Is virus information from China, Russia, and Iran too corrupt to be useful?

There are reports from China suggesting that the government is lying about having coronavirus under control. Russia’s statistics are so low as to be suspect. And Iran is manifestly lying about its coronavirus data. Is this misinformation affecting the West’s ability to understand the virus and control its spread?

China has boasted that, thanks to its swift reaction, it has managed to stop all new coronavirus infections. (For now, please ignore China’s initial cover-up, which let a plague loose upon the world.) By March 19, both the New York Times and the Washington Post accepted without question China’s report that it had no new coronavirus infections.

Doctors still at work within China, though, were less sanguine:

Report by @appledaily_hk , Japanese news outlet interviewed Wuhan doctors, and confirmed Wuhan has stopped testing, that is why new case = 0 there. They release people in quarantine early too.

 

China is not alone in publishing suspect information. Russia, which Putin controls with an iron fist, has also touted its success with coronavirus, claiming that it’s tested over 133,000 people and identified only 367 cases, with only one death. Some experts find baffling Russia’s immunity to the disease, given that it shares a long border with China and has over 144 million people.

Russia has always lied about what’s going on inside its borders, often with help from credulous western reporters. In the 1930s, Walter Duranty covered up the millions that the Soviets killed in Ukraine. More recently, the Soviets lied about Chernobyl, hiding from its citizens and the world the fact that it had suffered a massive nuclear meltdown. The Soviets are gone, but Putin is cut from the same cloth and is unlikely to admit that anything bad could happen during his watch.

Finally, Iran has been in deep denial about coronavirus. The virus's starting point in the Iranian Holy City of Qom, a city with close business connections with China, effectively silenced the mullahs. They could not acknowledge that Islam had failed them. Although Iran cannot hide the number of high government officials who have died, it has clamped down on information about the disease's effect on ordinary citizens. The mass graves, however, are a giveaway that something terrible is happening within that unhappy country.

What all this means is that, as our government makes public policies to address the virus, we’re relying on incomplete or inaccurate data. This is especially true for the information coming out of China. Because coronavirus originated in China, that country eventually had to provide past information about the virus. However, to the extent it may be hiding its current infection rate, we have no idea how the virus’s bell curve – its ascent and descent – actually operates.

To make things more confusing, different countries use different metrics for identifying medical events. The best example of how different metrics affect data is infant mortality.

America has a higher infant mortality rate than many countries with socialized medicine. This is not because socialized medicine is better. It’s because the U.S. counts as a “live birth” every baby born alive, even if that baby dies within minutes of birth. Other countries wait a few days or weeks to see if the infant survives before counting it as a “live birth.”

The problem of counting methods for coronavirus deaths has arisen in Italy, which now says that its count may be wrong:

But Prof Ricciardi added that Italy’s death rate may also appear high because of how doctors record fatalities. 

“The way in which we code deaths in our country is very generous in the sense that all the people who die in hospitals with the coronavirus are deemed to be dying of the coronavirus.

“On re-evaluation by the National Institute of Health, only 12 per cent of death certificates have shown a direct causality from coronavirus, while 88 per cent of patients who have died have at least one pre-morbidity - many had two or three,” he says. 

Until scientists have standardized and trustworthy coronavirus information, their studies are necessarily somewhat speculative, a notion worth considering when our government shuts down the American economy.

 

 

There are reports from China suggesting that the government is lying about having coronavirus under control. Russia’s statistics are so low as to be suspect. And Iran is manifestly lying about its coronavirus data. Is this misinformation affecting the West’s ability to understand the virus and control its spread?

China has boasted that, thanks to its swift reaction, it has managed to stop all new coronavirus infections. (For now, please ignore China’s initial cover-up, which let a plague loose upon the world.) By March 19, both the New York Times and the Washington Post accepted without question China’s report that it had no new coronavirus infections.

Doctors still at work within China, though, were less sanguine:

Report by @appledaily_hk , Japanese news outlet interviewed Wuhan doctors, and confirmed Wuhan has stopped testing, that is why new case = 0 there. They release people in quarantine early too.

 

China is not alone in publishing suspect information. Russia, which Putin controls with an iron fist, has also touted its success with coronavirus, claiming that it’s tested over 133,000 people and identified only 367 cases, with only one death. Some experts find baffling Russia’s immunity to the disease, given that it shares a long border with China and has over 144 million people.

Russia has always lied about what’s going on inside its borders, often with help from credulous western reporters. In the 1930s, Walter Duranty covered up the millions that the Soviets killed in Ukraine. More recently, the Soviets lied about Chernobyl, hiding from its citizens and the world the fact that it had suffered a massive nuclear meltdown. The Soviets are gone, but Putin is cut from the same cloth and is unlikely to admit that anything bad could happen during his watch.

Finally, Iran has been in deep denial about coronavirus. The virus's starting point in the Iranian Holy City of Qom, a city with close business connections with China, effectively silenced the mullahs. They could not acknowledge that Islam had failed them. Although Iran cannot hide the number of high government officials who have died, it has clamped down on information about the disease's effect on ordinary citizens. The mass graves, however, are a giveaway that something terrible is happening within that unhappy country.

What all this means is that, as our government makes public policies to address the virus, we’re relying on incomplete or inaccurate data. This is especially true for the information coming out of China. Because coronavirus originated in China, that country eventually had to provide past information about the virus. However, to the extent it may be hiding its current infection rate, we have no idea how the virus’s bell curve – its ascent and descent – actually operates.

To make things more confusing, different countries use different metrics for identifying medical events. The best example of how different metrics affect data is infant mortality.

America has a higher infant mortality rate than many countries with socialized medicine. This is not because socialized medicine is better. It’s because the U.S. counts as a “live birth” every baby born alive, even if that baby dies within minutes of birth. Other countries wait a few days or weeks to see if the infant survives before counting it as a “live birth.”

The problem of counting methods for coronavirus deaths has arisen in Italy, which now says that its count may be wrong:

But Prof Ricciardi added that Italy’s death rate may also appear high because of how doctors record fatalities. 

“The way in which we code deaths in our country is very generous in the sense that all the people who die in hospitals with the coronavirus are deemed to be dying of the coronavirus.

“On re-evaluation by the National Institute of Health, only 12 per cent of death certificates have shown a direct causality from coronavirus, while 88 per cent of patients who have died have at least one pre-morbidity - many had two or three,” he says. 

Until scientists have standardized and trustworthy coronavirus information, their studies are necessarily somewhat speculative, a notion worth considering when our government shuts down the American economy.