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Google Temporarily Shuts Chinese Offices Due to Coronavirus

Google Coronavirus

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Update: Added figures from the Johns Hopkins Whiting School of Engineering mapping.

We are hearing reports that Google is temporarily shutting their offices in China, due to the ongoing outbreak of Coronavirus.

Google confirmed to The Verge on January 29th that they would temporarily shut down all offices in China, Hong Kong, and Taiwan. A Google spokesperson stated The Verge that they were keeping their offices closed as per (in The Verge’s words) “government guidance.”

Google has four offices in mainland China (Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, and Shenzen) one office in Hong Kong, and five in Taiwan. In Mainland China, all of these locations are along the coast, while Hubei province (where Wuhan is) is in the center of the eastern half of China.

The company is also advising employees in China (and those who have family returning from China) to “return home as soon as possible and to work from home for at least 14 days from their departure date” (Again, in The Verge’s words).

The 14 day period is due to the purported claims that the coronavirus (dubbed “Wuhan-flu” by some) incubates within a subject for around 14 days with no symptoms. Due to the alarmist nature of some outlets and on social media, find concrete facts is difficult.

Around December 8th, 2019, people in Wuhan, Hubei province China, several people began to suffer from pneumonia with no clear cause and where normal treatment was ineffective. It was later confirmed as “novel coronavirus” (2019-nCoV), with over 6,000 cases as of January 29th [1, 2, 3].

The virus also began to spread outside of China, thanks to many traveling there for the now-cancelled Chinese New Year celebrations. Some claim as many as 18.5 million have now be quarantined in Wuhan and other cities. Some rural villages have even begun to prevent outsiders from entering, with deadly force [1, 2].

The virus spreads through coughs and sneezes, with both the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and World Health Organization recommending frequent hand washing, avoiding contact with those who are sick, and frequent disinfecting of surfaces.

Some places report 170 deaths, with a purported fatality rate of 2.2% [1, 2, 3]. Johns Hopkins Whiting School of Engineering is mapping the virus’ spread [1, 2], citing (as of this time of writing) 6165 cases,133 deaths, and 126 “totally recovered.

Many have doubted the official figures from the Chinese government, feeling they are downplaying the severity of the situation to prevent panic and international scorn, or that the disease was a bio-weapon gone wrong.

Some claim people are being locked in their homes [1, 2], while others claim the hastily built emergency hospital has bars and locks on the outside of the windows and doors.

While theories on how the virus started are running wild (including soup made from bats containing the virus), including that the virus leaked from the Wuhan Institute of Virology [1, 2]. Some propose that the virus was a bio-weapon being tested on bats (as the coronavirus originates from bats), with them being sold at the local seafood market instead of being destroyed.

Others note how two scientists were fired and later investigated for a “policy breach” at a Canadian laboratory studying diseases [1, 2]. Claims that the two were working for the Wuhan Institute of Virology, and stole the virus for research in China have been denied by officials.

In October 2019, the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health’s Center for Health Security hosted “Event 201” [1, 2]. It was “a 3.5-hour pandemic tabletop exercise that simulated a series of dramatic, scenario-based facilitated discussions, confronting difficult, true-to-life dilemmas associated with response to a hypothetical, but scientifically plausible, pandemic.”

Many have noticed the scenario utilized a disease similar to the corona virus in its example.

“The pathogen and the disease it causes are modeled largely on SARS, but it is more transmissible in the community setting by people with mild symptoms. The disease starts in pig farms in Brazil, quietly and slowly at first, but then it starts to spread more rapidly in healthcare settings.

[…] The scenario ends at the 18-month point, with 65 million deaths. The pandemic is beginning to slow due to the decreasing number of susceptible people. The pandemic will continue at some rate until there is an effective vaccine or until 80-90 % of the global population has been exposed. From that point on, it is likely to be an endemic childhood disease.”

While Johns Hopkins would later release a statement, clarifying that the scenario was designed to highlight how prepared nations would be for a pandemic, and that their scenario was different from the real life disease.

“The Center for Health Security and partners did not make a prediction during our tabletop exercise. For the scenario, we modeled a fictional coronavirus pandemic, but we explicitly stated that it was not a prediction. Instead, the exercise served to highlight preparedness and response challenges that would likely arise in a very severe pandemic. We are not now predicting that the nCoV-2019 outbreak will kill 65 million people. Although our tabletop exercise included a mock novel coronavirus, the inputs we used for modeling the potential impact of that fictional virus are not similar to nCoV-2019.”

This has not dissuaded some, as they find it odd that the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation were present- who also fund the Pirbright Institute, who had their patent to study the coronavirus and “may be used as a vaccine for treating and/or preventing a disease, such as infectious bronchitis, in a subject” approved in November 2018.

In addition to Google, The Verge reports that Apple and Facebook both “restricted employee travel this week.” Apple also reportedly stated they closed one store in China, and is (in The Verge’s words) “measuring its employees’ temperatures regularly, and aggressively cleaning retail and office spaces.”

Airlines have begun to suspend travel to China, with the US asking citizens to reconsider travel to China.

While Google had originally made a censored search engine for China’s infamous “Great Firewall” [1, 2, 3], it later relented due to international pressure [1, 2].

Image: Wikipedia, The New York Times, Memed.io Laser Eyes Meme Maker

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Ryan Pearson

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