Coronavirus: Learning How to Dance

Part 1: A Dancing Masterclass, or What We Can Learn from Countries Around the World

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  1. What measures will we need to implement during the dance, so we can get back to a new normal? At what cost?
  2. How can we make them a reality?

1. The State of the World

Cases across the world keep growing.

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This graph shows a row per country. For each country, the redder the day, the closer it is to the maximum number of daily cases. Countries with the reddest all the way to the right are still seeing their worst days in terms of new official cases, whereas countries with more yellow / green days at the end have left the worst behind. Conditional formatting is per row, so each row has the entire gradient from green to red. I show absolute cases, not relative to population (ie, not “per capita”), because I’m not judging the country’s response, but rather whether it has an outbreak that is being controlled. That is independent from the country’s population. I chose countries instead of regions or cities because they are the political level that can have the biggest impact on the management of the crisis. I don’t show day-on-day percentage changes because they are skewed towards early growth. Note that this represents official cases: that means that countries that are having a recent surge in testing will see a recent surge in cases. It might not represent an outbreak, just the reporting of it. I still think this is the relevant representation, because true cases are unknown, official cases are widely communicated, and there is not enough granularity of testing per day per country to account for that effect. Some countries might look good here just because they’re not testing much lately.

2. The Dance Masterclass: A Journey into the Future

The tunnel we’re in is long and dark, but there is light at the end. We know it, because we’ve seen how some other countries are already out into the light.

China’s Dance after the Hammer

Article narrating details of China’s case here. Timeline of events here.

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Taiwan’s Eternal Dance

Taiwan was supposed to suffer a massive outbreak due to its proximity and close ties with China. Instead, as of April 19th it ranks 104th in number of coronavirus cases, with about 400 in total and just a couple of new cases per day. Andorra, 300 times smaller in terms of population, has twice the number of cases.

  • They centralized the management of mask production, starting at 2.4 million per day (twice their need of 1.3 million at the time).
  • They set the price to avoid profiteering, initially at USD $0.50 per mask.
  • The penalty for price gouging for masks and other key items became 1–7 years in jail and a fine up to USD $167,000.
  • The spread of fake news could be fined with USD $100,000.
  • Proactive detection of cases: They tested all people who had previously had flu symptoms but tested negative for flu, finding some coronavirus patients.
  • The official price of masks was eventually down to ~$0.20 by the end of February.
  • Eventually, they ramped up production to 10 million masks per day (for a population of 23 million) before the end of March. Masks were rationed and their export banned.
  • Travel and healthcare databases were connected, so healthcare professionals could know who was at a higher risk of being infected. The Taiwanese CDC could track what was happening on the field in real time.
  • It triaged travelers based on their risk, from free to enter the country with self-monitoring to mandated quarantines.
  • Quarantine support with food and encouragement.
  • Enforcement of the quarantine through people’s existing phone signals. If they don’t have a phone, the government provides them with one. An alert is sent to the authorities if the handset is turned off for more than 15 minutes.
  • Persons who were not compliant with home quarantine orders were turned over to law enforcement and tracked by police officers. A couple was fined USD $10,000 for breaking the 14-day home quarantine rule.

South Korea’s Little Hammer and Scalpel

South Korea was the first country in the world to beat a coronavirus outbreak without a country-wide Hammer. No country-wide closure of restaurants, factories, shops. No shelter-in-place. No ban of events above a certain size.

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Source: Reuters
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We choose % tests that turn out positive because it’s the best way to assess how good testing is. We introduced it in our last article, Coronavirus: Out of Many, One. Total number of tests is meaningless if a country is big or there are lots of cases. Tests per capita makes no sense if there’s few cases. But a low % of positives tells you a country is testing a lot of people in comparison to the magnitude of their problem. Some people agree.
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Source

Singapore’s Critical Missteps

Singapore’s response to the coronavirus started very similar to Taiwan’s. Their timeline of decisions is equally flabbergasting. It did many of the same things that Taiwan or South Korea did. But it didn’t work. Why? The differences are what’s telling.

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In fact it would be slightly higher than 4%, because app usage is likely to work in clusters. For example, if one uses it in a family, it’s more likely that the rest of the family uses it too. But even if we assume a 25% higher tracking thanks to clusters, we’re still at an overall 5% of contacts traced.
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In this graph I’m assuming a 30% penetration, which is 50% higher than what Singapore has communicated. More notes inside the chart. Link to quick model.
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  1. Somewhat expensive measures that might still be necessary
  2. Expensive measures that aren’t necessary
  3. Healthcare measures

Written by

2 MSc in Engineering. Stanford MBA. Ex-Consultant. Creator of applications with >20M users. Currently leading a billion-dollar business @ Course Hero

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