Chinese Virology and the Cycle of Life and Death

Who Got Sick and Who Died?

This is not an illness of the very young, for the most part. It is mostly adults who get sick, and mostly adults over the age of 50 who die.

The data for the graphic above comes from Chinese disease statistics. As the virus continues to evolve — both inside China and around the world — we may see changes to these patterns of morbidity and mortality.

The latest news from China is mixed, with one report declaring victory, and another report suggesting that even after a person is “cured,” they might still die from the virus.

A 36-year-old man has died of respiratory failure in Wuhan, five days after being discharged from one of the makeshift hospitals built to contain the outbreak, according to a report by Shanghai-based news portal The Paper. __ SCMP

It is important to remember that viruses are always mutating. That is one way that someone might get re-infected from “the same” virus after having recovered.

Viruses are always mutating, especially RNA viruses like this one, coronavirus SARS-CoV-2. When a person is infected with the coronavirus, it replicates in their respiratory tract. Every time it does, around half a dozen genetic mutations occur, says Ian Jones at the University of Reading, UK.


Japanese financial conglomerate Nomura is projecting much greater worldwide spread — with significant economic impact to both China and the more developed world.

While COVID-19 has not been as deadly as SARS (the case fatality outside China and Iran is 1.5% vs 10% for SARs), what is now clear is that it spreads much more easily. As COVID-19 spreads, governments will need to weigh the trade-off between health security and economic growth and it remains to be seen whether they have the resources and wherewithal to increase their health security controls – and the public’s willingness to follow them – to the same force and effectiveness as China has done. If not, the rest of the world could, in the not too distant future, lose control in trying to contain COVID-19. __ quoted in Zerohedge

Nomura suggests that the global infection tally may reach as high as 15 million persons, with deaths in the hundreds of thousands or higher — depending upon the “attack rate” (infectiousness) of the evolving virus as it spreads around the world.

China Has Not Been a Model Citizen

Chinese authorities tried to suppress news of the outbreak for as long as they could. By the time information began to be shared with outside experts, the horses were out of the barn, the virus was loose. China has still not allowed US disease experts to study the outbreak close up — what are they afraid of?

Regardless, China has just begun to suffer the consequences of its deception and gross irresponsibility.

According to a New York Times analysis, at least 760 million Chinese, or more than half the country’s population, are under varying degrees of residential lockdown. This has had serious individual and aggregate consequences, from a young boy remaining home alone for days after witnessing his grandfather’s death to a significant economic slowdown.

… The Chinese public is well and truly outraged over the authorities’ early efforts to suppress information about the new virus, including the fact that it can be transmitted among humans. Nowhere was this more apparent than in the uproar over the February 7 announcement that the Wuhan-based doctor Li Wenliang, whom the local authorities accused of “rumour-mongering” when he attempted to warn his colleagues about the coronavirus back in December, had died of it.

There is no doubt that the authorities’ initial mishandling of the outbreak is what enabled it to spread so widely, with health care professionals – more than 3,000 of whom have been infected so far – being hit particularly hard.
And despite the central government’s attempts to scapegoat local authorities – many health officials in Hubei province have been fired– there are likely to be more questions about what Chinese President Xi Jinping knew.

… the party may be highly adept at repressing dissent, but repression is not eradication. Even a momentary lapse can unleash bottled-up anti-regime sentiment. One shudders to think what might happen to the party’s hold on power if Chinese were able to speak freely for a few months, not just a couple of weeks. __ China’s Execrable Government

An Accident, or a Test?

We have seen that in communist party-controlled China, cleanliness and attention to detail are not always highly valued. So when a Wuhan virology lab designated to study viruses such as SARS and Ebola was opened in January 2018, foreign experts warned that a virus might escape from the lab.

Less than two years later, a deadly bat virus closely related to SARS somehow broke loose amid the population of Wuhan, devastating the city and surrounding areas — and then escaped China to infect much of the rest of the world. Eventually people will get around to asking whether the release of Covid-19 was entirely the result of accident/incompetence, or whether someone in the chain of custody decided to run a test.

Who Dies?

Both men and women get sick, but it is the men — the old men especially — who tend most to die.

Suppose someone wanted to design a virus that mainly killed older people, after they were no longer useful to the state. Many nations are faced with the prospect of an overload of aged and infirm people, as populations across the world are getting older. The novel coronavirus seems to burn through the populations of cruise ships and nursing homes fairly quickly, taking away significant numbers of elderly victims.

China will never allow objective outside observers close enough to the epicentre of this outbreak to arrive at any meaningful conclusions. But given the tendency of the communist party controlled government to encourage lying, cheating, counterfeiting, espionage, theft of technology and intellectual property, and all kinds of depraved mendacity, speculation is apt to remain rife.

Perhaps China already has an effective vaccine, but doesn’t want to use it.

Coronavirus vs Influenza: Deaths by Age of Infected

The national health institute said the average age of those who have died was 81, with the majority suffering from underlying health problems. An estimated 72% of all those who have died were men.

According to government data, 4.25% of confirmed coronavirus cases have died, the highest rate in the world. __

No virus for old folks — especially for old men.

Après Nous: Lord of the Flies?

There may be better ways to introduce disorder to a society, but causing the deaths of its most experienced and mature citizens is certainly one way to go about it. What comes after the wiser heads are gone?

And so novel coronavirus may force some of us to contemplate the larger cycle of life, and how things may change as the cycle is “tweaked” a bit, around the edges.

Consider it a test, whether or not it was meant to be so.


Official timeline of novel coronavirus Wuhan 2019

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2 Responses to Chinese Virology and the Cycle of Life and Death

  1. eflister says:

    popsci’s graphs are dangerously misleading, they are showing the uselessly uninterpretable P(age|death) instead of normalizing by population size to show P(death|age), the mortality rate necessary to understand risk.

    literally every other outlet shows the correct graphs:

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