Epidemic Fantasies

Kunbei is working on a project in which she studies whether simulation models can help analyze the progress of international law initiatives aimed at regulating cross-border data traffic. I may think along from time to time. A fascinating idea of her is to view the structural dynamics in international law, of the acceptance of proposed rules, as that of a virus in an epidemic.

I think I’m going to adopt that idea. I have been working with COVID-19 models for a while. It is becoming increasingly clear that measures will take effect as soon as the first six / seven weeks have passed in a country after it has been affected by the first infection. In Fig. 1 I give the Dutch picture.

Determining Phase 1 in the Netherlands

That picture is very general and does not deviate fundamentally from what China, the US, France, the UK and Brazil show.

That the phenomenon is so general only surprises when we assume that knowledge is a guiding principle in political action. Not only in the Netherlands, but also in all other countries mentioned it took about six weeks before measures were taken that became visible in the statistics. And that while the dramas in Wuhan, including the construction of gigantic emergency hospitals had issued a warning to these countries (at the time having their first cases).

Apparently, the effective realization of policy on a phenomenon such as the COVID-19 pandemic is no easy task. And above all: it is a pandemic. Unless we want to keep the borders closed, we also have to make up something for the regulation of persons crossing borders, just like for the regulation of cross-border data flows. Regulating requires coordination, locally, regionally and globally. For an active understanding of international network of local regulations and enforcement modalities I expect simulation with toy worlds to be helpful.