Coronavirus – The African Connection

Sunday, February 9, 2020
By Paul Martin

Via Golem XIV’s blog,
Sun, 02/09/2020

Like every issue of consequence, in our Age of Incomprehension, opinion about the truth concerning the Corona virus outbreak is divided. Either China is taking all prudent steps, the virus, while transmissible, has a low mortality rate and the West, with its travel bans, is over-reacting in a vaguely racist manner, or China has the virus far from contained, we don’t know just how transmissible it is nor its mortality rate because the figures from China can’t be trusted and therefore travel bans are a wise precaution.

If travel bans to and from the infected parts of China turn out to have been justified then one country in particular may be worth watching, Ethiopia. Ethiopia’s Bole International airport is the main African gateway to and from China. On average 1500 passengers per day arrive from China every day. Ethiopia scans them all for symptoms which essentially means taking their temperature.

Many of those passengers then fly on to other parts of Africa where Chinese companies are doing business. These are 2018 figures courtesy of Brookings.

The three main areas of Chinese business in Africa are transport, which generally means building airports and railways; energy which means building power stations; and grids and metals which means mines.

One of the airports the Chinese funded and built is Bole International Airport in Ethiopia.

The flights from China arriving at Bole International come from Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, Chengdu and Hong Kong. Just yesterday the Chinese government added China’s 5th largest city Guangzhou to its list of locked down quarantined cities. Which strikes me as news. For Guangzhou to have been quarantined means it must already have a large number of cases. Guangzhou is not near to Wuhan, the source of the Corona virus outbreak. It is near to Hong Kong.

It is linked to both by high speed rail and internal air travel. Guangzhou airport is in fact the third busiest in China and the 13th busiest in the world handling over 65 million passengers per year.

So… the spread of the Corona virus in Guangzhou has got so serious that the Chinese government has quarantined it. Yet till now flights from there to Ethiopia were running. Of course I have no idea how many passengers were actually on those flights nor where they might have originated from. But the rail and air links from Wuhan and other cities to Guangzhou and the fact that Guangzhou is therefore the hub to which any workers going to Africa would have passed through, does raise a few questions. Remember, 1500 per day on average (meaning in ‘normal times’ which these are not) through Bole international from China alone.

The Ethiopian authorities have been scanning arrivals. But we know that one of the things which has made this virus difficult to contain is that people can carry it and spread it for up to 14 days before they show symptoms. This is one of the reasons the Chinese authorities, despite draconian measures, have failed to contain it. If the Chinese authorities have failed, how confident should we be the Ethiopian authorities and those in the other countries Chinese workers have travelled on to, will succeed?

I have no idea and frankly neither does any one else. Which is surely the relevant point.

Jim Bianco also makes an interesting point…

Western Counties have so far contained the virus and I think it likely they will continue to do so, simply because if you catch a virus outbreak early, you can . Viruses multiply and spread roughly according to a sigmoid curve. This plots the number of infections. At the start of an outbreak the curve is shallow simply because the numbers involved are small.

Double from 2 to 4 or 4 to 8 and its not that many new cases. That’s the shallow part of the curve, the beginning of the outbreak. As the curve steepens its not that the virus is increasing its infection rate. The rate will not have changed at all. But the numbers involved grows. Still only doubling, but doubling from 8 to 16 to 32, 64, 128, 256, 512, 1024, 2048, 4096, 8192, 16384…you see the problem. Its nothing more than the law of big numbers. That law is what we are seeing in China in the quarantined cities. The question is IF and it still is, thankfully, an IF, some of the Chinese workers have carried the virus to Ethiopia or the African countries they work in, will those countries be able to contain it while they can, while the numbers are small?

I hope so.

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