Covid-19 Diary : Thursday 11 June, 2020

 

It has been a very bad week in terms of virus-related issues, and I’m starting to feel totally betrayed by my country, the nation’s political and public health leaders, and indeed, by many of my fellow countrymen too.

The last three months of lockdown have been costly to me.  I’ve had to cancel my tours for this year – in February I was hoping it might still be possible to consider the ‘stan tour in September or the Christmas Markets tour in early December, but now, 3 1/2 months later, it is clear the September tour can not proceed, and there seems to be precious little chance of a December tour either at present.  Alas, the various government compensation schemes don’t provide me a single penny, and while I could accept that for the short term if there was some sense of having “solved the problem”, my sense of betrayal is that it is becoming abundantly clear that the virus is not going to be a short term problem and has not been solved at all, leastways, not in the US.

This contrasts with my home country of New Zealand, which took a quick 16 days of extreme lockdown to get the virus under control and a total of two months from lockdown to last reported case.  It has now enjoyed three weeks with no new cases, and is removing the last few remaining controls.  People will again be able to go anywhere and do anything, in any sized groups, and without masks.

But in the US, and three months since we started locking things down in mid March, what has happened?  Depending on the source, anywhere up from about 20 states to almost 30 states are still showing, or (even more depressingly) again showing increasing numbers of daily new virus cases being reported.  More than a dozen states now have the highest rates of new infections since the outbreak began.  Arizona is nearing another public health emergency due to running out of hospital beds again, and it seems that a “second wave” of virus cases is upon us, before the first wave has receded.

All those people predicting, on no basis whatsoever except wishful thinking, that the virus would go away for the summer, are now saying nothing.

One of the better projections is now predicting that our daily deaths will reduce for a while and then start increasing again.  The projection only goes through 1 October, but as you can see in this chart, below, that is not because deaths will stop then.  Death rates are increasing at that point.

One can only guess at what will happen in October and beyond, and it seems possible that by the end of October, the death count, projected to be 170,000 by the start of October, might reach 200,000.  Another semi-silent group (only semi-silent because, astonishingly, some people persist in claiming the virus is a trivial non-event) – would be all the people who said “it is no worse than the annual flu”.

The tantalizing and  very frustrating thing is that all of this is self-inflicted, and the result of bad decisions at a personal level and by policy makers at city, county, state and federal levels.  There’s been a lot of fuss, as you surely know, after a regrettable and seemingly unnecessary death at the hands of the police in Minneapolis a few weeks ago – where is the outrage at the 116,000 deaths so far from Covid-19, and all the tens of thousands more unnecessary deaths that will follow in the months ahead?

The US currently has the eighth highest death rate per million people of any major country; within a week it will have overtaken the Netherlands and moved up to the seventh highest.  The US spends more, both per capita and as a share of GDP, on healthcare than any other country in the world, but our fatality rate for the virus is one of the worst.

So my sense of betrayal is in seeing nearly three months of my business destroyed and my life wasted, with nothing to show for it, and the projection for the next three months and more, that things will stay the same or even start getting worse again.

Talking also about the protests the last few weeks, can someone explain to me why public health officials tells us it is not safe to go to a church service, a ball game, or a bar, but the same public health officials are encouraging us to go and protest?

To my astonishment, even the stridently left-wing Guardian in the UK is puzzled by this utter contradiction.

How many lives of people of all colors are being threatened and will be lost as a result of their choosing to go protest after being encouraged to do so by public health authorities?

And, to be totally even-handed, one has to pause and consider the good sense (or lack thereof) in our President deciding to restart the mass rallies that were a hallmark of his 2016 campaign.  We understand how these events play to his narrative, and seem to be a successful campaigning strategy, but we don’t understand how they can be justified in the present circumstances.

Current Numbers

Belarus appears for the first time in the minor country list, Brazil debuts at #9 in the major countries, and the death rate list hasn’t seen any list changes in a week.

Top Case Rates Minor Countries

RankOne Week AgoToday
1QatarQatar
2San MarinoSan Marino
3Vatican CityVatican City
4AndorraAndorra
5BahrainBahrain
6MayotteMayotte
7KuwaitKuwait
8LuxembourgSingapore
9SingaporeLuxembourg
10IcelandBelarus

 

Top Case Rates Major Countries

RankOne Week AgoToday
1ChileChile
2SpainPeru
3USAUSA
4PeruSpain
5BelgiumBelgium
6UKSweden
7SwedenUK
8ItalyItaly
9PortugalBrazil
10RussiaPortugal

 

Top Death Rate Major Countries

RankOne Week AgoToday
1BelgiumBelgium
2UKUK
3SpainSpain
4ItalyItaly
5SwedenSweden
6FranceFrance
7NetherlandsNetherlands
8USAUSA
9CanadaCanada
10EcuadorEcuador

 

I Am Not a Doctor, But….

The debate about where the virus originated from and if it might be man-made or a naturally evolved virus continues.  But we are noticing a tremendous difference in how the two sides are advocating their positions.

For example, here is an article based on findings by a non-profit that does most of its business in China, and which helped provide one of the dubious claims for the efficacy of remdesivir (so, two downchecks in my opinion).  Note how it starts off by suggesting we shouldn’t worry about the issue at all, and then rushes to describe people who believe the virus came out of a Chinese lab are conspiracy theorists, and describing such claims as political posturing against China.  It then goes through paragraphs of impenetrable vague statements and irrelevant facts before returning back to more ad hominem attacks against people who disagree.

Note also how it shifts the ground from “deliberately created” to “deliberately released”.  No-one is saying the Chinese deliberately released the virus, so the article is erecting a “straw man” to then demolish, while leaving the issue of deliberate creation still standing.

Then there’s this article that includes a phrase much loved of climate changers, “overwhelming scientific consensus” – because, apparently, science is based on opinion polls and popularity contests, not on facts.  Every major scientific breakthrough has to break free of the chains of the “overwhelming scientific consensus” that preceded it.

It also seems that some of the people quoted in that article are saying “we couldn’t do this so therefore neither can anyone else”.  That’s a very weak claim.  We’re even told we must accept this overwhelming scientific consensus, because otherwise, public trust will be at risk.

Now, about that consensus….  Just as with climate change, there is no such consensus at all.  How about this article, from the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists.  Although it starts off with a not uncommon BAS political diatribe, and seems to be denying the possibility of the virus being man-made, once you get past its virtue-signalling, you come to a solid well-written discussion that asserts it is entirely possible and maybe even probable the virus was artificially created.  The article provides eight specific points in support of its contention.

Remarkably, it managed to do so without calling people on the other side “conspiracy theorists” or any other insulting terms, and acknowledged that there were valid reasons to consider both possibilities.  Unlike the previous article, it did not see any overwhelming scientific consensus at all.

This next article is more assertive in claiming the virus was almost certainly laboratory made.  It quickly dives deeply into esoteric gene science, and as for the claim often made by the other side that it would be impossible to make this virus in a lab (which is a laughable claim at the best of times) it cites a Swiss team who managed to create a clone of the virus in their lab in less than a month.  The virus not only can be made in a lab, it has been made in a lab in Switzerland to prove the claim.

It is impossible to understand how anyone knowledgeable about genetic engineering would, in good faith, claim it to be impossible to artificially make the virus, not only because these days genetic engineering is astonishingly sophisticated and also surprisingly easy, but also because the virus in question has been artificially recreated in a Swiss lab.

As best I understand it, the article suggests the nature of the virus is such that some critical parts almost certainly had to have been artificially inserted, because they don’t appear in any of the alleged “natural source” viruses.

So, on the one hand, we have people saying that it is impossible to artificially make the virus, that everyone agrees, and that people who disagree are conspiracy theorists, while not citing anything other than vague allusions and analogies for how the virus might have naturally evolved.

On the other hand, we have scientific reasoning, clear logic, no insults, and proof that not only can the virus be made in a lab, but an explanation why it probably had to have been made in a lab and would never occur as a natural evolution.

It is a bit like people arguing about Shakespeare’s plays.  On one hand, there are people saying “they were written by a person”.  On the other hand, there are people saying “if you gave a million monkeys a million typewriters, then in a million years, they’d create his plays randomly”.

I know which is the more persuasive to me, and the only monkey business is whatever the motivation is for some people to so vehemently try and put forward a very-hard-to-support claim about this virus being a natural phenomenon.

Timings And Numbers

Things are getting worse not better in the US.  As I said in the opening comments, the IHME total death projection has been increasing.  On 5 June they increased their total death outlook to 140,000 deaths to have occurred by 4 August.  Three days later they increased that to 145,000, then after two more days they increased their projection again, to 170,000, although they also extended the time period for the deaths through 1 October.

Another modeler, from Harvard, is claiming we’ll have even more deaths – another 100,000 within the next three months.

In Israel, they are seeing their cases rise, and so – unlike here – they are responding to it and backtracking on their lifting of restrictions.  Why can’t we do the same?

The debate, such as it ever was, about the necessity/value of social distancing controls seems to be clearly resolved.  More social distancing = fewer infections.  And vice versa.  So we know what we should be doing, but are unwilling to do so.  Yes, we could debate over how and what forms of social distancing we adopt (we wish we would – most of the measures variously applied and now lifted have little sense associated with them), but the need for social distancing seems plain.

Even the venerated and venerable Dr Fauci is trying to tell us the virus outbreak is far from resolved, but no-one wants to hear him now.

It is also being suggested that while some states are quite clearly over-counting virus cases (Washington reported five gunshot victims as coronavirus deaths last month), over half the states are probably under-counting them.  Why can’t all states in the US count cases the same way?  Whether they are perfect or imperfect, there are formal CDC issued guidelines for how to count cases, and it would be enormously helpful in the ongoing struggle to try and quantify the impacts of the outbreak to at least have all states counting the same way.

This chart was taken from this article, and shows how Texas now has higher rates of virus hospitalizations than ever before.  The obscured point I’d like to observe is that I don’t see any time on this chart that could be used as support for the state to decide to start opening up again.

As you can see at the bottom of this page, the “social distancing” measure in TX bottomed out in early April and since then people have been traveling and mixing/mingling more and more.

In this deadly battle, we’re giving back to the virus what we’d earlier won at great cost.


Here’s an interesting article and fascinating underlying methodology for researching Chinese coronavirus cases, with the conclusion being that maybe the virus was active in China starting late last summer.

But, if that is true, it begs an enormous question.  If there were many cases in China in October, why did we not see the virus in the rest of the world until probably late January/early February?  The growth numbers – in the US and everywhere else – support a “Patient Zero” event (outside of China) perhaps in late January.

As is so often the case, each time we seem to secure another data point of information from China, it raises as many new questions as it answers.

Closings and Openings

We mentioned above the outstanding success of New Zealand in apparently eradicating the virus, totally.  Indeed, they’re so buoyed by this they’re also trying to rid the country of rats and other vermin, too.

We were curious what NZ will do next.  Sure, it is liberalizing things within the country, but what about allowing people from other countries to come and visit?  We’d love to offer you our wonderful spring wine and food NZ tour in October, for example.

But as part of a largely unrelated article, we noticed comments from the CEO of Auckland Airport – NZ’s major/almost only international airport – predicting the country will stay closed to foreign visitors for the rest of this year and possibly into next year, with the main consideration for when they start to let in outsiders being the release of an effective vaccine.

We can’t say we blame them for this, but it is disappointing news.

New Zealand is however considering allowing Australians to visit, as part of a bilateral “travel bubble”.  Australia isn’t quite as far as New Zealand in terms of eliminating the virus, but it has reduced its new case count down to about 1/2 of one new case, per day, per million people.  The US is running at about 60 cases per million people a day, and the “best case” number (other than, of course, zero) is generally suggested as being 1 per million per day.

So we fear it will be a while before the next Travel Insider tour down under.

Who Should Pay

We cringe at the cost of meat, and indeed we have for some years now, and struggle to understand the economics that have seen such a huge spread of prices between what a rancher gets paid for cattle and pigs and what we pay for steaks and ribs.

A law suit has now been filed against four of the nation’s largest meat packers (who control, between them, 80% of the nation’s beef supply), accusing them of conspiring together to artificially increase the price of beef.

While it has been the current spike in prices that has made this a more visible and pressing pain point, the lawsuit suggests the conspiracy has been underway since at least the start of 2015.

Our simple suggestion?  Make it easier for companies to import meat from other countries.  That will encourage our wayward meat plants to become more market-focused.

Shortages

Talking about meat plants, it isn’t just meat plants that are impacted by the virus.  It is the entire agricultural backbone of our country.  This article points out some of the problems looming as we get into growing and harvesting season for the vegetables and in time, fruit, on the nation’s farms.

I note, mirthlessly, that yet again my own state of Washington is “leading the way”.  We were the first state to suffer a major outbreak, and now one of our rural agricultural type counties has the highest virus rate of anywhere in on the west coast (and of most of the rest of the country too).  Lucky us – not!

Logic?  What Logic?

One of our key points has always been that some types of social distancing are more valuable than others when it comes to limiting the potential for the virus to spread.  Among the very safest of all activities is driving in your car, and a similarly safe activity would be going, in your car, to a safari park that you drive through in the car, never getting out, and never getting close to other visitors.

So why does the UK ban safari park visits, even as it is liberalizing other activities?

On Monday, WHO decreed that asymptomatic transmission of the Covid-19 virus was very rare.  That created such an outcry of disbelief from incredulous healthcare professionals that on Tuesday they changed their mind and said they didn’t actually mean what they said the previous day.

Truly, the organization is not only apparently in China’s back pocket, but is inexplicably beyond incompetent, so much so that even the New York Times is now criticising it.

A study was released to much rejoicing and delight among the “stoner” communities.  It purported to show that cannabis could be a great cure for the coronavirus.

The only problem?  It is another splendid example of fake science, as is shown in this article – bizarrely written by a cannabis supporter, but one who hasn’t abandoned all honesty and ethics.

Virus?  What Virus?

This article is an interesting read.  I’m not sure much is directly relevant or helpful to our present situation, but for those of us who like to read things in general, it is interesting, and the reference to a possible immunity to the Covid-19 virus as a result of exposure to the OC43 common cold virus, there is reason to feel optimistic at the end of the article too.

Medical

Here’s another in the “good news if true” category of things we desperately hope might be correct.  A common enzyme might be another possible palliative to minimize the effects of a severe Covid-19 infection.

And here’s an example of the sort of leadership and actions that are needed if we are to truly get ourselves out from underneath the curse of the virus.  In Spain, they have decided to make masks compulsory for everyone in public places until such time as the virus has been permanently vanquished, either as a result of developing a vaccine or effective treatment.

We don’t like wearing a mask at all, but we acknowledge the benefit and value of doing so.  Well done, Spain.

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

 

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

 

4 thoughts on “Covid-19 Diary : Thursday 11 June, 2020”

  1. Margaret A Mackenzie-Hooson

    David:
    It is heartbreaking to read again that your livelihood has been entirely disrupted although I never forgot that from the first time I read it.

    You have worked tirelessly from the beginning of the lockdown to produce the massive volume of reporting and interpretations of the caliber of the information available from academic and popular sources.

    I have found your postings a record of a deepening critical awareness of the uncertainty of ‘knowledge’ and it seems to me that you have an important book already well underway if you wanted to make one exactly about documenting that through your attempts to analyze the fragility of accuracy and reliability. I have seen a journey in what you have undertaken that you have been evolving in waking up to and documenting the overwhelming roles of human influence on research and journalism of personal and political and economic and vested influence that produces recognized and unaware bias in what become prevailing models that determine policy and treatment and social and personal responses.

    I congratulate you, as you become step by step ever more evenhanded. (One day you may even have a good word to say about China!)

    And I think there’s a bestseller in it: Pandemic: Contradictions and Controversies. Submit a proposal to a good publisher.

    I had been terrified about pandemics coming from China for ages: it is at least ten years since one of my African-American students, a nurse who then was in charge of vaccines for schools in Berkeley, terrified me after attending a seminar about the possibilities. The only difference is that the attributed source was fowls not bats via pangolins. So this pandemic was no surprise.

    Not all protests may be dangerous: where I live (Inverness in California) a seventeen year old put a notice in our local paper and 350 people, to her amazement, turned up. Wearing masks, we walked two miles in single file six feet apart on the side of the road to the nearby town, Point Reyes, an assortment of adults, children, and dogs. Totally peaceful. The oncoming traffic frequently tooted their horns in support.

    About NZ and rats: they can swim nine miles I heard when I was learning in Stewart Island (I come from Balclutha) about the islands distant from one another where Conservation has placed the endangered species. Jacinda (NZ’s Prime Minister) may be tempting the gods!!!! I fear the rats may be like the cockroaches and make it through nuclear holocausts.

    I have no data for my concern! Only that I caught sixty rats when the wetlands near where I live were restored. The rats came ashore and I transported each one of them six miles away which I’d read was far enough that they wouldn’t find their way back. I think I may have been running a circular migration!

    Book recommendation, although you may have read it judging by what you said about cycles of science. It’s old, and not entirely accurate, but it’s still the classic on the topic: Thomas Kuhn: The structure of Scientific Revolutions.

    1. Hi, Margaret

      Thank you for your kind comments, again.

      The rat thing does strike me as an over-reach, and yes, I too suspect that rats and cockroaches will outlast us all. The success to date is the Seatoun peninsula in Wellington, of all places. That astonishes me, all the more so if the land barriers can be circumvented by a rat simply swimming from anywhere else around the Wellington harbor. But you know the Kiwis – when they get the bit between their teeth, and community involvement, anything is possible!

      All the best…. David.

  2. To your intro – Amen! It is truly disappointing.

    To cross the line into politics. Imagine if we had leadership — even something as simple as the President wear a mask. More absurd having a requirement that you how harmless the reelection campaign if you get Covid-19 at a rally. Come on, really holding an event that needs a hold harmless clause.

    There is a group that wants to hear from Dr. Fauci — the US House of Representatives. Any bets as to when the White House will allow him to testify?

    I’m hopefully someday that New Zealand tour will happen — I’ve been there 1.5 times and would love to go back. (The half was an unplanned 12 hours crew problem when United used to fly LAX-Aukland-MEL. At least, I was able to get a car and tour the glow worm cave).

    Excellent article.

    Hey, can you change the website so when I click an ad it opens in a new tab? That way I can get you 1/10 a cent of income by clicking a few (my renewal will be more valuable!)

    1. Hi, Biz

      Thanks for your comments and your interest in clicking on ads. I’d actually urge you not to click on ads you’re not interested in, Google has a hair trigger for what it perceives as click-fraud and will penalize you and/or me in such cases. Plus, as you say, the value of a click is minimal, best not to risk negative consequences.

      But a kind thought, nonetheless.

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