Friday 27 March 2020

Does every country have the Coronavirus outbreak it deserves?


Every country has the government it deserves, according to Joseph de Maistre. No-one deserves to contract a virus and yet every rich country has the Coronavirus outbreak it deserves. 

The Japanese prefer to make the nation and the economy the first priority rather than the individual, life in Tokyo carries on much as normal but they are very efficient at treating pneumonia. Remarkably few Japanese, 47, are reported to have died of the virus.

The British are laid back and then panic. 

The French, according to an article in Asia Times by Pepe Escobar, corruptly prevented the sale of the antimalarial drug which is said to cure the covid-19 virus and then the stocks were stolen. 

The Americans are fighting a culture war over the virus, as they do over everything.

Italians might say that they did not deserve to have Chinese tourists bring the virus to their shores in a cruise ship, but cruises are a fact of life. On the other hand, the left-wing Italian government did waste time warning against anti-Chinese racism, rather than getting down to the job of looking after its people. 

I was astonished to read last night that

“British Deputy Chief Medical Officer Jenny Harries has told the BBC that ‘overall we are looking at a scenario of over a six month period but not necessarily with a lock down of this level going on throughout that time’.”

On Facebook a friend posted a BBC story that ‘a Scottish diplomat’ has died after getting coronavirus. The BBC should of course have said a British diplomat, but let that pass. What I found very strange is that in Italy recently only two people had died under the age of 60 and both were 59 with ‘serious health conditions’. The average age of people in Italy dying of the coronavirus was 79.5. But several much younger British people have died from the virus including a previously healthy woman of 21 and a boy of 18. Why?

Back on the 29th of February, which seems another age (though it was two months after Brexit) Ross Clark in The Spectator said,

"If you have just cancelled your trip to Venice and ordered your £19.99 surgical face mask from Amazon, how about this for a terrifying vision: by the time we get to April, 50,000 Britons will have succumbed to a combination of infectious disease and adverse weather. Frightened? If you are, don’t worry: you survived. It was two years ago. In 2017-18 the Office for National Statistics recorded 50,100 ‘excess winter deaths’. The explanation, according to the ONS, was probably ‘the predominant strain of flu, the effectiveness of the influenza vaccine, and below average winter temperatures’."

The British government's new lockdown is being compared, favourably or unfavourably, with the previous policy of herd immunity, which is still being pursued in Sweden, the Netherlands, Mexico and Brazil, where people go blithely to restaurants and bars. We shall see how those countries fare.

You will scarcely be surprised that right-wing populist President Bolsonaro of Brazil is bitterly attacked in the English language media for this policy, while progressive Sweden is not criticised at all.

South Korea which seems to have overcome the virus, did not have a lockdown but did have a lot of testing and a lot of spontaneous self—isolation.

Dr. Dan Yamin, an Israeli who has developed models for predicting the spread of infectious diseases and helped curb the Ebola epidemic, has said,

“But there is one country we can learn from: South Korea. South Korea has been coping with corona for a long time, more than most Western countries, and they lead in the number of tests per capita. Therefore, the official mortality rate there is 0.9 percent. But even in South Korea, not all the infected were tested – most have very mild symptoms. 

“The actual number of people who are sick with the virus in South Korea is at least double what’s being reported, so the chance of dying is at least twice as low, standing at about 0.45 percent – very far from the World Health Organization’s [global mortality] figure of 3.4 percent. And that’s already a reason for cautious optimism.”
In Japan the approach that has been tried involves ignoring the virus in order not to damage the economy. Trains and buses are full of people. CT scans are provided for early detection of pneumonia. Expert treatment of pneumonia is provided, the elderly are vaccinated against it and Covid-19 numbers are suppressed by losing them in unpublished pneumonia statistics. Japan has recorded a mere 49 deaths from the virus although how many have died who knows?

The Japanese Medical Association has said that there were 290 cases of doctors deciding patients need to be tested for the virus but healthcare centres refuse to administer the tests. Because few tests are carried out in Japan it is really impossible to know what the fatality rate there is but in South Korea very extensive testing was done, nearly 4000 tests per million people were carried out and the mortality among those infected was only 0.6%. I imagine in developed countries the mortality rate will be something like this or maybe half as much – higher figures reflect paucity of tests.

Japan has the advantage that social distancing is a cultural norm. People rarely kiss or shake hands. Wearing masks for health reasons is also part of their culture – as it will be from now on in Europe - and they are an extremely clean people.

And what of Romania? Romania has a severe lockdown, more severe than the one in England. 1,029 confirmed coronavirus (Covid-19) cases had been reported yesterday, exactly a month after the first one, and the number of new cases in the last 24 hours was 123, down for the second day in a row.

17 people have died. Most were over 65 and already had chronic diseases, according to the authorities. 

Romanians always live in an atmosphere of fear. Now if it is not fear of the virus then it's fear of the police. The streets and shops have been empty for a couple of weeks. The police yesterday were everywhere and more than 5,600 people were fined yesterday for leaving the house without having a good reason. The total value of the fines is over one and a half million euros. We're talking serious money.

Different political tailors cut the cloth of the coronavirus to suit their political purposes. The American left complains loudly about racism. The Old Trumpites see in Chinese viruses examples of the perils of globalisation and ain’t that the sorry truth? Other right wingers see the lockdown as an example of over-mighty state interfering with civil liberties because of misinformation. That might well be true too.  Endless numbers of people somehow try to link Brexit with the coronavirus or attempt in a way that is very transparent to make this Donald Trump's Hurricane Katrina.

Donald Trump I said the virus was only flu. His hunch was right that the mortality rate from the virus be less 1%. Donald Trump II instituted travel bans and a lockdown. Donald Trump III might decide to the economy had to be prioritised above the virus. If so, this could be lethal for his chances of re-election - or it could be the right call. Nobody knows. We are flying blind, people.


  1. Where would you rather be a patient afflicted with coronavirus, Sweden or Brazil?

    1. Sweden, I suppose, because it's much richer. It depends. What point are you making?

      I'd feel happier with a Swede running WHO than an Ethiopian, though a Brazilian would not worry me, so long as he were not a politician in bed with the Chinese and had not been accused of covering up three cholera epidemics in the past.

  2. Razvan Rosu commented:

    This is an interesting overview. I think the different reactions of nation states also have to do with the way they historically deal with uncertainty and what are their social and economic models. The COVID-19 outbreak still has some strong elements of uncertainty: Do we surely become immune after we get infected and subsequentially cured? Will a vaccine be ready in the following 18 months? Can we find a cocktail of already approved drugs which can overwhelmingly reduce the impact of the infection and nurse patients back to health? As a simple citizen, I think the lockdown in Romania is justified, given the precarious functioning of our medical system. In the near future economic problems loom, as most people have purchased their homes, cars and more expensive consumer goods with credit and not equity.

  3. @caroline: Brazil, definitely. Battered by a long Swedish winter, my organism would be weak and lacking sufficient vitamin D, essential to fight off infections. Whereas in Brazil, I would have soaked up the sun for an entire summer, and my body would be at its peak illness-fighting form.

    1. Yes something in what you say. I must visit Brazil but learn Portuguese first.

  4. Rio is the most beautiful city I've ever seen, I cannot compare it to any other place I've visited. Unfortunately, there are many "bad hombres", or rather, "bad homens" who manage to ruin the quality of life for everyone. Unlike the US, there are no safe neighborhoods where normal people can avoid the subhuman predators. It's a shame, but there is no solution I can think of. A culture of violence and evil must reform itself, and that cannot happen overnight. Unfortunately, this is applicable to every Brazilian city, not just Rio. Sao Paulo was almost as bad, and surprisingly Salvador seemed slightly safer (although the statistics may prove me wrong). Nevertheless, pretty much everyone I met in every city had been mugged at gunpoint at least once, or kidnapped and taken to an ATM to withdraw as much money as their limit allowed. It's something they learned to live with.

    1. I thought of visiting Rio but it did not seem to have many old buildings. I read about the terrible violence in Brazil. Is there a racial dimension to it?