kosta harlan

Learning from mistakes

Posted at — Mar 30, 2020

Back in high school I got in big trouble in my senior year. One night while feeling utterly dejected and disappointed with myself I remember one of my boarding house teachers telling me, basically, not to overdo it – everyone makes mistakes, the important thing is to learn from them.

Today in the Times I was reading this article1 on the failures of China’s early warning system to prevent outbreaks from spreading.

Starting on Jan. 3, Wuhan’s Health Commission set narrow criteria for confirming that a case was officially part of the outbreak, according to a copy of the diagnostic guide that was leaked to the Chinese media, possibly by a medical professional. The rules said patients could be counted if they had been to the market or had close contact with another patient who had. That excluded a growing number of likely cases with no clear link to the market. [emphasis mine]

While it’s interesting for sure to look at the failures that led this outbreak to spiraling out of control at the origin point, it’s weird how so many countries are failing to learn from China’s painful experience, or even their more immediate neighbors. Here in Germany for example we still follow the same narrow testing guidelines that are being criticized as failing during the early stages of the outbreak in China:

They base their decision on the recommendations of the Robert Koch Institute. According to these recommendations, symptoms such as fever, a sore throat and respiratory complaints, on their own, are not sufficient. The person must additionally have had contact with an infected person, or have spent time in a region in which the virus was proven to exist over large areas. 2

But almost all of Germany isn’t considered a high risk region3; and this when we have the fifth highest tally of cases in the world.


  1. https://www.nytimes.com/2020/03/29/world/asia/coronavirus-china.html ↩︎

  2. https://www.bundesgesundheitsministerium.de/en/press/2020/coronavirus.html, retrieved on March 30, 2020 ↩︎

  3. https://www.rki.de/DE/Content/InfAZ/N/Neuartiges_Coronavirus/Risikogebiete.html ↩︎