Coronavirus: Panic Starting

Despite what the unprecedented lockdown of areas in China that produced 70% of its GDP, and the use of hazmat suits, revealed about what Chinese officials were seeing, the rest of the world remained oddly complacent about what the novel coronavirus meant for them. How reassuring was it really if the disease had moderated as a result of the effective quarantining of the population, a condition that was clearly not sustainable? And there was the oddly optimistic view that a country of 1.2 billion could effectively be cordoned off from the rest of the world…particularly after it became clear the lockdown was implemented after the cornoavirus was meaningfully underway?

As our Ignacio has pointed out, it is disconcerting how much we still don’t know about this disease. It has a troublingly long incubation period, raising the possibility that some can harbor low level infections for a long time by normal contagion standards. Individuals can repeatedly test negative yet later develop the coronavirus. The Journal of Hospital Infection reported that human coronaviruses can live as long as nine days on surfaces…but alcohol will kill it in a minute.

The rapid spread of the coronavirus in Italy, on top of clusters in South Korea and Japan, has finally kicked officials in some countries into panic, even if they aren’t sure what to do. And this follows shortly on the mishandling of the two cruise ships with infected passengers and crew. But outside the business press in the US, there’s not much evidence of concern.

And on the business front, the reality is sinking in that it isn’t clear when China might get back to a semblance of normal operation. For instance, insiders leaked that the FDA had prepared a list of 150 medications, including some with no substitute, that were at risk of shortages. Equity markets, which had been complacent, are now looking rattled. South Korean averages are down more than 3.3%, the Hang Seng is off nearly 1.5%, US and European stock futures are off, and oil fell by over 3%.

First, on the spread of the coronavirus outside China. From Politico’s morning European e-mail:

Italy has become the first European country to adopt drastic measures to try to contain the coronavirus, to the extent that’s possible. With the number of infections in the country climbing to at least 153, about a dozen municipalities in the north are essentially under quarantine; some cities are sealed off; Milan’s Università Cattolica, which I have the honor of teaching at, told students, staff, lecturers and professors on Sunday that all academic activities are suspended for a week, as did all universities in the Lombardy region. Plus, Venice’s carnival ended prematurely.

Schengen under pressure: As fears grow that the coronavirus outbreak will grow into a pandemic, the borderless Schengen zone is feeling the pressure. Austria late on Sunday suspended train traffic toward Italy after two rail passengers on a train in the opposite direction — from Venice to Munich — were suspected of being infected with the coronavirus. (Trains over the Brenner Pass resumed running on Monday, after the travelers tested negative.) Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte said in a press conference that his government wants to uphold the freedom of movement and no restrictions are planned for the time being — with an accent on the second part of that sentence.

GOOD MORNING. Italy, the EU country hit hardest by the virus, is trying to keep it away from Milan, its economic capital.

The Financial Times lead story earlier this evening was the Italy quarantine; it’s now been displaced by the market swoon. On Italy:

Italy has imposed a strict quarantine across at least 10 towns as authorities in its wealthy northern regions battled to contain the largest coronavirus outbreak outside Asia.

Officials said on Sunday that a third Italian had died from the virus as the infection count rose to 152, up from just three identified cases on Friday, raising fears that the infection was spreading at pace through Europe….

Further outbreaks were reported across the world. Authorities in Iran shut schools and some religious seminaries as the number of deaths rose to eight, prompting Iraq and Turkey to shut their borders with the Islamic republic….

In Italy, the majority of new cases are concentrated in the wealthy regions of Lombardy and Veneto that make up around a third of the output of an Italian economy already teetering on the brink of a recession.

Police have established a blockade around a cluster of 10 communities south of Milan with a population of about 50,000 people, where a large number of infections have been identified….

Italian authorities have been unable to identify the outbreak’s source or how it apparently spread so quickly between patients who have not had direct contact with travellers from China.

Yves here. I am relying on memory, which may be faulty (but Google is no help) but I had thought the person who was the original suspected Italian patient zero had been quarantined for 14 days, tested negative, came home, later got a mild case but infected others, at least one seriously. I appear not to be alone in having seen something along those lines:

This confusion about disease propagation makes me wonder if the authorities are rejecting that this individual could be the origin of all these infections….and if so, are in denial that the coronavirus might be exceptionally infectious.

The outbreak area, as indicated, is near Milan, and the Milanese are hunkering down:

Needless to say, the general area hit represents about 30% of Italy’s GDP, and comes when Italy is on the verge of a recession.

Things are not pretty in Asia either. From Reuters:

South Korea’s fourth-largest city Daegu grew increasingly isolated as the number of infections there increased rapidly, with Asiana Airlines and Korean Air suspending flights to the city until March 9 and March 28 respectively….

South Korean authorities reported a seventh death and another 161 new cases on Monday, taking the total to 763. Of the new cases, 115 were linked to a church in Daegu.

Seoul raised its infectious disease alert to its highest level on Sunday after the southeastern city and nearby Cheongdo county – where infections surged last week – were designated “special care zones”.

The escalation in the alert level allows the government to send extra resources to Daegu and Cheongdo, forcibly prevent public activities and order the temporary closure of schools.

One bit of good news is China is claiming there were only 11 new cases were found outside Hubei…but how much faith do those inside and outside China put in that number?

The Wall Street Journal provides a broader view of the impact of the China lockdown on foreign business:

In the U.S., General Motors Co. unions have warned that a lack of China-made parts could slow assembly lines at sport-utility vehicle plants in Michigan and Texas….

Mostafiz Uddin, a bluejeans manufacturer in the southeastern Bangladeshi city of Chittagong, said he has been unable to fulfill an order for 100,000 women’s jeans because he can’t get the fabric he needs from China. “I am just waiting,” he said. “We have no option.”…

Hyundai Motor Co., after shutting some of its Chinese factories this month, suspended one of its main assembly lines in Ulsan, a big South Korean city, because it couldn’t get parts from China. Asiana Airlines Inc., South Korea’s second-largest airline, put its 10,500 employees on staggered shifts of 10 days’ unpaid leave from Wednesday.

Major electronics producers that depend on Chinese parts also have suspended output because of the outbreak. Others are weighing relocation. Japan’s exports to China are expected to drop 7% this quarter from the prior one, NLI Research Institute economist Taro Saito said. Videogame giant Nintendo Co. said this month that some shipments of its flagship Switch gaming console are delayed as it can’t get parts from Chinese factories….

Countries most reliant on China could see more than half a percentage point wiped off their gross domestic product this year, some economists say….

A U.S. freeze on visitors from China is a blow to hotels and retailers that rely on their spending. Asian economies that have grown dependent on Chinese visitors and commerce are reeling. Singapore last week cut its annual GDP forecast to around 0.5%, down from 1.5%. Thailand estimates tourist arrivals could drop by 13% this year as Chinese are grounded.

In Vietnam, a small economy highly dependent on Chinese supply chains, exports in January fell 17.4% year-to-year to their second-lowest level since the U.S.-China trade war began, official data showed.

Yves here. Apologies for the formatting fail: WordPress does not like that very long chart and is not letting me make a text indent to show that the quote from the WSJ is over and we are back to the post text.

I hate to point this out, but these economic effects are based on the China production cuts and drops in tourism. Mr. Market is now waking up to the fact that other countries could also take direct hits from their own containment efforts. And confirming the broader impacts, there is anecdotal evidence that the conference business is taking a hit. I’ve heard of three free invites being extended to high end finance conferences, which is a strong sign of cancellations, particularly since the people invited weren’t investors or well known.

However, coronavirus-related profiteering has already started:

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  1. PlutoniumKun

    Indeed, after what seemed like relatively sanguine news last week (there seemed to be a view that it was peaking in China and containable), its all gone horrible now. I really don’t think it can be contained now that its loose in Iran and Europe and seemingly all over Asia. Its deeply worrying that this seems to have caught so many countries on the hop – I wonder whether preparations have historically focused on high mortality diseases like Ebola or ‘knowns’ like flu – has led to national authorities frozen with indecision as to what to do in the face of something as infectious as this.

    The economic impacts will be severe – I’ve heard loads of anecdotes of people cancelling or changing travel plans and companies discreetly making preparations for a slow down. I’ve also heard through the grapevine that medical facilities asking about stocks of protective gear or sanitisers been told that there is zero chance of getting anything for months. A recession later in the year seems a near certainty.

    1. Lee

      I cancelled trips to both the dentist and the optometrist. I’m becoming wary of my favorite local cafe. As for vacating my home in the San Francisco bay area for a more remote, less densely populated location, it is probably too late. We have reached the Appointment in Samarra stage.

      That Mr. Market took so long to catch on boggles the mind. I don’t think the private sector can be relied upon to save us. As to whether or not governments are up to the task remains to be seen. Stay safe out there, people.

      1. xkeyscored

        Mr Market regularly fails to foresee financial crashes until they’re upon us, so what reason is there to imagine he’d be any better with something medical rather than monetary?

      2. Calvin


        That’s just your personal paranoia /sarc.

        From links: “World is approaching coronavirus tipping point, say experts”

        The real tipping point is when the credit card, mortgage and interest only payments stop arriving.

        I wonder how this will affect tourist dependent communities like San Francisco?
        A couple of major conventions have cancelled, a medical one for street quality, i.e. roving lunatics, the other, Facebook’s for virus fears.

        Friends who run a Fisherman’s Wharf restaurant are about to take an extended vacation and shutter the place, business is already so bad.

    2. Jeotsu

      I stopped into the local Emergency Operation Center yesterday to check in with a friend. He mentioned that NZ is effectively out of N95 masks right now — they were all sent to Aussie for helping with the bush fires.

      I expect restocking now will be rather difficult.

      1. norm de plume

        In the department of what should have happened:

        the Chinese would have come clean earlier
        the UN would have convened a special session and come to a quick agreement that urgent global measures are required, including
        a co-ordinated lockdown aimed at preventing superspreaders from spreading
        all governments prioritising the manufacture of protective gear for citizens: forming expert panels to direct operations
        eminent domain laws (if not existing already) passed in order to empower this panel to take over the operations of manufacturers (guaranteed compensation) capable of producing the gear
        similar effort to ID people who could lead the component parts of this, with
        the army of unemployed utilised wherever necessary as workers on this project
        army and police to assist in logistics and distribution as well as crowd control…

        1. campbeln

          No way that socialist, centralized approach could have worked; Free market to the rescue (in the form of 60euro 80ml hand sanitizer bottles)!!

    3. campbeln

      We were due to travel to Japan for Spring Break and Europe over the summer as a family of 4. Both trips have since been canceled thanks to the outbreak (we’ll travel domestically, if at all now). Thankfully, I’d been waiting on tickets to go down so no deposits lost.

      1. The Rev Kev

        On the other hand, my idiot niece is buying a trip on an ocean liner for a trip in a few months time because the tickets have “gotten cheaper”. Some people you just cannot save from themselves. I think that the name of the ship is the SS Flying Dutchman.

        1. Norm de plume

          ‘ The human race was dyin’ out
          No one left to scream and shout

          Hanging in and holding fast
          Hope our little world will last’

          Ship of Fools, The Doors

          1. xkeyscored

            I won’t slave for beggar’s pay, likewise gold and jewels
            But I would slave to learn the way to sink your ship of fools

            Though I could not caution all, I still might warn a few
            Don’t lend your hand to raise no flag atop no ship of fools

            Ship of Fools, Grateful Dead

    4. Cuibono

      Is the US even testing yet?
      I have heard that States still dont have kits?

      (Tinfoil me says they DONT WANT TO TEST)

  2. BillC

    Northern Italy status as of ca. 4 AM EST (10 AM local).

    I live between and 70-80 mi. from each of the two current “focolari” (hot-spots) in Lodi and Padua provinces. I would not call the Italian governments’ (national, regional, and municipal) actions so far “panic.” IMO, they are responsible, serious, measured, and appropriate, given the current level of knowledge and unknowns.

    Based on the pace of developments here in the last 72 hours, any report more than 4 hours old is unreliable; every statement below needs to be prefixed with “So far …”

    * The worst news: as of this mornings’ national newscasts, the news that “patient zero” was identified is false. It was thought that the Lodi-area patient-zero was identified, but he has been found not to show any sign of Covid-19.

    * Better news: containment measures seem far more successful here than they have been in China. Only two well-defined areas have been quarantined and the local populations appear to be very cooperative.

    * There are a small number of cases (single digits) outside of the two hot-spots, but so far no indication of rapid and widespread contagion there.

    * As of this morning, there have been four Covid-19 deaths in Italy, the third of whom was a hospitalized advanced cancer victim and the latest who was 84 years old, both in hospitals not far from the Lodi area.

    * Austrian authorities blocked a Venice->Vienna train at the Brenner border crossing overnight for about 4 hours before determining that two suspected cases were not Covid-19. Surface travel into and out of Italy is not currently restricted at any border.

    * Schools at all levels are closed until next week in the northern-tier regions: Piedmont, Lombardy, Emilia-Romagna, Trentino-Alto Adige, Veneto, and Friuli Venezia Giulia.

    * Sporting and cultural events (e.g. carnival) are suspended over much of this region.

    My unqualified opinion is that the contagion cannot be stopped, but the aggressive yet measured response may be able to slow it enough to allow medical facilities to effectively deal with the most serious cases. However, the continuing inability (after 3 days trying) to identify the initial source(s) of contagion in the two present hot-spots is extremely worrisome.

    1. BillC

      As noted above, thing are developing rapidly in northern Italy and any report is obsolete within an hour or two. Update as of 10 AM EST / 4 PM local:

      * good news: the transmission vector (patient zero) between the two Covid-19 “hot-spots” (Codogno [Lodi province] and Vo’ [Padua province]) may have been identified; his Covid-19 infection confirmation pending

      * now eight Covid-19 deaths in Italy, at least victims 4-7 were 80 y.o. or older

      * over 220 cases currently known, now including several cities in Emilia (Bologna, Modena, Parma, and Piacenza). At least the Modena case has a direct Codogno connection

      * no additional lockdowns yet announced; only current travel restriction known at this point is Maritius refusing entry to about 40 northern Italian residents arriving by air

      No further updates from me unless something other than a reasonably predictable spread of the contagion, mortality rate, or mobility restrictions occurs.

      1. BillC

        Correction/update as of 2 PM EST / 8 PM local:

        * the suspected “patient zero” whose movements suggested he was the vector between the two Italian hot-spots has tested negative for Covid-19; thus, the source of the Italian infection and the vector between the two Italian hot-spots remains unknown

        * later reports are now of six deaths in Italy due to Covid-19 (not the eight reported above)

        * there remain only two quarantined hot-spots

        * the couple hundred Covid-19 cases confirmed outside of those two areas are thinly scattered and have not yet led to further mobility restrictions; health-care facilities appear able to handle the current serious case load

        Of course, as people in the north deal with the uncertainty, grocery store shelves are pretty bare, restaurants and bars are empty, and even the churches have cancelled mass.

    2. Kurt Sperry

      Thank you for the update. I have a house in Tuscany and have to be there in the late Spring and am a little concerned about how this could play out between now and then. Italy’s public health system is very good, even if the hospitals aren’t pretty to look at to Americans used to billion dollar McMansion-hospitals. I trust them to do a good job dealing with this.

      1. SKM

        ++++ re health system in Italy – I`ve lived since the 80`s on the land in rural provincia di Livorno and have used the system on many occasions as has a British friend with prostate cancer, many emergency visits dealt with. Seems a luxury all that when I hear how dreadful iot is to be ill in the US. The NHS is being sold off but the staff seem to be able to give first class (free!!) care to all of us according to need. Makes me weep to think that our ruling elite wants to take it off us…. the uk is sleep walking into disaster – so few here (uk) know anything beyond what the mainstream media tell them… it`s terrifying to spend time in the uk, cognitive dissonance, inability to have an intelligent conversation about anything that matters. Just like what many of you report re the US!! In France and in Italy there are still quite a lot of people who seem to be able to read behind the media narratives as both countries have histories of political engagement and used to have education systems that gave people a good general culture etc. Off topic, sorry, but proper public health systems free for all at the point of use are going to be even more important with a new virus on the loose. Thank you for your cool and accurate update on Italy!!

        1. dearieme

          “The NHS is being sold off”: in what sense? It’s true that the jackanapes Blair forced me out of NHS dentistry for no reason that I understood but I’ve not come across any other example. You’re just being hysterical, aren’t you? Or making excuses in advance for whatever shortcomings in the NHS that the pandemic may reveal.

          1. Harvey

            Apparently there won’t be a pandemic. The WHO has erased the word from its vocabulary so the possibility of pandemics stopped after 2009.

            So 1984 of the WHO.

          2. The Rev Kev

            Try watching John Pilger’s “The Dirty War on the National Health Service”. If you cannot find it, looks for clips on YouTube from it. The NHS is going to be Americanized and the British politicians and media are fine with this. And pay attention to Hinchingbrooke Hospital which was privatized for ten years but had to be taken back after two years as the results were so catastrophic.

    3. Beppe

      No “patient zero” has been identified in any of the Italian clusters and experts are skeptical they will ever be found. The infection has probably been spreading slowly for weeks and “patient zeros” may already be back to health and not know they were infected. Thus, it may be extremely difficult to ever identify them. In some 80% of cases the infection from Covid-19 is not much different from a cold or a seasonal flu and it may easily remain undetected – especially now that we are at the peak of the flu season.

      Covid-19 is not a normal flu, however, due to what happens to the remaining 20% of cases (or so, the percentages I’m giving refer more to what I’ve read about China than to the Italian experience, where numbers are still not significant). For the elderly in particular, or for people with pre-existing serious pathologies, Covid-19 can become very serious or lethal in a much higher percentage of cases than with seasonal flu.

      Numbers out of Italy, despite not being too significant due to the fact that we’re still in the early days of the spread of the virus here, so far show that out of the total 220+ people affected, about half have been hospitalized, some 10-15% are treated as “serious” (whether or not in intensive care units I don’t know) while some 3% (7) have died. Those who have died were all elderly with serious pre-existing pathologies.

      The percentage of serious cases and deaths is probably significantly higher than it should be due to the fact that at this early stage the milder cases fall more easily under the radar. Deaths and serious cases have also been pushed up by the fact that at least two hospitals got infected as the first cases of Covid-19 were found, resulting in the spread of the virus among hospitalized elderly patients.

    4. Yves Smith Post author

      This is a straw man. Nowhere does the post attribute any emotion to the Italian government. This is a reading comprehension fail on your part as well as a violation of our written site policies.

      The shelves in Milan and the market reaction show panic and the post starts off with Mr. Market swooning as a result of the rapid spread of infection in Italy.

      1. Beppe

        Personally – and I write from Milan – I do agree that there is evidence of some panic among the population and I think that it would be fair to say that the government has been caught on the back foot. There were plans and they are being implemented (closures, blockades, quarantines, targeted tests, etc.). But the appearance of several clusters of infection in Lombardy (probably at least 3, but I think it’s becoming hard for anybody to tell) and Veneto (2 for sure) in very close succession, resulting in a very rapid rise of infected people, has shocked everybody, and the government as well (Prime Minister Conte has publicly admitted to be “surprised”).

        There are experts, like Ilaria Capua of the University of Florida, who now say this is probably evidence of the fact that the virus has spread silently for weeks, probably since around the start of February, infecting many people in a mild form before surficing in some acute cases – which have finally been identified as Covid-19 – over the last few days. A long incubation period and the slow appearance of symptoms, that remain minor for several days even when the disease turns later acute, are part of the reason. But according to Capua this isn’t all bad, since it probably also means that the virus, although highly infectious, may be less virulent and lethal than feared.

  3. Ignacio

    I am amazed by your ability to translate and digest lots of info into such a concise and readable report. One of the saddest developments of the outbreaks is the rise in psychosis and panic frequently degraded into racism. This is a time when we need our authorities, instead of playing the ostrych, assume leadership and try to control not only the spread of the disease but all the nasty collaterals.

    We have to consider that in many places around the world there aren’t proper tools and training to diagnose the disease. Though I consider the Johns Hopkins page useful, we have to be constantly reminded that this only shows what is officially recognized and nobody has a remote idea of the real extent of this pandemic.

    I just hope we will learn something from this.

    1. RBHoughton

      We have established expert teams in West Africa and elsewhere to take blood samples from bush meat and anticipate the next virus to jump to humanity. Now it seems that the probably source of this outbreak is careless handling of viruses in laboratories established to create deadly pathogens. We seem to be our own worst enemy.

  4. ambrit

    I fear that the supply chains will not be the only “things” shown to be fragile through contact with this coronavirus.
    The world has not encountered anything like a true global pandemic since the oft mentioned 1918 Spanish Influenza outbreak. Regions weathered that storm, but the social bonds today are nowhere near as strong as they were back then. The bonds of community, in the West, have been devalued and degraded over the past century. As the early experiences in China show, true quarantine throws a community back upon it’s own resources. Seeing that the ‘average’ urban conglomeration supposedly has only three days of food available, and then must rely on one of those dreaded “fragile, just in time, supply chains,” the chances of social chaos if the authorities do not handle their responsibilities with care are great.
    Being only a semi-prepper, I am dismayed to see clearly how insufficient our personal resources are. Luckily, I have taken to heart one of the basic rules of ‘Prepping’: Get to know your neighbours.
    To that end, I consider the administrators and commenters here at Naked Capitalism as my “electronic neighbours.” If knowledge truly is power, than there can be no more powerful place on the internet to “hang out” than here.
    Take care one and all.

    1. Wukchumni

      We are fortunate to have good neighbors, and have known each other 15 years of living in spectacular seclusion here on just the other side of nowhere, in the back forty of our minds. Were the virus to manifest itself, the best precaution would be social distancing, so we’ve got that down pat.

      Went into Visalia (pop: 136k) for sundries and whatnot, also loaded up on months worth of cat food for my masters, and I gotta say its just business as usual out there as Flu Manchu emerges around the globe in odd spots, no precautionary anything in the 5 businesses I frequented, nor a masked man or woman to be seen.

      Had lunch @ Panda Express, and my fortune cookie saying was a bit ominous:

      “A Surprise Awaits”

      Probably for the first time ever yesterday, I was really cognizant of all the public things we touch, just getting gas you have to type in your zipcode on a credit card purchase on a keypad, and then there’s only one gas nozzle and the person’s germ trail from a few minutes ago on it, and so on.

      1. Brooklin Bridge

        Agreed that it’s difficult to even be aware of all the things we touch in a day and that goes double for touching one’s eyes, nose and mouth.

        But one can improve with practice: 1) being aware of what we touch and 2) avoiding touching our selves particularly in those critical places. to name just a couple.

        Such caution can be developed into habits, but it takes time.

        1. Calvin

          Nitrile gloves when worn isolate the virus and, at least in my experience, prevent discourage face touching. Those masks, supposedly ineffective at preventing your infection, but good at stopping one from spreading it, can be roasted dry, upside down, jammed against the inside of a car windshield facing the sun for reuse.
          They are hard to buy already.

          1. Anon

            That positioning of the face mask may dry it out for ostensible re-use, but it will not disinfect it by penetration of ultra-violet radiation. Auto windshields, since they are laminated safety glass, block ~98% of UV-A rays.

            Wearing a replaceable nitrile glove on one’s strong hand seems to be a better option than frequent hand-washing.

            1. Kurtismayfield

              UVC is the germicidal frequency. I would not count on that coming naturally through the atmosphere. Try to purchase a bulb now.

              1. Yves Smith Post author

                A reader discussed earlier how much UV is required to kill microbes and pathogens. The bottom line is no way is sun exposure or a little UV wand remotely strong enough. In a lab, it takes equipment so powerful that the people using it need to wear protective goggles.

                A consumer light bulb won’t do it either:

                As the researchers explained, broad-spectrum UVC light kills viruses and bacteria, and it is currently used to decontaminate surgical equipment. But this type of light can cause skin cancer and cataracts, so it’s not used in public spaces.

                Remember one of the few things we do seem to know about the coronavirus is that it is infectious at comparatively low viral loads.

                60% or greater strength alcohol will kill this bug after one minute. I would not fool around with amateur approaches that won’t work. False security is a very bad path to go down, let alone to recommend to others.

        2. clarky90

          Re “hand sanitizer”. Methylated Spirits, in NZ, is pure ethanol (vodka) with purple dye and an emetic (makes you vomit) added to protect alcoholics. I buy meths in big bottles at the supermarket or hardware store. Put the meths in small spray bottles and spray on your hands and suspect surfaces. It is actually far more potent than sanitizer, which often has only 30% alcohol.

      2. Anthony G Stegman

        Always wear surgical gloves when out and about. Pandemics will be the new normal going forward due to humans mucking up the planet.

    2. Keith in Modesto

      “…chances of social chaos if the authorities do not handle their responsibilities with care….”

      As I read this, my first thought were of New Orleans after Katrina and Puerto Rico after Maria. After decades of market-fundamentalists dominating our elites, our authorities don’t seem to really believe that the government should be in the business of promoting the general welfare of the populace.

      1. Michael Fiorillo

        Those elites not only don’t believe in promoting the general welfare, they lust to “never let a good crisis go to waste,” and use it to enrich themselves and extend their power.

        After Katrina, every public school teacher in New Orleans was fired, and the public school system dismantled in favor of privatized charter schools. That was quickly followed by the destruction of local public housing: Disaster Capitalism at work.

    3. polecat

      I have found, in my personal interactions, that neighbors reciprocate, bo(o)rs generally don’t ! … And in this society of our’s vs their’s, I don’t see neighborly kumbya across all property lines.

    4. Kaleberg

      Supply chains are less fragile than one thinks. Read DeFoe’s Journal of a Plague Year. If you think we panic in the face of an epidemic, 17th century England makes us look insouciant. Despite this, food flowed into London for those who remained. I doubt we are in that much worse shape, at least not so far.

      1. ambrit

        I have read DeFoe’s “Journal of a Plague Year.” One thing that struck me forcefully was the “dog eat dog” ethos in evidence among the general population, especially the “middle classes” of the time. If one could get the H— out of town, one did.
        The supply chains of the 1600’s are vastly different from the supply chains today. Many ‘ordinary’ people grew something for themselves, even if only greens and herbs. My mother mentions having a quite ‘robust’ vegetable garden in the back yard of their London semi-urban house. Everyone did so, out of necessity. To that end, there were still people around with the requisite horticultural skills. It was still not too long after the switch from the agricultural social order to the industrial one. “Institutional memory” was still available. Today, most of us are ‘learning by doing.’
        We, being atavists of a sort, taught our children about vegetables and fruits by having each child have a little garden plot to till. It was not self sufficiency, not by a long shot! But it got the point across. Food does not appear by ‘magic’ on the shelves of commercial venues. It has to be grown. Today in the West, that food can be grown a thousand miles away and shipped to market. Back then, food was grown pretty close to the metropolis. So, once that thousand mile long food supply chain is broken, where are the farmers within trucking range of your town who must replace that lost production? This says that an entire market garden infrastructure must be built up and got running, overnight. Such will not be possible. If it does happen, there will be a lag time, perhaps long enough to guarantee some starvation and social discord.

  5. Ignacio

    I have just read at El Pais (in Spanish) it must also be in English somewhere that in Qom (Iran) at least 50 could have died from Covid-19. Might it be true there is a more virulent strain spreading on Iran? I still believe that the extent of the outbreak must be much greater than reported and there are probably practices that facilitate contagion in ways that make the disease more deadly.

    1. PlutoniumKun

      Its in the Guardian too that there are 50 deaths, but the government is denying it. Its possible of course that this is a super virulent strain, but I think its more likely that the government sat on information about the spread of the virus until the election was over. Its a ‘Reformer’ Mayor who seems to have let the cat out of the bag that there are 50 deaths so far, which implies several thousand people with the infection – implying that the motivation was to ensure the election that favoured Conservatives would take place.

      Whichever way you look at it, this is a disaster for Iran – their oil industry could collapse without Chinese demand, and now they have to deal with a severe outbreak.

      1. vlade

        Couldn’t have happened to nicer chaps. Maybe the Iranian people decide that they had had enough (although by the low eleciton turnout, it’s already starting).

        Mind you, that doesn’t mean US friendly regime (especially the current US govt friendly), but maybe a wee bit more sensible than the current one.

        1. The Rev Kev

          Saywhatnow? With all due respect, they were on the way to a more sensible government of moderates. But then Trump and Co. tore up the nuclear agreement and tried to crush their economy which led to the hardliners having a window to come back through. The US is demanding that they fulfill 12 conditions-

          But reading between the lines, that is a surrender document. The only government that would be acceptable for Iran by the US is one that would be under the control of Saudi Arabia. And Allah help all those minorities in Iran then. And last time I looked, there are no Christian churches and Synagogues in Saudi Arabia but plenty still in Iran-

          1. The Pale Scot

            Heck, go back to ’53 when the CIA overthrew a democratically elected government because it insisted on a 50/50 cut of oil revenues with the Brits, same as what the Sauds were getting from us. They started screaming COMMUNISTS! and that’s all it took. Ever since we’ve been doubling down on our stupidity.

            If I have to choose between Shai nutters and Wahabi nut jobs I’d go with the 12 Imans. Iran was our natural ally in that region, but the Saud’s oil was easier to get to.

            1. Chris

              This is one of those cases where I think we need to have a framework to put aside comments like “couldn’t happen to nicer folks” because if a country like Iran falls to plague it will eventually hit here too. And if we’re seen as withholding aid or making it worse then we could very well see infected trying to sneak past our borders (easy to do) and countries that we’ve antagonized refusing to share information with us.

              If there ever was a case to be made for the concept of “fighting them there so we don’t have to fight them here” it’s with a pandemic!

              1. vlade

                The problem with that is it’s too late already, and it seems that the Iranian government went for secrecy.

                If the Iranian government went, much earlier, for “we may have a problem, but can’t deal with it because of the US sanctions”, it would have high moral ground, and say Europe would be hard pressed not to help them regardless of the US sanctions or not – and your arguemnt could have been deployed in the US (fight the virus in Iran so it doesn’t get here).

                Unfortunately, it seems that the Iranian governent choose to supress the information so that it could run its (by most accounts semi-crooked, like baring candidates etc., elections), which, if it quarantined cities, would be pretty much impossible.

                Now it’s reaping what it sown, and unfortunately, Iranian people, and a lot of the middle east (and others) possibly as well. Do you think it will buy Iran much good will when the world likely finds out that it has really thousands, not tens, of cases, and put in no restrictions? There’s no way that Iran has low tens of cases as it claims. If it has 12 deaths then it’s very likely it has high hundreds of cases. If it has 50 deaths, then it likely has thousands – and that’s going by Chinese statistcs, which are very likely (for a number of reasons) incomplete.

                If you _really_ wanted a conspiracy theory, you’d say that Iranian government could have decided to weaponise the disease by witholding the information. Yes, it will hurt them. But they are already hurting, so are sort of “used” to it, while Europe/US isn’t.

              2. clarky90

                Chris, I am glad that you referred to this scourge by it’s historical/biblical name; “plague”. Covid19 sounds like an app, a dotcom startup or “a disruptive innovation to say, “cure cancer” for the millionth time…..” This is a “disruption”,……. but in the catastrophic sense of the word…imo of course

          2. vlade

            I’m not disputing that the US, as per usual, made total mess.

            But the current crop is horrible – selecting your government on basis that it talks hard with the US but gives rat’s for its citzens should give them a pause.

    2. mpalomar

      One wonders what the effect of sanctions will play in degrading the ability of countries like Iran and Venezuela to care for their populations.

    3. Samuel Conner

      For what It is worth (and it may not be worth much), the ratio of “deaths / recovered” in China ex Hubei is 1.1% “from beginning of reporting” and about 0.4% in the last 36 hours (3 died/~800 recovered; there was what looks like a revision [or maybe my fat-fingered typing] that bolloxed the 24 hrs reporting for 2/23 so I can’t give a ratio for that day alone). More than 50% of “confirmed cases” in China ex Hubei are reported “recovered” and the new deaths in that region are tapering off.

      Ratios for World ex China look very bad, probably due at least in part to underdiagnosis.

      I’m not a subject matter expert, but I think that the concerns about a more virulent mutated strain in Iran (I saw that YouTube video, too; it was IMO well argued) are at this point IMO highly speculative. One would, I think, expect mutations to be more likely to occur in a population in which the infection was more widespread, for the reason that RNA copying errors are likelier where there is more copying. I hope that the implied higher lethality of the disease in Iran is an artefact of incomplete sampling or other factors, such impairment of the medical system (“maximum pressure sanctions” — we may regret those before this is over) or even pre-existing conditions — is the Iranian population under “maximum pressure sanctions” all that much better nourished than the general world population was at the end of WWI?

      This is not meant to sound like “move along, nothing to see”; it does look like an early-stage pandemic is underway.

      Stay well, everyone.

      1. xkeyscored

        You could be right about more mutations when infections are widespread, but RNA copying errors occur every time the virus replicates, which it does many times within each person as it spreads from cell to cell.

        1. Jeotsu

          With a mixed population of virus particles due to replication errors, you could possibly get selective pressure if certain patients have an allele pattern (ACE2 receptors, possibly other proteins) that causes strong positive selection (very rapid replication and spread) of sub-populations of the Covid-19 Virus.

          If coupled with super-spreaders that could cause local outbreaks with distinctive behaviors (R0, lethality, latency, disease presentation, etc)

          Caveat: I’m a biochemist, not a virologist.

          1. Kevin C. Smith

            The data I’ve seen on the rate of Covid-19 transcription errors suggests that the rate is low, and the virus is quite stable.

            But … in a large enough infected population, even a low mutation rate can give rise to a lot of mutations [the great majority of which will be completely useless] but occasionally there will be a mutation which confers increased lethality or some other interesting property.

            1. Stadist

              I’m not virologist or biochemist, but the extremely long incubation times sound interesting compared to the operation of viral infections. Virus hijacks cells – makes more viruses – cycle starts a new. Eventually body starts fighting the infection and manifested symptoms are part of immune response, not the viral infection itself.

              It somehow manages to root in while dodging immune response for long time. People getting pneumonia or flu symptoms is 100% sign of immune response. Either the incubation times are extremely long, or alternatively there are phantom undetected super spreaders who never get any significant symptoms. I hope for the latter, because the former long incubation times don’t seem a good sign to me intuitively. Long incubation time sounds very bad.

      2. Karen

        I’ve seen reports to the effect that the immunity that develops after a first infection is not complete, and that a second infection can be far more dangerous due to (a) effects of antiviral drugs used the first time and/or (b) risk of cytokine storm. With the result of sudden cardiac arrest…which could explain why so many in Wuhan seemed to drop dead suddenly on the street. Is there any validity to these reports in peoples’ view?

        1. Samuel Conner

          The view of a reasonably well read non-physician: there was a link at NC (I think in comments) yesterday or the day before that quoted a physician in Taiwan whose remarks made it sound (to me, trying to fill in what seemed to be significant gaps in the reporting) like the drugs were impairing heart function, and that re-infected patients with impaired heart function but also with more robust immune response (from having fought off the first infection), were at elevated risk of heart failure.

          The report sounds plausible to me, immune responses can have side-effects, and if there are co-morbidities that interact with those…

  6. LawnDart

    Probably will start the week at work by trying to identify what critical components that we rely upon to run our business (rebuilding, repair, and fabrication of heavy industrial equipment), such as fasteners, welding wire/stick, etc, might soon be subject to shortage, and then try to figure out what we’re going to do about it– so much of what we use on a daily basis is ultimately sourced from China that this may be a rather interesting exercise.

    Looks like the s**t is in the air and heading towards the fan. Really nice if the crystal ball was working, but it seems best to get prepared for business as unusual.

    1. xkeyscored

      Don’t forget whatever you source from Italy, Japan or South Korea, never mind wherever else it’s popped up or affected by the time you read this.

  7. Eustache de Saint Pierre

    Listened last night to the 2.5 hr Q&A given on Saturday by NHS Doctor John Campbell as linked to by Monty. Lots of very good info for which I will listen again in order to take notes on how best to cope . It appears that he has worked in various places in the world & is getting info from places like Iran from other doctors that he knows. He does a lot of mythbusting & explains things very well in best practice’s to cope & how these tiny little killers work.

    Yesterday he did a round up of some of the countries infected in this 23 min vid, worried mainly by Iran from where he has contacts, believes that both Australia & the UK despite their claims to the opposite are not prepared – lack of respirators. ICU beds for example, while being concerned about US healthcare while praising the efforts of US authorities in preparation for what he states should now be declared a pandemic by the WHO. Going by what I have learned here about US healthcare I think that he could be disappointed by the reality of US authorities reaction if it comes to that.

    1. Foy

      And here in Australia our government has just announced that some Chinese years 11 and 12 students previously under a travel ban, excluding those in Hubei province, can travel back to Australia to resume their studies (some 786 students to be considered on a case by case basis whatever that means). It seems our education lobby which has a massive reliance and exposure to foreign students is winning the lobbying war to allow students back so the start to the year (and the dollar income) doesn’t get delayed. Business 1, Country’s Health 0.

      I think that decision is going to look a little rushed (very silly) very soon. Especially when the Victorian Chief Health Officer has just said that ‘a pandemic is very likely, if not inevitable’

      1. Shiloh1

        No surprise on influence of education lobby. I would not be surprised when certain public schools / locales call the end of semester at time of spring break in U.S. for those places near coasts / major urban areas the later spring break falls on calendar, but no one will miss a paycheck. Remote classrooms are the stuff of the distant future apparently, unless you know about Khan Institute.

      2. The Rev Kev

        Did you notice that they were very quick to stop Chinese students coming back into the country? I thought about it and realized that of course that many of the children of the politicians and bureaucrats would be of an age to be attending university themselves.

        1. Foy

          Yes Rev Kev I did notice that early on with the uni students travel ban. Good observation you made make there, I hadn’t thought of that.

          I thought that was a good move to go to rolling weekly travel bans until more information about the disease was known. Then they went and undid that with the lifting of the Year 11 and 12 student travel bans, which I thought was very odd. Almost as if it was a trial balloon to see what happens, in every sense, what the public thought of it and what happens disease wise.

    2. xkeyscored

      IMO, it’s not just the health authorities and their preparedness we should think about. The USA seems to be full of fiercely individualistic, gun-toting anti-vaxxer agnotologists who wouldn’t take kindly to their town or city being quarantined.

  8. Ignacio

    Lots of events are in jeopardy. The Mobile meeting in Barcelona was cancelled like the Chinese Leadership meeting. Add Olympic Games (PK was first to signal), major Football leagues, Giro di Italia… Not to mention democratic events!

  9. False Solace

    I apologize for not yet reading the entire post. However I wanted to share an interesting aggregation of links from redditor Fwoggie2 on the SupplyChain subreddit. This person has been compiling CV related links relevant to supply chain issues on a near daily basis. Here’s the post for Feb 23.

    * As for calling it “CV”, this is the practice of a youtuber who noticed that YT is demonetizing videos where people use the actual name of the illness. That basically encourages people to either not report on the coronavirus, or to use curious circumlocutions.

  10. Eustache de Saint Pierre

    Dr. Campbell is also concerned about Indonesia for a number or reasons although there are no confirmed cases as yet. I must admit that this would concern me & people in Northern Ireland if Covid-19 were to turn up there as not far from me there are a couple of thousand Indonesian migrant workers who do the dirty work in the local meat plants. On saying that though, I don’t think that the poor buggers can afford or are allowed the time to travel that long distance back home very often.

    1. PlutoniumKun

      A friend of mine living in Jakarta recently was hospitalised by a very bad attack of typhoid – almost certainly the result of water contamination during the floods there in early January (her families home was under water for about 3 days). Covid-19 deaths could quite easily be disguised behind an outbreak like this if the authorities were minded to keep it out of the news.

      1. divadab

        Typhoid is endemic in Indonesia – my son caught it there in 2001 and the speed of his diagnosis and treatment reflects this.

    2. fajensen

      Those other migrant workers, the prostitutes, can afford to travel often and they do that because they work as ‘unofficial contractors’ on tourist visas. Many of them may not really have a lot of choice about going either, they often owe money to someone nasty and a little coughing shall not stay the payments.

      The authorities pretty much have to screen everybody and meticulously bust every AirBnB in Copenhagen. Even if the medical screening worked technically, the task is quite impossible – China couldn’t pull it off, I doubt that “Liberal Democracy” somehow could do a better job. Maybe we can do cleaner welds on the apartment doors?

    3. Samuel Conner

      I thought that Dr Campbell’s mention of an anecdote from a physician contact of a recent Indonesian medical visit in which the patient had symptoms of respiratory infection was a bit “over the top”, bordering on scare-mongering; In a nation of 150million, there will be many of those daily from pathogens already endemic in the region. It would have been enough to note that Indonesia is unprepared for surveillance of the progress of this disease (which would be useful for implementation of control measures). That itself is cause for significant concern.

      1. Eustache de Saint Pierre

        Yes, I would agree with that, but as they say no-one is perfect least of all me :) & for the vast majority of what I have heard from him he has been much more measured & given out some very good information – people asking him dumb questions so I didn’t have to.

        I Just hope they somehow avoid it as they have had enough to put up with from imported nasty things from foreigners – Neoliberal shock therapy for instance.

  11. vlade

    IMO (and I keep repeating myself), the attempt to contain has failed, and the sooner we admit it, the better. Doesn’t mean we’d not continue increasing social distancing (although the goal should not be to contain, but to slow down so that the healt care can at least try to cope), but a priority must go to treatments/vaccination as opposed to hoping that nothing will happen. And, I’d say, a really top priority should be data reliable collection, for which, China (and now Japan) should come out clear. I’m not holding my breath, as both CCP and Abe will try to look in control no matter what.

    In fact, I’m not holding my breath on any of this, as there’s a total lack of leadership everywhere that would matter. Moreover, I’d be willing to make a bet that if we are incredibly lucky and this blows over w/o too much problems, no lessons will be learned by those who can make a difference, so we’ll just wait for another disease X.

    The silver lining on this (hahaha) is that a pandemic that shuts down air travel and large parts of industrial China/Asia will significantly reduce CO2 emissions, so it could buy us a bit more time.

    1. fajensen

      The silver lining on this (hahaha) is that a pandemic that shuts down air travel and large parts of industrial China/Asia will significantly reduce CO2 emissions, so it could buy us a bit more time

      But, the active ingredients in many of the treatments we would like to apply are made in China/Asia factories ….

      And, Meanwhile, In Sweden they recently awarded a major procurement contract for medical supplies to a company who normally sells slush-ice machines – with the expected-by-everyone-else-outcome being No More Medical Supplies – because Free Markets (and sick people are malingerers anyway who need a sharp kick up their lazy backsides)!

    2. Samuel Conner

      Another “silver lining” in the sense of “don’t let the crisis go to waste” is that it highlights in brutal fashion how inequality within nations endangers even those at the top. When you can’t be sure that your personal servants aren’t plague-bearers (or that your assets will continue to function as they previously have), it’s hard to carry on the former way of life.

      Of course, this might simply spur the elites to invest in automation for personal service and de-humanization of supply chains. Of course, automatons could, in principle, be hacked. Maybe there will be no-where to run.

      1. The Rev Kev

        Do you mean to imply that the elites will have to mind their own children, clean their own homes and do their own washing & shopping? Do they know how? No, seriously. Maybe they could watch YouTube tutorials for hints on how.

    3. xkeyscored

      Vaccines take time to develop and deploy. Even if one is fast-tracked without the usual clinical trials, it’s most unlikely to be available in time to make any appreciable difference this year. Various drugs for other diseases that have already undergone clinical trials are being investigated, but without any clear hopefuls so far.

      1. Jeotsu

        In regards to virus development, I wonder about the (discussed but not proven?) possibility of reinfection.

        This might be significant as it may imply that (in some cases) the body has trouble generating a strong antibody response to the virus. Thus it may be that the virus does not have good epitopes – specific shape-areas to which antibodies can be generated that have high selectivity and specificity. In a previous life I works on antibody therapeutics (characterizing the binding affinity), and this was a problem we sometimes encountered.

        Vaccines are mostly a method of presenting the body a set of viral epitopes (weakened live viruses, killed viruses, virus fragments) so that a strong immune response can be generated. If Covid-19 for whatever reason does not (or occasionally does not) have such nice clean epitopes, then vaccine development could be much more fraught than some think.

        Caveat: I’m a biochemist, not a virologist.

      2. vlade

        I realise that. In addition to that, vaccine is not effective immediately.
        That’s why I wrote that “quarantine” may be still useful to give us more time. But the time we get must be used proactively – I see precious little of that right now TBH.

  12. Chris

    Does anyone know if the infections are reported to be effecting young (less than 30 years old) and healthy individuals? All the information I’ve seen points to older people and the infirm suffering and dying from this infection.

    1. PlutoniumKun

      It does seem that small children seem largely immune to it, or are only getting mild symptoms. Its possible though that this is because of the way the disease is spreading.

      So far, the main theory seems to be that its smokers and people with existing respiratory problems who are most at risk of death.

      1. Chris

        That’s what I’ve seen in news about this too. While any loss of life is nothing to be glib about it seems like this isn’t different from a flu season really. That doesn’t mean it won’t evolve into something more deadly. But to me it means that the time to panic is when we start getting information that it’s killing kids and adults equally.

        1. Fern

          You better believe it’s very different from any flu season you’ve ever experienced. The death rate is likely about 20 times higher than seasonal flu. And early estimates are that up to 20% might have critical illness which includes respiratory failure, septic shock, or other organ failure requiring intensive care. By comparison, this week’s influenza hospitalization rate was 0.0474%.

          So even if the percent with critical illness eventually turns out to be only 5% or 10%, you can see that it would completely swamp all medical resources. Oh…. and it appears to be incredibly contagious too.

          1. Chris

            There’s so much we really don’t know yet I would be very careful about stating any confidence in the fatality information we do have. I’m going to trust the virologists who are saying this is still an unknown quantity but hasn’t passed flu concerned yet.

            Best data we have so far really seems to say that this virus is attacking the elderly (>60 years), the infirm, smokers, people who live in areas with high pollution. So far this isn’t spanish flu.

            1. clarky90

              If it does kill you, it seems to typicaly take a long time to do so. This muddies the CFRs and throws hospitals and ICUs into chaos; overworked/exhausted medical staff; patients in the corridors….bad
              news…patients needing intensive care for weeks and weeks….

          2. Harvey

            The problem is that this thing started in a country in which data and action is changed and suppressed to suit political agendas.
            So nobody knows how many people have the virus or how many have died.
            If you add up what has come out of this country, and what has been disappeared from youtube, then you could come to the following conclusions.
            The outbreak is way bigger than the official numbers.
            Hospitals are swamped and have nothing like the facilities to treat people properly.
            The 10 day hospitals have minimal, if any, hospital equipment, and are really quarantine centres to keep sick people in one place.
            The death toll has been hidden because most people with it have not been tested and just been sent home.
            Smokers, and older people, say 45 and up, have a really hard time and probably need timely hospital care, oxygen and ventilation to survive.
            For healthy younger people, it is like getting a cold. Except for younger people under a lot of stress and working long hours, who can also die from it. (eg medical staff).
            And will western countries fare much better with so many aging people?

            1. wilroncanada

              I didn’t realize it started in the United states. Isn’t that what your first paragraph is referring to?

        2. Samuel Conner

          Flu in US kills about 0.1% of patients, and the ones who succumb are, like the with new virus, disproportionately those who for whatever reason are less healthy to begin with. The corresponding ratio for the new disease appears on present data to be about 10 times higher.

          On present data, this appears to be much worse than seasonal flu.

          One might argue that the total number infected is still undercounted so the true mortality rate is lower than present estimates, but in that case, it should still be spreading rapidly in China ex Hubei, but it is not (if the data are trustworthy).

          The present posture should be, I think, that this is much worse than seasonal flu.

          1. xkeyscored

            Forget the /s, it’s joined my age as an excuse not to even try and quit. Especially given my age!

        1. TroyMcClure

          Tons of former smokers had to quit to due imminent death as the result of health complications from their smoking.

    2. David

      It would be interesting to know also if there’s a link with air pollution: last summer the air quality in some French cities was so bad people were being advised to stay indoors. This has been going on for a while now, and the cumulative effect on health was starting to worry people even before the current epidemic.

      1. PlutoniumKun

        I think the reason they focus on smoking is that it would explain the higher mortality rate among men in China. But a quick scan of articles through Google Scholar would indicate that the ACE2 receptor (the key one for the virus) is also weakened by PM2.5 particulates. So yes, there could well be more mortality in high pollution areas, especially where there are a lot of diesel vehicles. I doubt if we’ll really know for sure until this whole thing blows through the population.

        1. skippy

          Reply for Ignacio and yourself …

          Wonder if infection ratios and deaths related to smoking have a casual agent with the hand to mouth aspect, could also be regional factors related to cultural methods in smoking.

          Can’t think of another human habit that requires constant hand to mouth, accentuated by the insertion of the cigarette into the mouth.

          1. Brian (another one they call)

            I would add spitting. It is apparently common in China as a relief for bad humours. Touch not being required.
            May I suggest, check out Chris Martenson/Adam Taggart’s site, Peak Prosperity. He has a daily update where he collects the data available worldwide. Chris has a PhD in toxicology and he often comments about attempts to wrangle the virus by various players. He cuts through a lot of bunk. We are still at a critical phase where entire regions are not informing the public about the endemic facing the populace. Fear and knowledge are competing right now. Its the knowledge we need to have in place.


      2. Ignacio

        Pollution by itself makes a lot of damage, particularly on the younger and the elder, so it is almost certainly an aggravating factor that combined with Covid-19 increases lethality as with flu and other infectious respiratory diseases.

        This is indeed one of the major reasons to fight fossil fuels.

  13. David

    Rather like ambrit above, my fear is as much for the social consequences of this epidemic as for the medical ones, which I’m not competent to talk about. I fear that, in the West at least, we are heading for some kind of traumatic collective nervous breakdown if this thing continues to get worse. Now I don’t mean by that the traditional elite fear of riots in the streets and revolution: rather, I think it will be a kind of catatonia in which people simply refuse to accept what is happening and then behave randomly and irrationally.
    Why? Well, imagine that you were HG Wells in the 1930s looking to write a last disaster novel set in a future England, and, as a good Socialist, you wanted to show how a future capitalist society might break down rapidly. You would assume the destruction and enfeeblement of government, the disappearance of much state capacity, the decline of political discourse and the political class, the infantilisation brought about by a risk-averse society, the break-up of family units, the destruction of communities, the privatisation and commodification of the media, the stress and anonymity of modern life and the effective end of collective values in favour of ruthless individualism based on ascriptive identities of gender and colour. Oh, and the end of trades unions, mass political parties and intermediate organisations such as churches and social clubs. Of course such a story would be dismissed as hopelessly dystopian, and not taken seriously.
    There was a rash of novels in the 1950s and 60s by authors like John Wyndham and John Christopher, and later JG Ballard, exploring the consequences of catastrophe on the placid and well-structured England of the era. The problem now is that the social and official structures don’t exist in the first place: The Day of the Triffids seems positively nostalgic today.

    1. Redlife2017

      I think you are referring to this little story by Edgar Allen Poe published in 1842 (my middle school teacher made sure that we read all of his works except his detective stories): The Masque of the Red Death

      Prospero and 1,000 other nobles have taken refuge in this walled abbey to escape the Red Death, a terrible plague with gruesome symptoms that has swept over the land. Victims are overcome by “sharp pains”, “sudden dizziness”, and “profuse bleeding at the pores”, and die within half an hour. Prospero and his court are indifferent to the sufferings of the population at large; they intend to await the end of the plague in luxury and safety behind the walls of their secure refuge, having welded the doors shut.

      Of course it doesn’t work out the way they thought it would:

      At the chiming of midnight, the revelers [at the Ball] and Prospero notice a figure in a dark, blood-splattered robe resembling a funeral shroud. The figure’s mask resembles the rigid face of a corpse and exhibits the traits of the Red Death. Gravely insulted, Prospero demands to know the identity of the mysterious guest so they can hang him. The guests, too afraid to approach the figure, instead let him pass through the six chambers. The Prince pursues him with a drawn dagger and corners the guest in the seventh room. When the figure turns to face him, the Prince lets out a sharp cry and falls dead. The enraged and terrified revelers surge into the black room and forcibly remove the mask and robe, only to find to their horror that there is nothing underneath. Only then do they realize the costume was empty and all of the guests contract and succumb to the disease. The final line of the story sums up, “And Darkness and Decay and the Red Death held illimitable dominion over all.”

      Poe understood what the betters do and what drives them insane…Of course, try reading that when you are a 12 year old…

      1. David

        Curiously enough, no: I was thinking specifically of the science fiction books of my youth which featured natural catastrophes of different kinds overwhelming the calm, slightly stuffy, well-organised and rather provincial English society of the day. Such books haven’t been written since the 1970s, because the basic dynamic in them no longer exists: society is broken down already. There’s no reassuring voice on the BBC, no memories of the Blitz, no Man from the Ministry, no Church, Boy Scout hall, community system, trades union branch or extended family to act as a first line of defence. You’re on your own, except for what you can buy, as long as they’re selling it.

        1. neighbor7

          This is a really good point about the change in science fiction that I haven’t seen brought up elsewhere. Much more visible in English sf because of actual functioning society. (Similarly, I was struck as a teen by the social content of English rock music as compared with American.)

          I’ve been thinking a lot about H G Wells recently, wanting to dig out some of his forgotten utopic dystopic novels and nonfiction. Wings Over the World and the Gas of Peace might be hopeful outcomes…

          I’d love to read anything further you write on this topic.

          1. The Rev Kev

            Try reading John Wyndham’s “The Kraken Wakes” which has a lot of biting comment on how governments react in emergencies. Here aliens take over the world’s ocean and eventually cause the seas to rise and the climate to change.

        2. Monty

          Gosh, do you remember getting nightmares from Day of the Triffids or Z for Zachariah? I do. Scarred for life!!!

        3. ObjectiveFunction

          You’re on your own, except for what you can buy, as long as they’re selling it.

          Superb and eloquent comments here, David, cheers.

      2. Karen

        Cory Doctorow brought this story into the modern age with his book Radicalized–favorably reviewed here at Naked Capitalism. A depressing and persuasive read.

    2. PlutoniumKun

      The Peak Prosperity YT channel, which has been a pretty level headed source of information so far, is theorising that a botched official response will lead to a complete breakdown of faith in public authority, with very difficult to anticipate long term implications. The Chinese government clearly sees this, which is why their response seems so uncompromising, in contrast to the confusion elsewhere.

      Public authorities always have a very difficult balance in these situations between warning people and taking precautions, while not promoting panic or being ‘the boy who cried wolf’ if it turns out not to be so bad. Even if they do a good job, they’ll still be criticised (I recall in Ireland where the response to a Polio outbreak in the 1950’s was severely criticised and had major political repercussions, despite later reports concluding that the public health response was actually quite balanced and implemented competently). But for reasons I’m sure all NCers will know, I would have far less faith now in public bodies across the West than I would have had a few decades ago. So far, the response I’ve seen hasn’t been encouraging.

    3. allan

      The pandemic will bring out the best in people and the worst in people. A sample of the latter:

      Feds backtrack on transfer of quarantined coronavirus patients to Alabama [ABC]

      … Hours after Anniston County’s City Council voted Sunday to pursue legal action against the federal government over its proposal to transfer patients from the Diamond Princess cruise ship to the town’s FEMA facility for quarantine, U.S. Sen. Richard Shelby and Gov. Kay Ivey announced on Twitter that plans had changed. …

      Ivey said President Donald Trump called her and assured her that the patients who were aboard the Diamond Princess wouldn’t be transferred to Alabama.

      “I thanked him for his support of AL! We always want to help our fellow Americans, but this wasn’t fully vetted,” Ivey tweeted. …

      “Always want to” is doing a lot of work there.

      1. Ford Prefect

        I think that means they should move the FEMA facility to a different city. They want the jobs, but not the tasks.

      2. Roger Smith

        Imagine people being concerned for their self-preservation in the face of a rapidly spreading, potentially hidden, currently incurable, deadly, ambiguous new pathogen, then having other people calling them xenophobic for the concern. I heard that if you hang a rainbow flag over your door the virus will know to skip your house. The level of “Social Justice” nonsense that has wormed its way into issue this is evident of another dangerous social virus that has infected our culture.

    4. Ignacio

      My first comment was stuck in moderation and I expressed there that fear or panic themselves are my worst fears rather than the disease itself. I fear reactions like that on The Chase (A. Penn) but with a racist take.

  14. PlutoniumKun

    Michael Pettis (Finance Professor in Peking University) is tweeting that Beijing announced last night CNY252.3 billion of ‘urban projects’ to boost the economy and there are multiple other such announcements, including a new Maglev train in Yunnan which will cost 4% of the entire Chinese GNP. He is saying that the government is clearly doubling down on meeting its annual GNP growth target by whatever means necessary.

    Meanwhile, I’m told that Chinese media is reporting in detail on a theory that the virus originated in the US, that the US is disguising Covid-19 deaths as ‘flu’ and that the disease was brought to Wuhan by a US Soldier or spectator during the Wuhan Military Games in October 2019. I’m afraid my Hanzi googling skills aren’t good enough to provide any links.

    I think this is a sign than the ‘economy first’ argument is winning in China and that if the numbers don’t drop soon they’ll drop the restrictions anyway and let the disease rip through, with a view to a rapid recovering in the second half of the year.

    1. skippy

      Probably the most likely scenario is it will be gamed economically, really no way to stop it, more a case of when one chooses to to let it run it course and how that can be managed through PR.

    2. vlade

      yes, I do believe that the external-enemy (or at least “external cause”) is very likely to be used in the China.
      I’ve also no doubt that there will be a sufficient number of people to believe it, which makes the whole thing scary. Unleashing a tiger to get you out of a cage is one thing, riding it is another.

    3. PlutoniumKun

      Pettis has added that the problem for local governments is interpreting what Beijing desires, and there is a tendency for over-reactions as local officials try to follow what they think Xi wants. The outbreak occurred because the Wuhan authorities opted for ‘economy first’ and so tried to shut up doctors whistleblowing. For the past 4 weeks it has been the opposite – ‘stop the virus’ has been the number one priority.

      He is saying that this weeks statements by Xi is a clear indicator that Beijing is now giving the contrary instruction – the economy is #1 again. This will mean another whiplash move by local governments as they rush to get people back to work.

      The Guardian is reporting today that the WHO is now convinced that the disease is now in decline in China. WHO haven’t exactly covered themselves with glory over this, but even if they are right, this may well result in a complete reversal of the quarantine policy that seems to be working.

      Conversely, behind a paywall, an article in New Scientist is arguing that its too late now.

      So much confusion. I’d hate to be a Chinese official with the job of making a decision on this.

      1. Ignacio

        Chinese authorities must now be aware that if they want to pretend control on the disease massive quarantines & controls should be extended for too long and make lots of irreversible damage. It must be tough to admit that after all that sacrifice little is achieved.

  15. Joe Well

    Some of my friends on FB are already posting about how CV fears are #propaganda.

    Justified distrust of the media and elites in general is going to shape this crisis.

  16. Tom Stone

    I picked the wrong time to be immunosuppressed, time to load up on nitrile gloves while they are still available…

  17. carl

    Go shopping for basic foodstuffs now. When the word “quarantine” appears in your local media it’s too late.

  18. Polar Donkey

    I live in a city with 25% poverty rate, with one of the highest rates of diabetes and smoking, awash in guns, and almost no excess medical care capacity. It will get real bad real quick. Almost no one here is paying attention yet. I have been telling friends and family for 3 weeks to buy supplies for 14 to 21 dayss of lockdown. They thought I was crazy 2 weeks ago, now not so much.

    1. Food chain

      Dont remember who said it but some sodiers said that preppers were only saving the most violent people from having to do the shopping. Those with guns and no qualms about violence will take your food unless you are many and inclined to violence.

  19. FreeMarketApologist

    I’ll add to the anecdotal information about the virus affecting the conference business: In the past week, the company I work for (large international non-US-based bank) has announced a ban on all but the most essential international travel (i.e., it had better be a top-tier client, with a deal that is actively about to close, that cannot be done over video conference. No conferences). Travel must be approved by both of the affected regional heads. Employees on business or personal travel returning from a region with WHO-identified cases (most everywhere at this point) are requested to not come into the office for 2 weeks upon their return (i.e., work from home).

  20. Samuel Conner

    On the theory that political consequences can emerge out of economic consequences, and given that we are at a sensitive moment in the evolution of the US political system, possibly at a tipping point (if I may be suffered to lift a metaphor from “Doctor Who”, not a boring Tuesday or Thursday, but a Saturday when all sorts of things are possible), I’m curious about what is known about the economic consequences of the most recent major pandemic, 1918-19.

    This item, near the top of my preliminary search,

    is behind a paywall. I don’t have time just now to dig deeper — am throwing the question out in hope of eliciting information from those who already know of good public data on this, or perhaps stimulating someone to dig that up before I have time to try myself.

    1. xkeyscored

      This is the abstract from that paper:
      We study the impact of the 1918 influenza pandemic on short- and medium-term economic performance in Sweden. The pandemic was one of the severest and deadliest pandemics in human history, but it has hitherto received only scant attention in the economic literature – despite representing an unparalleled labour supply shock. In this paper, we exploit seemingly exogenous variation in incidence rates between Swedish regions to estimate the impact of the pandemic. The pandemic led to a significant increase in poorhouse rates. There is also evidence that capital returns were negatively affected by the pandemic. However, contrary to predictions, we find no discernible effect on earnings.

      1. The Rev Kev

        Could that have been because any labour shortages caused by flu deaths were filled by men returning from WW1 which kept the economy turning over?

        1. ambrit

          Uh, Sweden? World War One? The “War of the Hanseatic League” maybe. Now, counter-intuitively, could returning German WW-1 vets have skipped on over to Sweden to fill the pandemic induced shortages in industry? (Is there an overlap of German and Swedish labour pools?)

    2. xkeyscored

      This appears to be the paper in question, without a paywall. Searching the document for ‘war’ or ‘ww’ leads to one rather irrelevant result.

      According to these estimates, the pandemic led to a considerable effect on the labour supply
      of females and minors: each deceased person was replaced by 0.45 minors and 0.42 females –
      whereas the effect on male labour supply is insignificant. Once the timing of effects is taken into consideration, it becomes cear that minors were more responsive in the short term, whereas in particular males increased their labour supply in the aftermath of the pandemic – a finding which probably reflects differences in supply elasticities between these two groups.
      Interestingly, the results suggest that the mortality shock might have been overcompensated
      by an expansion in labour supply. However, we would like to emphasise that the quality of these
      labour supply data is not as high as for the other outcome variables – and this is why we have
      not included them amongst our main results.

    3. Anonymous 2

      I doubt there is much good data on this as people really only started collecting economic data seriously later in the C20.

      Some people have made some up retrospectively but I am rather sceptical about their efforts.

    4. skk

      Its probably too late now, given the amount of time required to absorb this all but a couple of years ago I listened to the 26 one hour long lectures on epidemics by Yale Uni’s Prof Snowden :

      Epidemics in Western Society 1

      Snowden’s delivery is quite somber, ghoulish even.

  21. Charles 2

    Amongst all this doom, a glimmer of hope is the stubborn refusal of the number of cases to go sharply up in Singapore, despite being a transportation hub and having authorities that are transparent and accountable. ASEAN number of cases are also comparatively small. Considering the explosion of cases in South Korea and Italy and Iran (yes for you Americans Qom and Teheran are in the Mountains and it can be cold in winter), I think that the theory of the virus having strong seasonality and being unable to resist hot weather is becoming more plausible every day that passes. The singapore government officials are already promoting fresh air
    If it is the case :
    – big air-conditioned shopping Malls are in a very bad situation,
    – e commerce will rise sharply up,
    – factories and public transportation will have to reconsider their climate control policies
    – factories located in countries which are permanently warm can be an hedge against winter production disruption. Good for ASEAN, Mexico and Southern US states.
    – it is a golden opportunity to relocate supply chain out of China : if you are a Chinese manufacturer and your choice is staying closed or sending your manufacturing equipment to, say, Vietnam and survive, what would you do ? Especially if Vietnam, or Thailand, Mexico or even the US offers fast track visas for your production Engineers… Those “thousand talents” who emigrated from Taiwan may look at their motherland with new eyes…

    1. MLTPB

      This virus has come not at the best time, from its perspective, if it can’t survive warmth, since the planet is experiencing Global Warmimg.

      Many places are getting hotter.

      As such, I wouldn’t under estimate here.

  22. Steve

    If you haven’t read The Great Influenza by John M. Barry yet it is a must read. it should be required reading in all schools. On NPR some years ago author Barry was asked what he was surprised to learn whiles researching the book. His response was how our government lies constantly, pathologically and often with no reason. It is a good bet that all governments are hedging the truth relating to the seriousness of the Coronavirus to protect their interests (even if those interests don’t exist).

      1. urblintz

        Not entirely on topic but you’ve inspired me to offer another Izzy gem which speaks to the uninformed hollywood lives we’ve been encouraged to consume:

        “History is a tragedy, not a melodrama.”

    1. neighbor7

      “…even if those interests don’t exist.” Imaginary interests–now that is a topic worth some exploration.

  23. The Rev Kev

    I don’t mind saying that this whole Coronavirus outbreak is starting to rattle my cage. SARS was fascinating to watch but this has a different feel to it altogether. The speed with which those outbreaks occurred in South Korea and Italy was something to behold. And this is just the first wave but what is really worrisome is that it might have a 27 day incubation period. A person could visit a lot of malls, shops, trains, doctors, hospitals, neighbours, friends, etc. in 27 days before getting sick.

    Iran is of particular concern due to its geographical location and how stretched their medical establishment must be. They are already under a medical embargo which will not help and I doubt that Trump will relent and allow more medical equipment to be delivered. But this will be a mistake as it will form a reservoir for Coronavirus. But it gets better. In late July and early August you have the Hajj – the pilgrimage to Mecca. Maybe two million people will be coming from all over the planet to attend and when it is over they will go back home by plane, train, automobile & private aircraft. Can you imagine if you had a few scattered super-spreaders in their midst?

    Like ambrit, I too worry how the social bonds from a century ago have been cut asunder by first the nuclear family and then neoliberalism. As for the world’s political leadership, think of those that went to the last G20 like Macron, Trump, Johnsone, Abe, Merkel and that does not fill you with confidence. And make no mistake, the world supply lines will be broken for an unknown length of time. Maybe California, for example, should stop growing animal feed for export to Saudi Arabia and start growing food for American consumption. Autarky is not really a dirty word, you know.

    As for myself, I have set up a file to add useful information to know as well as bookmarking sites like YouTube’s Peak Prosperity channel & NHS Doctor John Campbell’s channel. I have never been a prepper but perhaps now might be a time for an abundance of caution. But no, I will not panic-

    1. xkeyscored

      Dubious etymologies seem to be in fashion nowadays, so I propose that ‘pandemic’ derives from the Greek words πανικόν and δῆµος, ie. mass panic.

        1. xkeyscored

          Alternative roots are παν and δαιμόνιον, giving what Wiktionary lists as
          1. A place where all demons live; Hell.
          2. Chaos; tumultuous or lawless violence.

  24. Kevin C. Smith

    “but alcohol will kill it in a minute”
    Survival of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus
    Mary Y. Y. Lai, Peter K. C. Cheng, Wilina W. L. Lim
    Clinical Infectious Diseases, Volume 41, Issue 7, 1 October 2005, Pages e67–e71, . free download.

    I expect that there are or will soon be similar papers about persistence of COVID-19 on various surfaces, in various circumstances, and their attrition in response to various cleansers. Remember that the mechanical effect rubbing and scrubbing for a minute or so is very important: dislodges contaminants and disrupts mucus/feces on skin.

    Point is: 5 minutes of exposure to alcohol can reduce SARS virus [similar to COVID-19] IN MUCUS by 3 log [a factor of 1,000]. This is not nothing, but not very good either, considering that you may be starting with a viral load of billions or trillions on your hands if they are contaminated. FREE virus can be killed pretty fast by alcohol, but THAT is misleading because in the real world the virus is protected inside droplets of mucus, or in feces. PROTECTED virus [as we find in the real world] persists a lot longer than free virus straight out of a culture bottle!

    For what it is worth, [speaking as a doc] I combine a bit of hand soap [surfactant] with a bit of alcohol gel on my hands then rub it and scrub it all over my hands and wrists until it is pretty much evaporated [takes about a minute] then wipe my hands with paper towels [or the nice little cloth towels you throw in the wash after a single use, like you find in bathrooms at places like the Four Seasons]. Blow driers are not great, because the aerosolize whatever bugs are on your wet hands.

    Why not market a mixture of surfactant and alcohol gel?
    Surfactant disrupts the gelling agent, causing liquefaction of the mixture. So you have to mix it in the palms of your hands.

    1. Stadist

      People talk highly about alcohol sanitizers and scrubs. But most of these are bogus or of questionable value unless combined with through soap + water wash. Mostly because the sanitizers aren’t really removing anything from your hands.

  25. David Carl Grimes

    Won’t Covid-19 go away or at least lie dormant in warmer weather? Just like the flu? Then come back in winter?

    1. John Steinbach

      That’s what I’ve been wondering. Summer slows it down & then Northern Hemisphere winter (Flu season). CV infections take off & are masked by seasonal flu & colds. Panic ensues resulting in breakdown & further pandemic in North America/Europe/ME.

      Any thoughts from the commentariat?

      1. Chris

        I think the jury is still out on that because of two factors:

        1- the virus has been spreading in places that are already quite warm. Even in Hubei, it’s in the 60 to 70 F range right now.

        2- in developed countries once it gets warmer you get indoor air conditioning. We don’t know how robust this virus is when living indoors on ducts and filters and registers yet.

        1. David Carl Grimes

          Singapore is quite warm. It sits near the equator. It’s in the 80’s there right now. Believe it or not, that their cold season.

  26. Monty

    The football match was on 9 Feb, 2 weeks ago, and now they are dead. A very strong reminder to call your relatives, if you have any!

  27. Wukchumni

    Maybe California, for example, should stop growing animal feed for export to Saudi Arabia and start growing food for American consumption.

    About 30 years ago California almond growers had a huge problem in that they were overgrowing the domestic market, and their solution was to make tv commercials imploring Americans to eat a can a week, worth.

    A 1988 tv commercial:

    Now, most of the almonds from the between 125 and 250 million trees are exported to Asia. When our long drought was happening, I went back to the 1976-77 drought to compare things, and there was hardly any nut trees at the time, and one heck of a lot less fruit trees.

    1. Susan the other

      My one remaining living aunt, 99 this year, once told me that if an adult human eats 7 (exactly) raw almonds a day it prevents cancer. So far she’s cancer free. Wonder if that secret ingredient isn’t cyanide. If it works on cancer, shouldn’t it work on viruses?

      1. Samuel Conner

        I believe that cyanide interacts with cellular metabolic machinery (i have no idea whether cancer cell metabolism is especially vulnerable; there does seem to be a difference in glucose metabolism which has suggested drug targets). VIruses don’t have any of that, since they hijack the systems of the cells they infect. Having to sicken every cell in order to interfere with viral reproduction does not seem of much utility.

        This is not to say that one should not eat almonds, just don’t rely on them in lieu of other protective measures.

        I get the impression that there is intensive investigation of antiviral applications of current medications. Perhaps a “magic bullet” will turn up in the nick of time.

  28. DJG

    The news from Italy is that most of the north is now quarantined, and several comuni are under severe quarantine–surrounded by the carabinieri, other police, and medical workers. “Regular” quarantine means that all social events are shut down–no evening activities including bars, restaurants, concerts, theaters, and moviehouses.

    The tweet above about patient zero doesn’t agree with what I am reading. In Vo’ Euganeo in the Veneto, no patient zero has yet been found. The local Chinese population, some one dozen people, have been tested. Also, they don’t seem to have traveled recently. As someone local speculated in an article in La Stampa, what if it is a supplier, someone who visited the factory, no one can know…

    In Codogno, in the Lodigiano, the cluster of towns near Milano, the suspected patient zero is a man who was in China as part of his job in R&D at Unilever. Yet he continues to test negative. The 38-year-old man who is in the hospital in serious condition, being referred to as patient 1, seems to have infected his wife, who is in the seven month of a pregnancy.

    The Italians, with their long history of trade, civilization, and work on the high seas, understand quarantine. I am seeing rather ironic and mournful allusions to the Decameron on FB. So we will see how well quarantine, strictly applied, works. Yet today La Repubblica reports 229 cases.

  29. Vichy Chicago

    “Countries most reliant on China could see more than half a percentage point wiped off their gross domestic product this year, some economists say….”

    This kind of thinking, focusing on a single item, makes these predictions worthless. If the US, for example, has to quarantine several areas then the GDP impact is magnified by that.

    And what if Covid-19 infiltrates military troops? I know the CCP will never report on that, but they must be affected.

    1. Wukchumni

      Gleaned this tidbit from just a bit ago:

      Goldman adds this.. unnerving.. nugget about why the supply-chain impact of #coronavirus could become “non-linear” should it last into Q2

      Global production “is likely to remain largely unaffected until inventories [from China] run out, after which production may fall sharply”

      The shelves were all stocked full as always @ Wal*Mart yesterday, but imagine all of the sudden consumer goods get raptured, and there’s panic buying of anything, everything, just before ‘prohibition’ in a dry goods way.

      1. clarky90

        My guess is that once the Crazy, irrationally complex, “Rube Goldberg” machine, that we call “just in time, international commerce” grinds to a halt, it will be impossible to resuscitate. In other words, we may be living in a new world next year. Profoundly different than today…..?

        1. Wukchumni

          I keep bringing up US-USSR Bizarro World tendencies in our mutual races to collapse, and if we end up with empty shelves as a result of just in time stocking-combined with the plague, well, we’d look just like the Soviet Union, plenty of nothing for sale, what little there was would be scooped up in a heartbeat. You can just imagine somebody coming back from a shopping scavenger hunt, smiling because they scored 2 spatulas and a Mr Coffee replacement carafe, whee!

        2. turtle

          You mean to tell me that we may finally see the “paradigm shift” brought about by “synergies” that the marketeers have promised for so long actually happen?

      2. ambrit

        Are your WalMarts now closing overnight? Our “Ghetto” WalMart, the one very close to our house, just began closing from 1AM to 6AM three weeks ago. No reason given, just fait acompli. No change on the internet Ad Site, (that sidebar to the right with basic info.) Looking at the Web page, one would be lead to think that all the WalMarts are open 24/7. Also, the gun nut section has been shrunk by about a half. Any ammunition that could be used in a semi-automatic rifle was dropped entirely. (So, no more .223, 7.62 X 39, .308, etc.) This one change got rid of over a half of the ammo stocked. The cleared up space has been re-filled with basically useless “bling” stuff, Country Style.
        Never forget that the Sierras are an eminently defensible position.
        How are the new apple trees doing? They might come in very handy next year!

        1. Frank

          Drive to Reno. Plenty of ammo for sale there, plus forbidden high volatile organic compound paint, you know, the stuff that lasts.

        2. Wukchumni

          Funny you should mention the ammo section @ Wal*Mart, in that yes, it used to be 2 locked glass cases full, now down to one, and the other one is empty.

          The new apple trees are getting used to their surroundings, but its the old guard that will come in handy from July to November. Should have around 600-800 tasty orbs this year.

          I kind of wonder if things get out of hand, whether friends in the Big Smoke might want the kind of seclusion we have. I’d be freaking out if I was in SoCal with 20 odd million people.

  30. DHG

    Human stupidity is showing in great quantity, total hubris to think they can contain a virus, all of them always circle the globe. Just be sure you are up on immunizations, stay away from people who are sick and be smart about it. Panic is ridiculous, all of us die from something in this current system of things and if it gets me, so be it, I have a hope of a resurrection into a new paradise world in the new system of things under Gods Kingdom.

    1. Jos Oskam


      Yeah right. The same God that allows this virus to kill you and who knows how many others, is going to resurrect you into paradise.
      Good luck with that.

      1. xkeyscored

        Now that it’s reached Iraq, not to mention other Middle East countries, can we expect ISIS to embrace it?

        1. Harvey

          The catastrophe will be when it hits all of the middle east refugee camps. No-one has mentioned this that I know of.

    2. Tom Bradford

      “Just be sure you are up on immunizations, stay away from people who are sick and be smart about it.”

      As there isn’t an immunization for this particular virus yet, some people carrying it are not identifiably sick and being ‘smart’ about it is vacuous advice, your belief in a God who might kill you in a particularly nasty way in order to resurrect you in a new paradise world is par for the course.

      Kind of begs the question as to why He didn’t get it right first time.

  31. Deschain

    As this plays out, I think one obvious conclusion is that M4A is, among other things, a national security priority

    Pandemics are hard to stop, and a lot harder if people won’t get diagnosis and treatment because they’re worried it will bankrupt them

    1. John k

      And it takes not a very big hit to go under.
      I assume hospitals still want to see your coverage, right? And if you do get admitted you’re responsible for all charges, no matter how flimsy, right?
      And people know that and don’t go… probably just the flu anyway…
      Trump should just declare m4a. And maybe he will, if this continues it’s his best hope for re-election.

      1. Susan the other

        Speaking of Trump and “appointment in Samarra” – let’s look at his latest excellent adventure. Going off on a hasty trip to meet up with his new BFF Modi. Wisely they are holding court in a huge outdoor stadium full of 70,000 cheering Hindus. So that, clearly, was to entice the cooperation of the world’s most notorious “germaphobe”. But what about India? Besides becoming persona non grata over pharmaceutical contamination problems, we have never been real keen on trade with them. Until suddenly we see Modi giving the Donald a bear hug. I’m assuming Trump was told to get his butt to India and re-establish drug imports.

        1. KiWeTO

          I don’t think even India has any facility that can support 70,000 people indoors at the same time with full airconditioning? Perhaps Qatar by 2022?

  32. David

    Since this is (mostly) China and neighbouring countries we are talking about I thought it might be instructive to see what the traditional Chinese oracle says about the spread of the virus. At the moment, it’s likely to be as good a guide as any. I asked it a number of questions, and what came up consistently was the hexagram Ming I, usually translated as “hiding the light” but also sometimes meaning confusion, censorship, or failure to understand and communicate, which struck me as a pretty fair description of where we are. The moving lines in different answers generally suggested short-term suffering (including possibly hunger and disease) but longer-term recovery. As usual with oracles much depends on how you phrase the question and interpret the answer, but the oracle seems to be trying to suggest that it’s the social and political effects we should be concerned about, as much as the medical ones, and that determination and resolve (Kuai) are needed.
    Make of that what you will.

    1. DJG

      David: I have the Wilhelm translation of the I Ching at hand. He translates Ming I also as “wounding of the bright.” Wilhelm also calls it a sunset, a darkening from the sun going below the horizon.

      There is much in this hexagram about the body–two wounds to the left side of the body are noted (the yin side).

      But the hexagram calls for adherence to one’s duty, calm, wariness of bad leaders, and perseverance. Now to get to that last part of the oracle–the return of the light.

      To quote:

      Here the sun has sunk under the earth and is therefore darkened. The name of the hexagram means literally “wounding of the bright”; hence the individual lines contain frequent references to wounding. The situation is the exact opposite of that in the foregoing hexagram. In the latter a wise man at the head of affairs has able helpers, and in company with them makes progress; here a man of dark nature is in a position of authority and brings harm to the wise and able man.


      DARKENING OF THE LIGHT. In adversity
      It furthers one to be persevering.
      One must not unresistingly let himself be swept along by unfavorable circumstances, nor permit his steadfastness to be shaken. He can avoid this by maintaining his inner light, while remaining outwardly yielding and tractable. With this attitude he can overcome even the greatest adversities. In some situations indeed a man must hide his light, in order to make his will prevail inspite of difficulties in his immediate environment. Perseverance must dwell in inmost consciousness and should not be discernible from without. Only thus is a man able to maintain his will in the face of difficulties.

      1. David

        Yes, this is a particularly difficult hexagram to interpret and can mean many things. One popular interpretation is that it suggests “keeping your light hidden”, ie being discreet, which could be related to quarantine, for example. Or not. In general, the consensus is that the hexagram doesn’t have to be interpreted too negatively. The problem is that the I Ching doesn’t cope as well with questions about things like diseases as it does with questions about people and life. Any astrologers out there?

        1. Tom Bradford

          “this is a particularly difficult hexagram to interpret and can mean many things.”

          ie. bog-standard pseudoscience.

        2. Plenue

          “Yes, this is a particularly difficult hexagram to interpret and can mean many things.”

          That’s by design. It’s vague gibberish so it can ‘mean’ anything.

          I’ll put more trust in the scientists sequencing the virus genome, thank you very much.

      2. Jeremy Grimm

        Adherence to one’s duty, calm, wariness of bad leaders, and perseverance while outwardly yielding and tractable — appears wise advice — for one to make his will prevail and maintain his will in the face of difficulties. Bad leaders have brought us to this juncture, but what will and what duty should one persevere and adhere to in these times of adversity and the times to come?

    2. Susan the other

      Sounds like this is the inspiration for Xi as well. He seemed to be very decided when he told all the various authorities to come clean fast. The hexagram Ming. I wonder if all those attributes can be condensed into “have courage”.

  33. Chris

    I’ll put in a plug for This Week in Virology. They’re a podcast that discusses all things virus including the current Corona virus. I’m not going to tell anyone on here not to worry, but I’d caution against jumping off the cliff without listening to some of the real experts on the matter first.

    Be well!

    This Week in Virology

  34. Jeremy Grimm

    I am troubled by the way the Corona Virus can remain hidden before the typical signs and symptoms, and tests can detect it. Have there been any studies to figure out where and how it is hiding, if it is indeed hiding. I am thinking of the chicken pox virus and the way it can hang around for years and then come back as shingles. Are the people who recover truly recovered or is the remission because the virus went back into hiding? I also recall — perhaps in error — something about how the AIDs virus sometimes appeared in lymph fluids but did not show up in the blood until later.

  35. Jeremy Grimm

    Matt Stoller’s post from a few days ago discusses economies of scale but has some interesting comments regarding the economic impacts of the Corona Virus.
    “National Champions or National Chumps?
    :How important are ‘economies of scale’ in production and innovation?”

    “Hidden risk is now everywhere. According to the Pentagon, we now have sole sources of domestic supply for large numbers of military inputs, from flares to high voltage cable, fittings for ships, valves, key inputs for satellites and missiles, and even material for tents. Drug shortages tripled between 2005 and 2010 and continue to grow. More than 100 drugs were in shortage as of January 2020.

    And this hidden risk has enabled China to acquire power. Now all the CCP has to do is gain control over a sole source producer. China makes a host of key inputs for DoD missiles, satellites, and other defense manufacturing programs. Our ability to fight a war with China in some ways hinges on whether Chinese companies are willing to keep selling us ammunition. The same is true in medicine. Our hospitals are critically under-sourced for things like respirators and masks, as well as chemical inputs for drugs, most of which are made in China.”

    As other commenters have pointed out, China is not the only country making key components and parts for our economy. I doubt anything will be done about the hidden risks of globalization which Matt Stoller identifies. These hidden risks added to other risks suggest our Empire and Civilization stands on shaky pillars.

    1. xkeyscored

      The pandemic could serve as a wake-up call about what an interconnected and globalised world we live in, like it or not (I’m thinking eg. environmental collapse and climate emergency), and how equipping our militaries the better to fight one another might not be humanity’s best option going forward. But I’m not particularly optimistic.

      1. Jeremy Grimm

        I feel like we’re all caught up in a very high stakes game of Jenga in which there will be no winners.

        1. The Rev Kev

          Can you imagine what would be the reaction if China one day said to western countries “So sorry. We can’t send you any more tranquilizers such as Valium or Xanax. But stay calm! We’ll get back to you when we start making them again.”

  36. Roger Smith

    Here in Michigan it was reported that 325 people who had just came from mainland China were being treated as “moderate risk” while being monitored and asked to self quarantine (for an ineffective 14 days) “as much as possible”. There are no degrees of risk here. There is either risk or no risk and this is a case where there is risk! People should have been taking precautions 5 or more weeks ago. Instead we got a range of ignorant responses about “flu is worse”, “don’t be racist”, and “if I don’t see it, it isn’t real”. Moon of Alabama has completely lost all credibility to me with b’s absolutely horrible downplaying and praise of China’s efforts. Might as well read the useless WHO reports.

  37. José

    A very good interview (in French) in Les Echos, with Arnaud Fontanet, an epidemiologist form Institut Pasteur in Paris:

    Key excerpts (Google translation with some corrections):

    On tests

    There are two types of tests. The first is a simple nasopharyngeal sample: you put a long cotton swab in your nose to collect a sample, and then analyze it using a technique called PCR (Polymerase Chain Reaction) to see if we discover the genetic sequence of the virus. This test is reliable, but on condition that it is performed at the right time: neither too early, before the virus has had time to go up from the lungs into the nose, in which case it is not yet detectable; nor too late, after the patient has had time to heal spontaneously, in which case he is tested negative but has been contagious in the past. The ultimate judge is the blood test to see if the patient has developed antibodies to the virus: it is irrefutable proof that he was infected. But this blood test is not yet done routinely. It is only carried out experimentally, in advanced virology laboratories.

    On incubation period

    Has the estimate of incubation time been revised since the start of the epidemic?

    No, we stayed on an average time of 6 days, and maximum of 12 days, hence a quarantine period of two weeks. There have indeed been scientific publications in China, reporting isolated cases having experienced longer incubation periods: 24 days or even 27. But these data are to be taken with a grain of salt: how to guarantee, especially in a country as affected as China, that the patient was not in contact with another contagious person during this 24 or 27 day interval? These isolated cases, even if they are proven, do not seem to me a sufficient reason to extend the quarantine periods which are already long enough.

    On the Pangolin hypothesis:

    The hypothesis that the pangolin is an intermediate host between the bat and humans is very credible. Genetic analyzes have shown that in the region of the genome which codes for the protein allowing the virus to bind to receptors in the host organism, the sequence of the virus is very similar in the pangolin and in humans. If the bat remains the initial animal reservoir, it is very likely that the pangolin has “made the short step” to the virus between it and us. As the civet did in the case of SARS.

    On mutations:

    With the introduction of the virus into the human population, it was expected that its genome would move more. But it has changed very little. It has not become more transmissible, nor more dangerous. Its case fatality rate remains today at 1%.

    The link is here:

  38. Monty

    The 2019-nCoV Coronavirus: Are there two routes to infection?
    The new virus may be expelled from a human via respiratory and intestinal means.

    “Virus-laden diarrheic gases”

    “One does not even have be at a toilet to expel intestinal gas (flatulence), and the typical adult will do this 12 to 25 times a day, producing 0.6 to 1.8 liters of gas [9]. The airborne fecal route may also explain some family-wide infections of the virus, all using the same bathroom, all breathing the same air [10]. Perhaps the infections started with one family member with no visible (respiratory) symptoms.”


  39. smoker

    Still totally bewildered as to why passenger scanning has yet to be instituted at Silicon Valley’s [San Jose] Mineta International Airport.

    With 15 of the Nation’s 35 cases (as of February 21, 2020) – four of them in very close proximity to that airport (with at least one of the 2 Santa Clara County cases arriving through that airport) – California looks to be the most likely place where a US Pandemic would begin.

    On the bleaker side of silver linings, I do suppose those rents would stop rising (at a minimum).

    1. Anthony G Stegman

      Business needs trump public health, so the San Jose airport must remain open and unrestricted. To avoid panic (again, the serving the needs of business), public health officials are downplaying the risk of widespread Covid19 in the Bay Area.

      1. smoker

        Indeed, Anthony, that’s exactly what it seems like to me. Business must continue at all costs so Mineta International has been left un scanned as an easy conduit to Silicon Valley (that first Santa Clara Case flew in on January 24th, most likely from Beijing, which Mineta had direct flights from and to) for both countless private jets, and non private.

        02/03/20/ [note: frighteningly, there is nothing in this FEBRUARY sfgate/Hearstpiece that even mentions the virus and the vast amount of travelers – to and from China, directly and indirectly – who fly through Mineta] Sjc Sees Highest Ever Passenger Numbers In 2019, Plans More Expansions For 2020. Emphasis mine:

        Mineta San Jose International Airport put up its highest passenger traffic numbers in 2019, with nearly 15.7 million served, according to airport officials.

        Passenger traffic increased 1.3 million last year, the biggest increase since 2014 and a jump of more than 9 percent from 2018, airport officials said.

        “This marks the second consecutive year of record-breaking passenger totals for Silicon Valley’s airport,” John Aitken, the airport’s director of aviation, said in a statement.

        This growth is due to our airlines being responsive to our travelers’ needs by providing more flight options around the globe, the airport’s close proximity to Fortune 500 companies, and SJC’s convenience, efficiency and on-time reliability,” he said.

  40. xkeyscored

    Donald J. Trump
    4:42 AM · Feb 25, 2020

    “The Coronavirus is very much under control in the USA. We are in contact with everyone and all relevant countries. CDC & World Health have been working hard and very smart. Stock Market starting to look very good to me!”

  41. Foy

    Just to make things a little more difficult to understand, the World Health Organisation no longer use the word ‘pandemic’ and no longer have a process or official category for calling an outbreak a pandemic.

    “WHO does not use the old phasing system that some people may be familiar with from 2009….Under the International Health Regulations, WHO has declared a public health emergency of international concern”

    Corporate speak has also infected the health world it seems. A long phrase replaces a perfectly good word that everyone understands.

  42. workerpleb

    On the one hand I think this is all overblown.
    On the other hand the pack of bald faced liars in government, media, and finance are all saying everything’s hunky dory.

    This is more confusing than worrying really.

    1. MLTPB

      When streets in the confirmed cities in Korea and Italy are suddenly nearly empty of people, they are voting with their feet about whether this is overblown or not.

      The are also voting with their feet whether to throw in the towel, or to sacrifice the economy.

      There is no right or wrong. Everyone must decide for themselves.

      Do you have kids at home or elderly parents?

  43. VietnamVet

    This post is why Naked Capitalism is my top site for analysis. I realize, at heart, I am a recluse, worrywart, old fart. Since face mask prices skyrocketed on Amazon, I began stockpiling necessities so the three of us can last a month or two.

    What makes this real this time unlike the Obama era Ebola incident is that two analysts that I also read daily, Colonel Lang and Bernard, have both retreated back to their basic identities and beliefs and are no longer appear unbiased. This is a natural human reaction in a crisis.

    Although the military says they are prepared and CDC told for-profit hospitals to get prepared, I have yet to see any government planning. Survival in Suburbia requires electricity, garbage collection and food distribution which will be necessary once the local Walmart is sold out. There is no planning for this. Are there PPE available for utility or grocery workers? I think not. I expect panic when LA, for example, is quarantined from the rest of the nation and celebrities die of Coronavirus like when Rock Hudson died in the HIV outbreak. If China stays off the just time supply grid through the summer (besides the pandemic that will overwhelms local healthcare centers where there is a cluster of cases), there will also be an economic depression. Markets will fail. Only government can get things up and running.

  44. MLTPB

    Have travel bans, restrictions or mandatory/voluntary quarantines been announced for those coming from or through Korea?

    Should there be or not?

  45. Kaleberg

    I’m finding it hard to panic. So far, COVID19 looks an awful lot like a more powerful form of the flu. In 2018, the flu killed 80,000 Americans. Assuming a 2% death rate, which is rather high, we’d need 4 million cases of COVID19 before considering COVID19 as serious a threat as the flu. I’m not 100% sure of the ratios involved. COVID19 infections are tricky to diagnose, and, in China especially, there are negative consequences for getting caught with it. Odds are the infection rate is higher than the government statistics. In contrast, it is hard to hide a corpse, so the death count is probably fairly accurate.

    I suppose that if every American got COVID19, we’d expect 6 million people hospitalized and 300,000 deaths, assuming the same statistics we’re getting out of the Chinese government. (The biggest economic consequence would be all the personal bankruptcies caused by out of network health care providers.) Still, that would be a lot of deaths, twice as many as lung cancer causes in a year. Still, I doubt every last one of us will get COVID19. It takes time to infect 300,000,000 people. Even measles, one of the most infectious diseases known, takes time to spread, and there is a good chance that COVID19 will be less of a problem in the warmer months ahead.

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      You are very bad at math.

      The latest paper by China’s CDC, and it’s fresh, based on 70+K cases, is that the case fatality rate is 2.3%. The Financial Times in a later article said it’s more like 35.

      But accepting China’s CDC, 330 million American x 2.3% case fatality rate (go Google what that means, you appear not to understand basic concepts) is 7.6 million deaths, over 20x your crap estimate.

      Agnotology is a violation of our site Policies, and this is too important a topic to have people like you propagating utter garbage.

  46. JeffC

    Most of us are going to get it eventually. If you live in a civilized country, so that you have a proper national healthcare system, or if you have solid US health insurance, you might want to ask yourself whether you’d be better off getting it early, when your local hospital still has beds, ventilators, and medications or later during the epidemic’s peak, when you’d be home alone and on your own.

    When you look at it that way, all the fretting over personal preventive measures, which are very unlikely to keep a highly contagious illness at bay when it’s raging all around you for months and months, seems positively pointless.

    So even though I am male, over 65, hypertensive, and have early diabetes (at least I’m not a smoker!), I am not going to hide in a hole trying to be the last one to get this. I’d rather be the first.

    1. kareninca

      That would all make sense if once you had it once, you were immune. But that is not at all the case. You can catch it twice; maybe more times than that. And it seems likely that the second (and so on) infections are even more likely to kill you than the first one.

      1. JeffC

        I completely agree, except that my impression — it’s still too soon for actual statistical knowledge — is that catching it a second time is very rare. It appears so far that having it once conveys quite a lot of immunity, even if that’s not 100%. Keep an eye out for those numbers though. In North America at least, we still have a little time for watching and learning.

        1. Yves Smith Post author

          No, you are making stuff up. You are reasoning like as if this is a conventional flu, when there is concern that the coronavirus may be like dengue, and weaken cells with each infection, making people more, not less, susceptible to re- and more severe re-infections.

          This claim comes from “doctor whistleblowers” in the Taiwan News. Taiwan does admittedly have an agenda re China, but this possibility cannot be casually dismissed:

          1. JeffC

            No, I’m not making stuff up. I’m offering impressions and said so, impressions based on a ton of reading and a lifetime of developing a decent BS filter, essential in my engineering profession. I’m well aware of the dengue-esque concerns. And I did finish with basically a wait-and-see suggestion.

            At the same time it’s legit at this stage, even if a few second timers get nasty effects, to find it likely that significant immunity is conveyed, or there would be a ton of reinfection stories by now. Where are they?

            That may be a weak argument, but one not all that different was good enough for Fermi re aliens!

  47. Joe Well

    Commenting from almost a month in the future, I want to say thank you, Yves, for getting the word out. The fact that you were taking this seriously helped encourage me to stock up on supplies and encourage family to do the same before the rush came.

    I remember getting my hair cut a few days after this post was published and thinking it could well be my last hair cut in a while, and I was right.

    Sadly, most family did not take me seriously and they only started staying home around March 19 or so. Still no sign of any of them being ill so I am hopeful.

Comments are closed.