Information, ignorance, trade-offs and system collapse

Whoever is doing PR for this virus has certainly come up with a natty logo.

An argument someone put to me today which makes a lot of sense. In the GFC markets collapsed not just because there was too much risk in the system – though there was – but because it was hidden. With the various bits of sub-prime debt sliced and diced into teensy pieces many of which had different risk characteristics anyway, it was impossible for many people on the hook to know their position. And so they couldn’t participate any longer in the market – because people wouldn’t accept them as a counterparty. And so one part of the market seized up after another.

One can distinguish between two approaches to the coronavirus crisis –  high information and low information. In low information countries which can’t locate the risk the trade-off between economic and health policy is very extreme. One needs to lock down the population to get the rate of spread down. These countries include China (early on), most countries in Europe and the US – though people are saying the Germans have better information – and are doing better.

Australia has done a lot of testing but it doesn’t seem to be very well targeted, though no doubt it’s getting better. Meanwhile, Singapore, Taiwan and South Korea have proceeded with much lower disruption to their economies, much less need to lock their population down, because they can track the virus with testing and strong case management of those who test positive.

I’ve previously noted my amazement at the official Australian policy of simply assuming that this will go on for six months because it seemed to me we weren’t given good reasons to believe that it was impossible to get the virus under control and then get rid of it with a short sharp shock of 4 to 8 weeks as New Zealand are trying to do. I now add this point. We were assured again today that we’re in this for six months.

If we can’t transition to a quick exterminate the virus strategy, why can’t we transition to the proven East Asian Strategy in the space of four to eight weeks? I also wonder why we’re not using normal tech much more. If you attend school in Nanjing now, they take your temperature on the way in. If it’s elevated you’re not welcome in the building. With over 80 per cent of coronavirus cases having elevated temperature, it’s a very efficient test.

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16 Responses to Information, ignorance, trade-offs and system collapse

  1. murph the surf says:

    A few random thoughts – our society’s focus on the individual seems to promote resistance to obeying directives.
    East asian societies , here I only speak from personal experience are remarkably compliant with government directives.
    City dwellers trying to escape their homes and moving out along the coasts.
    It was curious to see one of the participants on The Drum tonight state that we have in Australia a pandemic plan, developed after SARS , last reviewed in 2019 but it stumbled at the outset as he claimed they found their thermometers were not reliable.
    Schools do not look to be significant sites of transmission, Singapores experience but woa betide the school here were a cluster is confirmed.
    Taking temperatures at all work places should not be too complicated to get into place.

    • derrida derider says:

      You misunderstand what they meant by “their thermomemeters were not reliable”. With most viral infections the first symptom you develop is a slight fever, and rarely will you be very infectious without that symptom. Not so with COVID19 where fever only appears later. So the plan was to use temperature scans (eg at airports) as an initial screen, which worked really well for SARS but not for coronavirus.

      This illustrates the danger of sticking too closely to the base scenario when you do your planning; all controllable epidemics are alike but each uncontrollable one is uncontrollable in its own way.

      • Murph the surf says:

        Thanks for the explanation, it was a statement rushed into the end of the show and was not expanded on.

  2. “ European governments are now learning that shutdowns and lockdowns have a shelf life as fatigue sets in, and are more sustainable if trust is maintained in their effectiveness. The ability to show progress in Australia will be crucial to limit the pushback as the weeks and months of shutdown drag on, especially if petty authoritarian enforcement of the restrictions gets out of hand and frays the social consensus.” Conclusion of today’s AFR editorial on the need for , government transparency.

    Six months is a long time to be stuck in a small flat trying to work from home and cope with kids that are bored ;can’t go to school or to the park and a partner who is getting more and more anxiety depression attacks. It won’t hold. It won’t work.

  3. Nicholas Gruen says:

    I haven’t seen much engagement of NGOs on the ‘boredom, claustrophobia, fatigue and domestic violence’ agenda. You’d think there needs to be a big push there.

    • Church communities as well as many NGOs have a problem – most of their volunteers are in the exact age group that really should isolate (and financial donations have dropped off as well.)

      No meetings of more than two people is also creating problems for care in general.
      For example was just on the blower to our local GP center re the flu vax , they are trying to deal with the practical problems of” only two people in the waiting-room at any one time”.

      • Nicholas Gruen says:

        Well actually there’s something they could do right there that they should have been doing for years. Most people are local to their GP and so could be summoned by SMS ten minutes before their appointment will ACTUALLY take place.

        • Sure
          But A number are too old for sms and or live in areas with poor mobile coverage: in some areas only six ks from town. there’s no coverage

          • Nicholas Gruen says:

            In which case closer attention to timetables could still achieve a lot.

            And people could be invited to ring before they come in to check where things are on the schedule – how late they’re running.

  4. Nicholas Gruen says:

    Just making notes of all the ways we can lower infection rates – this one for the future

    • murph the surf says:

      A simpler stop gap measure is a small foot plate about 10cm x12 cm attached to lower edge of the outside outer frame.
      The outer edge can have a couple of bolts for better purchase or a rolled edge will help.
      With an outwards opening door the person moving out of the building can bump the door open using an elbow but the foot plate lets you open the door from the exterior without using your arms or hands.
      This problem was discussed at a food processing plant I attended last week,
      workers are tense and this contact point is one of their main concerns.

  5. murph the surf says:

    This article attends to three of the four parts in this thread’s title.

    • Murph
      Additional to what the article covers , earlier this year there was a extraordinary fail by the US health authority the CDC (and also to some degree the FDA see below ) this piece details that story

      Was told by an Australian Health professional that:
      ” when the health authorities in Seattle suspected the first case and then others at the very beginning, the CDC actually refused to do testing. Seattle then tried to just assume what it was seeing was Covid-19 cases and try to treat them appropriately but were hamstrung by further Federal rules. So it was really the CDC plus the FDA “

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