Coronavirus (COVID-19) Outbreak – Page 2

March 13

Johns Hopkins University up-to-date dashboard on COVID-19 data is here.

My optimism/pessimism level – from 10 to 1 in decreasing optimism – stable at 1 (this could be upgraded with some unexpected development, but the information emerging now globally is very concerning which confirms rapid and widespread transmission, including in well developed countries, with the clear suggestion of high mortality rate.)

WHO Situation Report 52 for 12 March (released 13 March Brisbane, Australia, time)

World (ex-China): 44,279 confirmed cases (6,741 new); 1,40 deaths (310 new)

(Please do not read this as trivialising what has occurred in China – nothing could be further from the truth – I consider those data now unreliable and of little value in posting. See my update on 11 March and my post “Politics Vs Society in the Coronavirus Outbreak“).

By way of brief summary, COVID-19 cases have been reported from 117 countries/territories/areas reporting to WHO (4 new) where 71 (6 new) have reported local transmission (and more are under investigation).

March 12

Johns Hopkins University up-to-date dashboard on COVID-19 data is here.

My optimism/pessimism level – from 10 to 1 in decreasing optimism – stable at 1 (this could be upgraded with some unexpected development, but the information emerging now globally is very concerning which confirms rapid and widespread transmission, including in well developed countries, with the clear suggestion of high mortality rate.)

WHO Situation Report 51 for 11 March (released 12 March Brisbane, Australia, time)

World (ex-China): 37,371 confirmed cases (4,596 new); 1,130 deaths (258 new)

(Please do not read this as trivialising what has occurred in China – nothing could be further from the truth – I consider those data now unreliable and of little value in posting. See my update on 11 March and my post “Politics Vs Society in the Coronavirus Outbreak“).

By way of brief summary, COVID-19 cases have been reported from 113 countries/territories/areas reporting to WHO (4 new) where 65 (4 new) have reported local transmission (and more are under investigation).

Anybody wishing to consider economic impacts and investment considerations should see my report from March 11.

I will add that when I decided which companies to short, I positioned my family’s finances to be hedged against serious threats to our way of life and I chose the businesses that would express that most. I thought about providers of retirement care, etc, and knew that they would be severely impacted, but I did not even consider them because I do not wish to make money from misery. Not being able to go for a holiday or to the casino to gamble, or pre-empting a drop in demand for resources, all relates to temporary setbacks. The loss of cherished loved ones is something altogether different. That is a distinction, however, that many Anglophone political leaders appear to find difficult to comprehend.

Now consider that in reference to what Greta has been saying about Climate Change – if they cannot come to their senses on acute short-term crises, and put people before economies, how will these dinosaurs of land from long ago ever get their heads around that even more serious but medium-long term crisis?

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has now declared the COVID-19 pandemic, stating that the number of cases outside of China has increased 13-fold in two weeks, and strongly stated their concern over the “alarming levels of inaction”.

I am going to make a few recent observations in point form:

  • In news just breaking, Tom Hanks is visiting Australia with his wife Rita and has just announced on Instagram that they are both unwell with COVID-19.
  • The Chicago Mercantile Exchange will close Friday as a social distancing strategy – presumably operations will be ongoing digitally.
  • The US is suspending all travel from Europe to the US for a month, which would have been sensible a month ago or even a fortnight, but the horse has already bolted (the window for it to be of benefit in Australia is only just open, but with the pressure around the Grand Prix it would be a quick turnaround and politically awkward).
  • Four more UK parliamentarians (including one minister and two junior ministers) are self isolating having had contact with the member found yesterday to be infected.
  • In Italy all shops are to be closed other than those selling necessities – pharmacies and supermarkets – and those providing essential services – such as banks – as well as some industrial businesses under certain circumstances.
  • The number of deaths in Italy is now approaching 1,000 with over 12,000 cases.
  • The Tokyo 2020 Olympic chief still insists it will go ahead in July – I have always said it won’t – and I will say it should not because of all of the movement of people into the country, and then dispersed world-wide afterwards, including officials and the like who are not necessarily elite athletes in peak physical health, but if it does go ahead it will just be for television audiences (no crowds) to recoup some of the costs of providing facilities and for Japan’s prestige (which is a sadly misplaced viewpoint).
  • The number of cases in South American countries is climbing from low numbers.

In Australia Prime Minister Morrison continues to provide abundant evidence of negligence, such as encouraging Australians to attend the footie and Grand Prix at the weekend, which I am placing in a dossier for my survivors to use should the situation arise that I outlined in my open letter. This time he does use the caveat that his suggestion applies to those who are not unwell or are required to self-isolate, but in his statement there is no recognition of those who are in higher risk categories such as elderly or having (a broad range) of pre-existing conditions. I note that some of the Formula One teams have personnel who are suspected of being infected.

March 11

Johns Hopkins University up-to-date dashboard on COVID-19 data is here.

My optimism/pessimism level – from 10 to 1 in decreasing optimism – stable at 1 (this could be upgraded with some unexpected development, but the information emerging now globally is very concerning which confirms rapid and widespread transmission, including in well developed countries, with the clear suggestion of high mortality rate.)

WHO Situation Report 50 for 10 March (released 11 March Brisbane, Australia, time)

China: 80,924 confirmed cases (20 new); 3,140 deaths (17 new)*

Rest of the World: 32,778 confirmed cases (4,105 new); 872 deaths (186 new)

By way of brief summary, COVID-19 cases have been reported from 109 countries/territories/areas reporting to WHO (5 new) where 61 (3 new) have reported local transmission (and more are under investigation).

*I place a low value on this figure as I consider it to be more political than reality (i.e. like many statistical numbers that come out of China, as Li Keqiang famously once admitted their economic data). I will stop reporting this number tomorrow.

Japan seems to have had a reburst of COVID-19 with 59 new cases. If I was cynical I might suggest that it has been accepted that the Olympics will not go ahead and the reality could not be held back any longer. And in another timely reminder that no country can afford to take the foot off the peddle in responding to this pandemic, South Korea had a jump in new cases of 242.

Numbers of case and deaths continue to accelerate in Europe. The number of cases in Italy increased by over 1,000 to reach 10,149 and the number of deaths increased 36% to 631.

Paraguay has impressed me as it has suspended school and universities for 15 days after recording just its second case. However, it is in the southern hemisphere and it has been battling a Dengue Fever outbreak which has infected around 137,000 people, which may predispose people to more serious COVID-19 infections, so it faces a uniquely challenging set of circumstances.

First it was Iranian politicians becoming ill with COVID-19. Now it is UK and American politicians, with the Undersecretary of State at the Department of Health and Social Care in the UK confirming that she is infected – and is rightly concerned about her 84 co-habitating mother – as well as US politicians some of whom have spent time with President Trump.

It’s just a hunch, but I think Trump might feel a bit differently about things if he develops a sore throat over the next few days. Then again, he has probably already had a vaccine or something of the like to provide at least temporary protection.

Anybody wishing to check in with how preparations are progressing in Australia should read the article “Bloody shambles: Confusion and chaos in Australia’s coronavirus testing“.

As this website was intended as having a strong focus on macroeconomics, I guess I should say something about that and the movements in the stockmarket. Because I understood early what was the pandemic dynamic that the world faced, I also pre-empted the impact it was going to have on the global economies (where in early Coronavirus updates I poured scorn on commentators talking about V-shaped recoveries and other rubbish, only considering the impacts of the “China-channel”), and in my SMSF reposition paper I described on 6 February how I had positioned my long-term investment portfolio, and in my post “Repeat After Me, This is Not SARS: COVID-19 is Much Worse” I made mention of my shorting activities (outside of my long term investment portfolio) which is essentially a hedge on our quality of life being impacted by these events and for disclosure I named the stocks that I was short.

In my SMSM positioning paper I said that I hoped, for the sake of humanity, that I was wrong but I had to invest with my head and hope with my heart. Unfortunately my head was right but my heart still hopes for the quickest vaccine or pharmaceutical remedy in the history of mankind.

In the immediate absence of such, however, I expect the impacts on economies to be significant. In an intended pun I inferred my view is that we were at risk of a very severe global recession or worse. Because the pandemic has progressed the way I feared it would, and because of my less than supportive views on the way economies have been managed over the last decade, I remain just as concerned about economies. And I expect that stockmarket ructions have much further to go.

For those who suggest that turbulence will not abate until there is a peak in the pandemic, I will say that I consider that to be some considerable way off. How the coronavirus behaves in warmer months in the northern hemisphere will be important. If there is no let up then it will peak earlier. But the damage to populations will be more acute. If there is a let up the peak will be later, but the cumulative damage similar and impacts chronic. Neither is better in my view and I wish for neither.

I will again, however, caution those thinking only of the economic consequences to consider my post of yesterday where I refer to all of the unknowns of this new-to-humanity pathogen, and caution to be very careful for what you wish. Both acute and chronic human impacts will have very real economic impacts. That is why Dr Tedros is so right in continually warning world leaders to pull out all stops to minimise the impacts on humanity.

March 10

My optimism/pessimism level – from 10 to 1 in decreasing optimism – stable at 1 (this could be upgraded with some unexpected development, but the information emerging now globally is very concerning which confirms rapid and widespread transmission, including in well developed countries, with the clear suggestion of high mortality rate.)

WHO Situation Report 49 for 9 March (released 10 March Brisbane, Australia, time)

China: 80,904 confirmed cases (45 new); 3,123 deaths (23 new)

Rest of the World: 28,673 confirmed cases (3,948 new); 686 deaths (202 new)

By way of brief summary, COVID-19 cases have been reported from 104 countries/territories/areas reporting to WHO (3 new) where 58 (5 new) have reported local transmission (and more are under investigation).

After placing a quarter of Italy in lockdown the previous day, the whole of Italy has now gone into lockdown. Perhaps this was in part due to those within the original lockdown area fleeing once rumours began circulating in advance of the decree being enacted.

So let’s take on the chief denier – I had written my latest post which I released today before I saw this, but it highlights the situation perfectly.

Here is something also to think about. Are Chinese people also susceptible to the flu, including people from Wuhan? Have you ever in your life seen people dying in the street from flu?

Even the lesser informed members of society, without necessarily understanding the science behind what is occurring, or having the benefit of receiving honest and frank advice from such experts as the elites in society do, can understand from what they are seeing in the media that this is no garden variety flu.

At this moment (almost) everybody agrees that there are many more people in the US infected with the coronavirus cause of COVID-19 than have been confirmed, and the consequence of that will become apparent in the next few months.

One last thing, it is said that Winston Churchill once stated that the greatest argument against democracy was a five minute chat with the average voter. Right now every tweet by the leader of the most powerful democracy the world has ever seen proves it, and plays right into the hands of Xi Jinping…

At the other end of the Leadership continuum – yes with an intentional capital “L” – is Dr Tedros and here are a few choice quotes from his comments earlier today:

Right now I think we are still very much in the beginning or middle of this fight

He criticised a viewpoint held by some that the pandemic should be left to run its course (no doubt in an ill-informed viewpoint of not wanting to harm economies and markets), stating that for the elderly and vulnerable “it is very fatal”.

If anything is going to hurt the world it is a moral decay, and not taking the deaths of elderly and senior citizens seriously

Pandemic doesn’t mean that we say it is fine to live with it… we can contain it

No white flag. We don’t give up.

March 9

My optimism/pessimism level – from 10 to 1 in decreasing optimism – stable at 1 (this could be upgraded with some unexpected development, but the information emerging now globally is very concerning which confirms rapid and widespread transmission, including in well developed countries, with the clear suggestion of high mortality rate.)

WHO Situation Report 48 for 8 March (released 9 March Brisbane, Australia, time)

China: 80,859 confirmed cases (46 new); 3,100 deaths (27 new)

Rest of the World: 24,727 confirmed cases (3,610 new); 484 deaths (71 new)

By way of brief summary, COVID-19 cases have been reported from 101 countries/territories/areas reporting to WHO (8 new) where 53 (5 new) have reported local transmission (and more are under investigation).

Israel is considering broadening travel restrictions to include travellers from all countries requiring that all travellers go into home quarantine for 2 weeks, effectively cutting off foreign tourism. This is what I believe Australia should do, combined with compulsory testing at the commencement and completion of the 2 weeks of quarantine. This would be “gold standard” containment, if that were the priority given Australia’s unique circumstance of heading into winter.

Deaths in Italy increased by 57% to 366, along with another large jump in cases to 7,375 (the numbers are moving quickly and are updated through the day). In France the number of deaths increased from 11 to 19. Spain has 589 cases and 17 deaths. In the UK 273 cases (67 increase) and 2 deaths. In the UK a disease specialist was reported as saying that the increase was unsurprising, and that if 50-80% of the population was to become infected rapidly it would be a major issue for the health system, thus the need to slow the spread.

Obviously there is little point to just quoting numbers and an ongoing database can be seen here.

Looking beyond numbers, it was an eventful weekend to say the least. A quarter of Italy, including it’s industrial heartland of Lombardy (of which Milan is the capital) and Venice, have been placed in quarantine lockdown. There are only a few permitted reasons for moving in or out of these areas, and people who are caught defying the directive face a three month gaol (jail) sentence. Other draconian measures will also apply including health care workers refused leave and the banning of social gatherings including funerals. Learning of the impending lockdown through media leaks, many people from the affected areas fled before their introduction. This has necessitated inspectors looking for people recently from the northern regions, as well as pleas on social media for people to consider the greater good and not risk spreading the disease further southward.

There is a growing realisation that such measures will likely be in place elsewhere in Europe as needed. Sebastian Kurz, Chancellor of Austria, in acknowledging Italy’s “genuine sacrifices”, stated that other European nations would be forced to adopt similar measures, and spoke about the difficulties of getting the timing right so as to balance the benefits of controlling the spread of the disease with the economic impacts.

Which brings me to an important point. I am fed up with Australian scientists who feel the need to mention economic impacts. Unless they have published in the field, I suggest that they stay within their area of expertise and talk only about the disease characteristics and epidemiology. It is not up to scientists to provide “cover” for the politicians, nor fight a political campaign for their employers, the universities whose economies have been impacted. I can also understand your personal concerns if you have bought a house in Australia in the last decade, especially in Sydney. Nonetheless, it is the politicians who, after listening to scientists and to economists, must make their own decision on how to find the balance. And it should be left clear that it is them who will be held accountable for those decisions, as I am doing here at MacroEdgo.

As I stated in my paper “Politics Vs Society in the Coronavirus Outbreak“, as China attempts to restart its industrial engine it is increasingly concerned about reintroductions of the virus with foreign travellers and is instituting quarantine procedures.

In the US 466 cases have been detected in over half of all states, with 20 deaths. The arithmetic trick of dividing the deaths by the mortality rate (I will use 2%), suggests that at the point which the last person to die first became infected (2 or 3 weeks ago) there would have been around 1,000 people infected (note, if you use a lower mortality rate as the demoninator, you get a higher number of people that were infected, so in this case it worsens the “picture”). What is accepted is that COVID-19 is highly transmissible, even more than the flu, so those 1,000 infected people will have grown very, very significantly over 2-3 weeks. This highlights the job ahead for US authorities who said they have solved the problems with getting out the test kits and so there will be many more out this week. Let’s hope they are correct this time. There are still questions to be answered, however, about who will pay for the testing in a country where medical expenses are extremely high, and how containment will work where few people have financial resources to self-isolate when unwell (as I explained for developing countries in “Social Cohesion: The Best Vaccine Against Crises“). States of Emergency have been declared in New York, California, Florida, Maryland, Washington and Oregon.

I want to address something specifically in what I have been saying about the “special” circumstances that Australia faces being unique amongst the developed countries being situated in the southern hemisphere, and thus heading into the cold and flu season of winter instead of heading out of it. The WHO has been careful to ensure that it is understood that there is no evidence that the pandemic will let up in the northern hemisphere as the weather warms up. I have said frequently that if the northern hemisphere countries are fortunate then they will have a seasonal reprieve.

The reality is that they will receive a benefit regardless of whether spread of the coronavirus that causes COVID-19 slows in warmer months in that we already know that cold and flu viruses certainly will. Thus, even if COVID-19 continues to spread in warmer conditions – and I won’t get into the probability of that because I cannot contribute anything of value other than to add that I do not know how valuable observations are that COVID-19 appear not be spreading in countries with more equatorial climates – the reduction in other respiratory infections will aid in detection and thus containment efforts.

Again, this is something that Australia will not experience as we are heading into the flu and cold season. That is why I have stated all along that Australia must be advanced ahead of all other nations in the fight against COVID-19, and I have been clear in my views that our federal Government has not made the most of our opportunities.

Finally, my family last night watched the 4 Corners episode on COVID-19. As I said yesterday, my family has gone through the stages of coming to terms with what is happening earlier than all others because I have prepared them. When my sons heard that sporting games will be held without spectators, they turned around to me and said “you told us that would happen”. So it has provided a great deal of security to my sons being ahead of the curve.

Nothing could prepare them, however, for the graphic reality of what occurred on the ground in Hubei as shown bravely by 4 Corners. I congratulate them for doing so. Again, it sparked another family discussion, this time talking about the probability of the virus becoming as prevalent in our home region and what would be the consequences. And again, my sons went off to bed feeling secure that we are prepared physically and mentally as best we can no matter what lies ahead.

March 8

My optimism/pessimism level – from 10 to 1 in decreasing optimism – stable at 1 (this could be upgraded with some unexpected development, but the information emerging now globally is very concerning which confirms rapid and widespread transmission, including in well developed countries, with the clear suggestion of high mortality rate.)

WHO Situation Report 47 for 7 March (released 8 March Brisbane, Australia, time)

China: 80,813 confirmed cases (102 new); 3,073 deaths (28 new)

Rest of the World: 21,110 confirmed cases (3,633 new); 413 deaths (78 new)

By way of brief summary, COVID-19 cases have been reported from 93 countries/territories/areas reporting to WHO (5 new) where 48 (7 new) have reported local transmission (and more are under investigation).

Just a brief report today as it is Sunday. Italy is about to enter the entire state of Lombardy into a quarantine lockdown to prevent movement of people in or out for 4 weeks until 3 April. Cases obviously are mounting around the world with total cases exceeding 100,000 and the rate of increase in confirmed cases globally continuing to increase. In the US, New York State has been placed in a State of Emergency by Governor Andrew Cuomo. And cruise ships are at the centre of more concerns, with a cruise ship in lockdown off Los Angeles, and another in Egypt (I have not heard anything more about the cruise ship in Norway with 1,200 German passengers).

There is now a great deal of tracing back relating to air travel. As one example, a 38 year old woman travelled from London to Brisbane via Dubai, and is now in isolation in Gympie hospital having been confirmed to have COVID-19. None of these ports are current “hot spots” and thus are not the subject of any extra travel conditions. I have let my thoughts be known on this here and here.

In Australia much is being made of the “Toilet Paper wars” and it is not a positive reflection our nation, that is certain. However, as well as on MacroEdgo, from mid February I argued on the Australian “The Conversation” site for a more proactive response by our Federal Government. This is my comment on 13 February on an article entitled “9 Ways to Talk to People Who Spread Coronavirus Myths”:

Equally important to discuss is how to talk to somebody who does not understand the deep implications of what has and will occur. The WHO is being more frank about the situation than all Governments. Our world has changed – I have spoken up about the consequences of that (see “Social Cohesion: The Best Vaccine Against Crises”) – but keeping people in the dark while praying for a (political?) miracle will only increase anxiety not decrease it. Politicians have cynically divided people for too long and the consequences of that are already on display with the numerous reports of increased xenophobia since the outbreak. Information on the outbreak (and my background) at macroedgo.com and please sign my petition “Je suis Chinois” at http://chng.it/hy9rFn7qFR

I would suggest that these flair-ups are a direct consequence of inadequate leadership, exactly what I pointed to 3 weeks ago.

I explained to my family in late January what lies ahead and we prepared a month ago. At night we discuss developments, check in with how each of us is feeling, and update and modify our plans for coping with the pandemic. The initial heightened anxiety has mostly subsided, though obviously frustration with our leaders is frequently heightened, and when we feel collectively down about how our lives have changed we make decide on how we can pick ourselves up without increasing risks of bringing COVID-19 into our home.

March 7

My optimism/pessimism level – from 10 to 1 in decreasing optimism – stable at 1 (this could be upgraded with some unexpected development, but the information emerging now globally is very concerning which confirms rapid and widespread transmission, including in well developed countries, with the clear suggestion of high mortality rate.)

WHO Situation Report 46 for 6 March (released 7 March Brisbane, Australia, time)

China: 80,711 confirmed cases (146 new); 3,045 deaths (30 new)

Rest of the World: 17,481 confirmed cases (2,727 new); 335 deaths (69 new)

By way of brief summary, COVID-19 cases have been reported from 88 countries reporting to WHO (4 new) where 41 (5 new) have reported local transmission (and many more are under investigation).

There is potentially very good news in South Korea where they “pulled out all stops” and “threw the kitchen sink” at the COVID-19 pandemic; on Friday 505 new cases were reported down from a high of 851 on Tuesday. Well done South Korea! With a little luck of a seasonal reprieve (still unknown but let’s see), together with the enormous effort, and ongoing vigilance in autumn, the worst of the pandemic might just be behind South Korea. Sadly the peak in deaths is yet to be reached but slowing the spread will mean that the peak in deaths will also soon be behind them.

A large jump in the number of deaths (49 to 197) and new infections (778 to 3,916) in Italy suggests that containment efforts are struggling to slow the spread of the pandemic. An update on their first recorded case, a 38 year old male marathon runner and soccer player, said that he was still in intensive care. In Germany there have been no deaths reported but 600 cases have been confirmed representing a tripling since Tuesday (it is sometimes easy to forget how fast this is all moving, even though I anticipated this to be the case!) France has 423 confirmed cases. The first death in the Netherlands was recorded with 82 confirmed cases. The UK saw its largest daily increase in cases, 47 to a total of 163, and a second death was recorded.

There has been a drip of new cases in Africa and South America, but these most likely only scratch the surface. I would not want anybody to think that I dismiss these areas – sadly these will be some of the worst affected areas, but because of less developed health systems that will not be known until all is said and done.

In the US there have been over 230 cases. There remains a problem with the CDC meeting the demand for test kits, with Raul Perea-Henze (Deputy Mayor for Health in New York city) Friday writing in a letter to the CDC that “slow federal action on this matter has impeded our ability to beat back this epidemic”.

On this site I have said much about political interference and consideration in the reporting of pandemic data by countries, and I was early to point out the western democracies are unlikely to be pure while pointing the finger towards China. In my first writing I pointed at the extreme pressure surrounding the Olympics in Japan, and stated that I considered it very, very unlikely that the games will go ahead in July.

Then we learned that in the US the conditions set for who could be tested for COVID-19 precluded the detection of community transmission from an unknown case. I mentioned an interview with Dr Nuzzo from Johns Hopkins University where her (polite) frustration with this was clear, and I stated that I felt that similar tactics would be in place in other countries.

Today in Australia the Australian Financial Review has an article detailing exactly that, a case of a woman who presented at a hospital in Sydney on Tuesday who was refused testing for COVID-19, even though she exhibited symptoms, in accordance with guidelines from the Department of Health. The first case of community transmission from a known source was reported that same day. On Thursday she returned to her GP and fought to get tested. This is what she had to say:

How many people are not being tested? I also have colleagues that have been off sick as well, and have also been trying to get tested but with difficulty.

On twitter similar stories are being repeated by many American patients, also, suggesting that still they are not heeding the advice of Dr Tedros who most recently said that “[COVID-19] is geographically expanding and deeply concerning. We are continuing to recommend that all countries make containment their highest priority.”

Finally, in Germany Prof Alexander Kekule, Director of a Medical Microbiology institute, made some remarks that will be familiar to readers of this site, in saying that Jens Spahn (German Health Minister) was too relaxed about responding to the pandemic and was “acting like Germans were immune to the coronavirus”, and suggested that they should close schools and other educational institutions as well as large events.

Which reminds me, hope all goes well with the season opener of the Formula 1 season in Melbourne next week! It may well be the only race of the year. Prior to committing to come, teams sort assurances from the Australian Government, and presumably received them, that they would not be subject to quarantine and would be able to leave when the race is finished!

March 6

Apologies for the delay on this as I was caught up with things, not least of which the activities mentioned below…

My optimism/pessimism level – from 10 to 1 in decreasing optimism – stable at 1 (this could be upgraded with some unexpected development, but the information emerging now globally is very concerning which confirms rapid and widespread transmission, including in well developed countries, with the clear suggestion of high mortality rate.)

WHO Situation Report 45 for 5 March (released 6 March Brisbane, Australia, time)

China: 80,565 confirmed cases (143 new); 3,015 deaths (31 new)

Rest of the World: 14,768 confirmed cases (2,098 new); 267 deaths (53 new)

By way of brief summary, COVID-19 cases have been reported from 85 countries reporting to WHO (5 new) where 36 (5 new) have reported local transmission.

Yesterday, concerned by how the President of the US was behaving, and with concerns that Australia’s political leadership seemed more inclined to follow that lead rather than listen to the WHO’s increasingly forthright warnings, I said the following on The Conversation Australian website and on Facebook:

How about this headline – Australia’s arithmetic – 26 million people × 70% infected x 3% mortality rate = 546,000 i.e. over half a million Australians dead from COVID-19 within a 18 months, give or take

Did that get your attention? What would be the economic impacts of that? Worse still, what would be the political implications for the Government!!

How about we concentrate nearly totally on the human societal impact now… since all media – even the more progressive elements – seek to be supporting the “lets not scare the horses lest we damage our economy more” credo, I am going to have to be blunt… 

Most countries are working on a worst case scenario of 70% infected….being in the southern hemisphere heading into a full winter season with conditions supportive of elevated respiratory infections, we are all the more dependent on South Korea-style interventions to try to reduce the likelihood of that 70% of our population being infected.

Yesterday Dr Tedros used a case fatality rate of 3.4% – 1% was always wishful but was jumped on by those seeking to calm everyone.

You know what, sometimes it is necessary to be scared. It’s only an idiot who is not when confronted with real crises. What is important is that the fear causes you to act prudently.

It is time that all media got their head out of their proverbials and started to be constructive for the Australian people.

And any readers who are 60 or older, OR who have (even mild) cardiovascular or respiratory conditions (yes, including the very many asthmatics of all ages), or diabetes, OR if anybody you care about does, then I suggest you head to http://MacroEdgo.com and read my open letter to Morrison and you draft your own and send it.

Our Government needs to be listening to WHO not the leader of the world’s most lost nation.

Yes, sensationalist. Proportional with a politician trivialising the pandemic to suggest that it is nothing more than the flu? I would suggest less extreme, and significantly less “dangerous” given that the public in Australia and the US has been fed a drip feed of statements understating the risks to minimise the impacts on the economy.

Please also note that you can be certain that the scenario I painted to wake up the reader, 70% of the population infected with 3% mortality rate, would not be the most serious scenario that has been game-played (given that other less infectious coronaviruses produced higher mortality rates). But, I would suggest, most experts would say that this scenario is still possible – if not likely – in the current pandemic.

I backed it up with a new post “No, She Won’t be Alright Mate” mainly aimed at Australian readers.

March 5

My optimism/pessimism level – from 10 to 1 in decreasing optimism – stable at 1 (this could be upgraded with some unexpected development, but the information emerging now globally is very concerning which confirms rapid and widespread transmission, including in well developed countries, with the clear suggestion of high mortality rate. In truth this would have a downward bias, if it could go lower, because I think that the WHO mentioning a case fatality rate of 3.4% is to shake people up from thinking the mortality rate is 1%, which is serious enough anyhow.)

WHO Situation Report 44 for 4 March (released 5 March Brisbane, Australia, time)

China: 80,420 confirmed cases (120 new); 2,984 deaths (38 new)

Rest of the World: 12,668 confirmed cases (2,103 new); 214 deaths (48 new)

By way of brief summary, COVID-19 cases have been reported from 76 countries reporting to WHO (4 new) where 31 (1 new) have reported local transmission.

Some news agencies are picking up on Dr Tedros’ (General Director of WHO) concerning case fatality rate of 3.4% of confirmed COVID-19 cases. All Governments have jumped on a 1% mortality rate figure, but the truth is that that is towards the bottom of the range of the likely true mortality rate which will not be known yet for some time.

There have now been 107 deaths recorded in Italy with COVID-19, but speaking with a friend this morning in a remote, lowly populated region of Italy there was a 33 year old who died of pneumonia several weeks ago which was not “diagnosed”, so one wonders whether there the numbers are lower than the reality. Over 3,000 cases have been confirmed. Schools and universities have been closed until mid-March in an attempt to slow down the spread. Essentially, summer cannot come quick enough and all fingers are crossed that spread will be slower in warmer months as for other respiratory viruses. Time will tell. Over 75s, 65+ with a health condition, and anybody with a respiratory condition is advised to self isolate at home!

Cases mount on other central European countries and spread in the peripheral countries. There have been 285 confirmed cases in France, still 4 deaths but 15 in ICU, where the culture is needing to adapt – kiss greetings are not recommended, and people are being implored to wash hands frequently. In Germany the total is 240 cases and 210 in Spain. Thirty-five cases are confirmed for Sweden and 38 in the Netherlands. The number of UK cases increased by 60% to 87. The UK health minister said they were knocking on the door the “delaying” phase of the response an admission that containment has failed.

It is clear that all European countries are desperately hoping that warmer summer will arrive and provide some respite, give health authorities time to regroup and get ready for the presumed re-intensification in spring (fall), and hope (or pray as the case may be) for an effective vaccine to be administered in the northern hemisphere before the depths of the next winter.

As I have been saying from my very first report, this is something that we in the southern hemisphere cannot even dare to hope for – this will be a long, tense winter down under.

In the US COVID-19 deaths have reached 11 after a death linked to yet another cruise ship which sailed to Mexico from California. Latest figure that I have seen is 153 total cases, but the Governor of New York state, Andrew Cuomo, summed it up well when he said:

There are going to be dozens and dozens of people. The more you people you test, the more people [with COVID-19] you are going to find.

I have not mentioned in the last few days a couple of hotspots. Let’s just describe Iran as a mess – who knows what is happening there. What we can say for certain is that a high number of their parliamentarians have been infected, and many cases throughout the world have been linked to travellers from Iran. So it is raging there out of control and it is a human tragedy, beyond doubt.

On the other end of the spectrum, South Korea must be upheld as putting up one tough fight. This morning the total number of cases was 5,766 with 438 new. The total of deaths is 35 so this is an indication of how well they are doing at detecting cases. If the mortality rate is 2%, then around the time that the last person who died became infected there were approximately 1,750 cases which would have increased significantly but for the authorities catching many of the cases early. Of course this maths is highly dependent on what figure is used as the mortality rate, but clearly they are doing extremely well. Massive hat tip to the South Koreans!

Cases continue to mount in Australia. Any Australian who has been reading my analysis should be able to see the concerning elements in what is written in this report today. If you have not let you local member know of your great concern for what is happening, and what is not, then there is no time to waste.

March 4

Today I released an open letter to the Prime Minister of Australia detailing my concerns that his Government is prioritising the threat of economic impact above societal impacts.

My optimism/pessimism level – from 10 to 1 in decreasing optimism – stable at 1 (this could be upgraded with some unexpected development, but the information emerging now globally is very concerning which confirms rapid and widespread transmission, including in well developed countries, with the clear suggestion of high mortality rate.)

WHO Situation Report 43 for 3 March (released 4 March Brisbane, Australia, time)

China: 80,304 confirmed cases (130 new); 2,946 deaths (31 new)

Rest of the World: 10,566 confirmed cases (1,792 new); 166 deaths (38 new)

By way of brief summary, COVID-19 cases have been reported from 72 countries reporting to WHO (8 new) where 30 (5 new) have reported local transmission.

Speaking overnight again, Dr Tedros (General Director of WHO) concerningly gave a figure for case fatality rate of 3.4% of confirmed COVID-19 cases. All Governments have jumped on a 1% mortality rate figure, but the truth is that that is towards the bottom of the range of the likely true mortality rate which will not be known yet for some time.

In Italy 79 people have now died with COVID-19, (most or) all aged between 63 and 95, with 2,502 cases, and there is great concern as after Japan it is the oldest population in the world. There have been 188 confirmed cases in Germany, mainly in the south-western region but it appears to be spreading eastward. Another cruise ship, this time with 1,200 German tourists, may be about to gain attention after two passengers were tested for the virus due to prior contact with an infected person. In the UK delaying the spread of the virus is a major strategy in the hope that warmer seasons will provide some respite and will give authorities more time to prepare.

As discussed in previous updates, in the US testing of patients exhibiting symptoms of COVID-19 who had not been to China or been in contact with an infected person was not permitted until 29 February. Today it has been revealed that a patient died with COVID-19 at a hospital in Seattle on 26 February and the infection was only just confirmed. Obviously the staff members who attended the patient, as well as the very many patients that they have since attended, will need to be tested. This should give an idea of just how far behind the US has allowed itself to be in this pandemic. As I said yesterday, Johns Hopkins Hospital researcher Dr Jennifer Nuzzo on Bloomberg television was clear in her polite disapproval of political interference in creating obstacles to earlier broad testing.

My greatest concern is that all of the deficiencies of the US health system, that President Obama wanted to begin to address, are about to be laid bare. For all of the rhetoric about having the best health care in the world, the truth that that level of care is only accessible to the one percenters, while the average experience across American society is below that experienced in other comparable developed countries, is going to be revealed in a truly terrible manner I fear.

It is not only an issue for the US, however. In Spain the first death with COVID-19 was announced overnight, the problem being that the man died nearly 3 weeks ago and was only just tested! In Germany a tweet by Falk Stirkat, an emergency doctor, went viral when he said:

We are in no way whatsoever prepared for the current situation. We’re being sent to the people who have had contact with someone with corona in order to get samples from them.But we’re not being provided with any sort of proper protective clothing. I have been told to just go to the patients without any protection. One colleague was forced to use a pair of diving goggles she brought from home to protect her and others from the spread of the virus.

Truly concerning!

March 3

Check out my new video on YouTube, done in collaboration with my 11 year old son, an animation guru, conceptualising the spread of COVID-19 around the world starting out in a live animal market in Wuhan. At the end of the video a question of utmost importance to Australians is posed…

My optimism/pessimism level – from 10 to 1 in decreasing optimism – stable at 1 (this could be upgraded with some unexpected development, but the information emerging now globally is very concerning which confirms rapid and widespread transmission, including in well developed countries, with the clear suggestion of high mortality rate.)

WHO Situation Report 42 for 2 March (released at 6am 3 March Brisbane, Australia, time)

China: 80,174 confirmed cases (206 new); 2,915 deaths (42 new)

Rest of the World: 8,774 confirmed cases (1,598 new); 128 deaths (24 new)

By way of brief summary, COVID-19 cases have been reported from 64 countries reporting to WHO (6 new) where 25 (5 new) have reported local transmission.

Now that people exhibiting symptoms of COVID-19 are actually permitted to be tested for COVID-19 in the US, unsurprisingly the number of cases is rising quickly. There is a sad story emerging in an aged care facility in Washington where 2 people have died and 50 people are showing symptoms of COVID-19. This only serves to highlight the duplicity and stupidity of people who seem to downplay risks by saying mainly the elderly are susceptible to severe infections – imagine for a moment being the carers and families who have lovingly cared for these people to see them struck by this pandemic. So very sad. Johns Hopkins Hospital research Dr Jennifer Nuzzo was on Bloomberg television earlier today and her polite disapproval of political interference in creating obstacles to earlier broad testing was obvious. It is only a matter of time before large scale community transmission in large US population centres will be recognised.

My guess is that Dr Tedros of the WHO was referring to countries like the US and Australia in a tweet on the day that the risk assessment was raised to very high where he said that Governments needed to “wake up” because the window of opportunity to get prepared was narrowing quickly.

Overnight Dr Tedros tweeted his concerns stating that “We are in unchartered territory with COVID19. We have never before seen a respiratory pathogen that is capable of community transmission.”

Of interest also was a protest in Reunion Island at the presence of a cruise liner which docked, out of fear of COVID-19 being introduced to their small community. I guess they have greater concerns than the loss of the tourist economy (unlike the country in which I reside).

In Australia our Prime Minister and Chief Medical Officer, counter to Dr Tedros’ recommendations for people in high risk categories to begin reducing social interaction, are encouraging all Australians to maintain their normal practices, with both eyes on the economic data!

The similarities in the COVID-19-related thoughts and actions of Donald Trump in the US, Borris Johnson in the UK, and Scott Morrison in Australia are both striking and concerning.

Oh and Australia is still going ahead with the opening of the Formula 1 season on 15 March. Boy will some be sweating in their shorts about that all working out without (apparent) incident.

The number of cases from South Korea has risen 600 to 4,812 with 28 new deaths.

Cases in Europe continue to surge. In Italy the number of cases reached 1,835 with a total of 52 deaths. I have not seen more recent numbers for the rest of Europe since the figures I posted yesterday. Another sad incident displaying how social tensions have been heightened – up to 20 Japanese fans were made to leave a football game in Leipzig, Germany, out of fears of COVID-19 spread.

In Australia today there have been more cases detected amongst people returning to Australia from overseas travel, especially from Iran. However, there have also been two cases of community transmission – one from a known case, another from an unknown source.

Oh, and NBA players were told to not High 5 each other (more effective measures would be to not sweat or breath on each other! hahaha).

March 2

Firstly, please check out my new video on YouTube done in collaboration with my 11 year old son, an animation guru, conceptualising the spread of COVID-19 around the world starting out in a live animal market in Wuhan. At the end of the video a question of utmost importance to Australians is posed…

My optimism/pessimism level – from 10 to 1 in decreasing optimism – stable at 1 (this could be upgraded with some unexpected development, but the information emerging now globally is very concerning which confirms rapid and widespread transmission, including in well developed countries, with the clear suggestion of high mortality rate.)

WHO Situation Report 41 for 1 March (released at 6am 2 March Brisbane, Australia, time)

China: 79,968 confirmed cases (579 new); 2,873 deaths (35 new)

Rest of the World: 7,1069 confirmed cases (1,160 new); 104 deaths (18 new)

By way of brief summary, COVID-19 cases have been reported from 58 countries reporting to WHO (5 new) where 20 (3 new) have reported local transmission.

The number of cases from South Korea has risen 476 to 4,212 with 22 deaths.

In the US cases have been confirmed in the large population centres of Chicago and Rhode Island, and given there have been numerous cases of community transmissions on the west coast, and the extended conditions on which testing can now occur, as discussed yesterday, the number of cases is likely to continue to increase strongly. A report has just been released as I type of case in New York city, but not from community transmission, rather it was a traveller from Iran.

Cases in Europe are mounting quickly. In Italy the number of cases surged by 40% to 1,576 with 34 deaths. In Germany the number of cases almost doubled from 66 to 129, in 9 of Germany’s 16 states, and in France the number of cases increased by 30% to 130. In France the Louvre was closed on Saturday when the staff refused to work – who can blame them? Spain has 73 cases with 10% from community transmission. The total number of UK cases sits at 36 with confirmed community transmission.

In Australia today there have been more cases detected amongst people returning to Australia from Iran, 4 people in Melbourne joining two people in Sydney and one in Brisbane (or Gold Coast).

Another turning point, to which I eluded in my post “Politics vs Society in the Coronavirus Outbreak” has been reached, that being when China has to begin protecting itself from cases entering from outside of China. A man from Shenzhen who had been working in the UK who flew into Hong Kong on 28 February began feeling ill the following day in Shenzhen and was confirmed as being infected.

Today I am going to raise a new issue. A part of the narrative being widely propagated is that it is mainly elderly people and those with existing conditions that are developing severe COVID-19 infections and dying. However, the question needs to be asked as to what is an existing condition – my understanding is that the existing condition often is asthma (i.e. respiratory conditions) which clearly is not uncommon. And a 35 year old Thai man died with COVID-19 and Dengue fever.

The WHO Director Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus has tweeted the following:

If you are 60+, or have an underlying condition like cardiovascular disease, respiratory condition or diabetes, you have a higher risk of developing severe COVID-19. Try to avoid crowded areas, or places where you might interact with people who are sick.

We are still at a very early stage in this pandemic. There are very wide “confidence limits” at present around fundamentals that are critical to understanding how this pandemic will progress and what will be its impact on societies (or human populations). For instance, its true mortality rate is unknown and still estimates range from 0.5% (5 times as lethal as a typical but severe flu) to 4% (40 times as lethal), exactly how long it takes most people to fall ill and for how long before that they are infective, and how much people who remain non-symptomatic shed the virus.

I would not exactly call it applying the precautionary principle to set out to throw the kitchen sink at this pandemic when it enters a country or geographic region to try to minimise the impact on citizens for the warnings are very clear.

That is why I believe that the WHO, despite the criticisms from the Western politicians always eager to throw criticism lest people begin to focus on their ineptitude, is doing an excellent job. I just do not know how much the so called “developed” countries are listening.

Finally, do not forget to checkout our video.

March 1

My optimism/pessimism level – from 10 to 1 in decreasing optimism – stable at 1 (this could be upgraded with some unexpected development, but the information emerging now globally is very concerning which confirms rapid and widespread transmission, including in well developed countries, with the clear suggestion of high mortality rate.)

WHO Situation Report 40 for 29 February (released at 6am 1 March Brisbane, Australia, time)

China: 79,364 confirmed cases (435 new); 2,838 deaths (47 new)

Rest of the World: 6,009 confirmed cases (1,027 new); 86 deaths (19 new)

By way of brief summary, COVID-19 cases have been reported from 53 countries reporting to WHO (2 new) where 17 have reported local transmission. The WHO increased its risk assessment level globally to “very high” and it is a forgone conclusion that it will be classified as a pandemic when the WHO feels that it is appropriate to do so. The reason for raising the classification was twofold: detection difficulties due to non-specific symptoms and non-symptomatic transmission, and because of the potential for major impacts on the healthcare system of some affected and potentially affected countries.

As promised, today I released my post on “Dealing with the COVID-19 Pandemic” which contains my recommendations on mitigating risks for individuals and families.

Confirmed cases and deaths continue to mount in the hotspots of South Korea, Italy and Iran. It can be difficult to keep up with the numbers as there can be several updates through the day. South Korea reported 376 new cases taking the total to 3,526 cases and 17 deaths. Throughout Europe there is growing acceptance of the challenge the lies ahead, and sporting events and other gatherings are being cancelled throughout the continent. There are now over 1,100 cases reported from Italy, with a jump of 200 cases on Saturday, and 29 deaths. In Iran there is continuing disbelief at the official number of cases which do not tally with the number of deaths reported (which are also considered to understate the actual situation). More members of Iranian parliament have contracted COVID-19 and one has died.

The first death in the US from community transmission occurred within hours of the CDC changing its guidelines on the criteria for testing to include people who have neither been to China nor had contact with travellers returning from China. In other words, confirmation of community transmission in the US was impossible until shortly before the first reported death, which would suggest heightened political tensions around such reporting. Concerningly there have been additional confirmed cases and more suspected cases at a care facility.

In Australia the first death was reported from the passengers who returned from the Diamond Princess. One of the cases confirmed yesterday was a beautician who had seen around 40 clients since returning from Iran.

Finally, tomorrow I will release an animated clip demonstrating the spread of COVID-19 which I have been working on with my 11 year old son. I think it demonstrates the situation perfectly and it poses the obvious question for Australia.

February 29

My optimism/pessimism level – from 10 to 1 in decreasing optimism – stable at 1 (this could be upgraded with some unexpected development, but the information emerging now globally is very concerning which confirms rapid and widespread transmission, including in well developed countries, with the clear suggestion of high mortality rate.)

WHO Situation Report 39 for 28 February (released at 6am 29 February Brisbane, Australia, time)

China: 78,961 confirmed cases (331 new); 2,797 deaths (44 new)

Rest of the World: 4,691 confirmed cases (1,027 new); 67 deaths (10 new)

By way of brief summary, COVID-19 cases have been reported from 52 countries reporting to WHO (5 new) where 17 have reported local transmission. The WHO increased its alert status to serious risk of a pandemic, but all WHO spokespeople of the last week have said that the only real reason they have not called it a pandemic is that it might be counterproductive to do so if it causes panic. And contrary to what is being said about political pressure coming from China, which no doubt was the case earlier, given the past week in global asset markets my guess would be that the political pressure is now coming very much from a western direction.

Briefly to touch on the main areas of concern. South Korea reported 594 new cases on Saturday bringing its total to 2,931. Another case of community transmission has been reported in the US, again in California, hinting at an emerging problem in this densely populated region. Cases continue to mount in central Europe, the British Isles, and even Iceland. In Iran the deputy Health Minister has been joined by at least 6 other politicians, including some ministers, in being infected by the virus, and it is increasingly clear that this area is particularly worrisome at present.

Australia reported 2 new cases bringing the total to 25. Significantly these were the first cases identified that were not held in quarantine, and it was the day after the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee (AHPPC) asserted the effectiveness of Australia’s quarantine measures. Trace back is being done on these two new cases to determine other potential infections.

The old saying goes that the first victims of a crisis are truth and free speech. I tried to get my article “Australian politicians care more about the health of our prawns and bananas than they do about people” run in The Guardian – of course News Corp and Fairfax are a waste of time and only gives time for Government cronies to pre-emptively respond – but editor Lenore Taylor did not respond.

So I ask readers to please distribute widely as the window to force a change on how our politicians are choosing to respond to this crisis is closing very quickly.

What is clear from how the response plan is being communicated to Australians, and from what I have heard about how the Government is communicating with big business, they are focused almost exclusively on the economic impacts. It is clear that they have enacted the emergency response now to start phase one so that as soon as the requirements are met for phase 2, it will be initiated which will allow them to drop the border controls all together. Finally on Friday the AHPPC rejected the possibility of extending the travel ban to other regions of emerging concern, and instead suggested that easing of the travel ban on China was justified.

I have seen absolutely nobody else in Australia mentioning this play off between politics/economics and social impacts, not the scientists or other academics, not medical doctors, not bureaucrats, and of course not the politicians.

In other jurisdictions, this is not the case. In the US a former CDC director has spoken out about his concerns about needing to do much more to protect people from the worst outcomes of this pandemic. And this is what UK politician Jeremy Hunt, the chairman of the Commons health committee and former Tory health secretary, said on radio yesterday about the need to “consider the social and economic trade-offs” Britons are willing to make to contain Covid-19.

In Wuhan, it appears that it has peaked at less than 5% of the population getting it. And we are having to make contingency plans for 70% of the population getting it, and in terms of the number of lives lost, there is a massive difference, hundreds of thousands of lives difference, if you can contain it to less than 5%. And, so, the question we have to ask ourselves, and I think the government is right to start to spell this out – but I think they need to go further – is what are the social and economic trade-offs that we are prepared to make to keep the spread of the virus at that low level.

The moral corruption of our elites and “leaders” in Australia knows no bounds!

I promise, if not tomorrow then Monday, I will release my recommendations for personal risk mitigation in dealing with the pandemic.

February 28

My optimism/pessimism level – from 10 to 1 in decreasing optimism – stable at 1 (this could be upgraded with some unexpected development, but the information emerging now globally is very concerning which confirms rapid and widespread transmission, including in well developed countries, with the clear suggestion of high mortality rate.)

WHO Situation Report 38 for 27 February (released at 6am 28 February Brisbane, Australia, time)

China: 78,630 confirmed cases (439 new); 2,747 deaths (29 new)

Rest of the World: 3,664 confirmed cases (746 new); 57 deaths (13 new)

I am currently trying to get a piece run in the press tomorrow entitled “Australian politicians care more about the health of our prawns and bananas than about people”. Hopefully I can let readers here know this afternoon where it will appear.

There is a definite whiff of panic in markets and generally throughout society now as this becomes real. Of course readers here have been unsurprised by anything that has occurred. Hopefully financial positioning has been put in order. I realise that I have been promising a post on personal preparations but the above-mentioned article took precedent (I began writing it at 3.30 am this morning because I could not sleep having read material showing that our scientific community was going to fall in line behind the politicians who are only concerned about the economic effects – and I do have that on very close authority, by the way).

Perhaps the biggest news of the past 24 hours has been a case that emerged in the US which suggests community transmission occurring (i.e. no known link to known infections either within the US or outside). Now it should not be such big news given the same has occurred in many countries by now, but given it is the most powerful country in the world, and has the most important asset markets, that makes it rather significant. Again it was to be expected, and there will likely be many more soon.

As it is clear that the pandemic is spreading, and there is not a great deal of point to repeating all information which is available from many live feeds from press sites, from hereon I aim to give a top down, and between the lines, view of what is going on without much country-specific information.

As of the WHO update released today there are cases report from 47 countries with 18 of those countries reporting within country transmission. There is only one case from the African region that being a single case from Algeria.

As I said in my first post on the outbreak, the spread of the pandemic in developing countries would be difficult to contain and that is certainly proving to be the case in the Middle East and it will likely be the case already in Africa. There has been much said about the lack of reports from Indonesia which is of particular relevance to us Australians. For me the elephant in the room is India and I am surprised that I have not read much about it. According to the latest WHO situation report India has just 3 cases!

There are many more cases than are known in Italy, as my quick arithmetic of yesterday shows, and that will be the case now throughout Europe. They have little choice but to respond as best to the emerging crisis by providing medical facilities to the unwell. Enforcing national borders there would make as much sense as the US or Australia enforcing state or county borders. However, seeing as they have a lot of small communities with a lot of older people, perhaps at a micro level they can look at biosecurity measures to stymy the impact.

Finally I have to make mention of my concerns over what Australian scientists have been writing in the press in the past 24 hours (which prompted me to write the previously mentioned article). While a superficial glance at these articles written to prepare Australians for what lies ahead are constructive, indeed what I have been suggesting for weeks, they all contain a certain degree of inevitability that we will have no travel restrictions and will just have to get used to life with this pandemic.

In my view Australia has become one of the most morally corrupted societies through this long economic expansion, and politicians are desperate to hold the economic fortress together for they do not want all of the weaknesses to be exposed on their watch.

I do not want to give away the “punch line” of my article which I hope appears in the press tomorrow, but ask yourself whether this is consistent with what you have experienced if you mistakenly bought a piece of food into an arrival hall at an Australian airport. Would you expect Australia to have such a defeatist attitude to biosecurity, and this time of a disease affecting people? And how free are our academics to speak up when their employers are the most affected by this crisis, and thus most conflicted?

China has shown what is possible if you throw the kitchen sink at the problem. OK, I am not confident in their figures. But the problem was well out of hand when they got to work. Nobody can say we have not been forewarned. China was prepared to take the economic hit to contain the spread – yet Australian authorities are defeated even before it begins?

I don’t know about you, but I actually care more about the health of people – you know our children, parents, grandparents, uncles, aunts, friends – than I do about the health of prawns or bananas…

February 27

My optimism/pessimism level – from 10 to 1 in decreasing optimism – stable at 1 (this could be upgraded with some unexpected development, but the information emerging out of especially Korea, Italy and the middle-east is very concerning which confirms rapid and widespread transmission, including in well developed countries, with the clear suggestion of high mortality rate.)

WHO Situation Report 37 for 26 February (released at 6am 27 February Brisbane, Australia, time)

China: 78,191 confirmed cases (412 new); 2,718 deaths (52 new)

Rest of the World: 2,918 confirmed cases (459 new); 49 deaths (9 new)

The WHO is reporting that today marks the point where the number of new cases in the rest of the world outnumber the number of new cases in China. I have ceased reporting the Chinese numbers as they release them because I now consider them less reliable, so that gives an indication of what I think of the validity of this truly marking that point. We will probably never know.

New countries to report cases of COVID-19 are increasing. The WHO update listed Algeria, Austria, Croatia and Switzerland as newly reporting cases, after yesterday including Germany and Spain in Europe, and Bahrain, Iraq, Kuwait and Oman in the Middle East, and a case in Brazil is the first in South America. And today the press has stated that the first in country transmission case in the US has been identified, and cases have been reported in Georgia, Greece, Norway and Pakistan.

South Korea’s centre of disease control release showed 334 new cases (total 1,595) with no new deaths so the total remaining at 12.

Italy has a total of 447 cases of coronavirus and 12 deaths suggesting that they are well behind on detection (the arithmetic and difficulties are outlined in February 26 update and below).

Note I expect that before long other countries will be in exactly the same situation. For example, the press provides details of the case of the most recent death from COVID-19 in France. The man was a teacher 60 years of age. After feeling unwell on 12 February he stopped working (when mid-term holidays commenced), however he was not tested for coronavirus until Tuesday 24 February when he presented at the emergency ward of a Paris hospital. The opportunity for transmission is clear. The French health minister said “there is no epidemic in the country, just isolated cases”. Ummmm

Also not all conferences and trade shows are cancelling. For example, the organisers of the Geneva International Motor Show said it will go ahead but will ask exhibitors from “at-risk areas” to run “necessary checks” to avoid spreading the virus. Also fashion shows in Paris scheduled this week will go ahead, but today it was revealed that a 38 year old Greed woman who attended Milan’s fashion week which just finished.

For some the almighty dollar is winning out, and the politicians seem reluctant to ensure that their citizens’ health is the highest priority, which I spelt out in my post “Politics Vs Society in the Coronavirus Outbreak“.

Talking about politics, in Iran there have been 16 deaths and but there are less than 100 cases reported. That obviously seems to not fit the picture and I will spell out again why. The mortality rate is the proportion of people who become infected then become seriously ill and die of the infection. So mortality rate is proportional to the number of people infected at the time that those who died became infected. All of the people who have died would have contracted the virus at least 2 weeks ago, if not 3. So if the mortality rate of a virus is X%, then you divide the number of fatalities by X% and you will have the number of people that had been infected at the time that the last of those cases who ultimately died first became infected. With a rapidly spreading disease such as this one, the number of cases is growing exponentially and two weeks later will be much higher. So Iran would have had around 800 cases around 2 or 3 weeks ago, but some reports are saying that they have had many more deaths than they are reporting (perhaps even more than 50).

So I think South Korea can be very proud of their efforts to identify infected people. Let’s see how things go.

February 26

My optimism/pessimism level – from 10 to 1 in decreasing optimism – stable at 1 (this could be upgraded with some unexpected development, but the information emerging out of especially Korea, Italy and the middle-east is very concerning which confirms rapid and widespread transmission, including in well developed countries, with the clear suggestion of high mortality rate.)

WHO Situation Report 36 for 25 February (released at 6am 26 February Brisbane, Australia, time)

China: 77,780 confirmed cases (518 new); 2,666 deaths (71 new)

Rest of the World: 2,459 confirmed cases (390 new); 34 deaths (11 new)

From China ending midnight 25 Feb: 406 new cases (Total 78,064)*; 52 new deaths (Total 2,715). These figures are released on Bloomberg and/or in The Guardian life feed weekdays as the data are released by the Chinese Government.

* The way the Chinese Government data has been collated has changed several times and I find it confusing, which may just be the intention. As suggested in earlier reports, the political imperative in China has changed to the point where one must assume that these figures are compromised and will likely be managed to meet the narrative that the CCP chooses. In the future I may cease to report these, quoting only the figures reported by the WHO, and with greater attention moving towards reporting from other countries where there is greater confidence in the reported data.

The number of countries in the Middle East with cases is increasing. Still the number of cases in Iran relative to the number of deaths suggests that they do not have a handle on the outbreak there. The WHO continues to request member countries to assist countries with weaker health systems to respond to their challenges. Yesterday the Iranian deputy health minister cautioned the press against over-stating the risks with Iran, but unfortunately today it was shown that the reason for him sweating profusely then was because he had a fever due to COVID-19.

The WHO released a report of their visit to China. In that they state a case fatality rate of 2-4% in Wuhan, but suggest outside Wuhan it is 0.7%. I am skeptical about the veracity of the data, and how the pandemic progresses in other countries will give a better indication of the mortality rate.

Italy still has a relatively low ratio of detected cases (323) to mortalities (11), for a virus producing a mortality rate of 2%. Think of it this way, if 2% of total cases die then 11/.02% would be the number that were infected at the time that the last person that died first became infected which was probably 2 or 3 weeks ago. So back then there were around 550 people in Italy infected, and that has amplified significantly since then.

I do not consider this due to Italy being lax or due to any problem with their borders. It is just the nature of a pandemic. It all just comes down to probabilities and flows of people from throughout the world. It is the most popular tourist destination in the world so was always going to be vulnerable with an event of this nature.

Korea continues to work aggressively to slow the spread of the pandemic. I note that in a twist of circumstances, China has now quarantined 94 people on a flight from Seoul due to concerns of spreading COVID-19 (in a pointer to the issue I highlighted in my post “Politics Vs Society in the Coronavirus Outbreak“). Also in South Korea it has come to light that an official in Daegu who met with their Prime Minister has now tested positive.

Perhaps the most notable development overnight was the press conference held in the US where Centre for Disease Control officials ramped up their communication to the American people in an admirably forthright manner:

It is not a question of if coronavirus will spread through the United States but a question of when and how many people will have severe illness

Nancy Messonnier, Director of the CDC’s National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases

Dr Messonnier also warned people to prepare for the possibility of the disruptions to normal day-to-day life that I mentioned in my update of 11 February.

Other CDC officials provided some realistic timelines for vaccine development saying that even though the work has progressed in record time, it would take at least 18 months to have a vaccine ready for mass administration.

25 February

My optimism/pessimism level – from 10 to 1 in decreasing optimism – stable at 1 (this could be upgraded with some unexpected development, but the information emerging out of especially Korea, Italy and the middle-east is very concerning which confirms rapid and widespread transmission, including in well developed countries, with the clear suggestion of high mortality rate.)

WHO Situation Report 35 for 24 February (released at 6am 25 February Brisbane, Australia, time)

China: 77,262 confirmed cases (415 new); 2,595 deaths (150 new)

Rest of the World: 2,069 confirmed cases (300 new); 23 deaths (6 new)

From China ending midnight 23 Feb: 508 new cases (Total 77,658)*; 71 new deaths (Total 2,663). These figures are released on Bloomberg weekdays as the data are released by the Chinese Government.

* The way the Chinese Government data has been collated has changed several times and I find it confusing, which may just be the intention. As suggested in earlier reports, the political imperative in China has changed to the point where one must assume that these figures are compromised and will likely be managed to meet the narrative that the CCP chooses. In the future I may cease to report these, quoting only the figures reported by the WHO, and with greater attention moving towards reporting from other countries where there is greater confidence in the reported data.

The suggested heavy hand guiding towards an easing of biosecurity measures, to facilitate a return to business by blue collar workers especially even in the face of an epidemic, was further supported by the loosening of some measures around Wuhan, but that was quickly reversed indicating some level of confusion amongst authorities. Exactly how to proceed might still be unclear even at the top of the CCP.

South Korean cases rose to 833 and there have been 8 deaths.

In Italy there have been 6 deaths and around 220 confirmed cases. The number of confirmed cases seems a little low for the number of deaths that have been reported. For example, Korea has only 33% more recorded deaths but around 300% more confirmed cases.

The WHO will visit Iran to gather more information on the outbreak there.

Finally, over recent days infectious disease experts and Governments, even including Australia’s!, has gotten more forthright about their concerns about a growing pandemic. However, the WHO has appeared to step back from describing this as a pandemic, which I would suggest highlights their own political pressures, and especially not wanting to be seen to be scaring global markets since they have stirred this week and decided to acknowledge that this elephant is bigger than any other in the room that previously they were able to ignore.


Previous Daily Updates Beginning 9 February


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© Copyright Brett Edgerton 2020

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