Jan 292020
 


M.C. Escher Fluorescent sea 1933

 

It’s a little amusing, though that word may not fit the topic, to see how people react to the 2019-nCoV (Wuhan coronavirus) “epidemic” that appears to have started in the city of that name. It’s understandable that people compare the warnings about it to those about for instance SARS (also a coronavirus, so either call this one 2019-nCoV or “Wuhan coronavirus”), and conclude that since that episode was not so bad, neither will this one be, but that’s certainly not the definitive story.

If only because stating that the world is due for a large-scale epidemic, a pandemic, is not some scare-mongering exercise, it’s basic statistics and broadly recognized. The last really big one is over 100 years ago. The Spanish flu of 1917-1918 killed an estimated 50 million people, more than WWI which took place from 1914-1918, and saw an estimated 40 million fatalities.

(Un)predictability is key: Adolfo Garcia-Sastre, director of Global Health and Emerging Pathogens Institute at the Icahn School of Medicine in New York City says: “There is no good way to predict [when a flu pandemic will occur], but “this is something that happens every 10 to 40 years”. In essence, since a real flu pandemic hasn’t happened in 100 years, we’re overdue.

There are of course vast differences between today and 1918. But then again, these differences may balance each other out to an extent: on the one hand: 1) medical science has made enormous progress in the past 100 years. But on the other: 2) there are many more people, and they move around and come in contact with each other a lot more too.

 


Cross-sectional model of a coronavirus. Source:
Scientific Animations (CC BY-SA 4.0)

 

World population in 1918 was 1.8 billion; today it’s over 4 times that at 7.7 billion. Add increased mobility through planes, trains and automobiles -in the west and now China- and you will find the number of miles traveled and the number of people “met” per capita has probably gone up by a factor of 10 or more. Just what a virus wants: 10+ times more potential hosts.

The 2009 swine flu killed “only” 200,000 people. Not the “real thing”. SARS affected about 8,000 people and killed 774 in the early 2000s. Hardly even an epidemic, let alone a pandemic. MERS, another coronavirus, infected 186 people and with a death toll of 36. Small change in comparison.

But of course scientists are looking into the matter all the time. And, certainly compared to 1918, they have developed much more sophisticated models to do that, aided greatly by computing power. A simulation of a global pandemic that involves a coronavirus, developed late last year by scientist Eric Toner at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, showed that 65 million people might die within 18 months in such an event.

A more recent model was developed by a team led by Hong Kong University’s medicine dean Gabriel Leung:

The Coronavirus outbreak doubles every 6.2 days [..] That figure validates the forecast of top virologists who claim that Coronavirus is ten times worse than SARS. Hong Kong University is ranked a top 25 college globally and houses the world’s top 1% scientists according to Thomson Reuters. Based on the model used by HKU, up to 150,000 individuals could be affected by Coronavirus in the next three to four months on a daily basis.

Leung’s team said that it confirmed transmission from humans to humans is already occurring in virtually every major city in China. By April to May, Leung said Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, Shenzhen and Chongqing are likely to see widespread infections of Coronavirus, [before the number of infections could begin to gradually decline in June or July, Leung said.


As many as 44,000 people could be infected in Wuhan alone, with only 25,000 likely to be showing symptoms at this time..] Specifically, Leung noted that due to the close ties between Chongqing and Wuhan, Chongqing could see nearly 150,000 people affected per day at its peak.

Chongqing is sometimes presumed to be the world’s most populous city, with 30 million inhabitants, though data are somewhat opaque.

SCMP adds:

Leung, who sits on Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor’s advisory committee on the coronavirus, called for drastic measures to curb the spread of the virus. “Substantial, draconian measures limiting population mobility should be taken immediately,” he said, calling for the cancellation of mass gatherings, along with school closures and work-from-home arrangements.

He would undoubtedly also cancel all flights to and from Wuhan, and perhaps even all of China, as British Airways has already done, and as other airlines will be forced to follow suit.

Yesterday was the first day that the 2019-nCoV virus had infected over 1,000 new patients. And that’s in official numbers, those are the confirmed ones for a disease with a 2-week incubation period and an R0 rate (how many people are infected by each positive person) of 2.5 to 4. It was also the first day that more new cases were reported outside of Hubei province than inside it.

Scores of new countries were added to the list of those with confirmed cases. There are now 19: China, United States, France, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, Singapore, Thailand, Australia, Nepal, Vietnam, Hong Kong, Macau, Malaysia, Canada, Cambodia, Sri Lanka, Germany and UAE (Finland was just added; now there’s 20). Moreover, several of these countries have confirmed human-to-human transmission.

Still, while Hong Kong University’s Gabriel Leung estimates the 2019-nCoV peak at late April-early May 2020, Chinese respiratory diseases expert Zhong Nanshan, echoed by Gao Fu, the director of the Chinese Centre for Disease Control and Prevention, said the peak would be reached in 10 days.

 


Infection cycle of a coronavirus

 

The WHO is, as I speak, burying China in compliments for its efforts to control the disease. Which is fine, and likely more constructive than criticism, but we’ve all been able to see the footage of dead and dying people in the corridors of Wuhan hospitals. And we know China’s history on SARS reporting. Beijing is worried sick by now, but the CCP’s biggest worry will always remain power and control. The Hong Kong protests have only enforced that attitude.

But who are we to criticize China anyway? In our own countries, the main concern in the media is still about the economic effects of what may or may not become a pandemic. “It’s going to hurt global trade, it’s going to hurt our economy, woe, woe..” As if it’s such a disaster that for a few months fewer non-essential goods are schlepped halfway across the globe. That period is likely too short for us to realize than we would do good to produce at least essential goods closer to home. The main concern is money, not that 132 people have died and many more will soon. Those are our priorities.

For a bright light to hit home upside our heads that we would actually notice, that would make us take a look at ourselves, we would need a real bad pandemic. Or we will not learn that we should not need a pandemic to realize we should take care of ourselves, our own basic needs, and not let someone 10,000 miles away do that.

As for fewer airline bookings or Louis Vuitton or Apple sales, if that’s your priority, maybe you’re overdue a lesson no matter what. A lesson about what your society needs to survive, vs what are extras, luxuries, added benefits. We seem to have lost comprehension of that difference entirely.

Summary: no panic, but vigilance. Same as every other day. And not too much focus on money and profits. 2019-nCoV doesn’t care about those either. In 2020, with all the resources at our disposal, and with 1918 to guide us, we should be able to see these things coming from miles away, and not need any time to respond. It should be no more than flicking a switch.

Now it’s like: but where will our food come from, and our iPhones? We should have the answers to such questions ready at all times, or we have failed as societies. Maybe someone’s holding up a mirror to us.

A question I can’t resist is: Are we better prepared today than people were in 1918? And I can’t give you the answer. I know we should be with all the wealth and resources and available energy we’ve added, but I can’t.

 

 

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Aug 272015
 
 August 27, 2015  Posted by at 1:34 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  18 Responses »


Dorothea Lange Arkansas flood refugee family near Memphis, Texas 1937

This is a story I’ve been wanting to write for a while now, at least two full weeks, but haven’t gotten around to because I have my dying mother to attend to. Something I can to an extent approach from a rational point of view, because she has expressed her explicit will to die. But it will of course never be easy, if only because I’ve been close to her all my life even in the 20-odd years I lived thousands of miles away. It’s a thing of the heart.

And so must be, at some moment or another, my dealing with what she goes through, and what I will go through when she finally gets her wish. A wish I would have thought would be reasonably easy to fulfill in a country as supposedly advanced as Holland, but that’s not true. People have to suffer more, long after they’ve signaled they’ve had enough, just to satisfy someone or another’s idea of ethics who has little to no involvement in the situation. Unless they’ve been through endless series of conversations with total strangers who will then decide when it’s time.

The person herself doesn’t have the right to make that decision. Now that I’m witnessing the process in progress, I would recommend everyone buy that pill or that gun well in advance, lest they get subjected to the same kind of self-serving morality nonsense themselves. We may not have the legal right to decide about our own lives, but what law is going to stop us from taking that decision regardless? The craziest expression of this mindless attitude is probably that in countless nations and cultures, suicide is still a punishable offence. My mother is not the suicidal kind; she just wants dignity, and is denied it.

But that’s not the story I wanted to write.

The way I write is that I sit down and let fly, most often inspired by things I’ve read recently. I make some notes, site down and often don’t use even half of those notes. In this case, I’ve taken lots of notes through the weeks, and now don’t know where to start anymore, let alone finish. Nicole (Foss) is a whole different writer: she can do the notes thing, and work on an article, which often turns out to be quite lengthy, for days if not weeks. I guess I just don’t have that kind of attention span. But you know, because we’re so different we work so well together. Because our styles may vary greatly, but we still have the same views, we just express them in different ways.

But that’s not the story I wanted to write either.

I want to say something about the issue of the refugees -never ever again migrants- that are swamping Europe. So much has been said about them, and so much has happened since I made my first notes, but not a soul has put their finger on the sore spot, and the real story. At least not that I’ve seen.

That real story is the painfully woefully inadequate -and I’m being painfully polite here- failure of Brussels and Berlin and Paris in responding to what’s been unfolding. And don’t get me started about London; there’s nothing coming from Britain these days that’s even worth talking about. When you dare talk about a ‘swarm of migrants’, you’re no longer part of the conversation.

And it’s not as if what Europe has perpetrated upon the Greek economy, and the Greek people who depend on it, isn’t enough. It is more than enough. Only, nobody seems to be willing to understand this, to let it sink in to its fullest. But that’s still kind of alright; financial policies are not the EUs biggest failure.

Even if even Varoufakis insists on being part of the EU -albeit a reformed one-. You can’t reform the EU. It’s allergic to any reform that would take even just a few of its powers away. That is embedded in its model. Varoufakis doesn’t sufficiently get this: you can’t any longer just change a few puppets in Brussels. Its alleged democracy is no longer anything but thin and peeling veneer.

It’s like the old Groucho joke, that he wouldn’t want to be part on any club that would have him as a member. It’s exactly that, actually. If you want to survive in Europe, let alone with dignity and values, it cannot be done inside the EU. And the refugee crisis tells us why, even more than the Greek crisis has.

What Brussels lacks most of all is morals, decency and compassion. It is a bureaucracy that has no human values. And this is expressed, in a painful and deadly way, not only in the streets of Athens, though it’s plenty glaringly clear there too, but even more in how the so-called Union “deals with” (that is, it doesn’t) the Mediterranean refugee issue.

We can take a philosophical approach to this, which can be interesting, though it doesn’t change a thing. We can for instance theorize about how a country, a society, a culture, that is hundreds or thousands of years old, and has gone through numerous natural and man-made disasters in its history, like so many in Europe, will have a response formulated for the next batch of mayhem, and on how to deal with those who are the victims of said mayhem.

That is what we see in how Italy and Greece have been trying to deal with the flood of refugees sailing off from Lybia and Turkey towards their shores. Both countries – or at least substantial segments of them – have gone out of their way to save refugees. Then late last year the EU -ostensibly- took over. But the EU has done next to nothing. It has paid lip service only. Which has cost thousands of human lives this year alone. And still nothing happens.

Now, now, some of them are waking up. The EU agency that is supposed to deal with it, Frontex, has announced it’s going to step up efforts to halt refugees from entering Europe. Just like it did when it took over from Italy and Greece, and the main idea was to send in the military to blow up the boats of the ugly and evil people smugglers.

Hungary is building a wall. Macedonia fired tear gas and stun grenades. The Czechs have said they’re going to send in the army. Police dogs and batons have become a common sight wherever the refugees are. Who are forced to walk a thousand miles or more, children and women and everyone. It’s a picture of disgrace. And the disgrace belongs to all of us.

EC head Juncker, after breaking a months long silence on the topic, declared this week that there’s no need for an Immigration Summit. All EU countries need to do is comply with existing regulations. Which, if I may remind you, were ‘agreed’ upon in a time when there was no such thing as the present influx of people.

What Europe should do, or rather should have done, because I guarantee you it’s too late now, is send as many people as needed to make sure people would stop drowning. To make sure the media would stop using the term ‘migrants’. To show Europe cares, and it alleged leaders first of all. To make sure there would be space and provisions for all who undertook the perilous journey, women, children, men, every single one.

Europe instead has only tried to ignore the issue, hoping it would go away by itself. This has cost at least 17,000 lives so far. And they know it. Here is a picture of a 100-meter list of 17,306 migrants who have died attempting to reach Europe, a list which was recently unveiled at the EU Parliament:

They know, and they’ve known for a long time. But still the UN said this week that Greece should do more. Greece? And Juncker says a summit is not needed. Juncker is supposed to be one of the main leaders of Europe. If we didn’t already know before, we now know for sure he’s no leader. Merkel? Haven’t seen her until this week when she said the situation is unworthy of Europe. But if anything, it’s unworthy of Merkel. She’s supposed to be a leader in Europe, and she’s very obviously not.

There’s a huge amount of people in Brussels and various European capitals who are posing as ‘leaders’, and all of them have fallen way short. All of them, Merkel, first, need to shut up and act now. Not tell other nations, or her own co-Germans, that they should be ashamed. Merkel should be ashamed of herself first. And we know that there are elections coming up, but we’re talking about human lives here, for sweet Jesus’s sake. What’s wrong with you, Angela, and all those like you? What part of you guys is even human anymore? Is only your ego left?

The EU, unlike Greece and Italy, has no history, no society, and above all no culture. The way it reacts to the refugee issue tells its entire empty story. All of it. Brussels doesn’t do anything at all in the face of thousands of people drowning. It waits for Greece to deal with the problem, which is obviously far too great for the Greeks to solve by themselves. And besides, the EU a year ago insisted on taking over rescue operations from Rome and Athens. This has brought about a strange and eery and deadly kind of Mexican stand-off.

The EU has already failed, dramatically and irreparably, in this regard. The only help refugees get is from Italy, Greece and private parties. It’s so bad that if Greece would take “full care” of the refugees entering the country -and that’s assuming it could-, there’d be even much less hope of Brussels ever lifting a finger.

In this fashion, the EU doesn’t just leave the refugees to their fate, it uses them as bait, as hostages, in its fight over financial and political power with Alexis Tsipras and the Syriza government. And though of course multiple voices try to lay the blame on Tsipras, that’s not where it belongs. Even if he could, he couldn’t. The only solution is for Greece to get out of the EU(ro) and restore dignity and humanity within its own borders.

For make no mistake, if you elect to remain part of the EU, and you let Juncker and Merkel speak in your name, then the blood of all those needlessly lost lives is also on your hands. That goes for every European citizen as much as it goes for the hapless heartless leaders they have elected.

For one thing, I can’t for the life of me understand why there are not thousands of young Dutch and German and British and French people, organized and all, in Athens, and on the Greek islands. While there are plenty of them there to get a bloody suntan on their “well-deserved vacation” while people are perishing within eyesight, and complain about their holidays being spoiled. Not all of them, I know, but c’mon, get a life! There are people dying every single day, and just because your so-called leaders let them drown doesn’t mean you should too.

Do you even know what “a life” is anymore, either yours or that of someone else? Have you ever known? A life means caring about other people. A life is not trying to make sure your own ass can sit as pretty as it can.

As for finding a solution to the refugee issue, Europe has done nothing to find one. The EU still wants the problem to just go away, and it wants the refugees to just go away. But it won’t and they won’t.

Yes, we have a mass migration on our hands. And these are invariably hard to deal with. But our first priority should always be to approach the people involved with decency and compassion. And that is not happening. We are approaching them with the opposite of decency. With stun grenades and police dogs. And with misleading terminology such as ‘migrants’.

The EU doesn’t seem to have any idea what’s causing the wave of refugees entering ‘its’ territory. When the refugees themselves state “we’re here because you destroyed our countries”, Brussels will simply say that is not true. That kind of admission is way beyond the consciousness of the ‘leadership’. But it’s a denial that won’t get them anywhere.

Meanwhile, this issue, like so many others, is being used as a reason to plea for more EU:

Summer Crisis Tests Europe’s New Nationalisms

Dimitris Avramopoulos, the EU home affairs commissioner, argued last week [that] the very reach of the migration crisis shows the limits of national solutions. That, he said, puts pressure on governments to agree in Brussels to collective measures – even, he stressed, when they are not popular.

It’s an empty hollow plea. Why agree to give up more sovereignty if Brussels only uses its growing powers to do nothing? Europeans who give in to this kind of thing give up much more than sovereignty; they give up their decency and human values too.

The refugee issue can and will not be solved by the EU, or inside the EU apparatus, at least not in the way it should. Nor will the debt issue for which Greece was merely an ‘early contestant’. The EU structure does not allow for it. Nor does it allow for meaningful change to that structure. It would be good if people start to realize that, before the unholy Union brings more disgrace and misery and death upon its own citizens and on others.

However this is resolved and wherever the refugees end up living, we, all of us, have the obligation to treat them with decency and human kindness in the meantime. We are not.