Covid-19 Diary : Sunday 17 May, 2020


I should clarify (or perhaps unclarify!) something.  I absolutely do not know whether the US should be locking down more or easing off its restrictions.  Nothing I’ve said to date is intended to suggest a clarity of perspective one way or the other.  The only thing I’m certain of is that things have not been well handled to date.

We can all see the extraordinary economic harm we’re inflicting on ourselves.  But is that best addressed by easing off the current restrictions and perhaps risking a resurgence of the infection, which currently can hardly be claimed to have been minimized to the point of almost non-existence; or is it better handled by tightening up on everything for a short but successful period of drastically reducing the virus spread, after which we can more confidently then relax more of the controls and restrictions?

The only thing I’m certain about is that, to date, whatever we’ve variously done and not done has been terribly inefficient and ineffective, and has taken extended and unnecessary time to achieve much less than other countries have done in much shorter time-frames.  But that is more or less water under the bridge now, and we should all be focused on doing better for the future, rather than ignoring the future while recriminating over the past.

So here we are at an increasingly stark cross-roads with two very divergent paths.  Some US states are simply ignoring the choice and opting for an extension of the regime that has so ill-served most states and their citizens so far.  Others are lifting restrictions; we don’t think any are still tightening up.

Is anyone getting it right?  What should everyone do?  Why is it there’s no clear sense of consensus on how to solve this problem?  Why is it, two and a half months after we started our desperate struggle against this virus, no-one really knows if we’re winning or losing, and what the best responses are?

Even if we’re unable to work this out for ourselves, why can’t we simply observe, learn from, and copy the best-practices of the most successful other countries?

Current Numbers

Here are the rankings for the eight states of any size with the highest infection rates.  Today saw Ireland fall off the list, to be replaced by Mayotte (a tiny island just of the northwest coast of Madagascar).

  • San Marino/654 cases/the equivalent of 19,279 cases per million people
  • Vatican City/12 cases/14,981 cases per million (unchanged)
  • Qatar/32,604/11,341
  • Andorra/761/9,849 (unchanged)
  • Luxembourg/3,945/6,315
  • Spain/277,719/5,940
  • Iceland/1,802/5,281 (unchanged)
  • Mayotte/1,342/4,935

Here are the top six major countries, showing death rates per million of population in the country.  :

  • Belgium/9,052 deaths/781 deaths per million
  • Spain/27,650 deaths/591 deaths per million
  • Italy/31,908 deaths/528
  • United Kingdom/34,636/511
  • France/28,108/431
  • Sweden/3,679/365

To put those numbers into context, the death rates per million in the US/Canada are 275/153.  The world average (not a very reliable number) is 40.6.

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

Same Day
Last Week
Total Cases4,178,1544,716,9884,799,256
Total Deaths283,734312,921316,520
US Cases/Deaths/Case rate per million1,367,638/80,787
UK Cases/Deaths/Case rate per million219,183/31,855
Canada Cases/Deaths/Case rate per million68,848/4,870
Worst affected major country/case rateSpain/5,661Spain/5,914Spain/5,940
Second worst country affectedIreland/4,657Belgium/4,747Belgium/4,772
Third worstBelgium/4,580USA/4,558USA/4,619

Who Should Pay

I commented at length yesterday about the latest $3 trillion spending bill.  An added perspective to the “how can we pay for this” is the projected GDP collapse in the second quarter.  There had been projections of a 39% collapse, now some sources are suggesting it could be as much as 42%.

The astonishing thing to me is how, normally, quarterly GDP changes seldom exceed 2%, and are almost always positive.  Here’s a quarter which will be negative, and 20 times greater than “normal”.  The change of projection from 39% to 42% almost seems trivial, whereas that 3% difference in the past would have been, by itself and without the 39% before it, extraordinary.

An analogy :   Imagine you’re currently earning $100k a year, and anticipating an annual raise, like you usually get.  You’re told that your income is about to reduce to $60k a year.  Do you start cutting back on expenses and spending, do you leave things as they are, or do you double your rate of spending to a level that would have been impossible even at $100k/yr?

Our government is choosing the third choice.  The first $3 trillion was not affordable even with normal GDP numbers and normal government revenue sources.  The second $3 trillion is even harder.  A 40% contraction makes it even more unaffordable.


This is an interesting article about how Hong Kong is handling people coming in to the country.  It isn’t a process that could scale very well if/when air travel goes back to regular normal levels, and up to eight hours waiting to be processed is certainly not something to look forward to at the end of a long flight.

The peculiar element, to me, was that after having been tested and shown not to have the coronavirus infection, the writer still had to then undergo a 14 day quarantine at home and a retest near the end of the quarantine.  We understand everything up to that point, but wonder about the “belt and braces” approach to both initial testing then quarantining and retesting.

However, you can’t argue with success.  Hong Kong has pretty much rid itself of the virus, and has been averaging less than one newly reported case per million population since 12 April.   The last week has seen the US averaging 70 new cases per million, per day.

The US allows people from most countries in the world still to enter reasonably freely, with the only restrictions being a requirement to enter through any of 13 specific airports, where you will be asked about your health and travel, and be screened for a temperature, a cough, or trouble breathing.  We occasionally see or receive reports of people who have come into the US with on screening at all.

It is true that we’re not yet at the point where our only remaining problems are potential new sources of infection via arriving people from other countries, but shouldn’t we be doing all we can, now, to slow down all sources of new infection clusters?  Why are we so uncaring about allowing potential new sources of infection into the country?


Here’s an interesting set of aerial photos of parked planes at airports.  There have been similar sets of photos taken and shared before, too.  The commentary is slightly overwrought commentary but the photos are good.  And as for the article headline – “They Will Fly Again” we’re not entirely sure we share the author’s confidence that all the currently grounded planes will indeed return to the air; indeed, the airlines themselves are contradicting that claim with announcements of blanket retirements of entire classes of airplanes.

Clearly the expectation is that air travel will take a long time to recover – and that’s something that should trouble everyone who is anticipating a “V” shared curve and fast economic recovery.  There’s a fairly close correlation between the economy and the level of air traffic.

We found it amusing that while most airlines lined their planes up in neat orderly rows, one airline did not.

There is also a supplemental post by the author with some “outtake” photos.  We liked seeing the photos of rental car parking lots – it made a change, and is appropriate to be reminded that the collapse in travel affects a lot more than just the airlines.  When will the rental car companies be getting their bailouts?  Why should airlines be bailed out but not other travel companies?

To close on a small personal note, I wrote on Wednesday about a free Covid-19 Contact Tracing course being offered by Johns Hopkins.  It is a fairly short course, suitable for beginners, and if you pass, you get a nice certificate.

My 15 year old daughter, Anna, did the course yesterday and today.  Yes, she passed with a 97% final grade.  🙂  You might find it interesting too, as it covers a wide range of topics to do with the virus and its spread.


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.

1 thought on “Covid-19 Diary : Sunday 17 May, 2020”

  1. The intro today is thought provoking in two ways:
    – Ensuring we don’t simply recriminate the past
    – “Copy the best-practices of the most successful other countries?”

    In reverse order:
    – Which best practices from where do we copy? Contact tracing and quarantine (real quarantine) is one such practice. What others make sense given the reality of the US? New Zealand did great but its an Island and people trust the government.
    – While I agree that we don’t need to recriminate the past today (that’s what 11/3 is for), we need to understand why the actions taken had such poor results. How did ‘shunting down’ states only get an Rn of 0.8%? Did we not close down enough? Did we close the wrong things?

    Further thoughts: Is the proposed 4-10 a workable option. That is in any public facing role you work 4X12 hours shifts. Then stay home for 10 days. The idea is that you are statistically unlikely to get and spread the virus in 4 days; and 10 days at home should you, again statistically, unlikely to be spreading the virus.

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