Gun drawn in fight for frozen food amid coronavirus panic (& Quarantined Italian tenor sings ‘Nessun Dorma’)

March 14, 2020

Visitors walking through the Metropolitan Museum in New York on Tuesday.

 

CONTENTS

1. Quarantined Italian tenor passionately sings ‘Nessun Dorma’ from his Florence balcony (ClassicFM, March 14, 2020)

2. A gun is drawn as people fight for frozen food amid coronavirus panic (Toronto Star, March 13, 2020)

3. Stuck at Home? These 12 Famous Museums Offer Virtual Tours You Can Take on Your Couch (People magazine, March 13, 2020)

4. Broadway Going Dark Could Mean Losses Above $100 Million (Wall St Journal, March 13, 2020)

5. Super-rich jet off to disaster bunkers amid coronavirus outbreak (The Guardian, March 13, 2020)

6. Explained: Italy and South Korea Coronavirus Outbreaks Reveal Disparity in Deaths and Tactics: In Italy, millions are locked down and more than 1,000 people have died from the coronavirus. In South Korea, hit by the disease at about the same time, only a few thousand are quarantined and 67 people have died. Why? (Reuters, March 13, 2020)

7. Corona Is Slowing Down, Humanity Will Survive, Says Israeli Nobel prize winning Biophysicist (Algemeiner, March 13, 2020)

8. New Coronavirus Test 10 Times Faster Is FDA Approved (Bloomberg news, March 13, 2020)

9. Despite Coronavirus Panic, Most Patients Recover Within Weeks: For most of those affected, coronavirus creates only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough, that can be recovered from in two weeks (Associated Press, March 12, 2020)

 

[Note by Tom Gross]

I attach several articles below regarding the coronavirus panic. (A separate dispatch will contain coronavirus articles specifically connected to the Middle East.)

The first three items below are from my public Facebook page. To save space, there are links only. You can see other coronavirus articles not in this dispatch here:

http://www.facebook.com/TomGrossMedia

 

QUARANTINED ITALIAN TENOR PASSIONATELY SINGS ‘NESSUN DORMA’ FROM HIS FLORENCE BALCONY

Scroll down here for the video:

https://www.classicfm.com/composers/puccini/nessun-dorma-florence

 

SCREAMING, AND THEN A GUN DRAWN, AS PEOPLE FIGHT FOR FROZEN FOOD IN TORONTO AMID CORONAVIRUS PANIC GROCERY SHOPPING

https://www.blogto.com/city/2020/03/gun-reportedly-drawn-fight-toronto-grocery-store-amid-coronavirus-panic-shopping/

 

STUCK AT HOME? THESE 12 FAMOUS MUSEUMS OFFER VIRTUAL TOURS YOU CAN TAKE ON YOUR COUCH

https://people.com/travel/stuck-at-home-these-12-famous-museums-offer-virtual-tours-you-can-take-on-your-couch

 

SUPER-RICH JET OFF TO DISASTER BUNKERS AMID CORONAVIRUS OUTBREAK

Super-rich jet off to disaster bunkers amid coronavirus outbreak

‘Self isolate’ for some of world’s richest means Covid-19 tests abroad, personal medics and subterranean hideouts

By Rupert Neate, wealth correspondent
The Guardian (UK)
March 13, 2020

Like hundreds of thousands of people across the world, the super-rich are preparing to self-isolate in the face of an escalation in the coronavirus crisis. But their plans extend far beyond stocking up on hand sanitiser and TV boxsets.

The world’s richest people are chartering private jets to set off for holiday homes or specially prepared disaster bunkers in countries that, so far, appear to have avoided the worst of the Covid-19 outbreak.

Many are understood to be taking personal doctors or nurses on their flights to treat them and their families in the event that they become infected. The wealthy are also besieging doctors in private clinics in Harley Street, London, and across the world, demanding private coronavirus tests.

To avoid overwhelming limited testing facilities, the NHS said it would test only people with a “high chance” of having the illness – meaning people who had had close contact with a confirmed case or who had recently gone to a high-risk country.

Mark Ali, chief executive and medical director of the Private Harley Street Clinic, said: “This has led to huge demand from very wealthy people asking if they can pay for private testing. Unfortunately, we are unable to offer testing, as the NHS has said all tests should be done centrally.” The Department of Health and Social Care has mandated that all tests must be carried out by the NHS and Public Health England (PHE).

However, an employee at another Harley Street practice, who declined to be named, said their clinic had arranged for concerned clients to be tested in other countries, or for samples to be sent abroad for testing.

Ali, a cardiovascular surgeon, said his clients had pleaded for Covid-19 vaccination, even though scientists said it would be at least a year until a vaccine was developed. “[The Covid-19 outbreak] certainly fired up people’s reactions,” Ali said. “We have given a lot general flu vaccines and consultations to people wanting to talk in detail about their health and lifestyle.”

Ali said his clinic was also offering the worried wealthy an intravenous infusion of vitamins and minerals to boost their immune systems. “We know that 90% of adults have a deficiency in vitamins – what better to improve that than an IV immune boost? An intravenous infusion ensures instant and optimal delivery of these nutrients to the body’s cells and the nutrients should include vitamins such as vitamin C, vitamin B12 complex, glutathione, zinc and essential amino acids such as arginine, taurine, lysine and citrulline.” The treatment costs £350.

Ken Langone, co-founder of the Home Depot chain, knew where to turn when seeking medical advice on the outbreak. The 84-year-old billionaire called an executive and top scientist at NYU Langone Health, the New York hospital named after him and which he chairs. “What I’ve been told by people who are smarter than me in disease is, ‘As of right now it’s a bad flu’,” he told Bloomberg.

Adam Twidell, chief executive of the private jet booking service PrivateFly, said his firm was continuing to see a jump in bookings as wealthy people arranged evacuation flights home from high-risk countries.

He said: “Many are from groups which include elderly passengers or those with health conditions that make them particularly concerned about exposure to crowds on airline flights. We’ve just flown a group back to London from the south of France, with an immunocompromised passenger on board.”

Twidell said other rich clients were arranging flights out of the UK and other European countries in advance of the possible introduction of nationwide quarantine measures following Italy’s lead.

Quintessentially, the concierge company for millionaires, said members who could not quite afford private jets had requested access to private airport lounges to avoid the risk of interacting with large numbers of the travelling public.

“Members who are travelling commercially are choosing to book elite services at airports, not your typical first-class lounge,” a spokeswoman said. “For example, private terminals where guests are greeted and given their own suite. Check-in, customs and security are all done privately and guests are then taken to the doors of the aircraft. Members can request for the jetty to be cleared so they minimise the interactions with other passengers on their way to their seat.”

Quintessentially said one of its members had converted his home into a “military-style bunker” and was refusing any visitors unless they could provide detailed records of their movements and contacts.

Robert Vicino, founder and chief executive of Vivos Group, a California-based company constructing underground shelters designed to withstand a range of natural disasters and catastrophes, said his firm had seen a surge in inquiries and sales since the crisis took hold.

Vivos has converted a a cold war bunker in Indiana into accommodation for 80 people, and is offering space in 575 concrete bunkers in an abandoned second world war ordnance depot in South Dakota.

 

BROADWAY GOING DARK COULD MEAN LOSSES ABOVE $100 MILLION

Broadway Going Dark Could Mean Losses Above $100 Million

Cultural institutions say shutdowns are necessary to ensure the safety of the public and their staff

By Charles Passy
Wall Street Journal
March 13, 2020

With Broadway and New York City’s broader cultural scene coming to a coronavirus-prompted close on Thursday, industry professionals are tallying the potential financial impact.

Their quick assessment is the hit – estimated at $100 million for Broadway ticket revenue alone – could be substantial when factoring in the cost to the theaters, shows and institutions involved, along with the effect on the wider New York economy.

Part of what makes the situation so devastating, industry professionals said, is the duration of the shutdowns, which run longer than previous closures due to weather events, the terrorist attacks of 9/11 or even some labor strikes.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Thursday banned gatherings of more than 500 people to stem the spread of coronavirus outbreak, prompting Broadway and other institutions to go dark.

Broadway shows aren’t set to resume until the week of April 13. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Metropolitan Opera, Carnegie Hall and the New York Philharmonic announced shutdowns through the end of March. The Tribeca Film Festival, scheduled for April 15-26, said it was postponing its 2020 event.

Still, New York Philharmonic President and Chief Executive Officer Deborah Borda called the nearly three-week closure unprecedented.

The situation “is unlike anything in my entire career,” said Ms. Borda, a veteran orchestra executive.

For Broadway, the shutdown couldn’t have come at a worse time, theater professionals said. The season was heading into its busy period leading up to the Tony Awards on June 7. More than 15 shows were scheduled to open by April 23, the last day for Tony eligibility.

The Broadway League said there was no word on whether the Tony Awards or the eligibility deadline will be moved to a later date.

Broadway stands to lose more than $100 million in ticket revenue from the shutdown, based on past industry figures. During a typical week, the industry grosses at least $25 million, but that number can top $40 million during peak periods.

Ken Davenport, a Tony Award-winning Broadway producer, said long-established shows could probably survive the shutdown. But productions that have opened more recently could be vulnerable since they haven’t had time to build the much-needed buzz, he said.

“These shows are now facing a very strong headwind,” said Mr. Davenport.

The shutdowns have wide implications. The city’s economy is inextricably tied to Broadway and its cultural institutions, which are key to boosting tourism and the restaurant industries.

 

EXPLAINED: ITALY AND SOUTH KOREA CORONAVIRUS OUTBREAKS REVEAL DISPARITY IN DEATHS AND TACTICS

Explained: Italy and South Korea Coronavirus Outbreaks Reveal Disparity in Deaths and Tactics

In Italy, millions are locked down and more than 1,000 people have died from the coronavirus. In South Korea, hit by the disease at about the same time, only a few thousand are quarantined and 67 people have died. Why?

Reuters
March 13, 2020

In Italy, millions are locked down and more than 1,000 people have died from the coronavirus. In South Korea, hit by the disease at about the same time, only a few thousand are quarantined and 67 people have died. As the virus courses through the world, the story of two outbreaks illustrates a coming problem for countries now grappling with an explosion in cases.

It’s impractical to test every potential patient, but unless the authorities can find a way to see how widespread infection is, their best answer is lockdown.

Italy started out testing widely, then narrowed the focus so that now, the authorities don’t have to process hundreds of thousands of tests. But there’s a trade-off: They can’t see what’s coming and are trying to curb the movements of the country’s entire population of 60 million people to contain the disease. Even Pope Francis, who has a cold and delivered his Sunday blessing over the internet from inside the Vatican, said he felt “caged in the library.”

Thousands of miles away in South Korea, authorities have a different response to a similar-sized outbreak. They are testing hundreds of thousands of people for infections and tracking potential carriers like detectives, using cell phone and satellite technology.

Both countries saw their first cases of the disease called COVID-19 in late January. South Korea has since reported 67 deaths out of nearly 8,000 confirmed cases, after testing more than 222,000 people. In contrast, Italy has had 827 deaths and identified more than 12,000 cases after carrying out more than 73,000 tests on an unspecified number of people.

Epidemiologists say it is not possible to compare the numbers directly. But some say the dramatically different outcomes point to an important insight: Aggressive and sustained testing is a powerful tool for fighting the virus.

Jeremy Konyndyk, a senior policy fellow at the Center for Global Development in Washington, said extensive testing can give countries a better picture of the extent of an outbreak. When testing in a country is limited, he said, the authorities have to take bolder actions to limit movement of people.

“I’m uncomfortable with enforced lockdown-type movement restrictions,” he said. “China did that, but China is able to do that. China has a population that will comply with that.”

The democracies of Italy and South Korea are useful case studies for countries such as America, which have had problems setting up testing systems and are weeks behind on the infection curve. So far, in Japan and the United States particularly, the full scale of the problem is not yet visible. Germany has not experienced significant testing constraints, but Chancellor Angela Merkel warned her people on Wednesday that since 60% to 70% of the populace is likely to be infected, the only option is containment.

South Korea, which has a slightly smaller population than Italy at about 50 million people, has around 29,000 people in self-quarantine. It has imposed lockdowns on some facilities and at least one apartment complex hit hardest by outbreaks. But so far no entire regions have been cut off.

Seoul says it is building on lessons learned from an outbreak of Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) in 2015 and working to make as much information available as possible to the public. It has embarked on a massive testing programme, including people who have very mild illness, or perhaps don’t even have symptoms, but who may be able to infect others.

This includes enforcing a law that grants the government wide authority to access data: CCTV footage, GPS tracking data from phones and cars, credit card transactions, immigration entry information, and other personal details of people confirmed to have an infectious disease. The authorities can then make some of this public, so anyone who may have been exposed can get themselves - or their friends and family members - tested.

In addition to helping work out who to test, South Korea’s data-driven system helps hospitals manage their pipeline of cases. People found positive are placed in self-quarantine and monitored remotely through a smartphone app, or checked regularly in telephone calls, until a hospital bed becomes available. When a bed is available, an ambulance picks the person up and takes the patient to a hospital with air-sealed isolation rooms. All of this, including hospitalization, is free of charge.

South Korea’s response is not perfect. While more than 209,000 people have tested negative there, results are still pending on about 18,000 others - an information gap that means there are likely more cases in the pipeline. The rate of newly confirmed cases has dropped since a peak in mid-February, but the system’s greatest test may still be ahead as authorities try to track and contain new clusters. South Korea does not have enough protective masks - it has started rationing them - and it is trying to hire more trained staff to process tests and map cases.

And the approach comes at the cost of some privacy. South Korea’s system is an intrusive mandatory measure that depends on people surrendering what, for many in Europe and America, would be a fundamental right of privacy. Unlike China and the island-state of Singapore, which have used similar methods, South Korea is a large democracy with a population that is quick to protest policies it does not like.

“Disclosing information about patients always comes with privacy infringement issues,” said Choi Jaewook, a preventive medicine professor at Korea University and a senior official at the Korean Medical Association. Disclosures “should be strictly limited” to patients’ movements, and “it shouldn’t be about their age, their sex, or their employers.”

Traditional responses such as locking down affected areas and isolating patients can be only modestly effective, and may cause problems in open societies, says South Korea’s Deputy Minister for Health and Welfare Kim Gang-lip. In South Korea’s experience, he told reporters on Monday, lockdowns mean people participate less in tracing contacts they may have had. “Such an approach,” he said, “is close-minded, coercive, and inflexible.”

ITALY “AT THE LIMIT”

Italy and South Korea are more than 5,000 miles apart, but there are several similarities when it comes to coronavirus. Both countries’ main outbreaks were initially clustered in smaller cities or towns, rather than in a major metropolis - which meant the disease quickly threatened local health services. And both involved doctors who decided to ignore testing guidelines.

Italy’s epidemic kicked off last month. A local man with flu symptoms was diagnosed after he had told medical staff he had not been to China and discharged himself, said Massimo Lombardo, head of local hospital services in Lodi.

The diagnosis was only made after the 38-year-old, whose name has only been given as Mattia, returned to the hospital. Testing guidelines at the time said it was not necessary to test people who had no link to China or other affected areas. But an anaesthetist pushed the protocols and decided to go ahead and test for COVID-19 anyway, Lombardo said. Now, some experts in Italy believe Mattia may have been infected through Germany, rather than China.

Decisions about testing hinge partly on what can be done with people who test positive, at a time when the healthcare system is already under stress. In Italy at first, regional authorities tested widely and counted all positive results in the published total, even if people did not have symptoms.

Then, a few days after the patient known as Mattia was found to have COVID-19, Italy changed tack, only testing and announcing cases of people with symptoms. The authorities said this was the most effective use of resources: The risk of contagion seemed lower from patients with no symptoms, and limited tests help produce reliable results more quickly. The approach carried risks: People with no symptoms still can be infected and spread the virus.

On the other hand, the more you test the more you find, so testing in large numbers can put hospital systems under strain, said Massimo Antonelli, director of intensive care at the Fondazione Policlinico Universitario Agostino Gemelli IRCCS in Rome. Testing involves elaborate medical processes and follow-up. “The problem is actively searching for cases,” he said. “It means simply the numbers are big.”

Italy has a generally efficient health system, according to international studies. Its universal healthcare receives funding below the European Union average but is comparable with South Korea’s, at 8.9% of GDP against 7.3% in South Korea, according to the World Health Organization.

Now, that system has been knocked off balance. Staff are being brought into accident and emergency departments, holidays have been cancelled and doctors say they are delaying non-urgent operations to free up intensive care beds.

Pier Luigi Viale, head of the infectious disease unit at Sant’ Orsola-Malpighi hospital in Bologna, is working around the clock - in three jobs. His hospital is handling multiple coronavirus cases. His doctors are shuttling to other hospitals and clinics in the area to lend their expertise and help out with cases. In addition, his doctors also have to deal with patients with other contagious diseases who are struggling to survive.

“If it drags on for weeks or months we’ll need more reinforcements,” he told Reuters.

Last week, the mayor of Castiglione d’Adda, a town of about 5,000 people in Lombardy’s “red zone” which was the first to be locked down, made an urgent online appeal for help. He said his small town had had to close its hospital and was left with one doctor to treat more than 100 coronavirus patients. Three of the town’s four doctors were sick or in self quarantine.

“Doctors and nurses are at the limit,” said a nurse from the hospital where Mattia was taken in. “If you have to manage people under artificial respiration you have to be watching them constantly, you can’t look after the new cases that come in.”

Studies so far suggest that every positive case of coronavirus can infect two other people, so local authorities in Lombardy have warned that the region’s hospitals face a serious crisis if the spread continues - not just for COVID-19 patients but also for others whose treatment has been delayed or disrupted. As the crisis spreads into Italy’s less prosperous south, the problems will be magnified.

Intensive care facilities face the most intense pressure. They require specialist staff and expensive equipment and are not set up for mass epidemics. In total, Italy has around 5,000 intensive care beds. In the winter months, some of these are already occupied by patients with respiratory problems. Lombardy and Veneto have just over 1,800 intensive care beds between public and private systems, only some of which can be set aside for COVID-19 patients.

The government has asked regional authorities to increase the number of intensive care places by 50% and to double the number of beds for respiratory and contagious diseases, while reorganising staff rosters to ensure adequate staffing. Some 5,000 respirators have been acquired for intensive care stations, the first of which are due to arrive on Friday, deputy Economy Minister Laura Castelli said.

The region has already asked nursing institutes to allow students to bring forward their graduation to get more nurses into the system early. Pools of intensive care specialists and anaesthetists are to be set up, including staff from outside the worst affected regions.

To add to the burden, hospitals in Italy depend on medical personnel to try to trace the contacts that people who test positive have had with others. One doctor in Bologna, who asked not to be named, said he had spent a 12-hour day tracing people who had been in contact with just one positive patient, to ensure those who next need testing are found.

“You can do that if the number of cases remains two to three,” the doctor said. “But if they grow, something has to give. The system will implode if we continue to test everyone actively and then have to do all this.”

“MAXIMUM POWER”

In South Korea as in Italy, an early case of COVID-19 was identified when a medical officer followed their intuition, rather than the official guidelines, on testing.

The country’s first case was a 35-year-old Chinese woman who tested positive on Jan. 20. But the largest outbreak was detected after the 31st patient, a 61-year-old woman from South Korea’s southeastern city of Daegu, was diagnosed on Feb. 18.

Like the patient named Mattia in Italy, the woman had no known links to Wuhan, the Chinese province where the disease was first identified. And as in Italy, the doctors’ decision to recommend a test went against guidelines at the time to test people who had been to China or been in contact with a confirmed case, said Korea Medical Association’s Choi Jaewook.

“Patient 31,” as she became known, was a member of a secretive church which Deputy Minister for Health and Welfare Kim Gang-lip said has since linked to 61% of cases. Infections spread beyond the congregation after the funeral of a relative of the church’s founder was held at a nearby hospital, and there were several other smaller clusters around the country.

Once the church cluster was identified, South Korea opened around 50 drive-through testing facilities around the country. In empty parking lots, medical staff in protective clothing lean into cars to check their passengers for fever or breathing difficulties, and if needed, collect samples. The process usually takes about 10 minutes, and people usually receive the results in a text reminding them to wash their hands regularly and wear face masks.

A total of 117 institutions in South Korea have equipment to conduct the tests, according to the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (KCDC). The numbers fluctuate daily, but an average of 12,000 is possible, and maximum capacity is 20,000 tests a day. The government pays for tests of people with symptoms, if referred by a doctor. Otherwise, people who want to be tested can pay up to 170,000 won ($140), said an official at a company called Seegene Inc, which supplies 80% of the country’s kits and says it can test 96 samples at once.

There are also 130 quarantine officers like Kim Jeong-hwan, who focus on minute details to track potential patients. The 28-year-old public health doctor spends his whole working days remotely checking up on people who have tested positive for COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus.

Kim, who is doing military service, is one of a small army of quarantine officers who track the movements of any potential carriers of the disease by phone, app or the signals sent by cell phones or the black boxes in automobiles. Their goal: To trace all the contacts people may have had, so they too can be tested.

“I haven’t seen anyone telling bad lies,” Kim said. “But lots of people generally don’t remember exactly what they did.”

Underlining their determination, quarantine officers told Reuters they located five cases after a worker in a small town caught the virus and went to work in a “coin karaoke,” a bar where a machine lets people sing a few songs for a dollar. At first, the woman, who was showing symptoms, did not tell the officers where she worked, local officials told Reuters. But they put the puzzle together after questioning her acquaintances and obtaining GPS locations on her mobile device.

“Now, quarantine officers have maximum power and authority,” said Kim Jun-geun, an official at Changnyeong County who collects information from quarantine officers.

South Korea’s government also uses location data to customize mass messages sent to cellphones, notifying every resident when and where a nearby case is confirmed.

Lee Hee-young, a preventative medicine expert who is also running the coronavirus response team in South Korea’s Gyeonggi province, said South Korea has gone some of the way after MERS to increase its infrastructure to respond to infectious diseases. But she said only 30% of the changes the country needs have happened. For instance, she said, maintaining a trained workforce and up-to-date infrastructure at smaller hospitals isn’t easy.

“Until we fix this,” Lee said, “explosions like this can keep blowing up anywhere.”

 

CORONA IS SLOWING DOWN, HUMANITY WILL SURVIVE, SAYS BIOPHYSICIST MICHAEL LEVITT

Corona Is Slowing Down, Humanity Will Survive, Says Biophysicist Michael Levitt
Algemeiner
March 13, 2020

Nobel laureate Michael Levitt, an American-British-Israeli biophysicist who teaches structural biology at Stanford University and spends much of his time in Tel Aviv, unexpectedly became a household name in China, offering the public reassurance during the peak of the country’s coronavirus (Covid-19) outbreak. Levitt did not discover a treatment or a cure, just did what he does best: crunched the numbers. The statistics led him to the conclusion that, contrary to the grim forecasts being branded about, the spread of the virus will come to a halt.

The calming messages Levitt sent to his friends in China were translated into Chinese and passed from person to person, making him a popular subject for interviews in the Asian nation. His forecasts turned out to be correct: the number of new cases reported each day started to fall as of February 7. A week later, the mortality rate started falling as well.

He might not be an expert in epidemiology, but Levitt understands calculations and statistics, he told Calcalist in a phone interview earlier this week.

The interview was initially scheduled to be held at the fashionable Sarona complex in Tel Aviv, where Levitt currently resides. But after he caught a cold – “not corona,” he jokingly remarked – the interview was rescheduled to be held over the phone. Even though he believes the pandemic will run its course, Levitt emphasizes his support of all the safety measures currently being taken and the need to adhere to them.

Levitt received his Nobel prize for chemistry in 2013 for “the development of multiscale models for complex chemical systems.” He did not in any way intend to be a prophet foretelling the end of a plague; it happened by accident. His wife Shoshan Brosh is a researcher of Chinese art and a curator for local photographers, meaning the couple splits their time between the US, Israel, and China.

When the pandemic broke out, Brosh wrote to friends in China to support them. “When they answered us, describing how complicated their situation was, I decided to take a deeper look at the numbers in the hope of reaching some conclusion,” Levitt explained. “The rate of infection of the virus in the Hubei province increased by 30 percent each day – that is a scary statistic. I am not an influenza expert but I can analyze numbers and that is exponential growth.” At this rate, the entire world should have been infected within 90 days, he said.

But then, the trend changed. When Levitt started analyzing the data on February 1, Hubei had 1,800 new cases each day and within six days this number reached 4,700, he said. “And then, on February 7, the number of new infections started to drop linearly and did not stop. A week later, the same happened with the number of the deaths. This dramatic change in the curve marked the median point and enabled better prediction of when the pandemic will end. Based on that, I concluded that the situation in all of China will improve within two weeks. And, indeed, now there are very few new infection cases.”

Levitt compared the situation to bank interest – if on the first day a person receives an interest rate of 30 percent on their savings, the next day of 29 percent, and so forth, “you understand that eventually, you will not earn very much.”

The messages his friends translated quickly made waves in China and people wanting to make sure he did indeed write the information attributed to him started contacting Levitt. “That is how I knew I needed to continue,” he said. “I could have said, yes, that’s what I said,’ and left it at that.”

New numbers were being reported every day by various entities, such as the World Health Organization (WHO). Levitt started sending regular reports to his Chinese friends, and their popularity led to interviews on Chinese television, for example on CNN-equivalent CGTN. Based on the diminishing number of infection cases and deaths, he said, the virus will probably disappear from China by the end of March.

Initially, Levitt said, every coronavirus patient in China infected on average 2.2 people a day – spelling exponential growth that can only lead to disaster. “But then it started dropping, and the number of new daily infections is now close to zero.” He compared it to interest rates again: “even if the interest rate keeps dropping, you still make money. The sum you invested does not lessen, it just grows more slowly. When discussing diseases, it frightens people a lot because they keep hearing about new cases every day. But the fact that the infection rate is slowing down means the end of the pandemic is near.”

There are several reasons for this, according to Levitt. “In exponential growth models, you assume that new people can be infected every day, because you keep meeting new people. But, if you consider your own social circle, you basically meet the same people every day. You can meet new people on public transportation, for example; but even on the bus, after some time most passengers will either be infected or immune.”

Another reason the infection rate has slowed has to do with the physical distance guidelines. “You don’t hug every person you meet on the street now, and you’ll avoid meeting face to face with someone that has a cold, like we did,” Levitt said. “The more you adhere, the more you can keep infection in check. So, under these circumstances, a carrier will only infect 1.5 people every three days and the rate will keep going down.”

Quarantine makes a difference, according to Levitt, but there are other factors at work. “We know China was under almost complete quarantine, people only left home to do crucial shopping and avoided contact with others. In Wuhan, which had the highest number of infection cases in the Hubei province, everyone had a chance of getting infected, but only 3 percent caught it,” he explained. “Even on the Diamond Princess (the virus-stricken cruise ship), the infection rate did not top 20 percent.” Based on these statistics, Levitt said, he concluded that many people are just naturally immune to the virus.

The explosion of cases in Italy is worrying, Levitt said, but he estimates it is a result of a higher percentage of elderly people than in China, France, or Spain. “Furthermore, Italian culture is very warm, and Italians have a very rich social life. For these reasons, it is important to keep people apart and prevent sick people from coming into contact with healthy people.”

China did great work and managed to gain complete control of the virus, Levitt said. “Currently, I am most worried about the US. It must isolate as many people as possible to buy time for preparations. Otherwise, it can end up in a situation where 20,000 infected people will descend on the nearest hospital at the same time and the healthcare system will collapse.”

Israel currently does not have enough cases to provide the data needed to make estimates, Levitt said, but from what he can tell, the Ministry of Health is dealing with the pandemic in a correct, positive way. “The more severe the defensive measures taken, the more they will buy time to prepare for needed treatment and develop a vaccine.”

Levitt avoids making global forecasts. In China, he said, the number of new infections will soon reach zero, and South Korea is past the median point and can already see the end. Regarding the rest of the world, it is still hard to tell, he said. “It will end when all those who are sick will only meet people they have already infected. The goal is not to reach the situation the cruise ship experienced.”

The Diamond Princess was the worst case scenario, according to Levitt. “If you compare the ship to a country – we are talking 250,000 people crowded into one square kilometer, which is horribly crowded. It is four times the crowding in Hong Kong. It is as if the entire Israeli population was crammed into 30 square kilometers.” Furthermore, he said, the ship had a central air conditioning and heating system and a communal dining room. “Those are extremely comfortable conditions for the virus and still, only 20 percent were infected. It is a lot, but pretty similar to the infection rate of the common flu.”

As with the flu, most of those dying as a result of coronavirus are over 70 years old, Levitt said. “It is a known fact that the flu mostly kills the elderly – around three-quarters of flu mortalities are people over 65.” To put things in proportion: “there are years when flu is raging, like in the US in 2017, when there were three times the regular number of mortalities. And still, we did not panic. That is my message: you need to think of corona like a severe flu. It is four to eight times as strong as a common flu, and yet, most people will remain healthy and humanity will survive.”

 

NEW CORONAVIRUS TEST 10 TIMES FASTER IS FDA APPROVED

New Coronavirus Test 10 Times Faster Is FDA Approved
By Tim Loh
Bloomberg news
March 13, 2020

U.S. health regulators have approved a new coronavirus test that will speed up by tenfold the ability to test patients, helping solve a significant obstacle to American efforts to contain the virus.

The Food and Drug Administration granted “emergency use authorization” to the test, which runs on Roche Holding AG’s cobas 6800/8800 systems. The 8800 system is capable of testing 4,128 patients a day, and the 6800 version can test as many as 1,440. The tool also is available in Europe and countries that accept its CE marking for medical devices.

Roche shares traded 11% higher at 1:29 p.m. in Zurich, the steepest intraday increase since 1997.

“We are increasing the speed definitely by a factor of 10,” Thomas Schinecker, head of the Swiss drugmaker’s diagnostics unit, said in an interview.

Testing is crucial to stem the spread of Covid-19 because it allows health care workers to identify the infected and quarantine them, even if they’re not experiencing many symptoms. That can potentially reduce the overall number of infections and buy time for drugmakers to come up with better treatments and, ultimately, a vaccine.

This is the third test -- and first commercially available one -- granted emergency approval by the FDA. The agency in February cleared diagnostic tools brought forth by the CDC and the New York State Department of Public Health.

The U.S. and much of Europe have been criticized for testing their populations too slowly, allowing the virus to proliferate. Roche’s cobas systems, launched in 2014, are widely available globally, with 695 of the 6800 instruments and 132 of the 8800 systems already installed.

There are 110 of these tools in the U.S., and Roche has installed a “significant amount” of new ones in key locations in the U.S. in recent weeks, Schinecker said. Roche declined to specify how many of those units are 8800 and how many are 6800 models.

“We definitely extended the capacity of the testing significantly throughout the U.S,” Schinecker said.

The cobas 8800 system can test patients about 10 times faster than Roche’s existing test for the coronavirus, which runs on its MagNA Pure 24 and the LightCycler 480 devices. While those instruments require more human attention, there are more of them in labs and hospitals around the world. They’ll continue to play a crucial role in testing people, especially outside the U.S., Schinecker said.

The cobas 6800/8800 instruments provide test results within four hours. Roche can provide millions of tests every month for the systems and is “going to the limits of its production capacity,” the company said. Roche declined to comment on pricing for the tests.

The tests analyze nucleic acids extracted from patients’ saliva or mucus, and compare them against sequences found in coronavirus strains, including SARS and the one that emerged in Wuhan, China.

 

DESPITE CORONAVIRUS PANIC, MOST PATIENTS RECOVER WITHIN WEEKS

Despite Coronavirus Panic, Most Patients Recover Within Weeks

For most of those affected, coronavirus creates only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough, that can be recovered from in two weeks

The Associated Press
March 12, 2020

Amid all the fears, quarantines and stockpiling of food, it has been easy to ignore the fact that more than 60,000 people have recovered from the coronavirus spreading around the globe.

The disease can cause varying degrees of illness and is especially troublesome for older adults and people with existing health problems, who are at risk of severe effects, including pneumonia. But for most of those affected, coronavirus creates only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough, with the vast majority recovering from the virus.

 

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