Mar 272020
 


Rembrandt van Rijn Portrait of his father 1628-29

 

I was following the numbers all afternoon, because I knew this was going to be the day that the US would become the no. 1. The no. 1 loser, that is. Here’s some of what I wrote in the Automatic Earth Comments section as we went along:

500,000 global cases was at noon EDT. 3.5 hours later there were another 20,000. [..] At 12.38 pm the US was 6,300 cases behind China. That is now 1,200.

God’s Own Country will take the definite no. 1 position sometime this afternoon, and then run away with it. The US has many fewer fatalities so far, but there, too, it will come out on top.

All this is why America pronounced Nicolas Maduro a drug trafficker and narco-terrorist today.

The US took the topspot at about 3pm. That done and achieved, I realize I’ve been so busy lately documenting the spread of the coronavirus and -some of- its consequences that the next steps in the demise, though clearly visible, risk going unnoticed.

But then I saw that the US is charging Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro with drug trafficking (narco-terrorism?!), and I was wide awake again. Why does the US, on the verge of becoming the worst hit “corona country”, charge him now, of all possible times, when they could have done it any given day for the past 7 years? Well, exactly because of the corona threat.

And I don’t think this is Trump; he may take a political hit, but he only has to do better than Joe Biden, and anybody could do that. This smells much more like some deep state thing, Mike Pompeo and his crew.

 

In their phone alerts, CNN had a few real howlers as the day went by.

“Health officials say the peak is yet to come”

“Stocks see third day of gains”

Meanwhile, it took them hours to clue into the fact that the US had become the no. 1. But it’s that second point that warrants scrutiny. In the expectation and the “fulfillment” of the $6 trillion “stimulus” package, stocks managed to rise. Yay! But that no. 1 position won’t leave any of that standing. No sirree.

The US is no longer capable of formulating and negotiating adequate legislation even in times of real crisis. And it’s not that it’s GOP against Dems, and one would do everything so much better than the other. It’s one set of special interests against another, and in the end both win. And there is no escape left from that.

I said earlier about the stimulus that such a package in the US today is possible only provided that the rich get 1000 times what the poor get. That’s the only way to get those $1,500 checks to people who actually need them. For every such check a million bucks goes to the rich and powerful.

And if only they were also 1000 times more likely to catch the coronavirus, at least we would have a sense of justice. But no such luck.

 

What the stimulus will really end up doing is it will expose the Fed. You can talk about unlimited QE all you want, but talk enough and it will lose all meaning. I’ve long said that there are no markets left because there is no price discovery, and lately I’ve seen many people saying exactly that, just much later.

The stimulus really only serves to take even more price discovery away, if that was still possible. And that’s it. The rich will be handed hundreds of billions with nowhere to go. The losses in the stock “markets” lately have been staggering, trillions were lost. But then you look at a graph and you think holy sh*t, there’s so much more to go, so much more downside before we get to anything resembling normal. This was two weeks ago:

 

 

Markets as they -used to- exist under capitalism can be an awesome instrument, because there is such a multitude of participants. However, when you start trying to control the “markets” because sometimes they fall a little and you don’t like that, you unleash formidable forces that are also part of that instrument. Like so many natural phenomena, they will tend towards a balance, and you can’t stop that. Not for long.

The process that looks like it may end soon started under Alan Greenspan and the housing bubbles he blew, and the seeds of the demise were sown right then and there. Now that $6 trillion has been thrown at the wall that won’t stick, what is next?

The Fed policies (and I include most other central banks under that moniker) worked for a while because the QE’s and the ultra low rates supported banks and other enterprises that were essentially zombies. They also “zombified” many other companies that might have been able to survive without them. Look at Boeing.

Look at Apple. They look like a great company but what are their shares worth? Nobody knows, because they bought back too many of them to make price discovery viable. So at least part of Apple looks great only because of trickery, not because of great products. Steve Jobs is turning in his grave as we speak.

 

And now the zombies may be killed off by a virus. Just not if the Fed can help it. But if America runs away with that top spot hard enough, if tens of thousands of new cases become a daily occurrence (we’re at 17,000 so far today), and the first ten thousand fatalities are counted, the country will be locked down and the “markets” will fall off a cliff.

Unless, and that what I’m starting to fear may happen, the powers that be see no other choice than to close the “markets”. That will mean the entire financial system is on the brink of collapse. It would be announced as temporary, but the damage would be done. Everything would turn into one giant margin call, banks would be forced to close, the works, a real depression.

Let’s hope that none of this happens, but the signs are not favorable. America appears much less prepared for a pandemic than even Lombardy was, with too little or too late of everything, ventilators, masks, protective clothing, medicine, you name it. You can’t run an economy in a setting like that.

But at least you’ll be rid of the zombies. It’s a shame, really, that there is no virus that kills only zombies, that so much else must be destroyed with them. The thing is, we did have these instruments to kill zombies, they were called central banks. Should have used them when we had the chance.

 

Our readership is up a lot, but ad revenue only keeps dropping. I’ve said it before, it must be possible to run a joint like the Automatic Earth on people’s kind donations. These are no longer the times when ads pay for all you read, your donations have become an integral part of it. It has become a two-way street; and isn’t that liberating, when you think about it?

You heard it here first, like so many other things. And no, though it would be far more lucrative financially, the Automatic Earth will not adopt any paywalls, not here and not on Patreon. But you can still support us there, as well as right here. It’s easy. Thanks everyone for your donations overnight.

 

 

 

 

 

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Mar 232020
 


Rembrandt van Rijn Man in Oriental Costume (The Noble Slav) 1632

 

It’s been two weeks since I last wrote an original article. That’s a long time. Then again, that article was The Virus is a Time Machine, which was – and still is, pardon the pun, deadly accurate. All my time between then and now has gone into the daily Debt Rattles, which have increasingly become almost exclusively Virus Rattles. A lot of it has been numbers, not because of the numbers themselves, but because they are what reveal the trends, the trajectory, the dynamics to us.

When I first saw in the numbers a few days ago that US cases and deaths were both up some 45% over 24 hours, that frightened me. Because it told me a story. Without the numbers, that story is not there. That is also why I think it’s absolutely no use to look at these numbers and compare them to other ones, like those of regular flu, or traffic deaths, or whatever people come up with.

The coronavirus is new, it’s very young, even in virus time. You can’t compare it to other viruses. I have this image in my mind of Arnold Schwarzenegger peering into Jesus’s manger and saying: “what’s the problem, I can take that guy”. Don Ciccio had a better idea when he chased down 9-year-old Vito Andolini at the start of Godfather II: “when he grows up, he’ll come after me”.

 

The people responsible for the corona crisis getting so out of hand where you live are your “leaders”, the same ones who are now telling you to stay home 24/7 in order to solve the crisis they caused, not you. I’m not saying that to start a revolt, because now they’re the only people standing between you and anarchy, but please stop praising them. I see so many instances of people saying their leaders looked so reassuring on TV last night etc. I get that, I get why, but they are all abject failures.

If you’re in charge of a country’s government, you have at your disposal a State Department or some equivalent, you have dozens of people following world news in depth, and you have direct access to whatever the WHO says. Put all that together and you have no excuse for sitting on your hands 2+ months only to see the situation having gone way out of hand. And it makes no difference if all your peers have been as negligent as you are, it’s your job.

Last week the Hong Kong Free Press ran an article saying that China could have cut 95% of cases if its measures to contain the outbreak had begun three weeks earlier. The same is true where you live. China screwed up royally, and so did and do your respective “leaders”.

 

 

In a way, it’s good to see that more people and more news outlets have now woken up to what’s going on, and then some lately, but it’s also weird to see so many “sources” act as if they own the topic, and invented it, who never knew what it was until like ten days ago, while the Automatic Earth have been on top of it for over 2 months. Which is why, inevitably, they, the overnight experts, get most of it wrong. Just like the governments and politicians who have all of a sudden awakened from their slumber, and are now ordering people to do whatever their “leaders” think of next.

The problem with that, with relying on coming up with things without having a solid background like the Automatic Earth could have provided them with, is the same problem that caused them, both media and political systems, to be so awfully late in the first place. I first covered that in The Party and the Virus a full 7 weeks ago.

That was back when it appeared to be all about China, but it’s just as applicable in the west. The way we select our politicians, and our media, doesn’t allow for them to risk crying wolf. They will always wait to see what their peers do, who therefore also wait. Safety first for them, but -well, obviously- not for you.

That’s what we’re looking at today. The age-old excuse of “nobody knew, and nobody could have known”, just look at my peers, look at all other PM’s and presidents and governments. There is no behavior more typical for modern day politicians, whether they’re Chinese party officials or western cabinet ministers. But it’s all BS; they could have known, and therefore should have, because it’s their job. But they were fast asleep.

Trump and Boris Johnson may be taking the denial phase to a whole new level, and Bolsonaro too, but they really only fit a pattern. And ironically even they see their popularity rise, because people are scared and seek security and solace and protection, no matter how poorly dressed up.

Saying that Donald and Boris are terrible, no matter how justified, only serves to hide the failures of all other politicians, no matter how inclined you are to believe their messages. The simple fact is they are all terrible, they were all 12 weeks or more late in their (re-)actions.

Not that they should have ordered a billion dollars in respirators at the end of December, but when the first victims died in China, and the WHO was notified, they should have taken inventory of the state of their countries’ health systems, their response systems, the whole set-up. In order to be at the helm IF disaster struck.

They never did, or not till much later. That’s why medical supplies of all applicable shapes and forms are woefully short today in Italy, and will be soon in dozens of other countries. Please stop praising these people. They all failed horribly at their jobs. Their collective failure has already caused thousands of deaths, and that may well become millions.

 

 

The WHO is praised too, but it is just as guilty of deadly neglect as all the politicians. The organization and its directors get paid large sums of money to protect the world from events exactly like this. And they did not; they are not only useless, they are harmful.

On December 30 2019, several people, among whom Wuhan doctor Li Wenliang, who died of the disease mere days later, talked on social media like WeChat about the outbreak. On December 31, Li Wenliang was called in for questioning, Wuhan health officials confirmed 27 cases of the new illness -a “pneumonia of unclear cause”-, and China, which now figured denial was no longer an option,”officially” told the WHO about the outbreak.

On January 14, the WHO said Chinese authorities had seen “no clear evidence of human-to-human transmission of the novel coronavirus.” On January 15, the first confirmed US case left Wuhan and arrived in the US with the virus. On January 20, 6 days after the WHO statement, top Chinese doctor Zhong Nanshan announced the virus CAN be passed between people. He would later state that the outbreak would be over by early February.

On January 21 the CDC confirmed the first coronavirus case in the United States. Then came Lunar New Year and 100s of millions of Chinese traveled to their families. By then the WHO should obviously long have sounded a big fat five alarm. They didn’t.

Instead, WHO director general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus repeatedly heaped praise on China. He did this on January 28, then again on February 12, (when China still refused to let a WHO team enter the country):

On January 28, Tedros met with Chinese President Xi Jinping in Beijing. Following the meeting, Tedros commended China for “setting a new standard for outbreak control” and praised the country’s top leadership for its “openness to sharing information” with the WHO and other countries.

… and many times after. On January 23, the WHO’s emergency committee couldn’t decide whether to declare a “public health emergency of international concern” (PHEIC). Tedros, who held the decisive vote, despite admitting that “this is an emergency in China.”, declined. A week later, he did declare a PHEIC. What’s much worse, along those same lines, the WHO declared a pandemic only on March 11.

 

 

Meanwhile, the US is well on its way to become the worst hit country of all. Someday we (if we survive) will look at those spring break kids on Florida’s beaches and wonder how crazy people can get. Two weeks ago when I wrote The Virus is a Time Machine, the US reported 409 cases. As we speak the tally stands at 40,841, and it will rise further before the day is done.

Please be good and safe. Follow the instructions about safe distance and stuff. In Britain, stay 2 meters away from people, in Holland, 1.5 meters. Must be the air density. But just do what they say for now. It’ll get more bizarre later, plenty time to resist and protest.

Follow those “directions” for now, but whatever you do, please never ever praise the very people who dropped the ball so humongously to cause so much suffering, only to take unprecedented control over your lives, and telling you it’s for your own good.

It’s not that they planned this all, there are too many conspiracy notions out there about that too. People have through history hugely underestimated the power of incompetence, and history rhymes so much it hurts.

Get through this thing, it won’t last forever, people will force an end to lockdowns before the summer’s over, simply because people are social animals; can’t keep us apart.

Next up: the same clowns in charge of “fixing” the economy broken by the negligence and the incompetence of, yes, the same clowns. Better start preparing right now. If you think this virus thing is bad, wait till you see what they have on offer next.

 

 

Much as I don’t want to, I must ask for your support. Readership is up a lot, but ad revenue only keeps dropping. I’ve said it before, it must be possible to run a joint like the Automatic Earth on people’s kind donations. These are no longer the times when ads pay for all you read, your donations have become an integral part of it. It has become a two-way street; and isn’t that liberating, when you think about it?

You heard it here first, like so many other things. And no, though it would be far more lucrative financially, the Automatic Earth will not adopt any paywalls, not here and not on Patreon. But you can still support us there, as well as right here. It’s easy.

 

 

 

If you read us, please support us. Help the Automatic Earth survive.

 

Mar 012020
 


John Waterhouse Diogenes 1882

 

 

This is a new essay from Alexander Aston. He describes how once the world has passed through the -narrow- bottleneck of the coronavirus and its effects on our societies, which are long overdue for a redo, and on the central bank-engineered distortions of the markets that are -make that were- supposed to be the foundation that allowed us to flourish, there will be a better world waiting.

I’m all for it, and I have no rational issues with it either, but when I read“..these are the moments at which humans are the most creative and most inspiring”, my warped mind can’t NOT think: ..yes, we’re moving towards a better world, and we’re terribly sorry that you didn’t make the cut..”

Here’s Alexander:

 

 

Dear Raúl, I hope you are well. Things are all right on my side. Submitted my thesis, am being examined by the heads of Archaeology for both Cambridge and Oxford, which is a huge, albeit intimidating complement. Otherwise, just watching the world come unglued, so I wrote you something to put up if you like it. All the best – Alex

 

 

“A mighty space it was, with gigantic machines here and there within it, huge mounds of material and strange shelter places.


And scattered about it, some in their overturned warmachines, some in the now rigid handling-machines, and a dozen of them stark and silent and laid in a row, were the Martians—dead!—slain by the putrefactive and disease bacteria against which their systems were unprepared; slain as the red weed was being slain; slain, after all man’s devices had failed, by the humblest things that God, in His wisdom, has put upon this earth.”

– HG Wells

 

 

It took until the first two months of 2020 for the long Twentieth Century to finally come to an end. One thing now seems absolutely clear, this will be the decade that the majority finally come to understand that things are never going back to “normal.” To be sure, the complex entanglements of institutions, narratives, cultural practices, and economic relationships that emerged during the previous century have been under immense strain these past two decades. Enormous effort has been expended to maintain the inertia of the global system, from the immense violence of imperial politics and regime change wars, to the more subtle violence of economic dispossession by a privileged elite that control the mechanisms of power.

A few years of relative, but diminishing stability were bought at great expense. Authoritarianism, rentier feudalism, political corruption, regional instability, distrust, anger, and disbelief have wormed their way into every facet of our global society. The cost of refusing to adapt, for the benefit of a very select few, is immense systemic fragility. It is fitting that the hubris, intransigence and bankruptcy of imagination in our modern political economy shall finally be brought low by a microscopic organism.

Some will read this and misunderstand me and believe that I am being apocalyptic about the physical illness brought about by the coronavirus. The virus is serious, and will have dramatic consequences, but it is no black death. The virus is a catalyst, something beyond our agency to control which is triggering cascading changes in a system that has been rotting for some time. As an archaeologist, if I found evidence of intensive and intersecting energetic, ecological and economic disruptions in society, what I would expect to find at the end of those stratigraphic layers is a new cultural phase.

 

That is, I would expect a very different kind of society and culture, albeit causally linked, from that which preceded it. Another way to frame this is that periods of systemic collapse and reorganisation generate new forms of social psychology, new narratives, beliefs and practices. A new epoch is here, and we will all quickly learn that we are very different kinds of people than we thought we were. Soon, things will start looking radically different from what we have known to be the order of things. States, institutions, practices and beliefs that once seemed permanent fixtures of our world will be swept away.

This may seem extreme, the momentum of history has not fully tipped us over the edge yet, which allows psychological space for defaulting to normalcy bias. The problem is that causality is not linear, and it does not operate at singular scales. What we are experiencing has been building for decades, but the synergy of these causal processes, their true emergent effects are about to become fully apparent. The virus is a spark, not the cause, and it is breaking down the last reinforcing bonds holding the global system together. If the ruling class had not been debasing our societies and parasitizing their citizenries for decades, our social resiliency to this pandemic would be much higher. High energy production costs, low demand, and low consumption have been masked by systemic financial fraud.

Instead of innovation, we have spent decades investing in a Potemkin economy. We are about to find out that, despite all our mathematical abstractions and sorcery, the hardcore material basis of our economies rules supreme. Simply put, one cannot shut down countries like China for months on end without powerful material ramifications. Supply chains are going to be severely disrupted, and this is going to implode the illusion of the financialised economy along with our disastrously entwined energy systems. People are going to have difficulty accessing everything from car parts to asthma inhalers, and this is going to shake their fundamental understanding of how the world works. People will be scared, they will be angry, and their final vestiges of faith in the system will begin to collapse.

 

The problem goes deeper than mere economic implosion, it goes to basic principles of trust and belief. Human history is a story of an incredible capacity to self-organise and work collectively. However, this requires collective attention upon shared forms of value, narratives and cultural practices that raise levels of trust necessary for stable social relationships to be organised. Faith in the promise of our societies has been severely eroded on all sides these past few years. People still believe in their societies, but just barely, and usually based on the misapprehension that either they can undo the damage or that their chosen leaders will solve all the problems.

Our narratives have been fundamentally shaken and fractured, but soon they will start collapsing and it is going to be very difficult to rebuild trust once they finally give. Our collective faith in the system will break down completely with the loss of the shared forms of value through which we incorporate ourselves into our social relationships and ensure our well-being; those things that glue our collective narratives together. This is when we will be most vulnerable to social violence, because we won’t know whom to trust, and we will be desperate to survive the upheaval. This is also when radically new forms of organisation will begin to emerge, as people build coalitions and communities to meet new challenges. These relationships will become the bedrock for new cultural relationships.

It is hard to tell exactly what happens, but there are a few predictions that are within reason. Prolonged quarantines could result in cascading defaults from the bottom up while severe supply chain disruptions have the ability to trigger institutional defaults. Likewise, the slowdown in air travel could potentially send Boeing into a complete tailspin. Regardless, we are liable to see massive deflationary pressures in everything other than essential goods. What’s more, the virus will probably devastate countries weakened by imperialist intervention and sanctioning. Places such as Syria and Yemen are very likely to see truly horrific outbreaks due to their obliterated social infrastructure.

 

The virus could also potentially collapse the weakened Iranian state. Ironically, the zero-sum logics of Empire have created conditions through which the pandemic can entrench and project itself. This raises another horrifying possibility, that certain sociopaths will use the synergetic fears of refugees and contagion as political weapons. This will only lead to atrocities against the most vulnerable. Furthermore, the fact that the Coronavirus has established itself in Italy, the most fragile of Europe’s major economies, is a harsh twist of fate. The shutdown of the country is likely to lead to major financial contagion in the Eurozone and place pressures upon core principals such as freedom of movement. Either the European Union will break apart in this process or it will transform into something very different than it has been.

Another likely outcome is that the American health profiteering system will finally be shown for the utter social failure that it is. The infection is liable to spread in a country where people refuse treatment because they are afraid of bankruptcy. Finally, if the virus is not contained, it could very well affect the U.S. elections. The loss of political legitimacy could make the country ungovernable given the social antagonisms surrounding the candidates. At the end of the day, our cultural logics have fetishized competition and treated our societies as zero-sum games designed to provide luxury communism for billionaires and debt slavery for the rest of us. It is not surprising that it is greed, selfishness and entitlement that are undoing our societies, we have failed the prisoners dilemma and now we are being sentenced.

We live in a moment of radical historical change, but do not despair. Things will be difficult, but these are the moments at which humans are the most creative and most inspiring. We will see hard, sometimes brutal things, but we are also going to see new kinds of beauty brought into this world. We must hold on to that, we must hold on to a sense of vision and endeavour, that something better is still possible. More than anything, take care of each other. The future belongs to those who know how to cooperate best, how to share effectively, how to generate new forms of value, new narratives, new communities. We are at the end of the beginning and much will depend on our choices, our courage and our compassion in the coming years. I wish all of you luck and solidarity as we become Twenty-First Century people.

 

 

I know about Persia and Xenophon,
Egypt and the Sudan,
But I prefer to be caressed
By fresh mountain air.

I know the age old history
Of human grudges,
But I prefer the bees that fly
Among the bellflowers.

I know the songs that breezes sing
In the chattering branches;
Don’t tell me that I lie –
I do prefer them.

I know about the frightened buck
Returned to its pen, expiring;
I know that weary hearts die darkly
But free from anger.

– José Martí

 

 

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Feb 202020
 


Saul Leiter Man with flowers, NY 1950s

 

A few days ago, I was thinking of writing another corona article, focusing on two things: 1) the ease and speed with which the virus spreads -because I think that is hugely underestimated-, and 2) testing. But then the situation with the two cruise ships started going berserk.

I had intended to use the Diamond Princess as a case for the ease and speed of infection, but it became clear quite rapidly that you can’t use the ship to prove any case, other than that people are completely nuts. But we already knew that. And while Dostoyevsky wrote some great books on the topic, it’s not a great framework for a piece on a virus. Unless perhaps if it infects the brain.

Not that I don’t think the ship is still a good example to make the point, but too much plain bonkers stuff has been going on with and around it. The quarantine, the evacuations, the infection numbers, you name it. I’ll get to the testing later, that was/is a whole other chapter.

A problem, if you’re me, with letting an essay simmer for a bit, is that ever more sources start accumulating, until there’s too many to either comprehend or use in an effective way. First thing to do is not to wait another day. Let’s start with 1) The ease and speed with which the virus spreads, aka transmissibility,, and see where we land.

 

1) The ease and speed with which the virus spreads

People continue to have this idea that COVID19 isn’t all that bad, yada yada, an “analysis” crowned by the comparisons to seasonal flu. Which make no more sense then to compare it to bovine flatulence. Stop it.

The way and extent the virus was spreading aboard the Diamond Princess became clear before the evacuation efforts. The US government, and others, were watching it happen, and pulled the plug. What the Japanese were doing and thinking is less clear. It’s sort of fun to see Washington refrain from calling Tokyo on it, best allies and all, but it makes you think at the same time.

So if using the Diamond Princess is not a good example, we need to look elsewhere. This Feb 16 Zero Hedge graph of infections outside China might be a good start. Whether it represents an exponential or a quadratic function is sort of an inside joke by now, but it’s clear enough in either case.

 

 

Even more obvious perhaps is this from the South China Morning Post (SCMP):

Coronavirus Up To 20 Times More Likely Than Sars To Bind To Human Cells

The deadly new coronavirus is up to 20 times more likely to bind to human cell receptors and cause infection than severe acute respiratory syndrome (Sars), a new study by researchers at the University of Texas at Austin has found. The novel coronavirus and Sars share the same functional host-cell receptor, called angiotensin-converting enzyme 2 (ACE2).

The report, published on the website bioRxiv on Saturday, said the new coronavirus had around 10 to 20-fold higher affinity – the degree to which a substance tends to combine with another – for human ACE2 compared with Sars. But the researchers added that further studies were needed to explore the human host-cell receptor’s role in helping the new virus to spread from person to person.

“Compared with SARS-CoV, 2019-nCoV appears to be more readily transmitted from human to human,” the report of the study said. “The high affinity of 2019-nCoV S for human ACE2 may contribute to the apparent ease with which 2019-nCoV can spread from human to human.”

The ACE2 receptor has already been reported as being much more prevalent among Asian people, but please don’t presume the buck stops there. Non-Asians have them as well, and we’re not even sure what role they play, or if fewer of them would protect you from being infected. Allegedly, smokers have more ACE2 enzymes as well. As do older people.

Another transmissibility example is the death of an entire family in Wuhan:

Virus Kills Chinese Film Director and Family in Wuhan

A Chinese film director and his entire family have died from the novel coronavirus in Wuhan, the epicenter of the outbreak. Chang Kai, a film director and an external communications officer at a Hubei Film Studio subsidiary, died in hospital on Feb. 14 from the virus now called COVID-19, according to a statement from the studio. He was 55.


But Chang’s death was not the first in his family—the Chinese media reported that Chang’s father and mother were infected and died one after the other. Chang and his sister, who looked after their parents at home, were both infected with the virus as a result. His sister died just hours later. Chang’s wife is also infected, still alive, and is still battling the virus in an intensive care unit.

But everything above loses most of its meaning compared to the following, also from the South China Morning Post. You might want to sit down for this one.

Until now, ‘accepted knowledge” is that the first death from COVID19 was registered on January 9 2020, a 61-year old man in Wuhan. And that the incubation time for the virus was maximum 14 days – hence the 2-week quarantines everywhere. No more.

The government of Xinxian county, in the city of Xinyang, on Sunday reported that one of its new cases had been confirmed 34 days after the patient returned from a mid-January visit to Wuhan.

He had been sent to hospital with suspected symptoms on January 28, but twice tested negative before testing positive on February 16. A further two people who attended family gatherings with the man in Xinxian were reported as infected, while three were suspected cases or under hospital quarantine.

The county government announced it would extend the home quarantine period from 14 to 21 days for residents who had been to Hubei or had contact with people who had been there.

It also reported a case that was confirmed 94 days after the patient’s contact with a relative from Hubei. The patient had taken care of his father-in-law, who arrived from Wuhan on November 13 and died days later.

The son-in-law continued to stay in the father-in-law’s house until January 31. However, the government statement said the origin of the son-in-law’s infection had yet to be identified. Zhuhai, in the southern Guangdong province, last week reported two cases with incubation periods longer than 14 days. Similar cases have also been reported in Anhui and Shandong provinces.

This potentially pushes back the first known case to November 13 2019 and the first known death to November 13 and change. “Died days later”. Shall we say 4-5 days? That means the first fatality was November 17-18. While incubation time may have been pushed forward to 94 days.

 

 

 

 

2) Testing

The most important term coming out of the coronavirus news, going forward, will be “false negative”. Closely followed by “asymptomatic”. There are tons of stories about people testing negative 2-3-4- times before testing positive. And also tons of stories about people with no symptoms infecting others. It’s all about the things you don’t see.

The Chinese had it about as wrong as can be early on, and knee-jerked into the Party deny and hide mode. They have it right now, though: the only way to keep the virus from spreading is to limit contact between people, even if that may seem to reach extreme proportions. If there is no vaccine, there is no other way. But if it’s just the Chinese that do isolation, that solves nothing.

When I first read that the passengers of the Holland-America Line cruise ship Westerdam had been allowed to leave the ship when it landed in Cambodia a week ago after, I think, 9 days of floating around aimlessly, I thought this was a “Go Forth and Multiply” message for the virus. Second thought was: who’s in charge here? Still wondering about that one.

The Westerdam had 2,257 people on board, 1,455 passengers and 802 crew. They were not allowed to dock anywhere after a man who had gone off board in Hong Kong tested positive. As we speak, some 255 passengers and 747 crew members are still being held on the ship while further testing was conducted. That means 1,200 passengers and 55 crew have left the ship. Cambodia let lots of them fly to Malaysia, and they flew all over from there.

And only then did they discover an 83-year old American woman who had already flown to Malaysia had tested positive. The ship had a lot of Americans (400?) , Canadians and Dutch people on board. Where did they go? Mostly home, of course. And now all those countries are scrambling to locate these people. Even if they do, who have they infected in the meantime? They’ve been in close proximity to others, like on planes.

And, again, who’s in charge? Did the Holland-America people, and the Cambodian government, keep in constant touch with the WHO and the Chinese? Would it have made any difference if they did? Or is it as bad as it seems, a Wild East sort of set-up with everyone fending for themselves?

What are the odds that someone in the Cambodian government now has a new offshore bank account with $10 million in it, in a deal made before the 83-year old American woman tested positive, in exchange for letting the ship dock and making sure the passengers would leave ASAP?

 

Hard as it may seem to imagine, the Diamond Princess may be, and have been, even more of a mess than the Westerdam. Someone said: “it was a mess on board, and the mess is now moving off board”. And now we have the first 2 fatalities from the ship.

Diamond Princess: everyone confined to their cabins, little interaction, but still in the past week numbers of new infections have exploded, with many dozens of new cases every day. So now we have a total of what, 500-600 new infections ever since the US said: enough!

Why were they, why were larger numbers, not discovered earlier? Well… There were 3,711 people on board. 5-6 days ago, 10-12 days after the first positive test, 1,219 had been tested. Which means that after 10+ days of quarantine, less than a third had actually been tested. As of Monday, 2,404 passengers and crew, out of the 3,711, had been tested. That still left 1,300. Many of whom are now gone.

The remaining 61 American passengers on the Diamond Princess who opted not to join the evacuation will not be allowed to return to the US until March 4, according to the American embassy in Tokyo.

Undoubtedly some logic behind the lack of testing until recently will be offered by Tokyo, but you must wonder how many of the 542 new cases of the last four days had been tested at all, and how long some of them had been infected, probably without showing any signs. For instance, the 14 cases on the flights to the US this week were all asymptomatic virus carriers. All of them, according to official channels.

And now we read that Japan has no intentions of quarantining its citizens who were on board the Diamond Princess:

Earlier in the week, the United States evacuated more than 300 nationals on two chartered flights. A State Department official said there were still about 45 US citizens on board the cruise ship as of Thursday. Americans flown back will have to complete another 14 days quarantine, as will returning Hong Kong residents. Disembarked Japanese passengers, however, face no such restrictions, a decision that has sparked concern.

One more thing, then I’ll stop. Zero Hedge a few days ago quoted a Taiwan Times article saying people can be infected multiple times. And be worse off for it. A first infection leaves your immune system ravaged, and combined with the damage caused by the medication taken, can make you helpless against a second attack.

Chinese Doctors Say Wuhan Coronavirus Reinfection Even Deadlier

Doctors working on the front lines of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak have told the Taiwan Times that it’s possible to become reinfected by the virus, leading to death from sudden heart failure in some cases. “It’s highly possible to get infected a second time. A few people recovered from the first time by their own immune system, but the meds they use are damaging their heart tissue, and when they get it the second time, the antibody doesn’t help but makes it worse, and they die a sudden death from heart failure.. ”


“The source also said the virus has “outsmarted all of us..” [..] “It can fool the test kit – there were cases that they found, the CT scan shows both lungs are fully infected but the test came back negative four times. The fifth test came back positive.” -Taiwan Times

We will now start to see the economic effects (you haven’t seen anything yet in that regard). More on that later. Rule of thumb: companies have 1-2 weeks of supplies in stock. Just-in-Time. Then they need more delivered. But the Chinese economy is on its last legs. Please don’t think it’s about Apple or some other major company. This is about a million smaller companies and (chain) stores in the west. What was it, 80% of US drugs come from China? Or was that just antibiotics?

There are ways to minimize the damage a virus can do. Mankind as a whole, in the places where the proverbial chain literally is as strong as the weakest link, has not minimized it. Instead it has told the virus: “Go Forth and Multiply”. Prepare accordingly. If we’re lucky, this will die down and pass. But that’s the problem: it’ll happen only if we’re lucky, not because we’ve done all we know we could.