There are two main roles in this fight against the novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV) pneumonia. One is virus, the other is information. Coincidentally, the two seemingly different things have one thing in common, that is, they are all communicable. A model to describe the spread of virus, SIR model, can also be used to describe the spread of information. S represents the ratio of uninfected population, I represents that of infected population, R represents that of recovered and immunized population. This model is to predict the trend of disease transmission by describing the changes of the three ratios. It can also be used to study computer viruses, which is very similar to information dissemination. From the perspective of information, these three groups can also be “unknown information group”, “forwarding information group” and “non-forwarding information group”. Therefore, the spread of the two things can be predicted by the same model. Who can win this fight depends on whether the information or the virus spreads faster.
Viruses have some advantages over information. First of all, only when the virus appears and spreads, and shows serious illness, can the alarming information be generated; the information lags behind the virus, and often lags for a long time. However, information has its advantages. The spread of the virus depends on organisms, and can only be spread if the organisms move and contact with other organisms; even if you fly, it will take more than 10 hours from China to the United States. Through the Internet, information can spread to the other end of the world in an instant. In the absence of outside intervention, information should run faster than viruses. This is an important factor for human beings to be able to effectively fight against the virus. Once the information is faster than the virus, people can quickly know the basic characteristics of the virus, such as the infection rate, mortality rate, recovery rate, and the mode of transmission, such as whether or not infected from human to human, people can prepare before the virus arrives, can take appropriate means (such as isolation) to reduce the transmission, and finally eliminate the virus.
Figure 1 Example of SIR modeLegend: × Uninfected population ratio
* Infected population ratio
+ Recovered population ratio
Note: the ready-made SIR model (Matlab) is used here. The vertical coordinate represents the population ratio (< 0 < 1), and the horizontal coordinate represents the time (day). Infection rate (λ) = 0.8, recovery rate (μ) = 0.2. Looking at the vertical axis, the highest point of infection rate is about 0.4, and the corresponding horizontal axis time is about the 9th day.
Here I use a simple SIR virus model to make a schematic explanation; the data is not the real data. There are two important parameters: infection rate (λ) and recovery rate (μ) in the virus model, and forwarding rate (λ) and non-forwarding rate (μ) in the information model. The transmission speed of the two depends on the virus infection rate and information forwarding rate. Whoever is big will be quick. In the virus transmission model, it is worth noting the ratio of infected population to the total population in the vertical coordinate, and its value on the horizontal axis represents the time (days). Under normal circumstances, information runs faster than viruses. It can be assumed that the rate of information forwarding is twice that of virus infection. On the horizontal axis of Figure 1 and Figure 2, the time of virus infection reaching the highest point is 9 days, while the time of information reaching the highest point is 4 days, obviously information is faster than virus. The highest ratio of people who forward information is 0.6, while the highest ratio of people who are infected by virus is 0.4, which shows that the population covered by information is larger than that infected by virus. This is good for people to prevent in advance, so as to control the development of the virus earlier.
Figure 2 Information dissemination modelLegend: ˗ Unknown information population ratio,
˗ Forwarding information population ratio,
˗ Non-forwarding information population ratio.
Note: This model is just like the previous model, just changing the virus into information. Change the infection rate (λ) to “forwarding rate (λ)”, and the recovery rate (μ) to “non-forwarding rate (μ)”. Because the information spreads faster than the virus, the value of λ is increased from 0.8 to 1.6, μ remains unchanged and is still equal to 0.2. Looking at the horizontal axis, the highest ratio of forwarding information group is about 0.6, the time is about the fourth day, 5 days faster than the virus. At this time, the infected rate is about 0.2, half less than that on day 9 (see Figure 1).
Fortunately, human beings have long known the importance of free expression and flow of information. Like most other constitutions, China’s constitution has an important principle, which is the principle of “freedom of expression” in Article 35. This principle condenses the lessons of rise and fall, of gain and lose of human civilization history for thousands of years. It is comprehensive. Its basic principle is to let many and scattered information be truthfully and timely expressed, so that others and society can get real information. It also enables experts to analyze the situation with sufficient information and put forward suggestions, so as to accurately deal with relevant problems. Of course, it also includes information about infectious diseases. Adhering to this principle is to maintain an effective and flexible mechanism for the society to deal with various problems. However, if we do not follow the principle of free expression, it will bring problems or even disasters. That is to intervene the normal transmission of information, slow down the speed of information transmission, reduce the amount of valuable information, and let information lose to viruses in the speed competition.
For example, according to an article published in the lancet by Professor Huang Chaolin and others, the earliest case date of the novel coronavirus pneumonia is December 1, rather than December 8 as later said. The first case has no history of seafood market exposure. To the 10th, in the first four cases, three people did not have a history of seafood market exposure, indicating a strong “human infecting human” nature. And, 34% of the 41 cases (as of January 2) analyzed in that paper have no seafood market exposure. This adds to the evidence of “human infecting human”. This is the first chance to fight the novel coronavirus pneumonia more effectively. If such information is not only published in the lancet on January 24, a month and a half later, but only as an academic paper, it will be published at the first time, or at least let Zhong Nanshan, Wang Guangfa and other authoritative experts know about it, and measures to prevent “human infecting human” will be taken greatly in advance. At this time, because Wuhan municipal government artificially suppressed these information, and did not realize the important value of these information, resulting in the information dissemination behind the virus.
Figure 3 Seafood market exposure of patients with the novel coronavirus pneumoniaData Source: Chaolin Huang et al., Clinical features of patients infected with 2019 novel coronavirus in Wuhan, China，The Lancet, January 24, 2020。
The second opportunity is that on December 30, eight doctors respectively released information about 2019-nCoV pneumonia, and the Wuhan government detained or admonished the eight citizens for “spreading rumors”. Li Wenliang, one of the doctors, according to the situation of other departments in his hospital, posted in WeChat group of university classmates on December 30 that “seven cases of SARS have been confirmed”, but he was soon talked by the hospital and “admonished” by the police on December 31. Later, on January 7, his department also admitted suspected patients with 2019-nCoV pneumonia. Soon, his family members were infected, and he himself was also infected. It’s about January 10th. Not only that, Wuhan police also publicly declared that they had “dealt with according to law”, and CCTV soon reported, which not only reduced the information of 8 citizens, but also the information of 80 or even 800 citizens. They would not dare to speak out publicly even if they were ill for fear of being “dealt with according to law”, which affected the normal release of information, making the information available to the society seriously less than The real amount of information can not provide more empirical data for the expert prediction model. If the Wuhan government is not busy blocking the news, but to further investigate the information released by them, it is not difficult to come to the conclusion that “human infecting human”. It was also 23 days earlier than the time of subsequent measures.
The third opportunity is that Wang Guangfa, an expert from the first hospital of Peking University, visited Wuhan on December 31. He believed that the epidemic was “preventable and controllable”. Only when he returned to Beijing and got 2019-nCoV pneumonia, could he be identified as “human infecting human”. Zhong Nanshan visited Wuhan on January 19. In an interview with CCTV on January 20, he said that there were local cases in Guangdong Province. He didn’t go to Wuhan himself, but his family had been to Wuhan, from which he concluded that “human infecting human”. It is worth noting that these two authoritative experts make the judgment of “human infecting human” based on their own or local experience. Although they have been to Wuhan recently, they did not use the relevant information from Wuhan official to make the judgment. When the two experts came to the conclusion of “human infecting human”, they did not use advanced equipment or advanced theory. As long as there are family members or doctors infected and no seafood market (or Wuhan) contact history, judgment can be made. On January 11, seven doctors in Wuhan were diagnosed with 2019-nCoV pneumonia (” 2019-nCoV pneumonia’s infecting ‘from human to human’ has been more than a month, a response of Central Disease Control to the dispute in the paper “, Caixin.com, January 30, 2020). This is the third opportunity that the Wuhan municipal government has missed. The information was blocked, but the virus didn’t stop.
Until December 31, the first notice of Wuhan health and Health Commission said that “no obvious human to human transmission”. Zhou Xianwang, mayor of Wuhan, when explained that “why there are ten-thousand people of banquet to be held on January 19”, said that “it is based on our previous judgment that this epidemic is a limited spread between people”. This shows that at this time, he still had no idea about the infectious characteristics of 2019-nCoV pneumonia. It wasn’t until Zhong Nanshan confirmed that “human infecting human” was possible that he realized that the problem was serious. Zhong Nanshan made the judgment publicly on January 20 on CCTV. As the mayor of Wuhan, the birthplace of novel coronavirus pneumonia, he unexpectedly at the same time with us outsiders to know that the disease was “human infecting human” ! What did he do after more than a month of blocking information? If the fight against the 2019-nCoV pneumonia is regarded as a war, the mayor of Wuhan is equivalent to the former enemy’s command, and the “enemy situation” he knew was the same as that of people thousands of miles away. Is he competent? Can he win? They suppress the publication and flow of information, which also leads to their own serious decision-making mistakes. From December 8 to January 22, 2020, when measures were taken, a total of 45 days passed. Assuming an infection rate of 1.3, 134107 people could theoretically be infected. Isn’t missing the opportunities to prevent viruses’ transmission a very serious mistake?
Figure 4 Results of suppressing information disseminationLegend: the same as above.
Note: due to the suppression of information transmission, we reduce the forwarding rate (λ) to 0.6, and increase the non-forwarding rate (μ) to 0.4. As a result, the peak of information dissemination was on the 13th day, and the ratio of people who forwarded information was 0.08. This means that the transmission of information is 4 days slower than that of virus, and the ratio of forwarding population is much lower than that of normal transmission of information (0.6). This means that there are more people infected with the virus than those who know it, and people contact with those who carry the virus, but don’t know how to prevent from them.
Figure 5 Results of suppressing information dissemination and neglecting preventionLegend: same as Figure 1.
Note: because the information is 4 days slower than the virus, the preventive measures cannot be taken in time, resulting in 20% more infected people than that when the information normally flow.
It seems that in the case of incomplete external information, internal information has not been used to provide guidance for government countermeasures. Therefore, Wuhan government’s suppression of 2019-nCoV pneumonia is not for the purpose of “maintaining stability”, but only for their practices in recent years. This is an instinctive suppression of what they see as negative local information. Why? There seems to be no better explanation except to keep the position and career. What they are more concerned about is not the health of the local people, nor that once the disease is transmitted, it will cause serious losses to the whole country or even the world. This kind of suppression of information dissemination works, so that a critic of a county hospital somewhere will be detained by the police. And in the past, they suppressed “negative information”, including the information that forced demolition hurt the people, “urban governance” hurt the peddlers, information about all kinds of work errors and accidents, criticism of the work of government departments, and the situation of swine fever in Africa, etc., which seemed to be successful and had become a habit. Over the years, although their practices have produced serious negative results, they have basically “eliminated” critical information because they have the means of abusing public power to prevent information outflow such as petitions. This time they do it, just as they always do.
In fact, this is not the “patent” of Wuhan government, but the common practice of many local governments in China. Even though the Wuhan government has been outraged and criticized by the majority of the people for its punishing eight persons who told the truth, we still see that many local governments continue to arrest or threaten the people for “rumor telling”. For example, in Wenzhou, Ningbo, Jinhua, Chongqing, Qinhuangdao, Langfang, Hengshui, Xingtai, Chengde and Tianjin, administrative detention of so-called “rumor mongers” has appeared. Although some of the so-called “rumors” are untrue, it has no enough excuse to take administrative coercive measures against “rumor makers”. Because there are many non-governmental and non mandatory ways to deal with rumors, such as readers’ own judgment on the reliability of the source of the news, and the truth can be used to refute the rumors, such as the government’s timely release of information to eliminate the influence of the rumors. Besides, most of the so-called “rumors” are actually the truth. On the other hand, , it is also a rumor to “say ‘being’ as ‘nothing’” or “say ‘more’ as ‘less’”, which is even more terrible than “say ‘nothing’ as ‘being’”. If it is for the sake of social interests, the two rumors should be treated equally. However, the rapid action of the local police shows that many local governments have not changed their bad habit of suppressing Internet speech, which hinders us from obtaining accurate information about the epidemic.
Since China’s constitution has stipulated the principle of “freedom of expression”, it is unconstitutional to suppress the Internet information dissemination. Why do these government officials dare to violate the Constitution? This is because in recent years, some people have misinterpreted the meaning of “network security” by taking advantage of the loopholes in the Cyber Security Law of our country, and used the public power which is temporarily not subject to effective restriction to suppress criticism for one’s own. Cyber Security Law correctly points out that “the state protects the right of citizens, legal persons and other organizations to use the network according to law. To ensure the orderly and free flow of network information in accordance with the law.” (Article 12) However, there are some defects in the law. For example, the basic principle, “freedom of expression” of the Article 35 of the constitution is not clearly reaffirmed in the law, nor is the administrative department of network management clearly defined, nor does it stipulate the judicial department’s decision on the dispute of network violation. As a result, some administrative departments have legislative, judicial and administrative powers, and abuse them without supervision and restriction Network administrative power. As we often see, some police departments arrest citizens because of their comments in WeChat private space. In fact, these practices negate the legislative purpose of the Network Security Law. In the period of 2019-nCoV pneumonia, the suppression of information disclosure is just one manifestation of many violations of citizens’ constitutional rights.
However, this time it’s different. We can’t seal or intercept the virus. Since foreign countries reported 2019-nCoV pneumonia cases later, people have doubted not only the Wuhan government, but also the whole information of China. Thailand reported the first case of 2019-nCoV pneumonia on January 13, Japan 16, South Korea 20, 21, the United States and Australia have confirmed the first case of 2019-nCoV pneumonia. This makes people suspect that other cities in China have closer contacts with Wuhan and there is no corresponding notification. It was not until January 20 that Beijing and Shenzhen first reported the 2019-nCoV pneumonia; on January 21, China Health Commission first reported the 2019-nCoV pneumonia in Shanghai, Guangdong, Sichuan, Yunnan and other provinces and cities. This kind of report is obviously published under the pressure of foreign reports, but there is a long time lag, giving foreigners false information and misleading Chinese experts’ judgment on the disease. This shows that suppressing information disclosure, concealment and delayed reporting is a systematic mistake in China and still plays a negative role.
In fact, suppressing information disclosure and blocking epidemic information not only misled the public, but also misled the government itself. This includes both the Wuhan government and the central government. If Wuhan government eliminated a large number of epidemic information scattered among the people, and also suppressed the hospital information owned by Wuhan government itself, and did not think that these information had any important value, even the simplest judgment of “human infecting human” nature was not grasped in time. If the central government only relied on the channels of Wuhan and Hubei government to obtain information, it could not know the real situation. When the overseas epidemic information is disclosed in time and reflect that the information in mainland China is not real-time, both the central government and the local government will be hit hard. Since the government’s own information is distorted, the government will doubt its original judgment, and do not know what the real situation is, it will panic and overreact. For example, if you don’t know what the mode of infection is, such as air infection, droplet infection, or contact infection; if the case data is not true and sufficient, you can’t estimate the near accurate infection rate, you can’t estimate the ratio of Wuhan residents carrying the virus, you can only suspect that all the Wuhan people may be the virus carriers, you can only take “blocking the city”, which is a high-cost measures.
In today’s highly mature market economy, people’s daily work and livelihood are inseparable from transactions. Trading brings market demand for production, and trading itself creates value. In 2019, Wuhan’s GDP is about 1.5 trillion. If the city is blocked for two months, it will lose 250 billion yuan of GDP. Enlarging to Hubei Province, the GDP in 2019 will be about 45828 trillion yuan, because we don’t know how serious the epidemic situation is in the surrounding cities of Wuhan, but the whole Hubei Province is blocked except for Shennongjia. If the province is blocked for two months, it will lose 763.8 billion yuan of GDP. If the travel is restricted for two months due to the outbreak of 2019-nCoV pneumonia in the whole country except Hubei Province, assuming that the production and transaction are reduced by 20% during this period, the loss of 31501 million yuan, plus the loss of Hubei Province, is about 4% of GDP. At a time when China’s economy was already in a downward trend, it was undoubtedly worse. If we want to trade, we need people to contact with each other. It is possible to infect the virus. People will get sick or even die. However, if the economy falls seriously as a result, many people will also face income decline and even unemployment. Many families will suffer financial disaster, and even somebodies die. This is not something that can be compensated by “dismissal” while without consideration.
Wuhan government blocked the epidemic information and distorted its decision-making, which suddenly brought more impact to the people. As we all know, Wuhan government calls telling the truth “rumor”, so what it tells the people is more likely not the truth, so people have to imagine the worst. This is bound to cause panic. Because Wuhan government suppresses the release of information and does not seriously study the information it can hold, it is at the same time with the national public that Wuhan government knew that the 2019-nCoV pneumonia is “human infecting human” , and it cannot provide further details of the mode of infection, or even there is the statement of “infecting without signs”. Therefore, people cannot judge whether one person infected from the individual characteristics, so they can only judge by where the person live. As a result, Wuhan people and even Hubei people are actually discriminated against. In some areas, Wuhan people are regarded as a virus. In some areas, Wuhan people are forbidden to stay in hotels. In some areas, Wuhan people are caught as thieves. In some areas, their houses are blocked. In some areas, a group of people refuse to take the same plane with Wuhan people. There are many counties and villages to block roads and societies, and places where people are forced to wear masks or leave subways, etc. Even in Wuhan, the government did not prepare at all, but the orders to close the city and prohibit the traffic in the city were very sudden, and did not take into account the traffic needs of medical staff, as well as the normal material and service needs of the citizens.
All of these misdecisions, loss of people and social chaos come from the suppression of free expression. If we don’t eliminate this kind of violation of the Constitution and the right of free expression of citizens, the information we get will still be distorted. Today’s war against 2019-nCoV pneumonia will be difficult to win, or it will end reluctantly depending on the virus cycle and the patient’s self-healing, which is also a war with too long time and heavy losses. In fact, until now, the behavior of suppressing and blocking the free expression of the Internet has repeatedly appeared. In addition to the aforementioned act of detaining a person who publishes information, one of the most common methods is to delete posts or block them. The author refers to several valuable articles, such as “who delayed Wuhan in the end? It’s you guys. “One of the eight ‘rumor mongers’ in Wuhan has finally appeared” and so on have been deleted or blocked on WeChat official account. Some doctors publish information or call for help on the Internet, and are threatened by the police not to publish again. Some patients can’t be diagnosed because the hospital says they don’t have kits; some patients have been diagnosed, but they can’t be admitted because of the lack of beds; some people die at home or in the hospital, using another name, such as “severe pneumonia” to explain the cause of death. These seem to be clever attempts to reduce the number of cases and deaths of 2019-nCoV pneumonia. But the most important ones are those who are refused treatment, forced to go home or wandering without being counted in the statistics. Let them survive by luck and continue to infect others, but they are outside the public’s vision and the epidemic prevention system. In order to prevent the spread of information, let the virus spread.
Therefore, if we want to defeat the novel coronavirus, we must let the information run ahead of the virus. This requires the authenticity and timeliness of information. And timeliness is the authenticity of time. I remember that the victory over SARS in 2003 was mainly due to the government’s deregulation of news at that time becuase of two events. One is the Sun Zhigang incident in March. A college student was killed in a shelter in Guangzhou, arousing severe criticism from the public. The State Council quickly cancelled the system of reception and sending-back, and the interaction between the government and the people achieved a good result. One is SARS. Experts such as Zhong Nanshan and Jiang Yongyan broke through the control of public opinion and told the truth about SARS. The government adjusted itself in time. Meng Xuenong, Mayor of the Beijing, and Zhang Wenkang, Minister of health, resigned for concealing the epidemic. This is not only the punishment they deserve, but also a warning to other officials, setting a precedent for promoting the opening of public opinion space, especially the free reporting of natural disasters, diseases and production accidents. SARS was overcome in such a public opinion environment.
This was called “Hu Wen New Deal” at that time. In that decade, the trend of opening the public opinion space gradually developed. However, in recent years, the public opinion space has been greatly compressed, the independent media has disappeared, and the self media on the Internet has also been strictly controlled. Many administrative departments openly monitor wechat groups in disregard of the Constitution and relevant laws. Its main purpose is not for national security, but to eliminate the exposure and criticism of their mistakes. For criticism, they “creatively” use “provocation and trouble making crime” on the Internet; for the disclosure of the truth, they usually name to “rumor”. Dr. Li Wenliang, one of the eight “rumor mongers”, later described that he was summoned to the Wuhan health and Health Commission in the middle of the night on second day after he released the news. Later, he was repeatedly talked by the supervision department of the hospital and admonished by the police of the police station, saying that the real information he released was “untrue speech”. This practice is both “efficient” and rampant, which completely reverses the definition of “rumor”. Compared with the procrastination of Wuhan municipal government in recognizing the “human infecting human” nature of 2019-nCoV pneumonia and taking measures, suppressing information release can be described as “amazing speed”. It’s more like an accomplice to a virus.
Therefore, if we want to win the war of epidemic prevention, we must let the information freely release and flow, and let it run faster than the virus. To achieve this, we need to reaffirm and implement Article 35 of the Constitution and relevant laws. But the question is, why can’t it be implemented? In recent years, many government administrations have been openly suppressing information freedom and distorting information into wrong data to deceive the upper and lower. This is an open secret, and it has accumulated disadvantages for many years. Their purpose is to cover up their mistakes and even crimes. A fire accident, a traffic accident, an infectious disease, they instinctively understate the number to avoid the corresponding punishment. For example, the State Council has stipulated that local governments should be held criminally responsible for major fire accidents, while “major fire” is defined as more than 30 deaths, and local government officials tend to understate the number of deaths. From the perspective of the government structure, due to the lack of real elections, the court’s independent trial can not be guaranteed, the people have little constraint on the administrative department, and the officials are only responsible for the superiors. The evaluation of the superior to the subordinate generally depends on the data provided by the subordinate. So lower level officials will try their best to hide all kinds of accidents. They use the accusation of “rumor” to shut up the people, not only to deceive the society, but also to deceive their superiors.
Therefore, if we want information to run faster than viruses, we need to eliminate all these acts of suppressing truth and criticism under the guise of “national security”. One of the simplest ways is to punish the abuse of public power by the executive branch of the government for violating Article 35 of the Constitution. Only when the punishment for the above-mentioned acts of suppressing freedom of expression and concealment of data is obviously heavier than the legal punishment they want to avoid, can this phenomenon be eliminated. In fact, the Law of the Prevention and Control of Infectious Diseases has stipulated that “those who fail to perform the duty of informing, reporting or publishing the epidemic situation of infectious diseases according to law, or concealing, lying and delaying reporting of the epidemic situation of infectious diseases” (Article 66, paragraph 1) shall be given administrative sanctions, and those who are serious shall be investigated for criminal responsibility. Although the Supreme Court morally supported the eight “rumor mongers” in Wuhan, the problem is not to pacify them, but to prosecute those who slander them with “rumor maker” in order to “concealing, lying and delaying reporting of infectious diseases”. The law is here. The premise of concealing and lying is to suppress other information sources. Saying the truth to be “rumor” is really rumor, and constitutes an inseparable part of the behavior of “concealing, lying and delaying reporting”; due to the suppression of eight people who disclose the truth, the loss and delay of epidemic information are caused, which makes a large number of people in Wuhan neglect to protect, causing disease and even death, and even infecting the virus to all over China and even the world, with “serious” consequences far beyond the legislator’s imagination. Prosecute them！
January 31, 2020 at Fivewoods Studio
Published in FT Chinese on January 31, 2020