Covid-19 Diary : Saturday 21 March 2020

I hope you’re having a good weekend, and successfully shopping and living in general with minimal challenges.

I suggested a beautiful article by one of my favorite writers yesterday as a partial antidote for the depression, fear, worry, and concern that afflicts us all at present.  Today, with thanks to reader Bill, here’s an interesting page of epigrams, offering us some suggestions for how to live life well, positive attitudes to adopt, and how to respond to and vanquish adversity.

Reading them helped encourage me, restore my sense of optimism, purpose, and humanity.  They might do the same for you.

Statistics

I was amused to note – and no-one has commented – that my “top five” list actually has six entries on it.  But I think I’ll keep the count at six (could be tempted to even grow it further….).  I find it interesting to see how countries move up and down the list.

For the record, the new top “five” countries in terms of infection density are

  • San Marino/160 cases/the equivalent of 4,715 cases per million people
  • Faero Islands/92/1,883
  • Iceland/473/1,386
  • Vatican City/1 case/the equivalent of 1248 cases per million people
  • Andorra/88/1,139
  • Luxembourg/670/1,070

Italy has dropped two places down to eighth place after its brief appearance as number 6; not because it is improving/recovering – it had its worst day ever today with 6,600 new cases and 793 new deaths.  Rather, some of the smaller countries (ie Luxembourg and Liechtenstein) have active outbreaks and are quickly climbing the list due to their small population bases.

It is only four days ago (Wednesday) that I observed the total case count passing 200,000; today it passed through 300,000.  It’s that exponential growth thing at work again, isn’t it.

It is interesting to see a chart of total cases per day, which clearly shows the accelerating growth rate (ie, the line is curving up rather than straight).

You can also plot this on a logarithmic scale – this second chart has the number scale increasing logarithmically rather than proportionately, so each equal extra amount of height represents ten times the previous amount of cases.  In theory, we’d now expect to see a straight line on this chart for an exponential growth.

What do you see when you look at the logarithmic plot?  Ignore the first half which was all about China, and focus more on the second half.  What I see, in the last several weeks, is a curving upwards line.  That’s terrifying to see on a logarithmic scale – as you might remember from your days of calculus, it means the rate of increase is, itself, increasing.  It clearly indicates that the world as a whole is still in the massive growth stage.

For major countries and/or outbreaks, and in general :

Yesterday Today
Total Cases 275,864 304,900
Total Deaths/Percent of all Resolved Cases 11,398/11.0% 13,001/12.1%
Active Cases (ie not yet died or cured) 172,554 197,106
US Cases/Deaths/Case rate per million 19,643/263/59 24,218/302/73
UK Cases/Deaths/Case rate per million 3,983/177/59 5,018/233/74
Canada Cases/Deaths/Case rate per million 1,087/12/29 1,328/19/35
Worst affected major country/case rate per million Italy/778 Italy/886
Second worst country affected Switzerland/649 Switzerland/793
Third worst Spain/460 Spain/545
Fourth Norway/361 Norway/399
Fifth Austria/294 Austria/332

As always, it should be kept in mind that the exact seeming numbers in this and all tables of coronavirus data are quite likely not nearly as accurate as they imply.

We hesitate to trust any of the numbers that China has shared with the world, but we hope that the general “sense” of their numbers – ie, that case numbers grew rapidly, then dwindled, and now are at an almost zero number – is more or less correct.

The actual case number is highly dependent on how much testing is done to identify tests.  More testing leads to higher official counts of cases, as is being shown in NY now.  They are not suffering a sudden enormous surge in cases, they are instead benefitting from a sudden surge in testing and more accurate case identification and counting.

And then there’s Italy, where this article includes the stunning claim that Italy’s death count is being greatly understated (even though it is now the highest official death count of any country, higher even than China) because workers are so busy and the deaths so numerous that they’ve simply stopped counting.

Italy’s very high death rate has been suggested as being, in part, because of its older-than-average population.  We examined that suggestion, and can’t clearly see any clear validation.  Here’s a quick series of comparisons (sourced here)

Country Percent over 55 Percent over 65
Italy 35.0% 21.7%
Germany 37.3% 22.4%
France 32.2% 19.8%
United Kingdom 30.4% 18.2%
United States 29.0% 16.0%
Canada 33.3% 19.1%

This also got me to thinking – just exactly how different is the rate of death in the most infected countries?  So I had a look at the seven countries with the highest death counts so far (I stopped at seven because the eighth country, Netherlands, has barely half the deaths of the seventh country, UK, making its data insufficient to add to the overall picture.

I juggled the start date of each country’s cumulative deaths, to match them up at a common point where deaths started to increase, and then maybe adjusted that by a few more days so as to try and get a “best fit” overlay of cumulative death counts.

To my surprise, all seven countries, as different as China, Iran, Italy and the US, had reasonably closely matching rates, and the three European countries (which these days truly can be considered to exclude the UK) were extremely closely matched.  If this is truly a thing, that’s very disheartening news for Europe, because there’s definitely no other country that wishes to suffer to the extent Italy is at present.

I’ll continue to track this and if there are any significant changes, I’ll report back to you again.

Still talking death rates, our most closely watched figure is the deaths as a percentage of all closed cases, and to our dismay, it is continuing to increase today.  Yesterday it was 11.0% and today it has moved up further to 12.1%.  Our hopes that this number would start to drop (as shown by the percent of severe cases to all current cases) have yet to be reflected in the actual numbers, and we’re starting to get a bit puzzled why that is.

Who Should Pay?

Boeing hastily ended its dividend payments for now, said it wouldn’t buy back any more shares for a while, and their chairman and CEO will forgo their pay for the balance of the year in an attempt to make them more a sympathetic company for a $60 billion bailout and to comply with Congressional demands.

But there’s plenty more it could do as well as these sacrificial offerings.  How about its $350k/year board members – perhaps they could give up their income, too?

Timings And Numbers

On Friday, with just under 20,000 reported cases, the NIH director, Dr Francis Collins, predicted there could be as many as 70,000 cases by the end of next week.  Currently on Saturday we’ll probably end the day somewhere around 25,000 cases – it still seems like a long way from there to 70,000, but it is, again, the exponential growth thing.

If the NIH director is correct – and there’s no reason to suspect otherwise – then a day or two after reaching 70,000, we’ll surpass China’s total case count (81,000) but will probably have Italy with even more cases in total than us.  All very unsettling.

He added, rhetorically

When will we be out the other side of this?  I have no crystal ball. … Will we be back [to normal] by July or August or September? I have no idea.

We suspect he has a very clear idea, but doesn’t wish to express it in public.  No-one has credibly predicted that we’ll be “out the other side” of this by September, other than a possible temporary lull during the warmer summer months.

Closings

We have no sympathy for the at least two plane loads of Americans who flew to South Africa a day ago.  When they arrived in Johannesburg, they discovered that the local authorities wouldn’t let them leave the plane, and told them they’d have to turn around and fly home again.

Who could be surprised by this outcome?  On Wednesday, South Africa banned all arrivals by people from high-risk countries, which according to WHO’s definition includes the US.  We’re not quite sure why the airlines allowed these people to fly.

Getting back home to the US may be a challenge for these people.  South African Airways has now cancelled all its international flights, as are an increasing number of other airlines.

Among other airlines cancelling their international services, United Airlines has now announced a 95% reduction in international flights for April.  That is similar to changing a daily flight to one flight every three weeks, but actually, the change is more dire.  All long-haul flights have been cancelled, the only remaining international flights are a few to Mexico and some island-hopping flights from its Guam base.

The other two major US carriers are also cutting back.  American has said it will cancel everything but three routes to London and Tokyo and some short-haul routes in the Caribbean and Mexico.  Delta is optimistically keeping many/most of its international routes (with reduced frequencies), but we’re not too sanguine about how long that will last, even though it gets to enjoy the shift of traffic from cancelled UA/AA flights.

Remember a couple of days ago when the airlines went cap in hand to Congress, asking for $50 billion for themselves, plus another $10 billion for airports and $8 billion for their friends in freight-only airlines?  Well, it seems they forgot one group of carriers – small regional carriers – the companies that do the essential “last mile” routes that feed into their major routes; the companies that save the major airlines huge sums by operating small planes crewed by pilots and flight attendants who make even smaller wages per flight, saving the major carriers from having their union staff on their own planes fly the routes.

But, the regional carriers are suffering the same hardships the big guys are, of course, and now it seems they may have to close, either temporarily or possibly permanently.  That risks leaving hundreds of smaller US cities completely without air service, and maybe requiring people to drive hundreds of miles to a major airport at the start and end of each flight.

One has to marvel at the myopic view of their own world that saw the major carriers ask for money for themselves, freight carriers, and even airports, but not the contracting airlines that support their very own routes and make/save money for them.  Details here.

There’s a right and a wrong way for hotels to lay off staff at a time like this.  Here’s an appalling example of the wrong way, and we don’t believe the subsequent claim it was an admin error.  We’d guess it to be a coldly calculated deliberate move, clumsily retracted after the hotel company was named and shamed in public.  We’ll certainly avoid them on our future Scottish tours.

Closed?  Cancelled?  Oh no, not in the case of the annual April 25 Anzac Day celebration of ex-pat Australians and New Zealanders in Atlanta.  Instead, it has been “suspended” until April 2021.  That’s clearly a nonsense statement, unless they’re going to have two celebrations next April, which we doubt.

Why can’t organizations actually tell the truth and use the blunt term “cancelled” rather than the soft and dishonest word “suspended”.

It is interesting to read this – the text of a city-wide lockdown, in Everett WA.  It gives an approximate indication for the sorts of typical terms and conditions that are likely to accompany other lockdowns in other areas.

Shortages

Logic?  What Logic?

Here is an interesting article about the bactericidal and virucidal properties of copper, but fails to discuss the issue of copper toxicity as a possible reason it isn’t more widely used.  And whereas stainless steel doesn’t rust, copper does, causing it to look unsightly and seem dirty.  If the copper was painted, then its properties would be blocked by the paint.  It is also about 15% heavier than stainless steel.

So perhaps there are answers to the article’s question (why isn’t copper everywhere).

The regional transportation service around the Seattle area has announced that all bus rides will be free until further notice, due to the Wuhan virus outbreak.  That’s a kind gesture, and for sure, many of us need all the financial help we can get.

But, at a time when the streets are now clear and empty, and driving a car is easier than ever before, do we really want to encourage people onto buses?  Isn’t that a conflict with the mandatory social distancing?  Indeed, with buses carrying up to 75 or so people at a time, that contravenes our (I think) maximum ten person group restriction at present, too.

Yes, I know some people don’t have cars and rely on buses.  Maybe they can be given free bus passes (many of them already have these).  But, in general, surely people should be encouraged to keep off buses, not to move to using them more?

Virus?  What Virus?

Our carriers have some airfare sales on at present, with amazing bargain prices, for travel some months into the future.

But how far in the future would you feel the need to wait before booking future travel plans?  One month?  Three?  Six?  Twelve?  More?  Even with no change or cancel fees, it all seems a bit pointless at present – well, we understand why airlines are doing so, but for us, not so much.  It is very likely that once we start to sound the “all clear” and things start to cautiously return to normal, the airlines will really truly start selling bargain airfares in an attempt to restart normal travel patterns.

A reader reported on Twitter that as of this morning, passengers were flying in to Honolulu on international flights with no screening upon arrival.

Certainly, the typical “screening” is farcical and more ineffective than not – check a person’s temperature with an IR gun, asking them if they feel okay, and advising them about the potential for Covid-19 infection.  But even this is still better than nothing, and it makes no sense if we are closing our borders to entire countries and regions, that the few remaining people we allow into the country can come in uninspected.

Medical

This is an interesting article that gives an understandable explanation of what the coronavirus is and how it causes us problems.  It also discusses the likely impact of seasonality – will summer weather deter the virus?  Its conclusion, based more on a lack of evidence than any certainties, tends to lean towards the negative – that is, that summer weather won’t be the magic cure-all we’re hoping for.

I’ve been, ahem, a bit critical of WHO in these diary entries.  I might now better understand some of their puzzling but appalling inadequacy, after reading this article.

Did you know their current director-general, appointed in 2017, was not trained as a medical doctor, and had no global health management experience?  Do you remember his astonishing action when trying to appoint the then-Zimbabwe dictator Robert Mugabe as a WHO goodwill ambassador?

While I’d most like to see Dr Fauci as our President, maybe at the very least he could be placed in charge of WHO.  Talking about this wonderful and professional gentleman, here’s a very adulatory article about him.

And here’s a series of video clips contrasting his comments and opinions with those of the President (about the potential value of chloroquine as a Covid-19 treatment).

The amazing new world of “3-D printing” is seeing a sudden, fast, inexpensive, potential solution to the looming ventilator shortage.  We hope that 3-D printed ventilators will work better than the much discussed but totally useless 3-D printed firearms!

Here’s an article that lifts the lid on what we might have to expect in the future, first in WA, and subsequently in other parts of the country too, as and when our hospitals start to exceed their maximum capacities.  It truly is a very bad time to get unwell, in any form.

Money

Might people and countries be able to sue China and seek damages from its role in the coronavirus outbreak?  This article says it would be difficult, but might be possible.

We’re not sure that any country in the world would be brave enough to do so, but maybe some consumer groups might – indeed, well known class-action specialists, the Berman attorney group, has already done so.

We wish them luck.

Rumors

A national shutdown?  This is a speculative topic/rumor that continues to be talked about.

At a personal level, we don’t want to see one, but looking more generally at what is necessary, we acknowledge the imperative need to institute one, and right now.

Other

Some more free culture.  The Berlin Philharmonic is offering free streaming of their wonderful online library of recorded concerts.

Please stay happy and healthy; all going well, I’ll be back again tomorrow.

 

Please click here for a listing of all our Covid-19 articles.

 

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