Easily overlooked issues regarding COVID-19

We read a lot in the news about the new Wuhan coronavirus and the illness it causes (COVID-19), but some important points often get left out.

[1] COVID-19 is incredibly contagious.

COVID-19 transmits extremely easily from person to person. Interpersonal contact doesn’t need to be very long; a taxi driver can get the virus from a passenger, for example. The virus may be transmissible even before an infected person develops symptoms. It may also be transmissible for a few days after a person seems to be over the virus; it is possible to get positive virus tests, even after symptoms disappear. Some people may have the disease, but never show symptoms.

[2] The virus likely remains active on inanimate surfaces such as paper, plastic, or metal for many days.

There haven’t been tests on the COVID-19 virus per se, but studies on similar viruses suggest that human pathogens may remain infectious for up to eight days. Some viruses that only infect animals can survive for more than 28 days. China is reported to be destroying paper currency from the hardest hit area, because people do not want to accept money which may have viruses on it. Clearly, surfaces in airplanes, trains and buses may also harbor viruses, long after a passenger with the virus has left, unless they have been thoroughly wiped down with disinfectant.

[3] Given Issues [1] and [2], about the only way to avoid spreading COVID-19 seems to be geographic isolation. 

With all of today’s travel, geographic isolation doesn’t work very well in practice. People need food and medical supplies. They need to keep basic services such as electricity and garbage collection operating. Suppliers of food and other services need to come and leave the area and that tends to spread COVID-19. Also, the longer a geographic area is isolated, the larger the percentage of the people within the area that is likely to get COVID-19. The problem is that the people need to have contact with others in the area for purposes such as buying food, and that tends to spread the disease.

[4] The real story regarding the number of deaths and illnesses seems to be far worse than the story China is telling its own people and the world.

The real story seems to be that the number of deaths is far greater than the number reported–perhaps 10 times as high as being reported. The number of illnesses is also much higher. At one point, facilities doing cremations in the Wuhan area were reported to be doing four to five times the normal number of cremations. Some of the bodies in the Wuhan area now need to be sent to other areas of China because there is not enough local cremation capacity.

China doesn’t dare tell its people how bad the situation really is, for fear of panic. They want to tell a story of being in control and handling the situation well. The news media in the West repeat the stories that the government-controlled publications of China provide, even though they seem to present a much more favorable situation than really seems to be the case.

[5] Our ability to identify who has the new coronavirus is poor.

While there is a test for the coronavirus, it costs hundreds of dollars to administer. Even with this high cost, the results of the tests aren’t very reliable. The test tends to produce many false negatives. The virus may be present somewhere inside the person being tested, but not in the areas touched by swabs of the throat and nose.

[6] Some people get much more severe symptoms from COVID-19 than others.

Most people, perhaps 80% of people, seem to get a fairly light form of the COVID-19 illness. Groups that seem particularly prone to adverse outcomes include the elderly, smokers, those who are obese, and those with high blood pressure, diabetes, or poor immune systems. Males seem to have worse outcomes than females.

Strangely enough, there is speculation that people with East Asian ancestry (Chinese, Japanese, or Vietnamese) may have a higher risk of adverse outcomes than those of European or African ancestry. One of the things that is targeted by the disease is the ACE2 receptor. The 1000 Genome Project studied expected differences in ACE2 receptors among various groups. Based on this analysis, some researchers (in non-peer-reviewed studies, here and here) predict that those of European or African ancestry will tend to get lighter forms of the disease. These findings are contested in another, non-peer-reviewed study.

Bolstering the view that East Asians are more susceptible to viruses that target the ACE2 receptor is the fact that SARS, which also tends to target the ACE2 receptor, tended to stay primarily in China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, and Singapore. While there were cases elsewhere, they tended to have few deaths.

Observational data with respect to COVID-19 is needed to determine whether there truly is a difference in the severity of the illness among different populations.

[7] China has been using geographical quarantine to try to hold down the number of COVID-19 cases. The danger with such a quarantine is that once the economy is down, it is very difficult to come back to the pre-quarantine state.

Data shows that China’s economy is not reopening quickly after the extended New Year holiday finished.

Figure 2. China daily passenger flows, relative to Chinese New Year. Amounts are now down more than 80% and have not increased, even as some businesses are theoretically reopening. Chart by ANZ, copied by WSJ Daily Shot Feb. 17, 2020.

Figure 3. China property transactions, before and after Chinese New Year. Chart by Goldman Sachs. Reprinted by WSJ Daily Shot, Feb. 17, 2020.

All businesses will be adversely affected by a lack of sales if they need to continue to pay overhead expenses. Small and medium-sized businesses will be especially adversely affected. Bloomberg reports that if a shutdown lasts for three months, there is a substantial chance that these businesses will run through their savings and fail. Thus, these businesses may be permanently lost if the economy is down for several months.

Also, restarting after a shut-down is more difficult than it might appear. Take, for example, a mother who wants to go back to work. She will likely need:

  • Public transportation to be operating, so she has a way to get to work;
  • School to be open, so she doesn’t need to worry about her child while she is at work;
  • Masks to be available, so that she and her child can comply with requirements to wear them;
  • Stores providing necessities such as food to be open, or she may be too hungry to work

If anything is missing, the mother is likely not to go back to work. Required masks seem to be a problem right now, but other pieces could be missing as well.

Businesses, too, need a full range of workers to restart their operations. If the inspector doing the final inspection is not available, the business may not really be able to ship finished products, even if most of the workers are back.

[8] A shutdown of as little as three months is likely to be damaging to the world economy.

Multiple things are likely to go wrong:

(a) Commodity prices are likely to fall steeply, because of low demand from China. Oil prices, in particular, are likely to fall steeply, perhaps to $30 to $35 per barrel. Besides cutbacks in oil demand from China, there is the issue of a general reduction in long distance travel, because of fear of traveling with other passengers with COVID-19.

(b) US businesses, such as Apple, will find their supply chains broken. They won’t know when, and if, they can ship products.

(c) Debt defaults are likely to become more common, especially in China. The longer the slowdown/shutdown lasts, the greater the extent to which debt defaults are likely to spread around the world.

(d) The world economy is likely to be pushed into recession, without an easy way to get out again.

[9] The longer the shutdown lasts, the more likely there is to be a major collapse of the Chinese economy. 

In the event of a long-term shutdown, it would seem likely that, at a minimum, a new leader would take over. In fact, there would seem to be a significant chance of major changes within the economy. For example, the provinces of China that are able to restart might attempt to restart, leaving the more damaged areas behind. In such a case, instead of having a single Chinese government to deal with, there might be multiple governmental units to deal with.

Each governmental unit might consist of a few provinces trying to provide services such as they are able, without the benefit of the parts of the economy that are still shut down. Each governmental unit might have its own currency. If this should happen, China will be able to provide far fewer goods and services than it has in the recent past.

[10] Planners everywhere have been guilty of “putting too many eggs in one basket.”

Planners today look for efficiency. For example, placing a large share of the world’s industry in China looks like it is an efficient approach. Unfortunately, we are asking for trouble if the Chinese economy hits a bump in the road. Using just-in-time supply lines looks like a good idea as well, but if a major supplier cannot provide parts for a while, then having inventory on hand would have been a better approach.

If we want systems to be sustainable, they really need a lot of redundancy. Redundant systems are not as efficient, but they are much more likely to be sustainable through difficult times. There is a recent article in Nature that talks about this issue. One of the things it says is,

A system with a single cycle is the most unstable because the deletion of any cycle-node or link breaks the sustaining feedback mechanism.

“A system with a single cycle” is basically similar to “putting all of our eggs in one basket.” “Deletion of any cycle-node or link” is something like China running into coronavirus problems. We probably need a world economy that consists of many nearly separate local economies to be certain of long-term world economy stability. Alternatively, we need a great deal of redundancy built into our systems. For example, we need large inventories to work around the possibility of missing contributions from one country, in the case of a problem such as a major epidemic.


The world economy may become very different, simply because of COVID-19. The new virus doesn’t even need to directly affect the rest of the world very much to create a problem. The United States, Europe, and the rest of the world are very much dependent on the continued operation of China. The world economy has effectively put way too many eggs in one basket, and this basket is now not functioning as expected.

If China is barely producing anything for world markets, the rest of the world will suddenly discover that long supply chains weren’t such a good idea. There will be a big scramble to try to fill in the missing pieces of supply chains, but many goods are likely to be less available. We may discover quickly how much we depend upon China for everything from shoes to automobiles to furniture to electronics. World carbon dioxide emissions are likely to fall dramatically because of China’s problems, but will the accompanying issues be ones that the world economy can tolerate?

The thing that is ironic is that it is possible that the West’s fear of the new coronavirus may be overblown–we really won’t know what the impact will be with respect to people of European or of African descent until we have had a better chance to examine how the virus affects different populations. The next few weeks and months are likely to be quite instructive. For example, how will the Americans and Australians who caught COVID-19 on the cruise ships fare? What will the health outcomes be of non-Asians being brought back from Wuhan to their native countries on special planes?


About Gail Tverberg

My name is Gail Tverberg. I am an actuary interested in finite world issues - oil depletion, natural gas depletion, water shortages, and climate change. Oil limits look very different from what most expect, with high prices leading to recession, and low prices leading to financial problems for oil producers and for oil exporting countries. We are really dealing with a physics problem that affects many parts of the economy at once, including wages and the financial system. I try to look at the overall problem.
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2,589 Responses to Easily overlooked issues regarding COVID-19

  1. Covidinamonthorayearoradecade says:



    India only 3 cases and all have recovered… it’s hard to believe that there won’t be a burst there very soon…

    Iran 43 cases and 8 deaths so there must be many more cases not yet reported…

    Singapore 89 cases… holding at 89 cases? have they succeeded? for now?

    Italy up 78 cases to 157… that’s double…

    South Korea 763 cases… plus 327 in about one day…

    Japan 146 cases, up by 12… kind of quietly increasing… quiet compared to the bursts in other countries…

    China DEATHS plus 989 up to 3,431… about 40% higher in one day…

    • Covidinamonthorayearoradecade says:

      they just corrected China deaths to +150 for a total of 2,592…

      nothing to see here… please move along…

    • Duncan Idaho says:

      A bit chewy–
      TWiV 588: Coronavirus update – Save the pangolin!
      Virologist giving a report.

      • I listened to a bit of this. Lots of irrelevant banter at the beginning. I got to the part where one of the panelists (at least) was impressed by the drop in new reported cases from China.

        Let me know if the panel actually has useful insights in this new tape. It seemed like the effort of listening was too high, relative to what I might get out of it.

        • Duncan Idaho says:

          If you are not virus literate, it is very chewy, plus dense and long.
          If you continue, good info, but virus literacy is needed.
          But agree, cumbersome for most.

    • Yorchichan says:

      I notice the number of cases in Thailand has stayed on 35 for a week. May be true, but given the lengths they will go to to protect their tourism industry, I am highly suspicious.

    • Aravind says:

      All 3 confirmed cases in India have been from my home state of Kerala in the South West. Students studying in Wuhan. The first to be confirmed and subsequently recovered is a girl studying medicine. No further reports of any confirmed cases here or from other states. Surprising, but good news so far.

      • I am guessing that there are other cases in India. Have there been any Chinese workers coming to India, perhaps to install solar panels or some other relatively high tech item? Or business people negotiating contracts for purchases of Chinese products?

        Getting confirmed cases is difficult. It is necessary for people to first suspect the cause. Then it is necessary to actually have the expensive test kit available to test for the coronavirus. The third obstacle is the high false-negative test rate. The disease could easily be around for a well over a month before anyone figures out the problem.

      • peatmoss says:

        Nice! Maybe India can be hit less hard if they prepare now.

    • Greg Machala says:

      One thing I am certain of – the statistics are way off. Orders of magnitude off. Just wait until hospitals in the infected areas are overwhelmed then no one will have any clue of the numbers just guesses after that point. The numbers in China are at best conservative guesses…at worst…outright fabrication. In one instance a hospital reported 50 deaths in one day and the Chinese statistics showed that same hospital with 1 death. It is just plain lying. And I am sure this is not an isolated case.

      • peatmoss says:

        Well let us just hope that the rate of increase of new cases in china is falling as reported. Without growth in new cases covid 19 is just another bug to be squashed.

  2. Covidinamonthorayearoradecade says:

    major fail:


    “From a virologist’s perspective, a cruise ship with a large number of persons on board is more an incubator for viruses rather than a good place for quarantine…”

    • Greg Machala says:

      It is so hard to separate fact from fiction concerning the virus outbreak. It seems completely out of character for so many responsible for disease control to be making so many critical mistakes. I even knew the cruise ship was a disaster and the people needed to be removed and quarantined in a hospital like setting. How can those in charge be making so many critical mistakes? Then a number of the cruise ship passengers were flown on an airline with un-infected persons. That is just plain crazy! One would get the impression that global CDC’s want this to spread.

      • The cost of providing separate transport for sick patients is just too high. And people will not believe how easily this virus is to transmit from one person to another. Also, they can’t tell who really is sick. Three more passengers came down with what appeared to be the illness, during the flight across the ocean.

    • Yes, but a lot of people who OKed this thought it would work, and the people involved seemed to think it would work.

      Simply removing obviously sick passengers and crew, by itself, should get rid of the illness, if the virus spreads primarily through obviously sick individuals. In fact, getting rid of the passenger who was the carrier (but not obviously sick) after two days on the ship, by itself, should have removed most of the risk, if it is obviously sick individuals who spread the illness.

      We are now figuring out that it is a lot more than obviously sick individuals that spread the disease. The virus lingers a long time on hard surfaces. Crew and passengers can both spread the virus, without being obviously sick. The virus seems to spread in many ways, including through the air.

      The only way of reducing the risk is “geographical separation,” such as keeping cruise ship passengers away from Japan. This temporarily reduces the risk that Japanese citizens will catch the virus. It may even increase the risk that those in the isolated group catch the illness from each other. In China, I am sure that the taxi drivers, the pizza delivery people, and the grocery store keepers included quite a few people who were carriers for the virus. People who used these services, suddenly had a problem.

      At this point, I don’t think that any quarantine guidelines have actually been developed that work for this illness. Walk around in fancy suits, with goggles and P95 masks, 24/7/365, perhaps. Or stay 50 meters away from other people, and don’t touch anything that anyone else might have touched. Without guidelines that actually work, the quarantine system doesn’t work well at all.

      • Xabier says:

        I made an experiment today of going shopping but keeping in mind contagion risks..

        Exhausting, and time and time again one came up against exposure situations from people and surfaces, on hands, on clothes. I used lots of streets where I knew I would not meet many people, etc.

        I had no mask, but gloves and anti-bac wipes in a freezer bag in a pocket keeping them moist. What I bought has been dumped in a room where it will be untouched for several weeks if it cannot be washed in chlorine.

        Frankly, one has to go self-isolated to limit exposure to any useful extent, and stay sane – this will go through us like a hot knife through butter.

        Life is not a clinically-safe set-up, and can’t be made so.

        • peatmoss says:

          This is very responsible behavior. We are responsible with our sex and prophylactics why is their a stigma against responsible behavior in a pandemic.

        • Tim Groves says:

          Way to go, Xabier! Germophobia saved my life!

          But bear in mind, we can take these things too far. Take the case of Howard Hughes.

          Toward the end of his life, he lay naked in bed in darkened hotel rooms in what he considered a germ-free zone. He wore tissue boxes on his feet to protect them. And he burned his clothing if someone near him became ill.

          The phobia grew so severe that it might have contributed to Hughes’s increasing addiction to codeine and his reclusiveness in the two decades before his death from heart failure in 1976. Nearly two years after his death, Hughes’s estate attorney called on former APA CEO Raymond D. Fowler, PhD, to conduct a psychological autopsy to determine Hughes’s mental and emotional condition in his last years and to help understand the origins of his mental disorder. ….

          That research led Fowler to believe that Hughes’s fear for his health most likely emerged from his childhood. Hughes’s mother was constantly worried about her son’s exposure to germs, terrified that he would catch polio, a major health threat at the time. His mother checked him every day for diseases and was cautious about what he ate.

          In adolescence, Hughes was paralyzed for several months and unable to walk. After a few months, the symptoms disappeared. Fowler believes Hughes’s paralysis–for which no physical basis was found–was psychologically based and an early manifestation of his lifelong pattern of withdrawing in times of stress.

          Hughes’s fear of germs grew throughout his life, and he concurrently developed obsessive-compulsive symptoms around efforts to protect himself from germs, Fowler notes. For example, he wrote a staff manual on how to open a can of peaches–including directions for removing the label, scrubbing the can down until it was bare metal, washing it again and pouring the contents into a bowl without touching the can to the bowl.

          Ironically, Hughes ended up neglecting his own hygiene later in his life, rarely bathing or brushing his teeth. He even forced his compulsions on those around him, ordering staff to wash their hands multiple times and layer their hands with paper towels when serving his food.

          “He didn’t believe germs could come from him, just from the outside,” Fowler explains. “He was convinced that he was going to be contaminated from the outside.”


          • Xabier says:

            I may not have the money of a mad billionaire, but I can certainly cultivate the habits!

            I’ve been posting from a darkened isolated room, with boxes on my feet and naked all this time, actually…..:)

          • I sometimes wonder whether the people making quarantine recommendations come from a similar view of the importance of germs.

            By the way, my mother had a master’s degree in Medical Technology that she got back in the 1940s. She was very aware of germs. Some people thought she was a nut for cleanliness. Her sister reported that she once had a dream in which my mother rolled up the linoleum in the kitchen, to clean under it. She didn’t do that, but she did wash the kitchen floor several times a week. Each family member had a separate towel, which she washed very frequently. She also ironed each towel. My father was a General Practice Medical Doctor.

            In a way, the situation is like, “If your only tool is a hammer, every problem is a nail.” A focus on bacteria and what they can do can lead to overlooking other issues that are important as well. We now know that our bodies need certain beneficial bacteria, for example. Spraying disinfectant everywhere is not necessarily the best idea.

            • Artleads says:

              Guilty as charged. I’m over invested in the cleanliness route. My only tool is aesthetics, but I wouldn’t rule it out. Lets’ say we don’t sterilize every surface everywhere that the public are likely to touch. But instead nudge the culture in a direction of aesthetic management. Pretend that every mall is Buckingham Palace, and must be visually perfect. Aesthetics are hyper complex, so such a treatment would put lots of cleaners to work, but might lead to a degree of economic benefit too. It would work on the public mind. And it would probably remove enough germs to protect (minimally, and in a complex way) against the virus too.

      • peatmoss says:

        It takes some pretty rigorous training to keep discipline in personal protective equipment in these situations. The sooner we identify proper PPE procedures train personel the sooner our brave health workers can provide aid. This should be happening NOW!


        • Xabier says:

          The thing was I had worked out all kinds of procedures before going into town; but then things happened that I hadn’t thought about -you simply touch or brush against so much.

          ‘Damn, my backpack straps and toggles are possibly contaminated, and now my coat zipper,and now the top of my hat which I’ve pressed down on my head because the wind was blowing it off….’ and so on.

          Really, it’s almost impossible and exhausting. You need a buddy to watch you and tell you when you have done something unsafe.

          Best to trust in Allah and realise that the camel is probably going to get loose….

          • Filters – not even ceramic filters are effective against virus. That said they might remove some spitle particles from the air from coughs and sneezes. However, COVID-19 seems to be a contact virus with long lived surface endurance. Wash your hands frequently with detergent soap and keep them away from all mucus membranes. The best prevention is not to be anywhere near the infected. Makes being a medical profressional really dangerous.

          • Robert Firth says:

            Xabier, the “blind camel” is a metaphor for Destiny, is it not? But was not that a conceit of Ibn Rushd, in his refutation of al Ghazali? His point, I think, being that destiny operates independently of the Divine Will.

  3. Harry McGibbs says:

    “Last week, the 30-year Treasury yield hit an all-time low at 1.97%. This is a major warning that the bond market is sending to us. It is telling us that growth is in free fall… There are multiple signs of a weakening [US] economy here. First of all, we see that trade is coming to a standstill as freight rates have hit a new low for the decade…

    “Second, the manufacturing and services PMI just went into contraction. This means that GDP is going to start contracting as well.”


    • Harry McGibbs says:

      ““One group of [US] consumers is doing well. They have rising incomes, and they can afford the surging home prices, the surging health-care costs, and the surging new-vehicle prices,” he wrote.

      ““There are other consumers whose incomes have not budged much. They have jobs but are living paycheck to paycheck, and not because they’re splurging but because, at their level of the economy, prices of basic goods and services have run away from them.””


      • Harry McGibbs says:

        “The New York Fed said 11.1% for all student loans were in default or seriously delinquent (more than 90 days past due) during the fourth-quarter, but included the caveat that it is actually likely twice as high, given that roughly half of student loans are in some form of deferment, grace period or forbearance, and not counted as in “repayment.””


        • These poor people with student loans are also deferring other things that they might do with their lives. They are getting married later, or not at all. They are less likely to buy a home. The student debt disrupts the economy in many ways, besides not really being repayable by a lot of the students.

          • Dennis L. says:

            Institutions and what in effect are self serving well wishers have stolen our children’s future in order to preserve/improve the older generations future. I see Robert says the same thing below.
            In the past the old age of the parents was dependent to a great degree on how well they had treated their children and for how long. Simple NPV calculations would make a good first order approximation that the eldest inherits the farm, the remainder in feudal times ride off to fame and gory.
            Enough said,

            Dennis L.

      • Robert Firth says:

        Sigh. It seems big government liberals never learn from their mistakes, and keep making them. Once again: every subsidy given to consumers is seized by producers, who either raise prices or offer goods of lower quality at the same price. The universities did both, raising their fees and also introducing new degrees whose graduates were essentially unemployable, because they learned nothing of relevance to the real world. Take a major in “Women, Gender and Sexuality” (yes, it’s real, and offered by Harvard, no less), and you had better take a minor in burger flipping or toilet cleaning.

        • Xabier says:

          So many exploited graduates could have earned a very good living as plumbers. electricians, etc, at least in the UK.

          An electrician was boasting to a friend of mine the other day that he could ‘write his own cheques’. The friend was potential customer……

          That’s why I like the Poles, they gave a wake up call to people like that.

          One of the finest bookbinders in the country retrained as a gas-fitter after his patron Paul Getty died, and paid the private school fees of his children doing so. Smart move.

        • ssincoski says:

          I don’t think Harvard is really the best example but I get your point. Until recently, any degree from Harvard would be enough. Either you were legacy and didn’t have to worry about it, or you made enough networking connections (it is who you know, not what you know) that you could land a good gig with one of your successful room-mates as a VP in HR or Diversity.

          • Robert Firth says:

            A very fair point, ssincoski, and I agree. All elites tend to be self perpetuating, ever since the “kaloi k’agathoi” of Ancient Greece. But the expansion of the universities in the second half of the twentieth century persuaded a lot of the non elite that a degree was the highway to fortune, if not fame. Kingsley Amis’ acerbic comment “more means worse” was reviled at the time, and still is today, but I think he has been vindicated by history.

            One of the few advantages of a long life is that Time slowly helps you distinguish wisdom from folly. As Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra said, some four hundred years ago.

  4. Harry McGibbs says:

    ““The major central banks all face similar problems, including how to deal with another economic downturn,” said an executive of one of the banks present at the G20 meeting.

    ““They’ve been discussing this topic for a while. It’s about time they come up with some form of conclusion,” he said on condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the matter.”


  5. Harry McGibbs says:

    “The overall global economic impact of coronvirus is set to be “bigger than the US-China trade war”, according to a report by a leading trade payments insurer.”


  6. Harry McGibbs says:

    Just a reminder, if any were needed, that the global economy in 2019 was already awash with unprecedented levels of debt and teetering on the brink of recession (ie less than 3% growth for the totality), with protectionism on the rise, and subsets like trade, manufacturing and car sales contracting.

    Now we have the coronavirus on top:

    “…the coronavirus continues to spread, and there are signs that some of the world’s top economies could slide into recession as the outbreak compounds pre-existing weaknesses.

    “Take Japan: The world’s third-largest economy shrank 1.6% in the fourth quarter of 2019… Then there’s Germany. The biggest economy in Europe ground to a halt right before the coronavirus outbreak set in, dragged down by the country’s struggling factories…

    “…[a] number of smaller economies that are hurting, too. Hong Kong is in recession and Singapore could soon suffer a similar fate. Fourth quarter GDP data from Indonesia hit a three-year low, while Malaysia had its worst reading in a decade…

    “Meanwhile, engines of growth like China and India slowed in 2019… All of this brings to the fore concerns about the global economy’s ability to withstand a shock from the coronavirus.”


    • Xabier says:

      Pre-existing weaknesses: in economies, in our bodies – ‘as above so below’…….

      Anyway, to Hell with that: we are all survivors here. What are we? Survivors!

      Keep that in mind, everyone.

    • There are really two different kinds of shocks:

      1. The shock from the illness itself, including the illnesses and deaths it causes.
      2. The shock from the measures taken to contain the spread of the illness.

      The economy is so close to the tipping point that it is quite possible that either of these would push the economy over the edge. Putting the two together seems to guarantee that we are encountering a new, more certain part of Limits to Growth.

      This is a Limits to Growth chart to which I added a 2019 line, a little over a year ago. We were near the edge in 2019, because world auto sales were slowing and cement manufacture was slowing. Now we seem to be starting the sliding down process. All of the outstanding outstanding debt in China and Italy pretty much guarantees a financial problem will come out of all of the shut downs.

  7. Malcopian says:

    I remember reading some book by Fred Hoyle, who mentioned the Spanish flu. He spoke of the Earth passing through the tail of a comet at the time.For the ancients, comets were portents of disaster, as they often seemed to bring disease in their wake. Hoyle mentioned the dirty ice in comets as a suspect. He wrote of how one isolated Alaskan community, miles from anywhere and not having had outside contact since the summer, started going down with the flu in the winter, then before then end of the week it turned up in Bombay! This was decades before the frequent air travel and holidaying of later years.

    Who’d’ve thought we’d get another flu around a century after the earlier one? I always wondered how the world’s population would ever push up to the estimated 10 billion mark, but now it seems Mother Earth is taking a stand against that.

    • Malcopian says:

      Of course, there are other theories. I remember that a couple of years ago Gail boldly claimed that we had about 2 years before collapse. Then she disappeared off to China. And two years later, look what’s happened. And look where it’s emanating from. Could it in fact be that Gail is the hidden hand that she has spoken of? Was that an ’embedded confession’, as the statement analysts like to put it?

      No smoke without fire, perhaps. How will we find out if Gail has indulged in unAmerican activities? Who should investigate – Trump? Superman? (Assange is in captivity now).

      Meanwhile Gail has her acolytes putting out her doomy message on other sites. I think of Doctor X (a.k.a. Xabier), spreading the despondent word here and on ‘Surplus Energy’. Beware of those whose name starts with ‘X’ in these times. 😦

      • Ed says:

        I love Xabier stories about traditional ways in Spain. Speaking of Spain any reactioon to CV2019 in Spain?

        • Xabier says:

          Despondent? I’m a cheerful chap, if you met me you’d never guess the truth….. 🙂

          Indifference In Spain: it has barely registered so far but now Italy has blown up it may change. The ‘it’s only a kind of flu’ meme has lulled people into complacency, and it’s holiday time so who wants to be gloomy?

          Thanks for making me think of Spain: time for something nice in a big glass, from Catalonia or maybe Murcia. Not that I really needed the prompt…..

          • Malcopian says:

            Yes, drink and be merry, Doctor X, for soon we must die.

            ‘And now was acknowledged the presence of the Red Death. He had come like a thief in the night. And one by one dropped the revellers in the blood-bedewed halls of their revel, and died each in the despairing posture of his fall. And Darkness and Decay and the Red Death held illimitable dominion over all.’


            I’ve heard that ‘Love in the Time of Cholera’ is a good book, but I’ve never read it. Maybe now is the time.

            • Tim Groves says:

              It’s brilliant. Garcia’s best novel IMHO. At least in the English version. The depictions and descriptions of the townscape of the decayed port city, of Columbia as a wounded civilization and of the ecological blight ravaging the place in the late 19th and early 20th centuries is so masterfully done that I felt I was actually there. Also the story itself and the character depictions are masterful, entertaining and engrossing.

              But as a classic novel to read just now, I would recommend The Plague by Albert Camus.

              Why not get copies of both, disinfect them, and take them with you into your self-imposed quarantine. The time will pass much more sweetly in their company.

          • Robert Firth says:

            Ah, Xabier, the wines of Spain! The Rioja, aged at least one year in wood. And the many varieties of Cava, so cooling in tropical Singapore. One of the better selling brands there was called “sueño”, though I never found anyone who knew what the name meant. (But then, who today has read Pedro Calderón de la Barca? Not I, for one.) Unfortunately, it was not very good. I stuck with Codorniu or, when I could get it at a discount, Juve y Camps. Arriba! Abajo!

            And by the way, some Maltese wine is eminently drinkable.

      • peatmoss says:

        First amendment constitution USA.

        Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

        Any restriction of this is in fact “unamerican”. Is DrJohn Cambell “unamerican too”?

        Lets say this is nothing. It comes and goes with minimal impact. Will any damage have been done by understanding the risk? NO.

        On the other hand let us say the tiger is a mouse as it approaches even as it growls at us and then it eats us. Damage will have been done.

        Understanding the issues and implementing appropriate action is in interest of all countries. Unwillingness to understand the issues and come up with the best plan we can works against the welfare of humans and the things that sustain them.

        Attacking ideas that address the reality of the situation and make you feel uncomfortable and thinking they will go away is not sane.

      • I am afraid that there is nothing unAmerican going on.

        The people in China really liked it if I could help them with their academic papers. They needed both ideas and someone who knew English better than they did. This is a link to an article (published in the journal Energy) pointing out that the limit to oil production in China seems to be how high prices can rise. The higher the prices are able to rise, the more oil that can be extracted.


        • Malcopian says:

          Yes, I was pulling your leg, of course, Gail. And the Chinese were very lucky to have you. In these strange times, people are liable to run with all sorts of strange theories, though, but at least they don’t know your address. 😉

    • Robert Firth says:

      “When beggars die there are no comets seen;
      The heavens themselves blaze forth the death of princes.”

      Julius Caesar, Act II scene ii. It is Calpurnia speaking, begging her husband not to go to the Senate on that morning of 15 March. And yes, there were reports of a comet the night before. But, once again, we are back to Arrhenius’ “panspermia”.

    • It seems possible that comets bring flu viruses, or something that leads to flu viruses, from outside the earth’s own ecosystem.

      • Dennis L. says:

        Weird, that would be consistent with old “myths” having the gods send down pain and sorrow to the earth below from the heavens above no less.
        It makes one wonder how many “wive’s tales” are consistent with reality and while not explanative are inconvenient truths.
        That would be an interesting Ph.D. thesis in literature, examine old myths and see how accurately they statistically align with what is observed. Perhaps earn a degree and never, ever get a teaching job.

        Dennis L.

        • Tim Groves says:

          The English word “influenza” comes from the Italian word of the same name, literally ‘influence’, from medieval Latin influentia. The Italian word also has the sense ‘an outbreak of an epidemic’, hence ‘epidemic’. It was applied specifically to an influenza epidemic which began in Italy in 1743, later adopted in English as the name of the disease. the Latin word “influentia” also had the specific meaning “influence of the stars.” It was noticed that when influenza hit Europe in 1743, that it spread faster than man or beast could travel, and this fed speculation in the 20th century that it might have fallen like the gentle rain from heaven upon the place beneath, rather than traveling by an animal vector. These days the stars are no longer blamed for the flu, and well they should not be, but perhaps the comets have a hand in it.

          • Malcopian says:

            “but perhaps the comets have a hand in it.”

            Or maybe just a tail, since they don’t have hands. 😉

          • Robert Firth says:

            Tim, it spread faster than man or (four legged) beast could travel, but not as fast as birds can fly. It is believed that they were the main means of transmission, because humans can catch bird flu and vice versa. Conjecture only: few people were keeping hard information or even knew how to obtain it.

        • Malcopian says:

          ‘That would be an interesting Ph.D. thesis in literature, examine old myths and see how accurately they statistically align with what is observed.’

          One of the most stunning books I read in recent years was ‘Parallels: Ancient Insights into Modern YOOFO Phenomena’ by the late Richard L Thompson. I’ve deliberately misspelled ‘YOOFO’ as it’s a forbidden word here! The book deals with Hindu cosmology and how it explains much of the para normal.

          It ties in well with Michael Cremo’s video:

          And look at episode 6 of the History Channel’s ‘Un~iden~tified’ series and be astonished.

          Also useful to read Forbidden Archaeology by Thompson and Michael Cremo, and watch their videos on that subject, to see that there is physical evidence for these cycles of time.

    • DB says:

      This is an interesting hypothesis, but it would seem extremely unlikely that viruses are lurking space. But it does bring up the puzzle of near simultaneous global flu epidemics, which occurred prior to fast air travel as you note. I’ve studied the spread of respiratory infections and for the most part, precisely how they spread is a matter of speculation, not evidence. This is particularly true for flu. One hypothesis related to Hoyle’s is that flu viruses tend to emerge in east Asia (especially China), cause local epidemics, and the viral particles get airborne and stick to dust particles (often from Mongolian deserts). The jet stream carries them east and dumps them on the continents, possibly accounting, in part, for the emergence of epidemics worldwide in close succession. This hypothesis is also very speculative but fairly easy to test. But because it flies in the face of conventional belief, no one has tried to test it, as far as I know.

  8. Dennis L. says:


    This AM’s post by Dr. Campbell.

    I am starting to like this guy, he is calm and avoids hyperbole. He apparently also has a number of videos on medical conditions, his explanations are clear and concise.

    Gail once wondered why this region of Italy which is an industrial area, not a tourist area.

    Dr.Campbell’s posits there are a number of undocumented Chinese workers who have come to Italy through third countries, hence not directly from China and thus avoiding travel restrictions. Additionally, Italy has good public health reporting so they are on top of it.

    Campbell also thinks the rate of increase in China may well be flattening out and relates the rate of increase to our ability to meet those health needs with the current health infrastructure – specifically ICU beds.

    Robert mentions panspermia and Arrhenius in the same sentence and I am having difficulty following the connection. Knoweldge is a wonderful thing and reading Robert I am often times envious of his wide and apparently deep knowledge of literature and history.

    This is an interesting site with branches to many other interesting sites. Campbell’s site was first mentioned here as I recall.

    Dennis L.

    • Robert Firth says:

      Dennis, thank you for your kind comments. Panspermia was first proposed by Anaxagoras in the 5th century BC, but it was placed on a respectable scientific basis by Svante Arrhenius. Who also, by the way, was one of the first “global warming” alarmists,

      • Tim Groves says:

        To give him his due, Svante Arrhenius was by no means an alarmist. He speculated, quite reasonably, that modest global warming would make the world a better place for just about everyone. The modern alarmists hold up Arrhenius as a scientific hero to boost their credibility, while conveniently ignoring that important but inconvenient fact about the man’s opinions.

        All this is by the by, by the way, as another Swedish scientist, Knut Ångström demonstrated unequivocally by means of experiment that the Arrhenius hypothesis about warming was wrong.

    • I still have a hard time believing that a great deal of isolation is going to fix the situation by much. It will leave the economy shut down for longer, which is a huge problem. Food supplies will be reduced and debt defaults will skyrocket. Many more people will die because of economic problems (cannot afford food, for example), rather than directly coronavirus problems.

      Slowing down the coronavirus spread will mean that instead of having 1% of the intensive care beds we need, perhaps we will have 3% or 5% of the intensive care beds we need. We will have perhaps a month or two longer to look for drugs that we could ramp up to fight the illness. It will help a little, but basically not a whole lot. We certainly will not have a vaccine ready.

      A person really needs to look at the plusses and minuses in a more objective way before deciding that spreading out the disease over a long period is necessarily desirable. Perhaps we should be rationing what medical facilities we have. Priority will need to be given to caring for young people who are hit particularly hard, for example, rather than helping elderly people who have many other diseases simultaneously. And, like Wuhan, it may be necessary to kick people out of hospitals before they are fully well, to free up beds.

    • Dr. Campell’s view is definitely like that of a virologist.

      Does Dr. Campbell really think that China’s efforts to stop the virus spread have been successful within China? The reported number is now at something like 80,000 cases, while China’s population is something like 1.4 billion. One percent of China’s population would be 14 million people. Why in the world is China concerned about an illness that affects a tiny fraction of 1% of its people. 80,000/14,000,000=.006

      At this rate, the infection can go on for thousands of years, before the entire population of China is affected. Something is wrong with this view.

      • Tim Groves says:

        Coronavirus deaths are still a small fraction of pneumonia deaths each year in China.

        From 2010:

        Pneumonia is one of the leading causes of death in adults and children in China. In urban areas, pneumonia is the fourth leading cause of death, and in rural areas pneumonia is the leading cause of death. A recent article in the Chinese literature estimated that each year in China there are 2.5 million patients with pneumonia and that 125,000 (5%) of these patients die of pneumonia-related illness. A 2008 global review by Rudan and colleagues estimated that there were 21.1 million new cases of clinical pneumonia annually in China in children under 5 years of age (0.22 episodes/person-year), which is second only to India in burden (43.0 million new cases, 0.37 episodes/person-year) [3]. Available estimates of the burden of childhood pneumonia in China vary widely, and pneumonia accounts for an estimated 17% of all child deaths in China and 67% of all childhood pneumonia deaths in the Western Pacific region/


  9. Ed says:

    So far, 16,000 people [in US] have died and 280,000 people have been hospitalized during the 2019-2020 flu season, according to preliminary estimates from the CDC.

    2600 world wide from CV2019.

    What am I missing?

    • Denial says:

      Yes I wonder the same

    • Harry McGibbs says:

      That this is turning into a pandemic for which there is no vaccine and no herd immunity, and which can totally overwhelm national healthy systems, to say nothing of the havoc it is wreaking on supply-chains and the global economy.

      This is highly transmissible and, I think we can safely say, has a much higher fatality rate than flu.

      The comparisons to endemic flu need to stop. This is a whole different ballgame.

      • Xabier says:

        The meme ‘Flu kills way more people, so chill!’ was started to allay fears, avert panic and ensure that people were happy with continued global travel; but it has created a false sense of optimism, even dismissive or mocking attitudes, which will backfire very badly when serious casualties start to occur. It’s also making it harder for more sensible people to prepare their family and friends. How careful one has to be with slogans….

        • DB says:

          I think the meme that flu is more dangerous is valid if one believes all of the official reports. That includes a lot of well-meaning people who aren’t necessarily trying to engage in a propaganda war, including many disease experts. As many have noted, there are all kinds of problems with the official stats (such as insufficient/poor tests, limited/biased testing, etc. etc.). I personally believe the coronavirus is more dangerous, but only on the basis of government reactions to the epidemics — their reactions are about the only semi-objective information available. Like others, I believe the official reports are lies. I think that governments would not be committing economic suicide unless the disease was destroying communities with high mortality.

    • Dennis L. says:

      The flu virus has been endemic for a long time, the corona virus a very short period. We don’t know, our guesses will probably not be right; the guesses it is similar to the flu seem very likely to be wrong.

      The flu leitmotif seems to be repeated most by people who have no real solutions and employ the metaphor as a soothing saying, it gives comfort, perhaps mostly to themselves.
      There is nothing wrong with comfort, a mother kisses the bruise of her child to make it better, probably not but the child knows someone cares, it is someone they trust, and if they say it will be better, it will be better. What is important is the mother not lie, disclosure of all consequences is not necessary, but a lie causes loss of trust; that is a tragedy for both.

      What we may see is an incredible change in our social systems in a very short period of time.

      So in my opinion, you are missing the need for hope.

      Dennis L.

      • Robert Firth says:

        Thank you, Dennis. People know about Pandora’s Box, but many of them do not know that the last thing present in it was hope. As to how that hope was released, run and find out.

      • Xabier says:

        ‘Hope is born of lack of hope. A valuable posture, I agree.

    • peatmoss says:

      The comparison to influenza may or may not be a accurate model. The RO transmission of the flu is generally considered about one. We dont know what the true r0 of cv19 is. It may be that the r0 metric is not adequate to define cv 19s contagiousness. I would guess a r0 of at least a 4 is appropriate.
      We do no that cv19 has defeated standard isolation procedures. We do know that it spread through a large city killing many and paralyzing the economy of the whole country. we do know that cv19 has defeated standard medical personal protective equipment and procedures. We do know that cv19 has multiple transmission paths.
      Instead of comparing cv19 to influenza lets compare it to ebola to polio to smallpox to malaria to dengue fever.
      Do you want those around?
      We have herd immunity to influenza. Unless your spawned from a bat there is none for cv19. The flu comparison might well be accurate however. Infuenza has not been eradicated. It comes and goes every year. It has a peak and then lessens.
      What if the flu season effected 4x a many people with a much larger percentage of them requiring intensive care and dying?
      This thing probably will be like the flu in some ways. Some not. large portions of the population may get it when it makes its first sweep. 80 20 5. 80% like a cold. 20% oxygen and hospitalization. 5% ICU. Then it will be with us for a while. maybe a long time. Will our body create strong enough antibodies to develop herd immunity to cv19? It could happen. It has happened with influenza.
      If CV19 is no big deal- not even in the news next valentines i think it should be pointed out how the concern over it was unfounded.
      I sure hope so. I like my BAU. I like my fly fishing.

  10. peatmoss says:

    No one wants to be the one in high school with STD. Thats how countries are acting. I dont know if they are avoiding stigma or dont want their business deals quashed. If the numbers rumored out of Iran are true this is clearly a pandemic. Italy alone should qualify this for pandemic status. How about SK? How about NK? Borders shut with Iran? Theres supposedly only a couple dozen cases in Iran but a dozen fatalities? get real.

    I understand we dont want people to panic. I hope this comes and goes with every ounce of my being. Shouldnt we prepare based on the reality of what we are facing? When does misinformation help you make correct decisions? Never.

    It might come and go. It might. Id rather be embarrassed then than unprepared now.

    This is not your fathers virus.

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