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The New Common Cold is Here to Stay

Economies around the world are spinning down: streets are emptying out, schools and shops are closing, and entire cities are being told to shelter in place. You can hear a pin drop in the subway station.

Up against a completely new foe, we’re hoping to win the fight in only a few months. But we have no idea if a vaccine will work. We have no idea if it will disappear on its own, like the Spanish Flu of 1918. And we have no idea if it will evolve into something stronger. It will likely stay and remain mild. Even vaccinated diseases, such as Measles, are still flourishing, for example in the Ukraine.

Governments are taking gradual, progressive restrictions to slow the spread without scaring or upsetting people too suddenly. But all these precautions come at a cost.

China is trying hard to contain and eliminate the virus. Masks and temperature checks are often required in malls and city centers. Cities are under partial lock-down and selective about who they let in. High-risk areas are fenced off, and strict isolation rules are in place for travelers and close contacts of the infected. The contact tracing carried out by Chinese disease detectives is very aggressive and often invasive, sometimes determining nearby contacts and who should be tested based on phone GPS positioning.

All these measures have slowed the spread and may eventually eliminate the disease.

But try explaining this disruption to shop owners who have already had to lay off employees and close familiar doors. Explain it to the stock market investors who had a decade of wealth erased overnight, or to the 165 countries and territories around the world for whom this eerie silence is becoming the new normal.

7-day traffic levels in Beijing (March 11 – 17) compared with dotted line 2019 averages.

All of these control measures in China have come at a tremendous economic and social cost. Shops and factories are closed. Based on traffic data above and case reports from within, many provinces in China are not going out on weekends or at lunch. People there are either being extra cautious, under government orders, or both.

As of March 2, several China provinces were still under partial lock-down.

We can get an idea what the second-level emergency looks like.

A Japanese YouTuber from China shows what life is like in mid-March, 200 miles outside Wuhan.
Because he is not a Chinese citizen, he has trouble getting in certain zones. Other control measures are also evident.

Even the most recent analysis of the WHO and Imperial College London researchers claims we have a very difficult decision ahead of us: either shut society down or overwhelm the healthcare system.

“We use the latest estimates of severity to show that policy strategies which aim to mitigate the epidemic might halve deaths and reduce peak healthcare demand by two-thirds, but that this will not be enough to prevent health systems being overwhelmed. More intensive, and socially disruptive interventions will therefore be required to suppress transmission to low levels. It is likely such measures – most notably, large scale social distancing – will need to be in place for many months, perhaps until a vaccine becomes available.”


States will spend the remainder of 2020 dividing themselves into the two camps. Senior care facilities will be kept away from primary activities. We need innovative approaches to contain the spread while allowing such activity.

A time of great tragedy is unfolding before us, a time where the true spirit of our wonderful country needs to unite as one.


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