanese people donated assistance to China, China thanked Japan and moved to improve relations, and Abe said, “Lands apart, shared sky!”  Contrast this with US Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross predicting that the virus would “help accelerate the return of jobs to North America,” although President Donald Trump himself offered praise of President Xi Jinping’s containment efforts.  The US markets recovered part of the losses for now, due to tens of billion dollars of government support for the bond market, restructuring of student debts, subsidies for unemployment, etc.  The European Union Central Bank announced fiscal supports; China released $79 billion in supports; and Hong Kong gave $1,200 per family.

Science and organization are the key.  China was able to flatten the infection rate in a couple of months, where it is now declining sharply. It used massive lockdowns not just on travel but on any movement outside the home; built numerous massive hospitals; sent out over a thousand teams of epidemiologists; and gave unlimited free, if not always immediate testing and healthcare. It set up access to online services, and provided educational and remote work tools, logistic provisions of needs.  But most countries will not have the resources and systems to do these.

The Philippines is not faring badly, too. We have been lucky so far. Our government has made decent decisions — balancing economics and health issues, implementing with speed once decisions are made based on reasoned judgement calls (whether constant bashers and critics agree or not).  Duterte has declared the banning of travel to and from several countries early, closed classes, declared a National Capital Region lockdown, and restructured work.  Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez 3rd has ordered the state pension funds to double their purchases of stocks.  The Philippines really does have to seriously organize for this type and similar scale calamities that may really hit us.

Our front-liners, health and security workers are the real heroes … who are overworked, harassed by patients, themselves at risk of infection — THANKS AND PRAYERS FOR THEM!  Let us extend whatever support we can to them!

Where to now?  A panel of US experts predicts that assuming the current situation continues without a drastic change, there is a possibility that if the spread is not flattened out quickly, the healthcare system will be overwhelmed, health workers will be exhausted, and many clinics will be forced to decide which patients get the treatments and which will die, as the equipment and supplies may not be sufficient.  If not flattened, soon it will grow to a level where it becomes part of life like tuberculosis and influenza, which kill hundreds of thousands a year — no longer possible to contain, just to manage percentages.  This could also be averted or made non-fatal by some behavior of nature, like the disappearance of SARs or the severe acute respiratory syndrome in the summer, or the discovery of vaccines or other medications.

We return, an appreciation that we are in the hands of God and Nature.

George Siy is a Wharton-educated industrialist, international trade practitioner and negotiator, serving as director of the Integrated Development Studies Institute (IDSI). He has advised the Philippines and various organizations in trade negotiations with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, Japan and the United States.

New Worlds by IDSI (Integrated Development Studies Institute)  aims to present frameworks based on a balance of economic theory, historical realities, ground success in real business and communities, and attempt for common good, culture, and spirituality. We welcome logical feedback and possibly working together with compatible frameworks (idsicenter@gmail.com).

**Also published in: https://www.manilatimes.net/2020/03/15/opinion/columnists/coronavirus-world-science-and-math-key-to-managing/703220/

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