And the portions are so small!

Ray Lopez (or perhaps the blogger that recently stole Ray’s name) directed me to this:

Hong Kong (CNN) In the coming weeks, if they have not already, your government is likely to begin advising you to wear a face mask to protect against coronavirus.

For those living in Asia, such announcements will be a vindication of a tactic that has been adopted across much of the region since the beginning of the crisis and appears to have been borne out by lower rates of infection and faster containment of outbreaks.

In other parts of the world, this message may be confusing, coming after weeks of public health authorities, politicians and media figures [but not me!!] confidently claiming masks do not help and urging people instead to focus on washing their hands and maintaining social distancing.

The tone of such claims ranged from condescending to frustrated, with the US Surgeon General Jerome Adams tweeting in late February — in all caps — “STOP BUYING MASKS!”

And it looks like Fauci’s in a foxhole:

While speaking with Dr. Sanjay Gupta during a taping of CNN’s “Coronavirus: Fact vs. Fiction” podcast to be released in full on Wednesday, Fauci signaled he would “lean toward” recommending that the general public wear facemasks “if we do not have the problem of taking away masks from the health care workers who need them.”

I may have underestimated this crisis a few months ago, but at least I was right about one thing.

BTW, I stole the title of this post from a wonderful Sam Bowman tweet:


PS. The CIA should start reading my blog. Today they blamed the Chinese for our lack of preparedness, even though for months experts have been saying that a large share of entire world’s population could catch the disease. The CIA said the Chinese underreported the number of cases (as do all countries) and also that they underreported the number of deaths. Perhaps the CIA should have paid attention to my February 5 blog post:

The Chinese data is somewhat unreliable, as some deaths from coronavirus are listed as other causes, such as “heart failure”.  . .

Within Hubei, the facilities are overwhelmed and there may be far more infections than reported, as many patients have not been tested. 

So that’s going to be our excuse? The Chinese are to blame? Funny that the Taiwanese (our allies) don’t need any excuses, as Taiwan has only 5 deaths, vs. our 4100 (and counting). Or are the Taiwanese also faking the data?

I won’t comment on the CIA report, as the public is not allowed to see it. I guess it’s not only the Chinese who censor information about coronavirus.



58 Responses to “And the portions are so small!”

  1. Gravatar of Student Student
    1. April 2020 at 09:26

    Catchy… but I prefer shit sandwich.

  2. Gravatar of maynardGkeynes maynardGkeynes
    1. April 2020 at 09:27

    Bowman stole it from Woody Allen, who says in (Annie Hall, IIRC), that it’s taken from an old Borscht Belt joke about two little old ladies complaining about the food. The first says, “the food here is terrible,” and the other agrees, “yes, and the portions are so small.” Woody says that his view of “life.”

  3. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    1. April 2020 at 09:39

    Maynard, Yes, I assumed everyone knew that—perhaps I should have pointed it out.

  4. Gravatar of msgkings msgkings
    1. April 2020 at 10:03

    @ssumner: It’s a little unfair to apply that joke to that tweet. Masks can be both not much help to healthy people doing the social distancing thing and a big help to health care workers who are around infected people all day.

  5. Gravatar of rayward rayward
    1. April 2020 at 10:10

    Face masks (not the N95 variety) don’t protect the wearer from coronavirus. What they do is give wearers a false sense of security, to go in public places where they should not be. Stay home. Wash your hands. Those infected should wear the masks, but they ought not go outside to begin with. The new message, that people should wear face masks masks, is a frightening development: the message isn’t that the masks will protect the wearer, the message is that so many people are infected, most unaware they are infected, that everyone should wear a mask because she is a likely spreader. Wearing the mask isn’t intended to protect the wearer, it’s meant to protect others from the wearer of the mask. Duh.

  6. Gravatar of JDF JDF
    1. April 2020 at 10:23

    Fauci was still saying the risk to Americans was low at that point. In fact, as of mid-February, he was still saying the risk of Americans getting it was “miniscule.”

    “Fauci doesn’t want people to worry about coronavirus, the danger of which is “just minuscule.” But he does want them to take precautions against the “influenza outbreak, which is having its second wave.”

    “We have more kids dying of flu this year at this time than in the last decade or more,” he said. “At the same time people are worrying about going to a Chinese restaurant. The threat is (we have) a pretty bad influenza season, particularly dangerous for our children.

    The article also quotes William Schaffner from Vanderbilt. Let’s check in on what he was saying: “When we think about the relative danger of this new coronavirus and influenza … coronavirus will be a blip on the horizon in comparison,” William Schaffner, a professor of preventive medicine at Vanderbilt University, told Kaiser Health News.”

    This is of course the very same week that public health authorities in New York and San Francisco were saying that “science” said that you should attend big Chinese New Year parades, and take mass transit to get there.

    Sorry, Scott. The “experts” botched this from the get go.

  7. Gravatar of Jason Jason
    1. April 2020 at 10:26

    Scott, I CANNOT BELIEVE you still continue to defend China, (by proxy and default, while denying you support the regime) We naively trusted their data, and data from the corrupt WHO, which was part of the reason we were underprepared. Taiwan was wiser to the monstrous nature of the CCP.

    Go on Twitter, see the level of seething rage at China when you look up #Chinamustpay and #ChinaliedPeopleDied hashtags. And not just in the U.S.

  8. Gravatar of Jason Jason
    1. April 2020 at 10:28

    A pox upon the CCP

  9. Gravatar of Carl Carl
    1. April 2020 at 10:49

    Well it won’t matter anyway because we’re selling all our masks to foreign buyers:

  10. Gravatar of Jason Jason
    1. April 2020 at 11:04


  11. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    1. April 2020 at 11:17

    msgkings, The issue is not whether they help healthy people (although I believe they do) the issue is whether they slow the epidemic. (I believe they do.)

    Rayward, Still in denial?

    JDF, I was one of the first to challenge the experts on masks.

    Jason, I can’t believe that commenters keep saying I “defend China” while being unable to come up with a single quotation of me defending the Chinese government. How hard is it to back up your claims with facts? Just a single example? You can’t find one? Really?

    Carl, Yes, the benefits of price gouging laws. We really are a bunch of idiots.

  12. Gravatar of JDF JDF
    1. April 2020 at 11:46


    That’s great that you challenged the experts on masks. What about their claims that this was overhyped, that anxiety was based on racism, xenophobia, novelty, and general irrationality? That Flu was more dangerous? That most Americans weren’t at risk of catching it, etc, etc, etc?

  13. Gravatar of msgkings msgkings
    1. April 2020 at 12:24

    @ssumner: I totally agree, I was just saying that Woody Allen joke you used (and it’s a good one) may not fairly apply to the tweet. That tweet’s purpose was to say that regular folks don’t need them nearly as much as health care people do.

  14. Gravatar of Michael Rulle Michael Rulle
    1. April 2020 at 12:54

    Some people believe the CIA all the time–some when it is convenient—they have had a subpar record since 2003.

  15. Gravatar of anon/portly anon/portly
    1. April 2020 at 13:08

    “Ray Lopez (or perhaps the blogger that recently stole Ray’s name)…”

    When Ray starts praising you, finding the good in him is better than killing yourself, but only marginally.

  16. Gravatar of anon/portly anon/portly
    1. April 2020 at 13:24

    Via Tyler Cowen and John Cochrane, I recently discovered these Jonathan Kay articles at Quillette. Highly recommended!

  17. Gravatar of anon/portly anon/portly
    1. April 2020 at 13:28

    This (from Jonathan Kay’s March 25 piece) seems to be asking the same question I did recently on this blog, in a comment that was dismissed out of hand by Ray Lopez’s favorite data whisperer:

    “In Wuhan, to take another example, the first cases of what was then described as a “novel coronavirus disease” appeared as early as December. Weeks passed before the central government moved decisively to contain the new disease. Wuhan is a regional transport hub with a population of 11 million. And during the period leading up to Chinese New Year, travellers from all parts of the country were passing through the city. According to the mayor, about 5 million residents left Wuhan in the weeks before a lockdown was imposed. Some of those people, as the World Health Organisation (WHO) report put it, ‘generated limited human-to-human transmission chains at their destination.’ Yet the number of new daily cases outside Hubei province peaked at about a thousand in late January, while daily highs in the city of Wuhan alone were more than double that. Why?”

  18. Gravatar of Alex Schell Alex Schell
    1. April 2020 at 13:34

    Re: CIA report, I found it funny that the leak didn’t include any numbers on just how much China succeeded in covering up. Leaking an estimated number would allow the US press to eventually report that US deaths exceed even US estimates of China deaths, so nothing of substance was leaked. (The White House projects US deaths to eventually reach 30-60x current official China deaths, not even controlling for population.)

  19. Gravatar of Benjamin Cole Benjamin Cole
    1. April 2020 at 15:19

    I loath the Communist Party of China.

    Still, it is worth noting the Chinese economy grew through the 2008 Global Financial Crisis, which nearly collapsed the US and the Western economies, and now will grow through the Great Coronavirus Crisis, which has already collapsed Western economies and we’re just in the third inning or so.

    Is there anything more curious than Western macroeconomists and policymakers lecturing China on macroeconomic policy? That they must adopt a neoliberal trade policy? Or build a financial system like ours?

  20. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    1. April 2020 at 15:25

    JDF, You said:

    “That Flu was more dangerous? That most Americans weren’t at risk of catching it, etc, etc, etc?”

    You mean Trump is an expert?

    The experts I read were completely right about this virus; maybe you read different experts. I wish I had taken the experts more seriously, I would have avoided losing a lot of money.

    Msgking, You said:

    “regular folks don’t need them nearly as much”

    But that’s not what they said. Instead they gave out misinformation.

    Michael, I only believe the CIA when they criticize Trump.

    anon/portly, The 5 million figure sounded suspicious to me, for a city of 11 million. Lots of people do pass through Wuhan, I passed though last August. Maybe the 5 million includes those briefly passing through.

    Alex. Yes, it’s pretty weird to censor a CIA report that criticizes China for censoring doctors. If they relied on a few inside sources they could black out those portions. But at least give us the gist of the report. I’m not saying the report is wrong, but I put zero stock in it if they won’t even give us the numbers, as you say. This isn’t military secrets. Maybe they relied on “burial urns” LOL.

  21. Gravatar of D.O. D.O.
    1. April 2020 at 15:48

    I am flabbergasted. Why do we need CIA if not to have independent from Chinese government source of information? They have no spies in Wuhan?

  22. Gravatar of Benjamin Cole Benjamin Cole
    1. April 2020 at 16:00

    “Based on that data, if the US stayed completely shut down for two months, the typical US worker would work about the same number of hours this year as a pre-pandemic German worker.”

    And yet the German healthcare system appears to be better than the US system, and their wheat farmers are more productive than US farmers.

    No wonder Christian List is arguing for four months hiatus. He thinks that is normal.

  23. Gravatar of JDF JDF
    1. April 2020 at 16:05


    I’m talking about the experts I quoted (Fauci and Schaffner) from the pieces you’ve quoted, as well as many others. As I’ve demonstrated, they said the risk to the US from covid was low (“miniscule,” “trivial,” were among the exact adjectives). The CDC concurred, as did most state level health officials, and academics.

  24. Gravatar of John Arthur John Arthur
    1. April 2020 at 16:06

    Off topic. I had a question about NGDP and RGDP, and the question is thus: Why is GDP at exchange rates so correlated with the stock market? I was looking at Japan’s NGDP nominal data, and it shows complete stagnation since 1990, but Japan’s stock market has also shown the exact same trend as well:
    I think I get the obvious implication of PPP and exchange rates, but I still find it hard that Japan’s economy virtually doubled since 1990 in RGDP terms, but the traded value of its companies fell by half(this is in the Japanese currency as well). I heard an explanation is that the export competitiveness of their companies fell, but their economy doubled, comparable to Western Europe, and their stock markets performed much better.
    Is there an obvious explanation that I am missing here?

  25. Gravatar of DF DF
    1. April 2020 at 16:12

    Professor Sumner,

    In your Feb. 5 post, you wrote,

    “One thing is clear; the Chinese government badly mishandled this crisis and Xi Jinping’s authoritarian policies have created a horrific situation within Wuhan. If local medical officials had not been silenced early on, the crisis could have been nipped in the bud.”

    Do you still believe that? Given your latest series of posts, it’s not clear you do; do you still stand by your Feb. 5 assessment?

    And if you do, perhaps you can understand the world’s frustration with China, even though the rest of the world should have been more prepared. The Chinese are usually quick to blame countries like the US who endanger other countries with their recklessness and instability, and consequently the Chinese I talk to totally understand the anger directed at their country and are deeply embarrassed by what has happened.

  26. Gravatar of Mark Mark
    1. April 2020 at 16:37

    DF, it was quite reasonable to believe on February 5 that China could have contained this, because it looked like other countries had managed to contain it. I also believed the media narrative then that this outbreak only got out of control because of China’s authoritarian political system and surely countries with a free press would be able to identify and quickly isolate cases. I was very wrong and paid for this in my investment portfolio.

    Today, I think it’s quite implausible to think that China could have contained the coronavirus because nearly all other countries also failed to contain it. I don’t think anyone quite knew exactly how contagious and easily spread it would be.

    China’s response could’ve been a few weeks faster, but they were clearly sending a loud warning to the world by January 23-24. On January 23, they shut down Wuhan, and on January 24 Chinese government-funded scientists published an article in the Lancet stating that this coronavirus had “pandemic potential”: Yet most governments around the world did nothing. What would have been the difference if China had acted a week or two earlier?

    It’s of course understandable that people are very frustrated as this disease is extremely disruptive to a lot of people, but any “China could have nipped it in the bud” theory would have required China to shut down one of its major transportation hubs based on a few people suffering from flu-like symptoms from an unknown cause (and even that might not have been enough if the reports from Italy that there were cases in December turn out to be true). That is a totally unreasonable ask of China–no country could or should massively inconvenience its citizens based on a few reports of illness, and the US still hasn’t shut down New York City even though New York City is clearly worse now than Wuhan was on January 23.

  27. Gravatar of Christian List Christian List
    1. April 2020 at 17:42

    Ha, I must admit this is one of my favorite Woody Allen jokes.

    China’s public reporting on cases and deaths is intentionally incomplete. Two of the officials said the report concludes that China’s numbers are fake.

    Scott, I find your switching back and forth amusing, it makes one a little giddy though. Is this the same US intelligence community you’ve been praising for their reports on Russia and the US election campaign? Just to name one example, there’s more.

    We should invent the Scott Sumner rule: when it comes to Russia and Trump, the US intelligence community is always right, when it comes to China, they are always wrong.

    I’d rather say they’ve grasped the obvious: China’s public reporting on cases and deaths is intentionally incomplete.

    No wonder Christian List is arguing for four months hiatus. He thinks that is normal.

    I never said anything like that. How would I know the period, you invent things. Of course I’m all for keeping the hiatus as short as possible. You like to portray us as morons who want to shut the world down completely for months or years. Of course not. No one wants that.

    I once talked about 3-4 weeks, that would be ideal, because it would be economically feasible, moreover a virus dies out if there are no new infections for only 3-4 weeks. It would be so “easy”: worldwide no more new infections for a few days and the virus is dead. Maybe that is what you meant? Unfortunately, not enough countries will be able to do this, so you “just” have to kill the virus locally. Country by country, continent by continent.

    Economists, mathematicians, physicians now have to do cost-benefit analyses, and then you just have to be brave and give it a try. I agree with Trump on this one: As early as possible, we are often too risk-averse, I think you just have to try again quickly. But unfortunately we are not yet at that stage.

    To your statements about productivity: I do think that less working time can be better. Japanese people are known to work extremely hard, but they are not particularly productive, which is not surprising if you spend 14-18 hours a day in your firm.

    I would also try the 4-day week, 3 days off per week, 4 days working, I think that would be better than the current scheme. Not to mention that Americans have far too few days off, my friends there often only have 10 days, Germans have an average of 30 days per year plus sick pay plus “Kurzarbeit” in times of crisis.

  28. Gravatar of DF DF
    1. April 2020 at 18:17


    With all due respect, you are not considering the time dynamics of this epidemic. Effective containment when the spread is contained within a single cluster, Wuhan, Hubei, all of China, and dozens of countries are all different scenarios. The difficulty increases with each level. If there was ever a time it could have been “nipped in the bud” and Prof. Sumner says, it was early in the chain of transmission. If, say, South Africa, fails to contain COVID19 now, it is not because they were dealing with the same level of difficulty as Chinese officials in January. The primary goal of organizations such as the WHO, CDC and Chinese equivalents is to “nip it in the bud”. Perhaps it still was highly unlikely back then, but it is even harder now.

  29. Gravatar of Christian List Christian List
    1. April 2020 at 18:21

    This is just gold:

    “An experiment that created a hybrid version of a bat coronavirus — one related to the virus that causes SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome) — has triggered renewed debate over whether engineering lab variants of viruses with possible pandemic potential is worth the risks.

    A virologist points out that the researchers have created a novel virus that grows remarkably well in human cells. If the virus escaped, nobody could predict the trajectory, he says.”

    Guess who helped to create this hybrid version, and came then under fire for it? Xing-Yi Ge, from Wuhan Institute of Virology.

    And where did the CCP built its one and only BSL-4 laboratory so far? Yes, you’re right, in Wuhan again.

    The scientific community back then was really psyched:

    “The SARS virus has escaped from high-level containment facilities in Beijing multiple times, notes a molecular biologist at Rutgers University. These facilities are inherently dual use,” he says. The prospect of ramping up opportunities to inject monkeys with pathogens also worries, rather than excites, him: They can run, they can scratch, they can bite.” – Same goes for bats by the way.

    Mathematicians should actually be able to calculate the probabilities: What is the probability that a bat virus will spontaneously mutate into an extremely human-pathogenic form and cause a worldwide pandemic in the very city where the CCP produces human-pathogenic forms out of bat viruses?

    What a great coincidence, what are the odds for this??? The CCP seems to attract “coincidences” so magically, maybe they should play the lottery more often?

  30. Gravatar of DF DF
    1. April 2020 at 18:31

    Moreover, the most effective way to have nipped it in the bud would be prevention. The three most likely localities for origin of the pandemic are 1) the Huanan Market, 2) the Wuhan Center for Disease Control and Prevention lab (speculative) and 3) the Wuhan Institute of Virology (highly speculative). Given these locations which in union likely account for over 99% of the likelihood of the origin of the virus, it is clear the responsibility still lays with the Chinese authorities for not insuring proper safety, regulation and monitoring. This is not an asteroid we didn’t see coming, we know how coronaviruses jump to humans.

  31. Gravatar of dtoh dtoh
    1. April 2020 at 19:16


    Regarding masks…

    1. I think it’s not so much a matter of whether it slows the the spread of the disease, but rather how much it slows it and whether the benefit justifies the cost.

    2. Japanese public transportation carries many millions of people every day in extremely packed conditions. Many people wear masks. Many millions of people DON’T wear masks. The fact that so very few people have become ill (symptomatic) with the infection suggests that the risk of infection from close contact for a limited period of time is quite low and therefore the benefit of wearing masks is not very great.

    3. The expert medical committee advising the Japanese government on Covid-19 had a press conference yesterday. They were extremely transparent, objective and transparent. (Too bad we can’t all approach the problem that way.) They made a couple of interesting points.

    – The thing they are most concerned about and monitor most closely is untraceable cases. The route of infection is know, they can trace and isolate.

    – School children are not a significant vector for the virus.

    – Talking in a loud voice significantly increases the risk of transmission.

    – They were also all wearing masks.

    4. I’ve been wondering about this for a while but I saw a comment today that some experts believe that the TB vaccination which all Japanese receive (unlike the U.S. and Europe where they only test for anti-bodies) has a significant prophylactic effect against bacteria and viruses in general.

  32. Gravatar of Mark Mark
    1. April 2020 at 20:12

    DF, I agree that effective containment would have been more effective if done earlier. The question is: was it reasonable for the government to put in containment measures (which are very disruptive to people and the economy), based on what was known at the time? 90% of the time, “just the flu” is the correct answer. The contagiousness of this disease is really something that is unprecedented in history and thus would have been impossible for the Chinese to foresee in December and early January. I don’t think it would be reasonable to put in containment measures based on a few reports of an unknown pneumonia. Individual tracking and isolation, sure, but given the number of asymptomatic cases, that likely would not have been enough.

    Second, I don’t see a difference between China having its first few cases in Wuhan versus any other country experiencing its first few cases, especially now that international travel is pretty much shut down. When the first cases show up in Seattle or Johannesburg, the host government is faced with a similar “fog of war” situation as when the first cases showed up in Wuhan for China, except maybe a little less foggy since more is known about the virus now. Yet, when the first cases in the US showed up in Seattle, the US did not think these cases were serious enough to put containment measures on Seattle (or even engage in widespread testing to identify community spread). In that case, it is hard to fault China for not thinking that the first few cases in Wuhan were serious enough to put containment measures on Wuhan.

  33. Gravatar of Benjamin Cole Benjamin Cole
    1. April 2020 at 20:36

    Christian List:

    Many shrewd and knowledgable observers have not dismissed the possibility that COVID-19 is artificial, and escaped from the Wuhan virology lab.

    I think this is non-PC to talk about, as it lends credence to Trump’s “China virus” talking point. And the multinationalist-globalist community wants to sandbag any stories about or investigation into the Wuhan facility, as they have enormous stakes in China.

    The BlackRocks, the WalMarts, the GMs and the Apples do not stand to benefit from any investigation into the Wuhan virology lab. Or any actions by anybody that irritate the Communist Party of China.

    In contrast, on the sketchiest of “evidence” US intelligence agencies and the media have been obsessed with Trump ties to Moscow for years.

    A global pandemic, from a virus released from a lab in Wuhan? Why would anybody follow up on that story-line?

  34. Gravatar of Student Student
    1. April 2020 at 21:03

    Fellas, it’s possible it was a leak from a lab… that could possibly happen.

    However, SARS-CoV-1 was also traced through the intermediary of civets to cave-dwelling horseshoe bats in Yunnan province.

    MERS-CoV of 2012 was betacoronavirus also thought to have originated from these same bats through camels as an intermediary.

    Given this has happened at least two times in the past two decades alone makes it seem more likely, it happened again in the same manner. Has anyone proven an intermediary… that would seem to provide some decent evidence it was yet another bat virus that naturally made the jump to humans.

    Either way tho, it seems likely to expect this will happen again before 2030. Maybe we should consider wiping out these damn bats.

  35. Gravatar of Students Students
    1. April 2020 at 21:06

    I wonder if this kind of thing is the source of that ancient human fear of bats.

  36. Gravatar of DF DF
    1. April 2020 at 21:11


    You wrote,

    “The contagiousness of this disease is really something that is unprecedented in history and thus would have been impossible for the Chinese to foresee in December and early January.”

    Only because the Chinese govt actively silenced experts who were able to detect this was a SARS variant circa January 1. Let’s not pretend it’s impossible to detect new viruses early in their trajectory. Lack of transparency is the factor at play here, not a deficit of science or statistics.

    Regarding your second point, the difference between the situation in January versus now is the contagion was much more geographically confined in January. If you believe the case numbers the Chinese publish are roughly accurate, then you might want to check out this paper ( The authors use Chinese data to show that non-Hubei cities got the pandemic under control primarily by excluding residents from Hubei province. The use of social distancing, masks, testing and tracing, and draconian surveillance that Prof. Sumner and others have been touting as the superior Chinese model for containment were secondary compared to stopping the inflow of people from Hubei. Currently, stopping the inflow from infected regions is exponentially more difficult and taxing (nonetheless necessary). In retrospect, the US should have implemented a ban on travelers with a history in Hubei in early January, even before Hubei’s lockdown on January 23. The first confirmed US case was a traveler from Wuhan who landed January 19, and we are almost certain via genetic testing that he was responsible for thousands of other infections in WA state ( And since it would have been hard to confirm travel history to Hubei, perhaps it should have been a blanket ban on all travelers with China in their travel history (the European ban should have also been much sooner, as soon as clusters were confirmed). However, here again China and their lapdog the WHO deserve blame because even as the Chinese were locking down Hubei, they and their surrogates criticized countries for isolating Chinese travelers. There was no shortage of implications of racism. Without any apparent irony, China quickly thereafter introduced restrictions and forced quarantine for all travelers to foreign countries.

  37. Gravatar of K.G. K.G.
    1. April 2020 at 21:33

    DF: “this is not an asteroid”

    In a way it is. The linguistic habit of personifying “China” and speaking as if it were a person has a tendency to lead the speaker into confused logic. “Why is it always you?” makes sense if “you” refers to some single person who’s been a disproportionate source of other’s miseries, but we’re talking about 1/5th of the world’s population here. A recent article in Science ( summarized at ) suggests the virus could have been spreading for decades and only recently mutated. What are the chances that it would emerge where one fifth of the world’s population lives?

    It’s also important to point out that this is the first non-influenza pandemic ever, and furthermore the disease has very vague symptoms and often presents as normal flu.

    I also highly recommend giving this comment a read (by a doctor and contributor to the Diplomat) which directly bears on the question of culpability

  38. Gravatar of Christian List Christian List
    1. April 2020 at 22:10

    I saw a comment today that some experts believe that the TB vaccination which all Japanese receive (unlike the U.S. and Europe where they only test for anti-bodies) has a significant prophylactic effect against bacteria and viruses in general.

    This is a very interesting point, here is the paper:

    This is finally a good theory why countries such as Japan and India have been less affected so far, compared to countries such as the US, the Netherlands and Germany.

    I wanted this TB vaccination weeks ago, but the German regulators are like all Western regulators: The vaccine is no longer in use, and therefore not approved, and therefore cannot be purchased.

    There can be a little a scar, like from the smallpox vaccination, because the vaccine can only be injected into the skin, not deeper. And that’s why we don’t vaccinate that anymore, lol, because there might be a small scar.

    We have to vaccinate pretty much every single unimportant shit there is, but of course, as soon as it becomes important, we must not even acquire the vaccination at our own risk. These endless regulations will kill us all one day.

  39. Gravatar of mbka mbka
    2. April 2020 at 01:11


    not all Asian countries use masks… in Singapore it’s still unusual to see any around, not to mention India etc. Then again, the numbers are growing again in Singapore now. Then again, for a long while since January, they weren’t (until re-introduction of the infection by returning travelers).


    on contagiousness, I found this interesting tidbit. tl;dr (it’s in German, scroll down to graph entitled “Wie ansteckend und tödlich ist das Coronavirus?”): in both infectiousness (x-axis) and lethality (y-axis), COVID-19 (brackets of estimates indicated by grey rectangle) is far below measles, mumps, rubella, diphteria and smallpox. We’re just lucky we got vaccinations for these: that’s where the olden days got their child mortality from. Scary thought: Ebola and H5N1 are more lethal and within the same bracket of infectiousness as COVID-19. MERS is very deadly but less infectious.

  40. Gravatar of mbka mbka
    2. April 2020 at 01:13

    Forgot the link.

    scroll down to graph entitled “Wie ansteckend und tödlich ist das Coronavirus?

  41. Gravatar of Michael Rulle Michael Rulle
    2. April 2020 at 04:01


    You made me laugh—-my CIA comment was obviously aimed at you re: Trump. Cannot say you don’t know your readers.

  42. Gravatar of Mark Mark
    2. April 2020 at 04:31

    DF, I don’t think that article supports your argument. It finds that without the lockdown of Wuhan, cases in other parts of China would be 64% higher, but with exponential growth, that means that the lockdown of Wuhan only slowed the progression of the disease by 2-3 days. Slowing the disease is not helpful unless you’re going to take serious precautions during that time. For a long time, the US was a week or two behind Italy but now the US has shot past Italy because of our failure to use that time to begin domestic containment measures such as social distancing.

    The WHO is right that travel bans are generally not effective. The US was the first country in North America to ban travel from China, and Italy was the first country in Europe to, yet they were hit far harder than Canada or the UK which did not ban travel. Travel bans just buy time but if you don’t do anything during that time (which we didn’t—and worse, the travel bans perhaps caused us not to do anything by fostering complacency with our government talking about how it was sufficient to keep things under control), you’re going to get hit just as hard, just a few days later. The WHO didn’t recommend against travel restrictions because they are beholden to China; they’ve also recommended against such restrictions during many potential pandemics in the last decade that had nothing to do with China. They recommended against such restrictions because they aren’t effective, especially on their own.

    The travel bans are also going to hurt us in the next pandemic because any country with any kind of responsibility to their own citizens is not going to want other countries to ban travel just because some people in one part of the country get sick. I went abroad during the measles outbreak in Oregon last year (I live thousands of miles away from Oregon), and I would’ve been very angry at the government if it said that outbreak was going to be a pandemic and that caused other countries to ban travel on Americans. What if the Chinese government put in lockdowns and told everyone this was going to be a global pandemic two weeks earlier, but instead this novel coronavirus turned out to be as contagious but much less deadly as the original SARS (which was not very contagious), and that causes all Chinese people’s travel to be cut off for months? Chinese people would rightfully be furious at their government, and all the other governments that banned their travel.

    It’s also worth comparing the angry reaction to China over this outbreak versus the reaction to Mexico over the 2009 swine flu outbreak. No one blamed Mexico for that and there were only mild and short-lived travel restrictions on Mexico, even though Mexico failed to identify the new outbreak until it was already circulating in America. Many people abroad don’t even think of it as a Mexican disease but instead as an American one. And that’s fair, I’m not blaming Mexico for the 2009 outbreak, pandemics are an act of God that can and have begun in many different countries. But the lesson set by the blame and travel restrictions on China this time is—be like Mexico in 2009 and don’t identify any diseases first until they’ve already spread.

  43. Gravatar of Benjamin Cole Benjamin Cole
    2. April 2020 at 05:07!

    Evidently, there are millions of deaths every year from respiratory infections.

    These guys say the novel coronavirus is no more dangerous than existing coronaviruses.

  44. Gravatar of Bob Bob
    2. April 2020 at 06:15

    Everyone hates that place, it’s too crowded.

  45. Gravatar of mbka mbka
    2. April 2020 at 06:27

    Benjamin Cole,

    have you even read the study you cite? The authors proudly present data from a month ago, with, e.g., Spain having 0 deaths and Italy barely over 50. From there they conclude that it’s no big deal. Talk about short shelf life of a study.

  46. Gravatar of Ray Lopez Ray Lopez
    2. April 2020 at 07:00

    @Ssumner – I’m with Team Sumner now, professor. Nobody stole my nym, I had a “Saul on the road to Damascus” conversion and saw the light (@Student can cite biblical chapter and verse for that). I might even concede money neutrality, though I’d like to see the Fed shooting more ammunition and seeing nominal prices rise more before I do that (so far the stock market seems to be validating at least one version of NGDPLT iff in fact the Fed is playing the stock market, which some say they are NOT).

    @Anon/Portly – I LOVE YOU MAN! Lol now just do the right thing, just do it! Just kidding, since in real life that actually can get you arrested if the recipient is a nut job, as possibly Anon/Portly is (urging a nutter to harm themselves is a crime in the US, just like failure to rescue somebody when you can is a crime in Germany).

    @Christian List – welcome to the party, you’re late. What Die Spiegel told you is already a month old, and actually I’ve been spamming our host by email on this theme (he thinks I’m crazy). Go here and search “SARS-CoV-2” in the comments for a condensed version of this debate:
    For the rest of you, it’s nearly certain that today’s virus (Covid-19 aka SARS-CoV-2) is a variant of a chimeric (man made) virus developed in 2015 at the Univ of NC (Chapel Hill) by a team of biologists, two of which are now prominent researchers in Wuhan, and one of which actually helpfully decoded the Covid-19 virus a month ago (she should know, since she probably built it). So both the Americans and the Chinese are correct when they say it’s a Chinese/American planted virus. You’ll read about this in ‘mainstream press’ about a year or two from now. Yes I’ve read the Nature paper supposedly rebutting this hypothesis, but check the thread above for the rebuttal to the Nature authors two points (one, it’s not pangolins as they say for the natural intermediate host, that was disproved about a week after the Nature paper was published, two, it’s easy for a bioweapons lab to modify a virus to make it a bit less lethal, to cover their tracks)

  47. Gravatar of Jason Jason
    2. April 2020 at 07:43

    You defend the Chinese government’s NUMBERS all the time. And you pay lip service lip service to condemning the Chinese Communist party in a half hearted tone.

  48. Gravatar of anon/portly anon/portly
    2. April 2020 at 08:14

    “anon/portly, The 5 million figure sounded suspicious to me, for a city of 11 million. Lots of people do pass through Wuhan, I passed though last August. Maybe the 5 million includes those briefly passing through.”

    None of which – in the slightest – obviates the basic point, or affects whether or not there is something interesting to be noted here. Okay, fine, quibble with the details….

    Actually the paragraph I quote was in the middle of a 5 paragraph stretch, and really not the most interesting one, just one that warmed my cockles. Here’s the first one, again from Kay’s March 25 piece:

    “Even as early as late February, when the Report of the WHO-China Joint Mission was published, doctors noted that ‘most locally generated cases have been clustered,’ with the majority of spread occurring in households. But this clustering effect seems to take on a strangely fractal quality—operating at multiple scales, including (1) household (the main vector in China), (2) civic community (the Shincheonji Church of Jesus offering an extreme example), (3) city/region (Lombardy versus southern Italy; New York City versus the rest of the United States), and, as discussed in the previous paragraph, (4) nation. For reasons that aren’t yet clear—again, even among experts—the disease spreads quickly within a cluster, then slows down at its edges.”

  49. Gravatar of anon/portly anon/portly
    2. April 2020 at 08:17

    Kay has been looking at the distribution of R0 values and also “viral load” issues, which of course seem like the one thing we all want to know and understand more about. From March 27:

    “In a 2016 paper, South Korean doctor Byung Chul Chun noted that the MERS outbreak could be summarized as:

    an explosive epidemic by infrequent super-spreaders. The number of secondary cases in the transmission tree was extremely skewed. Among 186 confirmed cases, 166 cases (89.2%) did not lead to any secondary cases, but 5 (2.7%) super-spreaders lead to 154 secondary cases. The imported index case [i.e. original case] was a super-spreader who transmitted the MERS virus to 28 people (referred to as secondary cases), and 3 of these secondary cases became super-spreaders who infected 84, 23 and 7 people, respectively. Eighty-four secondary cases resulting from a single case is one of the largest numbers observed in a SSE since the SARS outbreak in Prince of Wales Hospital in Hong Kong. None of the super-spreaders in the MERS outbreak in Korea was a healthcare worker.”

  50. Gravatar of anon/portly anon/portly
    2. April 2020 at 08:27

    “Am I still trolling? But give credit where it’s due, Sumner has nailed the Swiss forecast, which is hard to do when dealing with numbers that are governed by power laws and exponential functions….”

    I think if you didn’t get the point before that noticing that deaths were flat or flattening in one place and rising in another was extremely uninteresting, surely this should have alerted you. Exponential functions is/are high school math. I was joking about killing yourself, but certainly begging your readers’ pardons and promising to do better should have immediately occurred to you.

    (Not that the latter suggestion isn’t a joke also, of course – I guess I have to add that).

  51. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    2. April 2020 at 08:39

    JDF, You need to start reading the NYT. In this post I linked to an article from several months back with many experts giving warnings. Experts within the administration tried to warn Trump, but were blocked by his aides.

    John, A weaker yen tends to boost Japanese stocks. I suppose exports have declined as Japan has shifted to a service economy.

    DF, Good question. At the time I thought the rest of the world could control the epidemic as well as China. The parts of the epidemic that left Wuhan were easily shut down in other parts of China. Obviously I was wrong about the rest of the world. It still would have blown up in the US and Europe, but perhaps a month later. Since we spent all of February doing nothing, having an extra month would have been of little help. The big gain would have been in China, with many fewer deaths in Wuhan.

    As for blame, I think we all agree that the Chinese the Americans and the Europeans all share a massive amount of blame for this crisis, and that the Taiwanese are completely innocent. I’m not sure what point you are trying to make. When I criticize the West it doesn’t mean I exonerate China.

    And as Mark says, we were equally capable of “nipping it in the bud” when we had just 12 cases in Washington and the Bay Area.

    mbka, Good point, but tropical Asia tends to have closer to linear than exponential growth, perhaps due to climate. (Actually, somewhere in between the two.)

    Christian, I agree with the CIA claim that China has undercounted cases. What’s your point?

    dtoh, The TB claim is interesting, but I don’t know enough to have an opinion. You said:

    “They were also all wearing masks.”

    This reminds me of that WHO press conference in China where they were wearing masks, even as the WHO claimed masks don’t help non-medical people.

    Jason, Wrong, I say the Chinese numbers are probably in the ballpark, not correct. And I often harshly criticize the CCP. My blog is full of 100s of such criticisms. Unlike Trump, I hate lying, authoritarian, nationalistic governments. They are evil.

    Anon, That reminds me of maps showing things like phone calls, or moving between houses, in which you see state lines, national lines, etc.

  52. Gravatar of anon/portly anon/portly
    2. April 2020 at 08:44

    “@Anon/Portly – I LOVE YOU MAN!”

    Hey, I’m a fan of yours too, Ray. I’m actually working on The Annotated Ray Lopez, culled from MR and TMI comments. Here’s some favorites so far:

    “Modesty actually is a way of drawing attention to yourself when you lack ability.”

    “If time be of all things the most precious, wasting time must be the greatest prodigality.”

    “The difference between me and Donald Trump is, teenage Miss Universe contestants like to walk in on me when I’m naked.”

  53. Gravatar of anon/portly anon/portly
    2. April 2020 at 10:52

    On March 29, Kay linked to this (Seattle) guy, who might be making a more informed case for mask-wearing:

    Kay’s March 30 discussion of the flu I think is a must-read. The good ol’ flu is actually perhaps the most underappreciated coronavirus-related topic. For example, what percentage of the benefits of social distancing come via flu suppression, as opposed to coronavirus suppression? Would be fun to know that number.

    I saw awhile back the Hong Kong’s flu season had ended early and suddenly this year….

  54. Gravatar of anon/portly anon/portly
    2. April 2020 at 10:54

    Before I forgot, maybe SS has already read or linked to this, but it’s truly amazing, if its validity pans out:

  55. Gravatar of Mads Lindstrøm Mads Lindstrøm
    2. April 2020 at 11:56

    I hear that the Chinese lied as an excuse for why we did not react more quickly to this virus. Sure the Chinese regime lied and it is disgusting, but they also lied with SARS-one. It seems to me that we should both be disgusted with the Chinese regime, and our own expects and governments for believing the Chinese regime.

    Or as Americans like to say, do it once shame on you, do it twice shame on me.

  56. Gravatar of Anna Anna
    3. April 2020 at 07:10

    The case officers who work at the CIA are incredibly professional, very intelligent, and work extraordinarily hard. They also risk their lives to collect intelligence for our country. So please stop denigrating their service. Dismissing their data and implying that they are working nefariously to blame china is unbecoming of an academic.

    But considering your credentials are rather poor, I’m not surprised. I suggest you stick to economics, or whatever it is you teach…

  57. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    3. April 2020 at 09:47

    Mads, And the more important point is that once we learned the truth we did nothing until it was too late.

    Anna, I haven’t read the report; I was criticizing the way the report is being used, and the fact that it’s not being made public. That has nothing to do with the career people who put the report together. I was responding to the news story on the report. It’s silly to blame China for our problems, even if they did lie.

  58. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    3. April 2020 at 21:09

    Anna, Let’s also keep our eye on the ball. I’m not the one undermining our intelligence community. Trump is:

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