Wednesday, March 11, 2020

Almost all policies to fight the contagion are ludicrously useless rituals

Conferences, tours, concerts, elementary and high school classes, university semesters, and lots of other things have never been canceled in such huge numbers as what we experience now, during the ongoing coronavirus hysteria. It's a disease that potentially kills O(1%) of the infected people, largely the very old and immunocompromised ones. So there is some potential for it to be important even though the number of fatalities around 4,000 is still tiny relatively to all major diseases we know.

It's the first similarly "promising" infectious disease that takes place during the period when most people are attached to their phones and social networks for hours a day – and those surely help to fan the hysteria. And mankind has been brainwashed for many years by the terrible yet self-evidently non-existent dangers of climate change and related things. So hundreds of millions of people were pre-programmed to become "really hysterical" when a threat appears that actually has at least some beef. And it has happened.

Lots of people have joined the movement to fight against the virus using all thinkable and unthinkable means. They spray deodorants and sometimes pepper sprays on the Asian Americans in the subway (that's crazy also because almost no Asian Americans are infected), dress plastic bags for trash on all their limbs, fight over toilet papers in the supermarkets (these jammed supermarkets are a great place to catch the virus, by the way, karma may work), and they "fight" the disease in lots of other "interesting" ways.

Well, almost none of these hysterical reactions is any helpful to reduce the rate of contagion at the level of the individuals let alone the aggregate numbers. This disease was tamed to near non-existence in China – which has reduced the daily new cases from the peak around 1500 to dozens – but it was at a painful cost.

While I have no proof, it seems plausible to me that China did these massive maneuvers because it had bad conscience about the origin of the virus. The virus could have been created in the lab. It could have been leaked due to a scary accident, a bat who bit a researcher. Or its propagation at least depended on the first month of inaction. At any rate, China decided to fight the virus in a hardcore way. It wasn't sufficient to prevent the virus from getting to other countries – it really couldn't have achieved this outcome (the virus was probably present abroad already when the Chinese maneuvers began). But it was sufficient to tame the new cases in China itself.

What actually mattered for China's success was simple. Two things mattered:

* the curfews that were actually enforced by armed personnel
* the face masks that were mandatory for everybody

Everything else either follows from these basic regulations or is irrelevant. Now, important clarifications are needed for both points. Curfews: You actually need to enforce the curfew or the ban on all events with many people, otherwise the impact will be unmeasurable.

If media or governments just say "be nice and cancel your event", some fraction of events will be canceled, another fraction will not. And some events may be deliberately created by some people who just want to prove that they won't be dictated conditions by someone. The result is at most a reduction of the propagation of the virus through events by dozens of percent. But that's really negligible. If some people attend many events, they will catch the virus from one of those events that aren't canceled. And most positive cases haven't gotten it from a mass event, anyway.

Most of the contagion in countries like mine is from visitors of Italy (Czech cases are dominated by skiers in the Dolomites and their relatives and an hour ago, the first Pilsner Region's case is a woman who returned from Livigno, IT; German cases are dominated by young people from an event so their fatality rate is low; Italians are dominated by seniors who get Chinese food delivered by a Pakistani migrant/terrorist, so the fatality rate is higher there) and their closest contacts at this point. The people who still want to travel to places that are much more infected than Czechia (and much more than weeks ago) are enough to dominate the new cases. If you don't really eliminate this source, almost all of it, you may at most delay the proliferation of the virus by days.

China may have stopped the "internal contagion" but the number of cases in the rest of the world is sufficient so that China is guaranteed to get some new cases from those every day, anyway. China ironically has a lower number of active cases (per million citizens) than the rest of the world now so it is protecting itself against the import of the disease.

So all these comments "let's all be nice and behave as imprisoned citizens of dictatorial China" simply don't work at all (just like the statements "I am nice and want to reduce my carbon footprint"), they only make the irrational hysteria worse, and if I were a powerful enough minister, I would temporarily ban such statements. If you don't actually imprison the people and strip them of the basic freedom of movement, the result will not be the same as China's outcome. An equilibrium will be found but of course the peak number of daily cases will be much higher than in China (per million people).

Second, the face masks. Face masks aren't actually good to protect the healthy people from others. The viruses still land on the opposite side and they typically get to the owner of the mask, anyway. However, the face masks are good to prevent the propagation of the infection if an infected person wears the mask.

The real "detail" is that lots of people believe that they're healthy or they have an ordinary cold but they do have Covid-19. The percentage of cold-like people who actually have Covid-19 is tiny but nonzero. And these people were also given those masks in China, dramatically reducing the transmission from them to other people in their everyday lives.

An extra problem is that most Western countries just don't have a sufficient number of such masks. We have enough masks for the physicians who really need them; lots of other people who don't need them as much are stealing the masks from the hospitals now. For some reasons, China could easily deliver tens of millions of masks to the affected region. We just don't have them. It may be an advantage of the Chinese communist capitalism or it may be classified in other ways. But it's a fact.

You could still replace the masks by something almost identical. Invent a way for the people to wear scarfs or plastic bags from the supermarkets or something else that has almost the same effect as the Chinese face masks. I am certain that just the policy to make such scarf-like outfit mandatory for a month would be vastly more effective in taming the disease than all the canceled events and other things. If a large enough droplet from the mouth or nose doesn't move from one person to another, the probability of a new infection is tiny. A scarf over the mouth and nose may be enough.

I would make these cool things mandatory in public after the 10th death in Czechia.

The main point is that the very fundamental features of our societies that value the individual freedom make it almost unavoidable that the minimal R0 we can realistically achieve (how many people catch it from one infected one) is unavoidably higher than the Chinese one.

Maybe if the Chinese Communist Party controlled the whole world, it could have eradicated the virus in the whole world, too. But we don't live in such a world. We live in a world where many countries, especially the most advanced ones, don't really consider the Chinese government's reduction of the individual freedoms acceptable. Most of us don't find it acceptable. Or at least those of us who find it unacceptable are strong enough to have a big chance to win a civil war that we would start because of that. The Hollywood movies where the "good guys" fight the contagion and they win are just a far left propaganda. In the real world, the people who fight for the freedom are the good guys and they will win! ;-)

So you just can't do the same thing as China, realistically. It is unavoidable that the growth rate of the disease is expected to be higher than the Chinese one during the declining phase of the virus. This is really a law of physics, a trivial consequence of the fundamental difference in our political systems. To change this conclusion, you would need to qualitatively change our political systems.

My broader point is that the only "option" where we can choose is "whether we want to become China-like dictatorships". If we answer No, and I surely think that the Yes answer is vastly worse even than the death of the whole 1% of the population by an infectious disease, then everything is qualitatively determined by the laws of Nature. It makes absolutely no sense to reduce your activities by several percent to "feel good". Such a tiny change isn't enough to make any detectable and attributable difference, especially because only a minority of people really do such things.

It follows that the rational response is to stop the hysteria and the new "cancel culture" policies altogether. Nature will do whatever She wants to do. The cancellation of the events and similar shutdown of our civilization should stop because it's useless. As I said, it would be far more useful, and probably even cheaper at this point, to impose a 3-week-long curfew in the world. Before the campaign starts, everyone should buy food and water for 3 weeks and be supervised by the armies of the world not to leave his house. And people should also shield themselves from the relatives and roommates at home. Great. Disease is almost extinct.

It's the concentration of the "shock" for the virus that makes the difference. If you dilute the aforementioned 3-week-long reduction of activities over several months or years, you just slow down the spreading of the disease by several percent. You won't even see it. It's certainly not worth it. You're just wasting trillions of dollars of the economy and the human pleasure. Every sane person agrees. Millions of people are really angry because the events they were looking forward to were cancelled. LeBron James sensibly said that he just won't play basketball without the fans – it is not the same thing for him. To neglect this disappointment of millions of active people with a purpose of their life is wrong, wrong, wrong. Those are things that actually make millions of lives worth living. Most of the shutdown is viscerally demanded by the people whose life doesn't really have a purpose.

Also, we hear 500 times a day – even from officials and the people who describe themselves as critics of the hysteria – that everyone should wash his hands every minute, avoid touching the face, and similar stuff. Those are just additional "feel good" rituals. Of course it works to reduce your personal odds of getting the disease. Any soap or chemical with some alcohol and other compounds destroy the virus within 10 seconds of exposure, for example. In a comment under this text, there is a compressed translation of an interview with Dr Adámková, part II. She also emphasizes that your strong alcoholic beverages are as good for disinfection as the special disinfection products! This Covic-19 virus is particularly vulnerable to chemicals.

But it's questionable whether people may introduce or suppress these habits enough to make a difference; the acts by a Californian health official and preacher and dozens of other officials surely indicate "No"; and, even if it were feasible, whether we really want this isolation at the individual level in the first place, whether the elevated personal hygiene is desirable for the society as a whole. I believe but cannot prove that by now, there are hundreds of thousands of people (in China) who are already immune (without having been ill) because they have been exposed to damaged or weakened versions of the virus. And it's a great thing. Increasing the number of the immune people is another great way to slow down or stop the contagion in the future, something that actually works.

Then there is the question about the demographics of the hysteria. The old people are more threatened which is why it's natural that the seniors' houses are more protected by the policies than the small kids who haven't died because of Covid-19 at all. But in Czechia, we have an interesting twist. The visits to hospitals with seniors etc. are banned, visits to children's hospitals are allowed. However, visits to hospices for terminally ill patients are allowed! I think that the patients over there generally agree that the death due to Covid-19 could be relatively kind. It's more important emotionally for them to be able to see their relatives etc. It's a bit cruel but I think it's the right policy. The goal shouldn't be to preserve lives at any cost but to maximize the people's integrated satisfaction with their lives.

On the other hand, as I wrote in a previous blog post, I do think that it's a good idea to try to make as many young people go through the infection and become immune as early as possible. If the civilization really starts to shut down even the rudimentary functions in coming weeks or months, I sincerely hope that my country will be the first one that will just actively say "let's go through whatever is needed, it's better than the restrictions". Because it's better to sacrifice even 1% of the population (and that's an unrealistic worst-case scenario) than to start something that would look like many years or decades of a futile fight and heavily crippled and dwindling lives and economies.

My country should allow the coronavirus to say "try me out" to all young Czechs, just like it allowed the same song to a musician with a formidable name, Corona. That's actually a name of the band and comes from a virally scary country, Italy. :-) It means Crown in Italian and Spanish, just to be sure, just like the Czech word koruna. I've been excited by a shockingly high number of songs in 1995 – it was undoubtedly the peak of my pop music life so far. There were so many cool songs, with Tereza Pergnerová presenting them on TV NOVA (which still had Vladimír Železný as the big shot founder-director), and so on. "Try Me Out" was Corona's contribution to my Top 100 hitparade of that year, ahead of her Baby, Baby. Of course I am convinced that pop music got objectively lousy relatively to 1995. I was 100-fold poorer than now and probably happier, a nice detail to realize during the stock market cataclysms. ;-)

There are silver linings to this hysteria. As many people have observed, Greta Thunberg and her fans – and the climate hysteria – are among the greatest victims of the virus because the "more real" virus hysteria has placed the climate hysteria on the back burner (well, after all, the CO2 emissions will surely be lower in 2020 due to the Covid-19 shock). I am surely not celebrating it. The virus hysteria seems capable of achieving the same devastating goals as the climate hysteria – including the liquidation of the individual freedoms, much of the GDP, and proper rational science – except that the virus hysteria may do it much more deeply and much more quickly. It's a conspiracy theory to say that the virus was invented by a climate alarmist who wanted to eradicate a piece of mankind and cripple the economy for the rest – but one can see a point in this conspiracy theory, too LOL. But just to be sure, there are many similar possible stories with completely different culprits and motives. So I think that the people who are happy about this side effect of the Covid-19 hysteria are just too obsessed with one particular topic, the climate hysteria. I am not. I have been deeply annoyed by the climate hysteria because of all the essential, good things that the climate alarmists wanted to destroy in the name of their hysteria. So if someone else wants to destroy the same things, he's my enemy for the exact same reasons. The similarities between the methods of the climate hysteria and the Covid-19 hysteria are so tight and obvious that I hopefully don't need to explain them.

But there surely is a silver lining that I appreciate. Many of the Millennials, the generation of the snowflakes, suddenly realize that the virus isn't too bad and they have lots of new opportunities. Air tickets are extremely cheap. It's a great time to travel. And many young people do travel a lot and do many things. Of course it's easier for them to make this conclusion because their risk of death is vastly lower than the old people's risk of death. But I am still happy to see that this factor-of-10 or factor-of-100 difference in the fatality rate is enough for many Millennials to act as the courageous heirs of the world that they should be. It's really mostly the baby boomers who are the snowflakes of the present, snowflakes who really want the civilization to be shut down.

Let me say something. If you are old (like most TRF readers) and afraid of your life, you may try to arrange your life in the isolation of your house, order some delivery services to bring you food, and disinfect the packages in some way (I guess that the oregano oil spray is great). It is up to you. Just for your safety, or even just a spurious feeling of safety, you don't have the moral right to demand that all (mostly younger and healthy) people cancel all their concerts, conferences, tours, fair trades, and universities across the world! Especially because such a shutdown wouldn't change anything qualitatively, anyway. The desire to shut down other people's lives because of your fear is just a despicable attempt for a revenge – an attempt to harm someone who is actually totally innocent. It is you who wants some special protection against risks that are around, so it is you who needs to do the special steps to protect yourself.

P.S.: Lots of schools and other facilities are being closed globally. Czech schools were closed today. Couples of schoolkids look happier at streets than ever before. But I want to mention one totally silly Covid-related superstition that goes unchallenged. As many schools and seminars etc. switch to the "online" mode, it's being presumed that everything will be the same. This is being assumed in between the lines.

It's complete nonsense. If and when you don't actually supervise the students' listening to an instructor etc., the actual amount of learning that will take place will drop at least by 90% relatively to proper schools. The enforcement is almost impossible. Teachers may be paid the same salaries although they will do at most 10% of the work that they used to do. The "online" schools, courses, and seminars are just a coverup for an education system that is being completely abolished. Everyone who has ever tried to learn many things without a proper external supervision or enforcement must know that.

I think that some people will try to pretend that this "online" system still makes sense because their jobs etc. depend on this pretending. Others will admit that the schools will have been effectively eliminated. A subset of those will say that we're better off without schools. And it surely has a point because schools teach many useless things and they indoctrinate. But schools also teach stuff needed to grow new surgeons and other things. The civilization will unquestionably decline or collapse if we want to abolish schools for years. And if someone wants to keep these hysterical policies as long as there are dozens of cases globally per day, we will have closed schools for a generation because by now, the probability that the virus will go completely extinct soon is close to zero. Like millions of species before it, it has simply earned "some" place under the Sun. Get used to this innocent fact.

If the hysteria (or even the virus) can't be eliminated by September, and societies want to continue with this unreal school system, most of the teachers at schools should be fired and returned to the job market while getting a compensation because they were prevented by the authorities from doing their work.

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