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Why Covid-19 became a pandemic?

We are living in trouble times. AI Geeks cancelled GAN meetup in February in Singapore due to early warning given to me and we did a webinar. Since then, we’ve been silent and watching the world around us.

At that time, we had very less information why pandemic was spreading. Now, it’s clear. It is airborne and remain suspended in air.

We are witnessing a rise in cases but we are not understanding why air-travel bans are not working. Let’s understand a real example of virus spread in contained environment. Let’s take an example where Cruise ship, Diamond princess was initially infected by 10 people and it spread to 700 people out of 3700 people. It was not clear how it became widespread. One CDC study found out that it is food service and there is no protective gear used by Food services. Another hypothesis which was not explored that centralized AC on cruiseship might have helped in circulating the virus .

Though it is not believed to airborne, there were hints that coronavirus can be airborne. Thus, initial guideline not to wear mask if you are not sick might have helped in spreading the virus. If that is the case, coronavirus infection spread might be directly related to scheduled air-traffic. It means that blocking nationals from infected countries such as China didn’t help as one infected person is enough to infect all people without mask. As we’ve seen that from Diamond Princess example, only 10 who are infected without any physical contact infected 700. Patients were isolated but it doesn’t mean protection from virus if you are breathing the same suspended air using centralized AC.

This revelation might tie back to the data. It means that all air-traffic, internationals as well as domestic can impact to the rise of virus. Italy, which saw a dramatic rise in coronavirus banned chinese travellers on Jan 30, well before it became epidemic but it’s airtraffic didn’t decline as much as airtraffic declines in Singapore, Hongkong, China and Korea. Infact, countries such as Germany, Italy, France and US didn’t see fall in the scheduled air traffic

source : OAG

Based on this incident of Diamond princess, it is almost certain that people sharing same flight over long distances without N95 mask will get infected but is there any correlation with number of flights?

Let’s see how the virus spread week over week over different countries. If we get the rate of infection increase of the current week based on previous week data, we get the following charts. Please note that China rate of infection WoW is negligible compared to 900% on Jan 27 whereas Italy is still higher around 235%. United states is in late incubation period, similarly to UK, Netherlands and France.

The number of cases and infection rate have platued in china but it started rising up in Italy and elsewhere. Italy’s GHS score is 56.1 whereas Singapore is 58.1. By GHS ranking, Italy and Singapore should have same rate of spread of diseases and not less. So, there is something amiss and that’s the reason we have to look at number of flights. If you see after 17 Feb 2020, the number of secheduled flight started dropping drastically across Asia especially in China, Singapore and South Korea.

After the rise in number of cases subsided to tremendous extent in Asia, infection in Europe and US rose drastically. Europe didn’t contain the airtravel as the warning from WHO never came that virus can remain suspended in air and it was founded only in early March.

Source: OAG

Does the flying alone is increasing the spread of infection?

It might be true that infection might have spiked in various countries as affected people travelled long distances flight in close confined space of airplanes. However, both South Korean and Malaysian infection rise was due to religious gathering. Infact, South Korean infection spike came later after containment notice due to religious gathering in Church. It is another example of people breathing the same air in closed space leads to the rise in infection. Scheduled flight decrease can be thought as measured collective response by govt. and citizens alike as they have abandoned their travel plan for unknown duration because the future is not certain. Thus, Scheduled Flight Change w.r.t previous year (SFCWPY) becomes an important metric for “social distancing”. China air-traffic did increase later but not up to the same level indicating that there is still social distancing measure being practiced by large number of people and thus, air-traffic demand has not increased even though the number of new cases has fallen.

Who is responsible for this pandemic?

The realization that “social distancing” is the only solution to handle the pandemic sets in late in the world community. Guidelines from WHO were not clear in the beginning and it is only latter that it became clear that mass gathering in closed confined space where air is circulated and remains suspended is the recipe of catastrophe.

The current pandemic can be termed as collective failure of the world where China, which has the first-hand information of pandemic didn’t share why controlling the coronavirus by virtual standstill of the country was important. China didn’t allow WHO scientists to enter Wuhan in beginning weeks. Second failure is of WHO, which didn’t see the writing on the wall and didn’ push the govt around the world to mandate social distancing to the world.

Diamond Princess infection rate should have been eye-opener but WHO didn’t choose to brief the govt. around the world. A stern warning after Diamond princess episode could have prevented the spread in various parts of the world including Italy. Blaming only on Chinese govt. secrecy cannot let WHO off the hook.

Because of the divisions of politics on Earth and lethargy and limited resources and power of WHO, covid-19 became pandemic.

Moving Ahead

As a community, we’ve to contribute. I strongly suggest to contribute to AIGeeks. One way of contributing is developing models based on available data to understand the spread of virus and predict.

My current prediction is : Infections are going to increase in US, UK, France, Netherlands for atleast two weeks from March 16 before coming down to atleast 100% or more Week-on-week basis.

1st problem statement: Can we stop the spread?

I invite all members of community to build their models on the given data:

  1. Covid 19 weekly infection data and scheduled flight reduction of the current week this year v/s previous year

2nd Problem statement: Can Airlines survive?

Another impact is on airlines: How they can model their airline boarding system to avoid the spread? Should Airport also work as hospital where they screen the passenger before boarding? What would be SOP to tackle such situation? Is the customer willing to pay for coronnavirus test at airport?

3rd Problem statement: How to make delivery safe?

Most of urban dwellers dont cook food and rely on eateries and restaurants. How does delivery company ensure that food or grocery delivered is not infected? Do they need spray with alcohol-based disinfectant ? Is there any cheaper solution to delive? Plastic is found to be substance where virus stays longer. Can plastic packaging be replaced?


Published by babutrack

programmer, sketcher, painter

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