Before last Friday was over, a clutch of minor-to-middling Mainlandizations happened.
We learnt that on the same day Jimmy Lai was arrested, Nikkei HK had a visit from the police, with a warrant, supposedly in connection with carrying a crowdfunded ad in 2019.
VanGO, a small chain of convenience stores owned by state-controlled China Resources, stops selling Apple Daily. Childish, except all vendors will now be under pressure to do the same. If 7-Elevens (owned by Jardines) stop carrying the paper, it will be clear that not following VanGO’s example equals not being patriotic. Meanwhile, we must all make sacrifices – this means boycotting VanGO’s pick-n-mix gummies.
A hitherto unheard-of joint universities body called the Hong Kong America Centre closes after criticism from Beijing’s local newspapers and the subsequent slinking away of local uni heads from the board.
And a magistrate sentences someone to five and a half months in jail for possession of cable-ties. (Also on unequal sentencing: Steven Vines on the penalties for negligence for construction giants whose workers were killed building the Zhuhai Bridge. The courts gave higher fines to the people who ransacked Junius Ho’s office.)
The Hong Kong government spent much of the weekend frantically freaking out again and again over critics/skeptics’ advice to the public to boycott the universal virus-screening exercise. Beijing’s officials join in using such harsh language that it’s obvious the screening plan is of great importance to them for some reason. The paranoid but-they-would-wouldn’t-they? theory is that the whole thing is a cover for scooping up everyone’s DNA for the CCP’s surveillance-state database. The more benign explanation is that, involving Mainland ‘help’, it’s a contrived patriotic PR stunt. For all practical purposes, Carrie Lam now has a tattoo on her forehead saying “If you don’t join in the screening, I will be very angry” – for our guidance. (A layman’s explanation on the politics vs science angle.)
A flash of sanity amid the madness – Gary Kasparov advises Hong Kong democrats: get out of town and stay safe.
The short answer to all of this is that whatever you see public figures say in public is for Beijing’s benefit and for their potential blessings and good graces. It is not for the public. The public media is simply a platform for the administration to confirm its standing with itself.
If the alleged government really wanted to sell the test as definitely not scooping up everyone’s DNA and definitely all about COVID-19 they should probably:
1. Not put the Secretary for National Security in charge of it.
2. Not hire the company that scooped up everyone’s DNA pretending it was a medical test in Xinjiang without a tender process or the relevant certification.
3. Not have all the secret mainland “experts” stay at the Headquarters of the Secret Police.
3. Focus on testing the massively at risk old folks homes instead of ignoring them completely.
4. Come to their sense and abandon the idea and use the cash to expand the hospital authority’s COVID-19 treatment capability.
Ultimately it’s pointless unless you do it to everyone two or three times in a very short timeframe, and you have the quarantine facilities to deal with the 30% false positives. Instead it’s voluntary over a few weeks and there’s no plan for false positives.
The basic problem is that testing negative is essentially meaningless: the best case scenario it means that you didn’t have the antibodies to trigger a positive last week when you took the test. Since then of course that may well have changed. But it can also mean you have the virus but it was false negative, or you have the virus but weren’t long enough into the disease to make it positive. (ie. remember how before you got tested you had no idea if you had Covid-19 or not? Yeah, welcome back: you never really left.)
The public gullible enough to sign up for testing even though it looks exactly like an obviously shady-looking DNA harvest however will be less likely to work out that a negative test means nothing, because it’s official, on paper and lockdown has dragged on. So they’re safe. So they don’t need their mask so much and they can have that big party/barbecue/hotpot/poon choi with their 30-strong family that they haven’t seen for ages. They can take the leftovers to granny in the old folks’ home.
Only the positive test is meaningful but that runs a good chance of being a false positive (a minimum of 30%, but that can go way up depending on the lab conditions and experience of the workers and volume of testing done). So even that will require further testing.
The odious Tony Blair was a strong advocate of a pan European DNA data bank. Thankfully it never came to pass. So just for fun let’s speculate that DNA, found at a crime scene, could be planted. How useful. What judge and jury could possibly refute conclusive DNA evidence ? No need to transport anyone to face an incompatible “justice” system.
It will be interesting to see if the administration admits to the false positive error rate. According to a (non-peer reviewed) study of PCR tests (not including C-19 which is too new for reliable information) finds that the median FP rate is 2.3% so we can expect around 10,000 +/- false positives on the weekend’s crop of volunteers alone which will all have to be re-tested.
The paper gets a bit technical but the gist is that the main reason for FPs is contamination, poor lab practice and data handdling screw-ups.
“If the alleged government really wanted to sell the test” ……
1. Carrie Lam should have come out yesterday and said that the whole thing lacked scientific validation and sternly told us not to go anywhere near the mainland nose-pokers.
Then more than half the population would have raced to the testing booths.
VanGO’s revenue loss from not selling Apple Daily may not be too significant, but many people who pop in to buy a newspaper also pick up cigarettes, a snack or a drink while in the store. One hopes that all that business will also go elsewhere and hurt their profits. It would also be nice if a steady stream of people walked in each day, asked for Apple Daily, then walked out again when told it is not available. But you are probably correct that Jardine’s – as well as Li & Fung, who own Circle K, the other main convenience store chain – will also come under pressure to follow VanGO’s example.
DNA is not as conclusive as is usually assumed because people don’t understand probabilities. When, for instance, a prosecutor says of a DNA ident “there’s a one in a million chance that this is the right person”, in HK for instance, it means that there may well be another 7 individuals who it could be. Sadly, lawyers generally don’t have a grasp of statistics and their misuse.
Judging from the group of 12 or so boys in green standing near the door of our office building they have been issued with, or acquired, gloves with what look like studs on the fingers. Doubt they would ignore if none police were. Maybe specially to remind us is 31/8.
The Hong Kong America Center, the “hitherto unheard-of joint universities body” (not quite accurate description) mentioned today, until yesterday managed the local Fulbright grant program. They provided my introduction to Hong Kong in 1996, and over the years three local colleagues had opportunities to pursue research in the US. Trump already suspended the Hong Kong Fulbright exchange for the time being, and now the panda hugging local press has partnered with him to kill it off permanently. A painful and fatal plague on both their pig-ignorant houses.
@where’s my jet plane
The main problems with PCR is that it takes two days, which is too long to be effective; it costs too much to do often enough to be effective; and paradoxically it’s rather too sensitive to be useful as a diagnostic.
Couple that with the fact that it’s being done by the company that helped gather all the Uyghurs’ DNA under false pretences, under the auspices of the newly installed mainland knock-off Stasi (HK Branch).
The cheapo printed paper tests you spit on which give you an instant result are the way to go: they’re less accurate, but because they’re so cheap and quick you can take it everyday which irons out the inaccuracies — or you could do it *instead* of the much less useful temperature checks in restaurants, shops and office blocks.
As per Assistant Professor of Epidemiology at Harvard School of Public Health, Michael Mina has been suggesting for months. Listen to him on TWIV…
On the DNA — if it’s a national security case it won’t matter — it’s just a better prop.