City In East China Launches Facemask Lottery

China's mask shortage problem is so acute that the local government of Xiamen, which is located 1,200 km away from Wuhan, in East China’s Fujian Province has launched a lottery system for mask purchases through its official WeChat account Friday as China grapples to contain the coronavirus outbreak.

The step by the government, first reported by the Global Times, was reportedly launched in a bid to curtail the public gathering in the stores so as to reduce the possible risks of contracting the virus.

"You can still buy masks from local stores but we encourage you to buy it through our platform. Since you don’t need to wait on the queue in the crowds, it will reduce the risks for cross-infection," a customer service rep told the Global Times.

The lottery is only available to the locally registered residents or the social security payees, according to the service provider. The winners will be notified via text message and unsuccessful applicants can directly participate in the subsequent lottery again.

There are drawbacks: the winners don’t have the option of choosing the type and prices of the masks as they depend on the stores, not the platform. Despite that each winner can only buy six masks from designated local stores, the service has still drawn many participants to try their luck, a service provider said, refusing to reveal the total number of applicants.

According to analysts, the masks shortage is the result of the inadequate production capacity during the Chinese Spring Festival which partly overlapped the coronavirus outbreak. It's also the result of unprecedented demand.

And while the minister of Industry and Information Technology Miao Wei said the ministry will take more powerful measures to ensure market supply, and odd site was observed in the epicenter of the coronavirus epidemic, Wuhan, where a local account has shared a video of thousands of boxes of supplies donated worldwide have been piled up in the open by the Wuhan Red Cross.

The account notes that "it only takes one heavy rain to make everything unhygienic" and asks "All supplies must pass through the Red Cross. Why? On what grounds? Various online shopping channels have their own delivery systems and are very mature. Why use a Red Cross? People's lives are at stake, and they will never let go of efficient folk power, because the Red Cross is not a non-governmental organization, but a subsidiary organization of the party!"

The efficiency of Chinese state distribution services notwithstanding, in a surprising twist roughly a month after the start of the coronavirus pandemic, a new theory is now being propounded, one according to which the virus is spreading not by air but by human feces.

According to a report by Zijian Feng, which was published in the New England Journal of Medicine, "The initial focus of case detection was on patients with pneumonia, but we now understand that some patients can present with gastrointestinal symptoms."

Which is ironic: China still considers an unknown number of coronavirus fatalities to be the result of pneumonia, and to keep the death count low has been putting down pneumonia as the source of death as the WSJ reported recently. Now doctors can add "deadly diarrhea" to the list of non-coronavirus reasons for death.

That said, while Bloomberg does not explicitly say it, the theory is built on rather flimsy foundations, and appears to almost be a diversion from something else:

The novel coronavirus was detected in the loose stool of the first U.S. case -- a finding that hasn’t featured among case reports from Wuhan, China, the epicenter of the outbreak. However, that doesn’t surprise scientists who have studied coronaviruses, nor doctors familiar with the bug that caused SARS.

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Doctors have reported diarrhea infrequently in 2019-nCoV patients admitted to Wuhan hospitals, though it’s been more prominent among reported cases outside the city, including members of a Shenzhen family infected in Wuhan, and more recently in the first U.S. case in Washington state. That patient experienced a two-day bout of diarrhea from which a sample tested positive.

In any case, any theory can be presented for public consumption - no matter how questionable - as long as it deflects from the worst-case scenario: that the version of coronavirus, whose R0 some now estimate is as high as 4, was not man-made.