Covid-19 Diary : Thursday 18 June, 2020

 

The last week or two have been full of reports about how New Zealand managed to rid itself, entirely, of the virus.  This was a stunning and apparently complete success.  All 1504 patients were cured, or, in 22 cases, dead.  No new cases had been reported for over two weeks, and so the country declared itself virus-free and life joyously returned back to almost completely normal.

The country chose to remain walled off from the rest of the world.  Only NZ citizens and permanent residents are allowed to fly into the country, with no visitors allowed, and returning Kiwis had to quarantine for two weeks, with virus tests three days and twelve days after arriving.

So, thoroughly insulated from the rest of the world, the country seemed safe.

Until last weekend, when it transpired that two returning ladies from Britain had broken quarantine.  The story is a terrible tale of official mess-ups, and shows how Murphy’s Law works with a vengeance.  It also revealed huge weaknesses in the quarantine procedure – for example – and this seems unbelievable – while passengers were required to be quarantined, flight crew were not, because it would be “professionally inconvenient”.  So you’d have a dozen or more flight crew on each flight, who had been who knows where in the world for the last week or two, then allowed freely into NZ when their flight landed in Auckland.

You just know that’s a quarantine loophole that Mr Murphy is eagerly waiting to exploit.

Anyway, the two ladies arrived off their flight, and upon arrival, instead of a detailed questionnaire about their health status, they were simply asked “Are you okay?”.  They answered “Yes”, even though one of them was absolutely not okay.  That woman subsequently said “Well, yes, sure, I had a fever and other symptoms, but I didn’t think it was anything to do with the virus so I said I was okay”.  Her explanation is almost certainly a lie – the ladies were desperate to get to their ailing mother without undue delay or hindrance, so we’re unsurprised the feverish woman gave herself “the benefit of the doubt” and didn’t ‘fess up.

The women were sent to an Auckland hotel for their two week quarantine.  They were not tested after three days, for reasons that are unclear and unfortunate.

Unfortunately, their mother died while they were still quarantined and so they asked to be allowed out of quarantine early on compassionate grounds to go and pay their respects to their dead mother, who was in the Wellington area, some 400 miles away from Auckland.  This was granted.

They were not tested prior to being released from quarantine, even though they should have been.  So these two women, one with open obvious symptoms of the virus, were released “into the wild”.  They were told they should go and be tested upon arriving in the Wellington area.

The story gets stranger.  The two women claimed they borrowed a friend’s car and drove to Wellington without stopping.  It is at least an 8 hour drive between the two cities (busy road, mainly one lane in each direction, often windy, sometimes hilly – some people take over 10 hours, although years ago I did it in under six, in what I believe to be the fastest time ever achieved by anyone – only one police chase, and they didn’t catch me).

To say they did the journey without stopping strained everyone’s belief.  Many cars would struggle to complete the journey without refilling their gas tank, and most people would want to stop for a bathroom and/or to eat/drink something on the way.

It subsequently transpired that, well, yes, they did stop but only to go to the toilet on the side of the road.  That also is viewed as unlikely.

It subsequently transpired further that, actually, they did stop to meet two friends in Auckland, but this was because they “got lost” on the brief stretch of freeway going out of Auckland.  It is impossible to do this.  The freeway onramp is two easy turns from the hotel they were staying in, and their only choices were south to Hamilton and on to Wellington, or north into Auckland city.  As Kiwis, they knew this as plain as day.

We are expected to believe they got lost on the only freeway out of Auckland, but not so lost that they couldn’t meet up in person with friends, something they allegedly needed to do so as to get directions.

They said it was a brief meeting with no contact.  Except that the two women subsequently admitted that yes, they did actually hug each other.

Clearly these two women broke every possible quarantine requirement and then blatantly lied about it.  There are now calls to check security cameras at the times the women would have gone past along their entire route to see what else they may have done.

Two other people have now come down with the virus too (also in quarantine) and the authorities are trying to trace 364 people the two women are known to have come into contact with and call them in for urgent testing, too.

The country, which had been euphorically happy at having rid itself of the virus, has been plunged into despair.  The Prime Minister has ordered the military to take over enforcing the quarantine rules. although it is not certain this includes issuing “shoot to kill” orders for any suspected quarantine breakers.

The rest of the world should consider the lesson within this.  Nowhere can be rid of the virus and truly return back to a normal life until everywhere is rid of the virus.

Current Numbers

Armenia has now appeared in the minor country list, and Peru has displaced Canada on the death list.  Indeed, Canada has dropped from 10th place to 12th place, and is likely to drop further to 13th place in the next few days.

Top Case Rates Minor Countries

Rank One Week Ago Today
1 Qatar Qatar
2 San Marino San Marino
3 Vatican City Vatican City
4 Andorra Bahrain
5 Bahrain Andorra
6 Mayotte Kuwait
7 Kuwait Mayotte
8 Singapore Singapore
9 Luxembourg Luxembourg
10 Belarus Armenia

 

Top Case Rates Major Countries

Rank One Week Ago Today
1 Chile Chile
2 Peru Peru
3 USA USA
4 Spain Spain
5 Belgium Sweden
6 Sweden Belgium
7 UK Brazil
8 Italy UK
9 Brazil Saudi Arabia
10 Portugal Italy

 

Top Death Rate Major Countries

Rank One Week Ago Today
1 Belgium Belgium
2 UK UK
3 Spain Spain
4 Italy Italy
5 Sweden Sweden
6 France France
7 Netherlands USA
8 USA Netherlands
9 Canada Ecuador
10 Ecuador Peru

 

I Am Not a Doctor, But….

Here’s an interesting article in the NY Times that points out the failure of some of the one-time most prestigious of “refereed” medical journals to maintain appropriate standards of due diligence in the research and findings they choose to publish, and, in so publishing, endorse.

It seems clear that commercial considerations and a race to be “first with the news” has seen some appalling lapses in editorial scrutiny.  It is hard to know where to turn to for trusted advice these days, but within that realization is at least the appreciation that we all need to focus on the sources we can trust and do our own due diligence to the best of our abilities.

It also suggests that if we do find ourselves victims of the virus, we need to be as participative as our health will allow us in understanding and participating in the decisions being made for our treatment regimen.  I’ve already sketched out some concepts that I’d give to any doctors treating me – an obvious one being “keep me off a ventilator until the absolutely last resort”.

Talking about bad science, here’s an interesting article by one of the people who delight in naming and shaming bad science and the people who advocate for it.  Nassim Nicholas Taleb this time takes on the mistakes to do with masks.  Alas, he is not exactly the easiest of people to read, but some of his “headline points” should be clear and apparent to us all.

We’ve often seen, over the last month or two, pictures of people in “space suits” and with machines that look like they were props in the Ghostbusters movie, spraying who-only-knows-what around offices and other public spaces.  There’s a good example in this article.

Invariably the pictures are meant to reassure us of the measures companies are going to in keeping their spaces safe and free of virus particles.  But I’ve often wondered, if the people applying the cleaning chemicals need to wear such protective clothing, just exactly how safe are the chemicals they’re squirting every which where?

The linked article poses the same question.  The suggested answer is that we should be worrying about the over-abundance now of disinfecting chemicals which by their very nature are designed to be poisonous and harmful.

Timings And Numbers

The total case count for the world broke through the 8 million mark on Monday morning, and by the end of Thursday was already more than halfway to the next million milestone.  Probably by the end of next week it will have also reached the 500,000 total death figure.

Here in the US, daily new cases reported rose by 11% as between last week and this week.  The IHME model for total US deaths has been showing steady increases in the number of deaths expected here by 1 October, with an increase from a 170,000 projected total up to a 201,000 total happening in just five days (between 10 and 15 June).

The worst part of that is, as you can see, the daily death rate by 1 October is steadily rising, not falling.  It is only a month or so back that the model was predicting a total of 60,000 deaths by August, and a zeroed out death rate at that time.  Now it predicts 150,000 deaths by August and a rising death rate.

Is this a correction in the model logic?  Or a reflection on our inappropriate opening and abandonment of social distancing restrictions?  The modellers say it is based on the trend to less and less social distancing.

It doesn’t really matter what the past predicted, but what does matter is that the future is predicted to be getting worse, not better.  We’re losing, not winning, our battle with the virus, and the only hope on the horizon is a vaccine might appear at some future point (something that while likely is absolutely not guaranteed).  But how will we all survive until that point – economically, and medically?

It is no surprise then to read that the latest Gallup/West Health survey found 57% of US adults rated the national response to the virus as fair or poor.  Put me in the poor rating category.

Here’s a good write-up about some of the spectacular failures in the models and projections that have been cited as almost certain facts.  It is technical, but if of interest, you’d probably find it insightful.

Who Should Pay

The concept of businesses requiring customers – and possibly employees too – to sign waivers agreeing not to sue if they get ill is understandable, but a bad idea.  A small business could be totally bankrupted, even if successfully defending a case in court from someone claiming they became ill as a result of a visit to that business, and there are no clear universal standards for what appropriate standards of hygiene and interaction are, neither are there clear standards for what a fair level of compensation for “pain and suffering and emotional anguish” would be for someone who got the virus.

Even at the best of times, things like the “6 ft rule” are massive compromises with measurable residual risk remaining.  It is fine for policy makers to issue these balanced suggestions, and maybe they have decided that setting the distance at 6 ft rather than 12 ft will see one extra person in every million people get the virus.  Nationally, that’s a reasonable balance between an impractical amount of social distancing and the best number of lives saved.  But if you’re a business, following the 6′ rule, and masks, and everything else, and still get unlucky and have the “one in a million” person in your store, your entire livelihood could be at risk, even though there was no clear fault or negligence on your part.

So for that reason, we see the value in indemnities.  But what if indemnities then encouraged businesses to stop taking costly precautions?

It seems like a case of “damned if you do and damned if you don’t”.

This is an issue that I have no clear view on myself, and which really requires the country as a whole to revisit and reconsider the entire concept of liability and compensation.  Interestingly, New Zealand, about 40 years ago, found itself in a similar situation and it totally rewrote the law of “torts” (civil wrongs) and liability.  Now, with a few narrow exceptions, people can’t be sued for accidents and errors.  Instead, all employers pay a levy into a central fund (a bit like an unemployment insurance type payment) and people who suffer get awarded compensation for their expenses and loss of earnings.  No attorneys are involved, and the process is simple, clear, and, the vast preponderance of the time, fair to all concerned.

Maybe something like that, whether for just virus related issues or all issues, needs to be considered here too.

So what has happened to the trillions of dollars in stimulus payments?  No-one knows.  I’ve not received a penny.  Not the IRS checks, not anything else.  $3.3 trillion is the same as $10,000 for every man, woman, and child in the country.  How much of your $10,000 share have you seen?

Cambodia has come up with an interesting idea.  It is requiring visitors to pay a $3,000 deposit to cover possible coronavirus costs during their visit.  It is probably a good and fair idea.

Shortages

There have been lots of stories about how people are avoiding cash due to the possibility of picking up a virus infection from money.  Most people are using credit cards instead.

This makes it all the more surprising that one of the latest shortages is a lack of coins.  If you are like me, you might have a “loose change jar” somewhere in your house.  Maybe you should “do your patriotic duty” and cash in your coins.

I go to a Coinstar machine, typically found inside supermarket entrances, and pour all the coins into that machine.  It counts them all up automatically and very quickly.  You then have a choice – either get a receipt which the store will cash for you (into notes not the same coins, of course), or get a gift voucher for any of a range of different companies.  There is some sort of fee associated with a cash voucher, but no fee with gift vouchers, so I always opt for an Amazon gift voucher.

I’d been worrying about meat shortages a few weeks ago.  It seems I may have been hoodwinked.  This article claims there was never a real shortage of meat at all, and it was primarily a ruse to allow meat plants to jack up their prices.

The article says that 171 million pounds less beef and pork was produced in the five week period 20 March – 24 April.  That seems like a huge shortfall, but it ends up as being just under half a pound less meat per person in the county, over the 5 weeks.  In other words, about an ounce or two less meat per week.  That doesn’t seem so substantial at all.

On the other hand, meat processing capacity was definitely reduced.  And for sure, the meat counters at my local supermarkets were half empty and the prices were – and still are – much higher.

What happened?  We deserve to know.

Logic?  What Logic?

Garuda was worried its passengers couldn’t see that its flight attendants were smiling behind their masks.

That is understandable.  One of the worst things about masks is how it impersonalizes people.  I’ve noticed that I interact a lot less with people when they have masks on (and I guess they in turn interact less with masked me).

So Garuda had its flight attendants stop wearing masks.  But that’s a crazy solution that puts both crew and passengers at greater risk.

Virus?  What Virus?

People have been observing that so far, there are no clear spikes of infection from the protest actions of the last weeks.  If that is correct, perhaps it is because much of the protesting was outdoors rather than inside.  But saying there are no clear spikes is a slightly difficult claim to make when our daily new case rates have increased by 11% a day in the last week alone (see above), and some jurisdictions have gone as far as to forbid data takers to ask newly infected people if they attended any protests or not.  Political correctness really will be the literal death of us.

But here’s one example at a very local level that seems to establish a clear data point.  Sixteen friends went out together to celebrate Florida’s reopening at a local bar.  All 16 have now tested positive for the virus.

Even the offer of free beer – usually extremely enticing – wouldn’t get me into a bar at present.

Medical

Here’s another of the occasional “good news if true” announcements – a low price existing drug seems like it may help some of the more severely afflicted virus sufferers.

It may cut the risk of death by one third for patients on ventilators, and by one fifth for patients on non-ventilated oxygen supplements.  That could save many thousands of lives as the virus continues, and every such piece of good news is very welcome.

But we need the 100% solution for everyone, not a 20%/33% solution for some people.

Other

In 1962 General de Gaulle quipped “How can you govern a country that has 246 varieties of cheese” – referring of course to his own country of France.

If he were alive today, he’d have to revise his statement to 247.  French cheesemakers accidentally created a new and now best-selling cheese as a side effect of leaving some cheese in a cellar for longer than normal because of the virus impact on their business.

Oh, one more tiny point.  At the risk of disagreeing with de Gaulle, France actually has perhaps 1000 – 1600 cheeses, not “just” 246/7.

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.

 

2 thoughts on “Covid-19 Diary : Thursday 18 June, 2020”

  1. lifegotinteresting

    Hearing the story of the two British visitors really angers me. Lie after lie after lie. Endangering an entire country and STILL lying. At this point, I don’t know if NZ has laws for this, but I think jail time is warranted.

    After it was discovered that they had it, they should have told the complete truth. What about their “friends”? They even endangered them without any conscience. Morons doesn’t cover it. Really criminally selfish behavior.

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