Covid-19 Diary : Thursday 16 April, 2020

 

It has been a frustrating day today.  Yesterday was supposed to see a restatement of the IHME virus projections, but that didn’t happen yesterday, and still hasn’t happened today, as of 4pm.

Even though I criticize all projections, it is still interesting to see them.  They can at least provide a very broad frame for one’s expectations of the future, and seeing how the projections are revised up or down gives a nice sense of “are things getting worse than we thought or better than we thought”.  IHME have a staff of over 300 people, it is surprising they are consistently missing their promised revision dates for their much-watched model.

One of the “best” things about the virus was a statement several weeks ago that the virus is a slow-mutating rather than rapidly mutating virus.  This would mean that both vaccines and immunity as a result of past infection would be longer lasting than if it was a rapidly evolving virus.

I know nothing about viruses, so accepted the authoritative statement at face value.  Experts know best, right?  I was a bit puzzled, because the common cold is also a coronavirus, and for whatever reason, we’ve never managed to develop a vaccine for that, but if all the experts are focused on counting down the days to when we have a vaccine, and none talking about if we ever have a vaccine, what does one do except similarly count the days.

Additionally, while there has been a lot of waffle about when the US and every other country will start lifting their various social-distancing controls and restrictions, one thing has been clear.  All our lives will involve concerns and compromises until such time as we get a vaccine out there and available for us allOnly the vaccine will allow us to finally put the coronavirus behind us and return back to our normal lives.

And then today I happened across this item.  While it is a single study advising of an anomalous finding, it seems to be a reputable study.  We’ll have to wait for this to unfold further, and maybe even a vaccine that protects us from one of several strains is better than no vaccine.  We’ve managed to come to live with the regular ‘flu, even though we need new vaccines every year.

But what if this first significant mutation (there have been multiple other “strains” already reported with no apparently different properties) is followed, rapidly, by additional significant mutations?

The odds on a mutation being, from our perspective, “bad”, are greatly against such things happening.  But if you have a million to one chance of winning the lottery, and keep getting 100,000 new tickets for the draw each day, it won’t take too long before you walk away with the prize.

In virus terms, that means that even though most mutations are either insignificant or harmful to the virus, if the virus is rapidly mutating, sooner rather than later we’ll find new significant mutations appearing with new threat pathways and immune to whatever vaccines are currently being developed.

So a bit of a downer day, all in all.  Like so many of the days at present.

Current Numbers

Here are the rankings for the eight states of any size with the highest infection rates.  Spain has now entered the list, and four of the countries didn’t register any new cases today.

  • San Marino/426 cases/the equivalent of 12,555 cases per million people
  • Vatican City/8 cases/9,988 cases per million (unchanged)
  • Andorra/673/8,710 (unchanged)
  • Luxembourg/3,444/5,502
  • Iceland/1,739/5,096
  • Spain/182,816/3,910
  • Gibraltar/131/3,888 (unchanged)
  • Faroe Islands/184/3,766 (unchanged)

Here are the top six major countries, showing death rates per million of population in the country.  Belgium moved up to the top spot today :

  • Belgium/4,857/419 deaths per million
  • Spain/19,130 deaths/409 deaths per million
  • Italy/22,170 deaths/367
  • France/17,920/275
  • United Kingdom/13,729/202
  • Netherlands/3,315/193

To put those numbers into context, the death rates per million in the US/Canada are 104/32.  The world average (not a very reliable number) is 18.6.

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

Same Day
Last Week
Yesterday Today
Total Cases 1,603,719 2,074,101 2,177,295
Total Deaths/Percent of all Resolved Cases 95,722 134,073 145,304
Active Cases (ie not yet died or cured) 1,151,342 1,430,452 1,485,554
US Cases/Deaths/Case rate per million 468,566/16,691/1,416 641,762/28,442/1,939 675,527/34,522/2,041
UK Cases/Deaths/Case rate per million 65,077/7,978/959 98,476/12,868/1,451 103,093/13,729/1519
Canada Cases/Deaths/Case rate per million 20,765/509/550 28,205/1,006/747 29,929/1,191/793
Worst affected major country/case rate Spain/3,277 Spain/3,799 Spain/3,956
Second worst country affected Switzerland/2,779 Switzerland/3,043 Switzerland/3,089
Third worst Italy/2,375 Belgium/2,897 Belgium/3,003
Fourth Belgium/2,156 Italy/2,732 Italy/2,794
Fifth France/1,804 Ireland/2,541 Ireland/2,688

The UK total case count exceeded 10,000 for the first time today.  Belgium looks like it might pass Switzerland as soon as tomorrow, and Ireland might overtake Italy a day or two later.

Who Should Pay?

Should professional gamblers be compensated for their loss of winnings at present?  It seems they will be, and – just like the item about Ruth’s Chris Steak Houses yesterday, probably on balance, it is fair that everyone should be given assistance, no matter how non-mainstream their job may be.

What I’d like to see, though, is that when (if) people are furloughed, they “do their bit” and are given less than 100% of what would have been their at-work earnings.  It is probably fair, if a person is still working the same as always, they should still be paid the same as always.  But if they are working less, or not at all, while definitely fair they should be assisted, isn’t it also fair and reasonable that they accept some small measure of personal participation in the hardship that is descending unevenly on some of us very much more than others?

Timings And Numbers

Think of the most ridiculous, chaotic, banana-republic, you can.  Guess what – they are probably doing a better job of tracking their count of coronavirus deaths than we are in the United States and UK.

It beggars the imagination that we are as staggeringly inept and incompetent as we are.  Some examples, today :

No part of this is anything other than appalling multi-level mismanagement and staggering incompetence that is impossible to explain or comprehend.

Closings

Britain has been suffering its coronavirus attack much more severely than we have.  While we have more cases and more deaths, their death rate per population measure is almost exactly twice ours.

The UK government met today and decided to extend their lock-down measures for another three weeks.  What we found impressive though was the cogent and clearly articulated set of five tests that must be satisfied before they will start reducing and removing their present lockdown measures.

The UK’s five tests are :

  • Their National Health Service (NHS) must be able to cope, with sufficient capacity for critical care and specialist treatment.
  • There needs to be a sustained and consistent fall in the daily death rates so it is clear the peak has been passed.
  • There must be reliable data from their Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE) showing the rate of infection is decreasing to manageable levels across the board.
  • The supply of PPE and testing must be able to meet future demand.
  • The government needs to be confident that any adjustments to the current measures will not risk a second peak of infections that overwhelm the NHS.

Update – We’ve just now seen the new US guidelines.  There are three main elements to the US guidelines, to do with reductions in the number of people with symptoms, the number of cases (this seems very much like a restatement of the first element) and hospital capacity.

Shortages

There are two reasons there may be meat shortages in our future.  The first is due to the closure of meat packing plants.

The second is because there is a shift in the type of meat that needs to be packed and supplied.  The usual split between institutional/trade sales and retail/for home sales has shifted drastically, because restaurants are closing and people are cooking more at home, and not all packing plants are geared up to pack meat in consumer friendly cuts and sizes.

Here’s more about this.

Logic?  What Logic?

I went to Costco today.  They even had toilet paper, albeit limiting supplies to one large pack per person.  I noticed that 2/3 – 3/4 of the shoppers were wearing masks.  But the surprising thing?  Almost not a single Costco employee was wearing a mask.

I was finally starting to come to terms with the concept of wearing a mask and no longer feeling so very self conscious, but when I saw all the Costco employees, mixing with hundreds/thousands of shoppers every day, going mask-free, I again felt very self-conscious.

Mind you, the Costco people are probably on average half my age, so their risk of a bad case of the virus is 50 or more times lower than mine.

I mentioned in yesterday’s diary entry Rumor section the speculation that maybe the virus wasn’t accidentally released by China but deliberately released.  Certainly China has gone from briefly being the worst affected country to apparently now being almost the very least affected of all countries, and with a death rate almost 40 times lower than the US and almost 100 times lower than the UK.

If this was indeed truly the case, it is a truth that no country would dare to state.  Deliberately releasing a virus that has killed almost 150,000 people around the world so far and continues to kill 7,000+ more people every day, and is causing trillions of dollars of damage to the global economy is an enormous albeit undeclared act of war – an act that makes Pearl Harbor look like a Valentine’s Day gift in comparison.

But which country is likely to go to war with China?  Not even the US, not even with Trump as President, would be eager to start the first ever high intensity conflict with another super-power, because such an act is something which no-one wins, only something with varying degrees of losers.  Maybe a coalition of the US, UK, EU, plus countries such as Russia, Japan, India, Australia and Canada, might unite and do something to “teach China a lesson”, but can you ever see such a coalition being formed and holding together?  It would be almost impossible to keep all those countries facing the same direction.

And what would be the “lesson” that we would “teach” China?  Topple the leadership?  Has there been a single instance, anywhere, of a leadership we topple being replaced by actual better leaders?  Usually the new leadership in a regime ends up as bad as – or worse than – the earlier leadership.

Or maybe destroy their military might, which means destroying much of their manufacturing capabilities and economy in general.  But wouldn’t that be inflicting harm on ourselves?  The west is now ultimately dependent on China for the vast preponderance of everything it gets.  Tell me a single product that doesn’t have a Chinese dependency concealed within it, ranging from foodstuffs (Chinese chemicals for fertilizers) to electronics (Chinese supplies of rare earth metals and of course, low cost Chinese assembly plants) to medicine (so many of the base chemicals for most modern drugs come from Chinese laboratories).  And to look at that from the other point of view, tell me a major international company that doesn’t now depend on China for a substantial share of its business and profit, whether it be Boeing, McDonalds, Tesla, or just about any other multi-national company.

To conclude what is nothing more than an introductory “thought experiment”, if this was a deliberate act by China, then whatever point it was they were seeking to make they have succeeded at, with little or no risk of any retaliation or response.

So now to the point of these comments.  Read the statements of our Secretary of Defense carefully in this article.

Yesterday I was lecturing Qantas that the absence of proof is not the same as a proof of absence when it boasted there has been no proven case of a virus infection being caught by a passenger on a flight.

In this article, today, we see China’s foreign ministry quote their tame obedient pets at WHO as saying “there is no evidence that a virology lab in Wuhan was the source of the virus”.  But, same as with Qantas, there is an ocean of difference between saying “there is no evidence it was the source” and saying “there is overwhelming evidence that it was not the source”.  Even WHO can’t quite bring itself to close that door.

And what does Defense Secretary Mark Esper himself say :

  • A majority of the views now is that it was natural, it was organic….
  • The results are inconclusive….
  • I find it hard to trust much of what comes out of the Chinese Communist Party….
  • I don’t have much faith that they’re even being truthful with us now….

Those are hardly positive endorsements of China as a non-culpable instigator of this virus, are they.

Virus?  What Virus?

Here’s an article that promises much more than it delivers.  Its headline clearly seeks to create another story about our administration dragging its heels in response to the virus threat.  As one of the very first, myself, to start worrying about this threat in public (it was the featured opening item in my 24 January newsletter), I will observe that it is so easy now for hindsight to color everyone’s perception of who knew what and when and how they should have responded.

But the article actually fails to establish its narrative.  After impressing us with gee-whiz information about medical intelligence sleuths keeping tracks of all types of medical threats, using a vast array of intelligence sources to do so, what does it then limply tell us?

On Feb. 25, the medical intelligence unit raised its warning that the coronavirus would become a pandemic within 30 days from WATCHCON 2 — a probable crisis — to WATCHCON 1 — an imminent one, according to a U.S. official.

So on February 25, when 38 countries already had reported Covid-19 cases, a month after I’d started to worry about it in public and also a month after the CDC had given it their highest level 3 warning, these people said “we think there’ll probably be a problem within 30 days”.  That’s not exactly a four-alarm fire bell, is it.

To show just how pathetic their warning was, a mere 15 days later (with now 125 countries having reported cases) WHO finally bestirred itself sufficiently as to reluctantly describe the virus as a pandemic.

I’ll certainly agree we should have done much more, much sooner.  But the failure to do sufficientlly, and soon enough, was pretty much universal, and even articles such as this one can’t respin the abject failure of the “experts” to do their jobs properly.

Medical

There are still problems with test accuracy for some of the coronavirus tests out there (we gather there are now over 20, maybe many more than 20, different types of tests now out there around the world).

In general terms, we can withstand some test errors.  As explained yesterday, some “false negative” (ie suggesting a person does not have the virus when in fact they do) results are okay as long as there aren’t too many.  And there’s not a lot of downside to “false positive” tests (ie reporting a person as being infected when they are not) – they’ll have to “self-isolate” but we’re all doing that at present anyway).

However, there is a big difference when you go from general issues to specific issues.  Here’s an interesting story about how Emirates is now testing passengers in Dubai before allowing them to fly.  Obviously though, they don’t have a lot of confidence in the tests, because they are also requiring passengers to wear masks on their flights – why would you do that if the passengers have been tested and shown to be free of infection?

This seems to suggest that Emirates anticipates a certain amount of errors in the test results.  That is almost inevitable, it seems.

We’d like to think not just of people who test negative when they are actually infected, but of people who test positive when they’re not infected.  What happens to those people?  For sure, we know they’re not going to be allowed to get on their flight.  Will they suddenly find themselves quarantined in Dubai?  Is it possible to appeal a test result?  To ask for a “best of three”?

We can understand the potential benefits of testing every passenger, but we can also see the occasional problems that will arise.  And, even if “only a little finger prick”, that’s yet another unpleasant aspect of air travel which will discourage more people from flying again in the future.

Remember that many people never display symptoms of being infected with the virus, and even those who do are at their most infectious before their symptoms appear.  Which makes us wonder about the good sense of a phone app that listens to your cough to decide if you have a coronavirus cough or a normal cough.

Money

The Dow continues to alternate between up and down days, although very only just today, with a barely measurable 0.14% rise (33.38 points) to 23,537.7 today.

Rumors

This .

Other

We’ve been interacting via Zoom with a guy who is somewhere between a nerd and a metrosexual.  He has been becoming so obsessed by not having had a hair cut for a while that he has now taken to wearing a cap.  (He also revealed he was short of hair gel.  If only all of life’s problems, currently, could similarly be solved by a jar of hair gel.)  Maybe this would be a good thing for him.

If you have your hair fears under control, but are missing the “buzz” of an office/work environment, then here’s an app that quite literally will recreate the buzz for you, at home.

 

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.

 

2 thoughts on “Covid-19 Diary : Thursday 16 April, 2020”

  1. I’m struggling with the routine part of the diary. This is in every daily report:

    To put those numbers into context, the death rates per million in the US/Canada are 104/32.

    It used to include UK but once their number was too high (so they joined the problem country list) they were excluded.

    It did give me some confidence the US was doing okay. But the number gets higher every day. I don’t have a good sense of when it will stop raising. Any insight, or thoughts?

    I really want to see the IHME updates. But because they explain their model changes, I (almost) accept they routinely miss their promised update dates. But I really would like to see them.

    I live in NJ. It seems our state government is using a model based on many models (actually a good thing). If we are lucky, the increase of critical care beds from 2,000 to 4,000 and the ventilator shipments from other states and the national supply will be just enough. Scary times!

    1. David Rowell – Seattle, WA, USA – New Zealander now living in the United States.

      Hi, B

      If we’re to accept the IHME model at face value (still not updated), we can expect about 68,000 deaths in the US in total, which would be a rate of 206/million, so we’re sort of half way there so far.

      There’s so much revision and increasing rather than decreasing ambiguity about death rates and how (and when) they are counted that we seem to be going backwards rather than forwards in terms of accuracy of this measure. Terribly frustrating. But it might be that perhaps we’re at “peak death” currently (which is what the 13 April IHME model predicts – they say peak deaths on 13 April) and perhaps we’ll start to see a reduction down from the last few days of 2000+ deaths/day.

      It is hard to say we’re doing okay. There are an awful lot of countries with much lower death rates, but also a few, mainly in Europe, with two, three, almost four times higher death rates too.

      IHME says NJ passed its peak hospital resource usage on 9 April.

      As for IHME’s delays, I think they’re doing the wrong thing. Everyone understands that the truth is changing and never exact. We would all benefit from regular updates with such enhancements and corrections as are possible on each such occasion, rather than waiting longer periods of times for updates that aren’t better.

      My point here is that an update on 15 April is clearly better than the 13 April update, and while an update on 17 April will be better than the update that wasn’t released on 15 April, on 15 and 16 April we’ve had worse data from 13 April rather than better data from a 15 April update, and the 17 April update will still be whatever it is, whether or not they published their “work in progress” on 15 April or not. Everything will always be work in progress.

      In theory, they just need to plug in the real data and the model recalibrates based on the added real data. Clearly, the delay is due to uncovering further problems with the model, rather than just updating the base data and using the present model. This is not surprising, either, and it is great they are recalibrating their model every time to allow a better historic match between predictions and reality, allowing for hopefully better future predictions. But I’d still rather see “the best they have” on 15 April, rather than continuing to watch the 13 April data age ungracefully.

      Scary times? Absolutely, yes!

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