Tom Gross Mideast Media Analysis

Is coronavirus as deadly as they say? (& Economic crash could cost more lives than virus)

March 25, 2020

Tom Gross writes regarding the image above:

In Europe. (Actually the clocks go forward so we lose an hour, but the sentiment of this joke seems real.)

 



And now something away from political news...



 



(This is only a joke, so please don’t bombard me with angry emails.)

 

CONTENTS

1. Uncharted territory
2. Piles of bodies in the corner?
3. Iran expels “Doctors Without Borders” despite worsening epidemic
4. A flight in face masks
5. Don’t forget to exercise
6. Is the Coronavirus as Deadly as They Say? (Wall Street Journal, March 25, 2020)
7. Economic crash could cost more lives than coronavirus, says expert (The Times of London, March 25 2020)
8. Coronavirus may have infected half of UK population — Oxford study (Financial Times, March 24 2020)
9. Private Industry Mobilizes Against the Coronavirus (Wall Street Journal, March 25, 2020)

 

UNCHARTED TERRITORY

[Note by Tom Gross]

I have sent several dispatches on this list highlighting the dangers of coronavirus. Below, by contrast, are some articles from today and yesterday, which, in essence, take President Trump’s view that the cure (of virtually closing down entire economies for a prolonged period) may be worse than the damage caused by the virus.

An opinion article today (not copied below) in the Washington Post, co-authored by the well-regarded epidemiologist Dr. Michael T. Osterholm, says:

“We are in uncharted territory. But the best alternative will probably entail letting those at low risk for serious disease continue to work, keep business and manufacturing operating, and ‘run’ society, while at the same time advising higher-risk individuals to protect themselves through physical distancing and ramping up our health-care capacity as aggressively as possible.

“With this battle plan, we could gradually build up immunity without destroying the financial structure on which our lives are based. Very soon, we may have to acknowledge that attempting to stretch out cases in the hopes of keeping the curve reasonably flat is unworkable.”

 

PILES OF BODIES IN THE CORNER?

Tom Gross adds:

In general most fatalities have been elderly and/or suffering from pre-existing medical conditions, and clearly those populations need protection.

In Israel, for example, the five people who have died of coronavirus all suffered from serious underlying health conditions and were aged 88, 87, 67, 76 and 87.

In some cases, reports of younger people dying of coronavirus have proven incorrect. For instance, Los Angeles County health officials backtracked yesterday on their earlier announcement that a 17-year-old died from coronavirus. (Hours earlier, Gov. Gavin Newsom had cited the death of the teenager as evidence the virus can strike anyone.)

Nevertheless there are reports of younger people dying, for example this 21-year-old in the UK (though we don’t know for sure that she did not have underlying medical conditions):

http://news.sky.com/story/coronavirus-briton-21-with-no-existing-health-conditions-dies-after-contracting-covid-19-11963451

Trump has been ridiculed for his comments calling for a quick end to the lockdown. Bill Gates, for example, said “It’s tough to tell people keep going to restaurants, go buy new houses, ignore that pile of bodies over in the corner.”

It is clear that in places such as Spain (where the death toll now exceeds that in China) and New York City, there are very real problems and tragedies caused by the coronavirus outbreak.

So I attach the articles below as food for thought, not as a criticism of the policy.

 

IRAN EXPELS “DOCTORS WITHOUT BORDERS” DESPITE WORSENING EPIDEMIC

A team of nine doctors sent to Iran by the international medical humanitarian organization Doctors Without Borders (Médecins Sans Frontières) to help with the coronavirus outbreak has today been expelled from the country by the regime, which continues to care little for its people.

The French doctors were planning to set up a 50-bed inflatable field hospital in Isfahan, one of Iran’s worst affected areas.

 

A FLIGHT IN FACE MASKS

On Monday, Israel sent a plane to take home 330 Israelis, mostly students, from the coronavirus hit region of northern Italy. The passengers were required to wear face masks for the entire flight from Milan to Tel Aviv and were served by flight attendants dressed in full-body protective gear. The passengers are now in a two-week quarantine at a hotel provided by the Israeli government.

 

DON’T FORGET TO EXERCISE

On a separate note, for people with younger children stuck at home, here are videos for them to dance (keep doing exercise) to.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ymigWt5TOV8

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BwAxvVldU1Y


ARTICLES

IS THE CORONAVIRUS AS DEADLY AS THEY SAY?

Is the Coronavirus as Deadly as They Say?
Current estimates about the Covid-19 fatality rate may be too high by orders of magnitude.
By Eran Bendavid and Jay Bhattacharya
Wall Street Journal
March 25, 2020

(Dr. Bendavid and Dr. Bhattacharya are professors of medicine at Stanford.)

If it’s true that the novel coronavirus would kill millions without shelter-in-place orders and quarantines, then the extraordinary measures being carried out in cities and states around the country are surely justified. But there’s little evidence to confirm that premise—and projections of the death toll could plausibly be orders of magnitude too high.

Fear of Covid-19 is based on its high estimated case fatality rate—2% to 4% of people with confirmed Covid-19 have died, according to the World Health Organization and others. So if 100 million Americans ultimately get the disease, two million to four million could die. We believe that estimate is deeply flawed. The true fatality rate is the portion of those infected who die, not the deaths from identified positive cases.

The latter rate is misleading because of selection bias in testing. The degree of bias is uncertain because available data are limited. But it could make the difference between an epidemic that kills 20,000 and one that kills two million. If the number of actual infections is much larger than the number of cases—orders of magnitude larger—then the true fatality rate is much lower as well. That’s not only plausible but likely based on what we know so far.

Population samples from China, Italy, Iceland and the U.S. provide relevant evidence. On or around Jan. 31, countries sent planes to evacuate citizens from Wuhan, China. When those planes landed, the passengers were tested for Covid-19 and quarantined. After 14 days, the percentage who tested positive was 0.9%. If this was the prevalence in the greater Wuhan area on Jan. 31, then, with a population of about 20 million, greater Wuhan had 178,000 infections, about 30-fold more than the number of reported cases. The fatality rate, then, would be at least 10-fold lower than estimates based on reported cases.

Next, the northeastern Italian town of Vò, near the provincial capital of Padua. On March 6, all 3,300 people of Vò were tested, and 90 were positive, a prevalence of 2.7%. Applying that prevalence to the whole province (population 955,000), which had 198 reported cases, suggests there were actually 26,000 infections at that time. That’s more than 130-fold the number of actual reported cases. Since Italy’s case fatality rate of 8% is estimated using the confirmed cases, the real fatality rate could in fact be closer to 0.06%.

In Iceland, deCode Genetics is working with the government to perform widespread testing. In a sample of nearly 2,000 entirely asymptomatic people, researchers estimated disease prevalence of just over 1%. Iceland’s first case was reported on Feb. 28, weeks behind the U.S. It’s plausible that the proportion of the U.S. population that has been infected is double, triple or even 10 times as high as the estimates from Iceland. That also implies a dramatically lower fatality rate.

The best (albeit very weak) evidence in the U.S. comes from the National Basketball Association. Between March 11 and 19, a substantial number of NBA players and teams received testing. By March 19, 10 out of 450 rostered players were positive. Since not everyone was tested, that represents a lower bound on the prevalence of 2.2%. The NBA isn’t a representative population, and contact among players might have facilitated transmission. But if we extend that lower-bound assumption to cities with NBA teams (population 45 million), we get at least 990,000 infections in the U.S. The number of cases reported on March 19 in the U.S. was 13,677, more than 72-fold lower. These numbers imply a fatality rate from Covid-19 orders of magnitude smaller than it appears.

How can we reconcile these estimates with the epidemiological models? First, the test used to identify cases doesn’t catch people who were infected and recovered. Second, testing rates were woefully low for a long time and typically reserved for the severely ill. Together, these facts imply that the confirmed cases are likely orders of magnitude less than the true number of infections. Epidemiological modelers haven’t adequately adapted their estimates to account for these factors.

The epidemic started in China sometime in November or December. The first confirmed U.S. cases included a person who traveled from Wuhan on Jan. 15, and it is likely that the virus entered before that: Tens of thousands of people traveled from Wuhan to the U.S. in December. Existing evidence suggests that the virus is highly transmissible and that the number of infections doubles roughly every three days. An epidemic seed on Jan. 1 implies that by March 9 about six million people in the U.S. would have been infected. As of March 23, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there were 499 Covid-19 deaths in the U.S. If our surmise of six million cases is accurate, that’s a mortality rate of 0.01%, assuming a two week lag between infection and death. This is one-tenth of the flu mortality rate of 0.1%. Such a low death rate would be cause for optimism.

This does not make Covid-19 a nonissue. The daily reports from Italy and across the U.S. show real struggles and overwhelmed health systems. But a 20,000- or 40,000-death epidemic is a far less severe problem than one that kills two million. Given the enormous consequences of decisions around Covid-19 response, getting clear data to guide decisions now is critical. We don’t know the true infection rate in the U.S. Antibody testing of representative samples to measure disease prevalence (including the recovered) is crucial. Nearly every day a new lab gets approval for antibody testing, so population testing using this technology is now feasible.

If we’re right about the limited scale of the epidemic, then measures focused on older populations and hospitals are sensible. Elective procedures will need to be rescheduled. Hospital resources will need to be reallocated to care for critically ill patients. Triage will need to improve. And policy makers will need to focus on reducing risks for older adults and people with underlying medical conditions.

A universal quarantine may not be worth the costs it imposes on the economy, community and individual mental and physical health. We should undertake immediate steps to evaluate the empirical basis of the current lockdowns.

 

ECONOMIC CRASH COULD COST MORE LIVES THAN CORONAVIRUS, SAYS EXPERT

Economic crash could cost more lives than coronavirus, says expert
Keeping the economy going is crucial because there is a link between GDP and life expectancy
Tom Whipple, Science Editor
The Times (of London)
March 25 2020

If the coronavirus lockdown leads to a fall in GDP of more than 6.4 per cent more years of life will be lost due to recession than will be gained through beating the virus, a study suggests.

Philip Thomas, professor of risk management at Bristol University, said that keeping the economy going in the next year was crucial, otherwise the measures would “do more harm than good”.

“I’m worried that in order to solve one problem we’d create a bigger problem,” he said a day after economists predicted we were on course for the worst recession in modern history.

There is a clear link between GDP and life expectancy, in part due to richer countries being able to spend more on healthcare, safety and environmental regulations. This means it is possible to calculate roughly the effect of increased, or decreased, wealth on the health of a population.

In a paper published before peer review, Professor Thomas has offset that figure against the lives saved through going into lockdown for a year while awaiting a vaccine. According to his modelling, just under a million Britons would die if we let the virus run unchecked. Most of those would be elderly and in terms of years of lives lost would equate to the deaths of 400,000 average age adults, roughly comparable to the toll of the Second World War.

“This is not going to be a three-week or three-month problem,” Professor Thomas said of the virus. Assuming our exit strategy is a vaccine, he said, “we’re talking 12 months, and that looks tight.”

This is why he thinks the economy is crucial — not because of a callous belief that lives can be traded for money, but because money and lives are, at some point, the same thing. “We see this very strong correlation between GDP and life expectancy,” he said. In his paper, published on Jvalue.co.uk, he estimates that if global trends can be extrapolated to the UK economy then the “tipping point”, to offset those 400,000 lives, comes when GDP falls by 6.4 per cent.

“If you reduce GDP per head by so much you start to reduce life expectancy considerably. Then what you are doing is cutting back GDP and at the same time shortening all our lives,” he said. “We are facing something very grave and it’s going to be very grave either way.”

The publication of the paper came as business leaders warned of a deep and lasting recession. IHS Markit, which produces the purchasing managers’ index with the Chartered Institute of Management and Supply, found the economy to be contracting at the fastest rate since the index began in 1998. It estimate that Britain’s economy had shrunk by 1.5-2 per cent this quarter, and predicted that following a total shutdown that figure would soon be “dwarfed” by what lay ahead. Some economists estimate we could expect a 15 per cent drop in the next quarter.

For comparison, at the height of the 2008/9 financial crash, the economy contracted by 2.1 per cent in a single quarter. Chris Williamson, IHS’s chief business economist, said, “a recession of a scale we have not seen in modern history is looking increasingly likely.”

The link between mortality and the economy is clear, but not simple. Some studies have suggested that it may be that greater life expectancy itself leads to economic growth, rather than the other way round. Short term effects are also sometimes in the opposite direction. Although suicides are linked to recessions, they can be offset by a fall in deaths caused by pollution and by accidents at work. The strength of the link between increased GDP and longevity also flattens off the richer a country gets.

The publication of the paper came as business leaders warned of a deep and lasting recession. IHS Markit, which produces the purchasing managers’ index with the Chartered Institute of Management and Supply, found the economy to be contracting at the fastest rate since the index began in 1998. It estimates that Britain’s economy had shrunk by 1.5-2 per cent this quarter, and predicted that following a total shutdown that figure would soon be “dwarfed” by what lay ahead. Some economists estimate we could expect a 15 per cent drop in the next quarter.

For comparison, at the height of the 2008/9 financial crash, the economy contracted by 2.1 per cent in a single quarter. Chris Williamson, IHS’s chief business economist, said, “a recession of a scale we have not seen in modern history is looking increasingly likely.”

The link between mortality and the economy is clear, but not simple. Some studies have suggested that it may be that greater life expectancy itself leads to economic growth, rather than the other way round. Short term effects are also sometimes in the opposite direction. Although suicides are linked to recessions, they can be offset by a fall in deaths caused by pollution and by accidents at work. The strength of the link between increased GDP and longevity also flattens off the richer a country gets.

Mr Thomas said that while the government could well have had no choice but to instigate the current policies, the focus now should be on making the economy work even while much of the country is confined to home.

“It worries me when I hear people saying, ‘Well, vital services can be kept going’. An economist would say that all the services we have are important.

“That’s why people spend money on them.

“The size of the problem is clear. You’ve got to find a way of keeping the whole country working.

 

CORONAVIRUS MAY HAVE INFECTED HALF OF UK POPULATION — OXFORD STUDY

Coronavirus may have infected half of UK population — Oxford study
New epidemiological model suggests the vast majority of people suffer little or no illness
By Clive Cookson, Science Editor
March 24, 2020
Financial Times

The new coronavirus may already have infected far more people in the UK than scientists had previously estimated — perhaps as much as half the population — according to modelling by researchers at the University of Oxford.

If the results are confirmed, they imply that fewer than one in a thousand of those infected with Covid-19 become ill enough to need hospital treatment, said Sunetra Gupta, professor of theoretical epidemiology, who led the study. The vast majority develop very mild symptoms or none at all.

“We need immediately to begin large-scale serological surveys — antibody testing — to assess what stage of the epidemic we are in now,” she said.

The modelling by Oxford’s Evolutionary Ecology of Infectious Disease group indicates that Covid-19 reached the UK by mid-January at the latest. Like many emerging infections, it spread invisibly for more than a month before the first transmissions within the UK were officially recorded at the end of February.

The research presents a very different view of the epidemic to the modelling at Imperial College London, which has strongly influenced government policy. “I am surprised that there has been such unqualified acceptance of the Imperial model,” said Prof Gupta.

However, she was reluctant to criticise the government for shutting down the country to suppress viral spread, because the accuracy of the Oxford model has not yet been confirmed and, even if it is correct, social distancing will reduce the number of people becoming seriously ill and relieve severe pressure on the NHS during the peak of the epidemic.

The Oxford study is based on a what is known as a “susceptibility-infected-recovered model” of Covid-19, built up from case and death reports from the UK and Italy. The researchers made what they regard as the most plausible assumptions about the behaviour of the virus.

The modelling brings back into focus “herd immunity”, the idea that the virus will stop spreading when enough people have become resistant to it because they have already been infected. The government abandoned its unofficial herd immunity strategy — allowing controlled spread of infection — after its scientific advisers said this would swamp the National Health Service with critically ill patients.

But the Oxford results would mean the country had already acquired substantial herd immunity through the unrecognised spread of Covid-19 over more than two months. If the findings are confirmed by testing, then the current restrictions could be removed much sooner than ministers have indicated.

Although some experts have shed doubt on the strength and length of the human immune response to the virus, Prof Gupta said the emerging evidence made her confident that humanity would build up herd immunity against Covid-19.

To provide the necessary evidence, the Oxford group is working with colleagues at the Universities of Cambridge and Kent to start antibody testing on the general population as soon as possible, using specialised “neutralisation assays which provide reliable readout of protective immunity,” Prof Gupta said. They hope to start testing later this week and obtain preliminary results within a few days.

 

PRIVATE INDUSTRY MOBILIZES AGAINST THE CORONAVIRUS

Private Industry Mobilizes Against the Coronavirus
The feds don’t need to nationalize the economy to fight Covid-19.
The Editorial Board
Wall Street Journal
March 25, 2020

President Trump can’t do right by some critics no matter what he does. For three years he’s been denounced as a reckless authoritarian, and now he’s attacked for not being authoritarian enough by refusing to commandeer American industry. The truth is that private industry is responding to the coronavirus without command and control by the federal government.

Last week Mr. Trump invoked the 1950 Defense Production Act that lets a President during a national emergency order business to manufacture products for national defense, set wage and price controls and allocate materials. On Tuesday the Federal Emergency Management Agency used the Korean War-era law for the first time in this crisis to procure and distribute testing kits and face masks.

But Democrats want the Administration to take over much more of the private economy. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Sunday tweeted that the federal government should “nationalize the medical supply chain” and “order companies to make gowns, masks and gloves.” He has been echoed by Democratic governors and leaders in Congress.

Yet businesses across America are already chipping in where they can. Aerospace manufacturer Honeywell plans to hire 500 workers at its plant in Rhode Island, which currently produces safety goggles, to make millions of N95 face masks for medical professionals. 3M has doubled its global output of N95 masks and this week is sending 500,000 respirators to hot spots in the U.S.

Corporations including Apple, Facebook, Tesla and Goldman Sachs are donating millions of medical masks stockpiled for wildfires or a biochemical attack. Apparel manufacturers are repurposing textile mills to produce personal protective equipment. Hanes plans to manufacture masks using U.S. cotton at factories in El Salvador, Honduras and the Dominican Republic. Diverse supply chains can help businesses operate more flexibly during a crisis since they don’t depend on any single country for materials or workers. That’s why an America first or America only government supply order would be a mistake.

Maine-based Puritan Medical Products, one of America’s top sources for nose swabs, says it has been rushing to keep up with orders even as some workers have become sick. Directing the company to produce more coronavirus swabs won’t do any good if it can’t get more workers and could create a shortage of flu tests if it has to divert resources from other lines.

Businesses know their workforce capacities and supply chains better than the government—and how to retool them to maximize efficiency. Dozens of breweries and distillers including Anheuser-Busch and Pernod Ricard USA are churning out hand sanitizer. General Electric plans to hire more workers to produce ventilators even while it lays off thousands in aviation. Fuel cell manufacturer Bloom Energy is retrofitting hundreds of old ventilators for the state of California.

Ford said on Tuesday that it would start assembling plastic face shields and work with 3M and GE to make respirators and ventilators. General Motors is also exploring how to use its global automotive supply chain to make ventilators. Ford’s CEO said its ventilators could be available by June, and it isn’t obvious that a government takeover of manufacturing would speed this up.

It might make sense for the federal government to purchase supplies from manufacturers and then allocate them to hospitals and states with the highest need. But it doesn’t make sense to order manufacturers like Apple or GM to make nose swabs or chemical reagents for testing kits if they don’t have the expertise or suppliers to do so.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers can also help convert vacant hotels and college dorms into make-shift hospitals, as it is doing in New York. When this pandemic is over, one of the lessons is likely to be that the government should have done more earlier to purchase and surge medical equipment to hospitals.

But dictating to businesses now will lead to bureaucratic snafus and inefficiencies. President Trump said Sunday “we’re a country not based on nationalizing our business.” That’s the right impulse. America needs to emerge from this with a private economy intact and ready to grow again, not nationalized industries subject to bureaucratic and political control.

 

* You can also find other items that are not in these dispatches if you “like” this page on Facebook www.facebook.com/TomGrossMedia

The world after coronavirus (& among the sweetest of men)

March 23, 2020

 

HATE AGAINST A HOLOCAUST SURVIVOR

[Note by Tom Gross]

A few hours after he died last Friday evening, I posted a note and tribute on Facebook to the first Israeli to die of coronavirus, Aryeh Even, age 88, a Holocaust survivor. Even (pictured above) who was born in Hungary, died in Jerusalem, leaving behind 4 children, many grandchildren and a great-grandchild. His father was murdered at Mauthausen Nazi slave labor, death and torture camp in Austria.

I am paying a second tribute to him here as a result of the disgusting wave of antisemitic hate directed towards him on the internet in recent days celebrating his death and cursing him in ways that I won’t repeat here. This has come from “intellectuals” on the far left not just from neo-Nazi groups on the far right.

Among them, prominent New York University student activist Leen Dweik who tweeted a link to news of Even’s death, saying “Should I paint my nails red or green today?”

Dweik, who has a history of calling for the deaths of Israelis, became notorious in March last year when (while wearing a “Bernie 2020” t-shirt) she verbally assaulted Chelsea Clinton and told her she was responsible for the Christchurch mosque massacre in New Zealand.

(See the fourth item in this dispatch: New Zealand Muslim leader (& U.S. Women’s March leader) ‘blame Jews’ for Christchurch attack.)

 

“WITH TEARS IN MY EYES”

In a statement, Aryeh Even’s family said they regretted that they were unable to be by his side during his final days because of the coronavirus restrictions. A limited number of people were allowed to attend his funeral. A nurse at the Shaare Zedek Medical Centre in Jerusalem who looked after Aryeh Even in his final days said he was the “among the sweetest of men”.

Another Israeli nurse who cared for Even and others in the coronavirus ward, Rachel Gemara, 32, paid tribute to him on her Facebook page as follows:

“My heart is broken. On Friday night my worst fears were realized as I watched my beloved patient, Aryeh Even, take his last breaths on earth. By the grace of God, two other patients – angels -- rush to his side. With tears in my eyes, I watch them instinctively place their hands on his eyes and recite the ‘Shema’ prayer. They comfort him and say goodbye as his holy soul enters the gates of Heaven. Aryeh, you’ve touched my heart, the staff and the patients that surrounded you. I know your life will inspire the rest of Am Yisrael as well. Go in peace. Go to your resting place in peace. Look out for us from above.”


 

THE WORLD AFTER CORONAVIRUS

I attach an essay published in the Financial Times (of London) by the Israeli professor and best-selling author Yuval Noah Harari.

Harari is a professor in the Department of History at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and is author of ‘Sapiens’, ‘Homo Deus’ and ‘21 Lessons for the 21st Century’.

***

The world after coronavirus
This storm will pass. But the choices we make now could change our lives for years to come
By Yuval Noah Harari
Financial Times
March 21 2020

Humankind is now facing a global crisis. Perhaps the biggest crisis of our generation. The decisions people and governments take in the next few weeks will probably shape the world for years to come. They will shape not just our healthcare systems but also our economy, politics and culture. We must act quickly and decisively. We should also take into account the long-term consequences of our actions. When choosing between alternatives, we should ask ourselves not only how to overcome the immediate threat, but also what kind of world we will inhabit once the storm passes. Yes, the storm will pass, humankind will survive, most of us will still be alive — but we will inhabit a different world.

Many short-term emergency measures will become a fixture of life. That is the nature of emergencies. They fast-forward historical processes. Decisions that in normal times could take years of deliberation are passed in a matter of hours. Immature and even dangerous technologies are pressed into service, because the risks of doing nothing are bigger. Entire countries serve as guinea-pigs in large-scale social experiments. What happens when everybody works from home and communicates only at a distance? What happens when entire schools and universities go online? In normal times, governments, businesses and educational boards would never agree to conduct such experiments. But these aren’t normal times.

In this time of crisis, we face two particularly important choices. The first is between totalitarian surveillance and citizen empowerment. The second is between nationalist isolation and global solidarity.

UNDER-THE-SKIN SURVEILLANCE

In order to stop the epidemic, entire populations need to comply with certain guidelines. There are two main ways of achieving this. One method is for the government to monitor people, and punish those who break the rules. Today, for the first time in human history, technology makes it possible to monitor everyone all the time. Fifty years ago, the KGB couldn’t follow 240m Soviet citizens 24 hours a day, nor could the KGB hope to effectively process all the information gathered. The KGB relied on human agents and analysts, and it just couldn’t place a human agent to follow every citizen. But now governments can rely on ubiquitous sensors and powerful algorithms instead of flesh-and-blood spooks.

In their battle against the coronavirus epidemic several governments have already deployed the new surveillance tools. The most notable case is China. By closely monitoring people’s smartphones, making use of hundreds of millions of face-recognising cameras, and obliging people to check and report their body temperature and medical condition, the Chinese authorities can not only quickly identify suspected coronavirus carriers, but also track their movements and identify anyone they came into contact with. A range of mobile apps warn citizens about their proximity to infected patients.

This kind of technology is not limited to east Asia. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel recently authorised the Israel Security Agency to deploy surveillance technology normally reserved for battling terrorists to track coronavirus patients. When the relevant parliamentary subcommittee refused to authorise the measure, Netanyahu rammed it through with an “emergency decree”.

You might argue that there is nothing new about all this. In recent years both governments and corporations have been using ever more sophisticated technologies to track, monitor and manipulate people. Yet if we are not careful, the epidemic might nevertheless mark an important watershed in the history of surveillance. Not only because it might normalise the deployment of mass surveillance tools in countries that have so far rejected them, but even more so because it signifies a dramatic transition from “over the skin” to “under the skin” surveillance.

Hitherto, when your finger touched the screen of your smartphone and clicked on a link, the government wanted to know what exactly your finger was clicking on. But with coronavirus, the focus of interest shifts. Now the government wants to know the temperature of your finger and the blood-pressure under its skin.

THE EMERGENCY PUDDING

One of the problems we face in working out where we stand on surveillance is that none of us know exactly how we are being surveilled, and what the coming years might bring. Surveillance technology is developing at breakneck speed, and what seemed science-fiction 10 years ago is today old news. As a thought experiment, consider a hypothetical government that demands that every citizen wears a biometric bracelet that monitors body temperature and heart-rate 24 hours a day. The resulting data is hoarded and analysed by government algorithms. The algorithms will know that you are sick even before you know it, and they will also know where you have been, and who you have met. The chains of infection could be drastically shortened, and even cut altogether. Such a system could arguably stop the epidemic in its tracks within days. Sounds wonderful, right?

The downside is, of course, that this would give legitimacy to a terrifying new surveillance system. If you know, for example, that I clicked on a Fox News link rather than a CNN link, that can teach you something about my political views and perhaps even my personality. But if you can monitor what happens to my body temperature, blood pressure and heart-rate as I watch the video clip, you can learn what makes me laugh, what makes me cry, and what makes me really, really angry.

It is crucial to remember that anger, joy, boredom and love are biological phenomena just like fever and a cough. The same technology that identifies coughs could also identify laughs. If corporations and governments start harvesting our biometric data en masse, they can get to know us far better than we know ourselves, and they can then not just predict our feelings but also manipulate our feelings and sell us anything they want — be it a product or a politician. Biometric monitoring would make Cambridge Analytica’s data hacking tactics look like something from the Stone Age. Imagine North Korea in 2030, when every citizen has to wear a biometric bracelet 24 hours a day. If you listen to a speech by the Great Leader and the bracelet picks up the tell-tale signs of anger, you are done for.

You could, of course, make the case for biometric surveillance as a temporary measure taken during a state of emergency. It would go away once the emergency is over. But temporary measures have a nasty habit of outlasting emergencies, especially as there is always a new emergency lurking on the horizon. My home country of Israel, for example, declared a state of emergency during its 1948 War of Independence, which justified a range of temporary measures from press censorship and land confiscation to special regulations for making pudding (I kid you not). The War of Independence has long been won, but Israel never declared the emergency over, and has failed to abolish many of the “temporary” measures of 1948 (the emergency pudding decree was mercifully abolished in 2011).

Even when infections from coronavirus are down to zero, some data-hungry governments could argue they needed to keep the biometric surveillance systems in place because they fear a second wave of coronavirus, or because there is a new Ebola strain evolving in central Africa, or because . . . you get the idea. A big battle has been raging in recent years over our privacy. The coronavirus crisis could be the battle’s tipping point. For when people are given a choice between privacy and health, they will usually choose health.

THE SOAP POLICE

Asking people to choose between privacy and health is, in fact, the very root of the problem. Because this is a false choice. We can and should enjoy both privacy and health. We can choose to protect our health and stop the coronavirus epidemic not by instituting totalitarian surveillance regimes, but rather by empowering citizens. In recent weeks, some of the most successful efforts to contain the coronavirus epidemic were orchestrated by South Korea, Taiwan and Singapore. While these countries have made some use of tracking applications, they have relied far more on extensive testing, on honest reporting, and on the willing co-operation of a well-informed public.

Centralised monitoring and harsh punishments aren’t the only way to make people comply with beneficial guidelines. When people are told the scientific facts, and when people trust public authorities to tell them these facts, citizens can do the right thing even without a Big Brother watching over their shoulders. A self-motivated and well-informed population is usually far more powerful and effective than a policed, ignorant population.

Consider, for example, washing your hands with soap. This has been one of the greatest advances ever in human hygiene. This simple action saves millions of lives every year. While we take it for granted, it was only in the 19th century that scientists discovered the importance of washing hands with soap. Previously, even doctors and nurses proceeded from one surgical operation to the next without washing their hands. Today billions of people daily wash their hands, not because they are afraid of the soap police, but rather because they understand the facts. I wash my hands with soap because I have heard of viruses and bacteria, I understand that these tiny organisms cause diseases, and I know that soap can remove them.

But to achieve such a level of compliance and co-operation, you need trust. People need to trust science, to trust public authorities, and to trust the media. Over the past few years, irresponsible politicians have deliberately undermined trust in science, in public authorities and in the media. Now these same irresponsible politicians might be tempted to take the high road to authoritarianism, arguing that you just cannot trust the public to do the right thing.

Normally, trust that has been eroded for years cannot be rebuilt overnight. But these are not normal times. In a moment of crisis, minds too can change quickly. You can have bitter arguments with your siblings for years, but when some emergency occurs, you suddenly discover a hidden reservoir of trust and amity, and you rush to help one another. Instead of building a surveillance regime, it is not too late to rebuild people’s trust in science, in public authorities and in the media. We should definitely make use of new technologies too, but these technologies should empower citizens. I am all in favour of monitoring my body temperature and blood pressure, but that data should not be used to create an all-powerful government. Rather, that data should enable me to make more informed personal choices, and also to hold government accountable for its decisions.

If I could track my own medical condition 24 hours a day, I would learn not only whether I have become a health hazard to other people, but also which habits contribute to my health. And if I could access and analyse reliable statistics on the spread of coronavirus, I would be able to judge whether the government is telling me the truth and whether it is adopting the right policies to combat the epidemic. Whenever people talk about surveillance, remember that the same surveillance technology can usually be used not only by governments to monitor individuals — but also by individuals to monitor governments.

The coronavirus epidemic is thus a major test of citizenship. In the days ahead, each one of us should choose to trust scientific data and healthcare experts over unfounded conspiracy theories and self-serving politicians. If we fail to make the right choice, we might find ourselves signing away our most precious freedoms, thinking that this is the only way to safeguard our health.

WE NEED A GLOBAL PLAN

The second important choice we confront is between nationalist isolation and global solidarity. Both the epidemic itself and the resulting economic crisis are global problems. They can be solved effectively only by global co-operation.

First and foremost, in order to defeat the virus we need to share information globally. That’s the big advantage of humans over viruses. A coronavirus in China and a coronavirus in the US cannot swap tips about how to infect humans. But China can teach the US many valuable lessons about coronavirus and how to deal with it. What an Italian doctor discovers in Milan in the early morning might well save lives in Tehran by evening. When the UK government hesitates between several policies, it can get advice from the Koreans who have already faced a similar dilemma a month ago. But for this to happen, we need a spirit of global co-operation and trust.

Countries should be willing to share information openly and humbly seek advice, and should be able to trust the data and the insights they receive. We also need a global effort to produce and distribute medical equipment, most notably testing kits and respiratory machines. Instead of every country trying to do it locally and hoarding whatever equipment it can get, a co-ordinated global effort could greatly accelerate production and make sure life-saving equipment is distributed more fairly. Just as countries nationalise key industries during a war, the human war against coronavirus may require us to “humanise” the crucial production lines. A rich country with few coronavirus cases should be willing to send precious equipment to a poorer country with many cases, trusting that if and when it subsequently needs help, other countries will come to its assistance.

We might consider a similar global effort to pool medical personnel. Countries currently less affected could send medical staff to the worst-hit regions of the world, both in order to help them in their hour of need, and in order to gain valuable experience. If later on the focus of the epidemic shifts, help could start flowing in the opposite direction.

Global co-operation is vitally needed on the economic front too. Given the global nature of the economy and of supply chains, if each government does its own thing in complete disregard of the others, the result will be chaos and a deepening crisis. We need a global plan of action, and we need it fast.

Another requirement is reaching a global agreement on travel. Suspending all international travel for months will cause tremendous hardships, and hamper the war against coronavirus. Countries need to co-operate in order to allow at least a trickle of essential travellers to continue crossing borders: scientists, doctors, journalists, politicians, businesspeople. This can be done by reaching a global agreement on the pre-screening of travellers by their home country. If you know that only carefully screened travellers were allowed on a plane, you would be more willing to accept them into your country.

Unfortunately, at present countries hardly do any of these things. A collective paralysis has gripped the international community. There seem to be no adults in the room. One would have expected to see already weeks ago an emergency meeting of global leaders to come up with a common plan of action. The G7 leaders managed to organise a videoconference only this week, and it did not result in any such plan.

In previous global crises — such as the 2008 financial crisis and the 2014 Ebola epidemic — the US assumed the role of global leader. But the current US administration has abdicated the job of leader. It has made it very clear that it cares about the greatness of America far more than about the future of humanity.

This administration has abandoned even its closest allies. When it banned all travel from the EU, it didn’t bother to give the EU so much as an advance notice — let alone consult with the EU about that drastic measure. It has scandalised Germany by allegedly offering $1bn to a German pharmaceutical company to buy monopoly rights to a new Covid-19 vaccine. Even if the current administration eventually changes tack and comes up with a global plan of action, few would follow a leader who never takes responsibility, who never admits mistakes, and who routinely takes all the credit for himself while leaving all the blame to others.

If the void left by the US isn’t filled by other countries, not only will it be much harder to stop the current epidemic, but its legacy will continue to poison international relations for years to come. Yet every crisis is also an opportunity. We must hope that the current epidemic will help humankind realise the acute danger posed by global disunity.

Humanity needs to make a choice. Will we travel down the route of disunity, or will we adopt the path of global solidarity? If we choose disunity, this will not only prolong the crisis, but will probably result in even worse catastrophes in the future. If we choose global solidarity, it will be a victory not only against the coronavirus, but against all future epidemics and crises that might assail humankind in the 21st century.

 

* You can also find other items that are not in these dispatches if you “like” this page on Facebook www.facebook.com/TomGrossMedia

Humor in the time of a pandemic

March 16, 2020


 



HUMOR IN THE TIME OF A PANDEMIC

[Note by Tom Gross]

As Natan Sharansky, who spent years in solidarity confinement as a political prisoner in the Soviet Union, remarked again last week regarding coronavirus: When in isolation, don’t lose your sense of humor; continue making light of the situation, however dire.

On Saturday I sent two further dispatches on the serious side of the coronavirus crisis:

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

* Top Iranian Holocaust-denying cleric says Iran can use future Israeli coronavirus vaccine (& other items)


Below are some cartoons and other images sent I have gathered.

First, a couple of the songs and clips I put on my public Facebook page last week.

 

A SONG FOR OUR TIMES

A song for our times.


 

YES, MINISTER

A short clip from the 30-year-old classic British TV program “Yes, minister”.

Here.

 





 





 





 





 





 





 





 

* You can also find other items that are not in these dispatches if you “like” this page on Facebook www.facebook.com/TomGrossMedia

Top Iranian Holocaust-denying cleric says Iran can use future Israeli coronavirus vaccine (& other items)

March 14, 2020

The statue of Ben-Gurion at Israel’s Ben-Gurion international airport today

 

Sanitary workers disinfect the desks and chairs of the Lebanese Parliament in central Beirut amid the spread of coronavirus in the country

 

CONTENTS

1. Top Iranian cleric okays buying future Israeli coronavirus vaccine (Times of Israel, March 12, 2020)

2. Iran’s First Vice-President, Three Minsters, Khamenei Aide Ill With Coronavirus (Radio Farda, March 11, 2020)

3. Strategic Partnership With China Lies at Root of Iran’s Coronavirus Outbreak: Pathogen spread rapidly from Qom, where Chinese-backed projects helped prop up nation’s sanctions-hit economy (Wall Street Journal, March 11, 2020)

4. Coronavirus Dictates New Reality for Israeli Army: One senior officer says implications of coronavirus crisis could be more profound than 9/11 (Haaretz , March 14, 2020)

5. In Arab Israeli Town, 100 Returnees From El Clásico soccer match in Madrid last week, Flout Quarantine (Haaretz, March 13, 2020)

6. Coronavirus Makes Iran More Dangerous: U.S. General Says After Attack in Iraq Kills U.S. and British Troops (Reuters, March 12, 2020)

7. Harnessing Anne Frank for Covid19-immigration action

8. Israeli Research Center may Announce It Developed Coronavirus Vaccine, Sources Say (Haaretz, March 13, 2020)

9. For Lebanon’s Newly-formed Government, Coronavirus Is Just the Latest Extension of a Mounting Crisis (Haaretz, March 13, 2020)

10. Hamas announcement puts a BBC narrative into perspective (BBC Watch, March 13, 2020)

 

[Note by Tom Gross]

Earlier today I sent a dispatch with general articles about coronavirus. This new dispatch has articles concerning the affects of coronavirus on Middle East nations.

That earlier dispatch can be read here:

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

 

TOP IRANIAN CLERIC OKAYS BUYING FUTURE ISRAELI CORONAVIRUS VACCINE

Top Iranian cleric okays buying future Israeli coronavirus vaccine
Naser Makarem Shirazi, 93, a Holocaust-denying hardliner and one of the highest religious authorities in Iran, says using vaccine made by ‘Zionists’ okay if ‘there’s no substitute’
The Times of Israel
March 12, 2020

A prominent Iranian cleric has said it is permissible to use a future coronavirus vaccine developed by Israel if “there is no substitute.”

The Iranian regime views Israel as a mortal enemy. But Iran has also faced one of the most severe outbreaks of the COVID-19 coronavirus outside its origin and epicenter in China.

“It is not permissible to buy and sell from Zionists and Israel,” Grand Ayatollah Naser Makarem Shirazi, 93, told the Iranian daily Hamdeli on Wednesday.

“Unless the treatment is unique and there is no substitute,” he added, “then this is not an obstacle.”

Shirazi, one of the highest authorities in Shiite Islam and a former member of the regime’s Assembly of Experts that appoints the supreme leader, is considered among the regime’s more hard-line ideologues.

He has called the Holocaust a “superstition,” opposed owning pets and objected to efforts to allow women to attend soccer matches.

The response may reflect a regime in crisis.

At least 429 people have died in Iran from the coronavirus outbreak, according to Iranian officials, and more than 10,000 people were confirmed as infected as of Thursday. International estimates suggested the death toll could be far higher.

The outbreak has put additional strain on a regime already battered by US sanctions and mass riots over the past year over fuel price hikes and other economic pressures.

On Wednesday, media reports said Israel’s Institute for Biological Research, which operates under the aegis of the Defense Ministry, was closing in on a vaccine for the coronavirus.

Later in the day, the Defense Ministry denied any “breakthrough” had been achieved and said the institute’s efforts “will take time” to bear fruit.

Reporting on the possibility that Israel would be the first to produce a vaccine, the Iranian daily Hamdeli turned to Shirazi to ask if Iranians would be permitted to buy and use the Israeli-developed vaccine.

 

IRAN’S FIRST VICE-PRESIDENT, THREE MINSTERS, KHAMENEI AIDE ILL WITH CORONAVIRUS

Iran’s First Vice-President, Three Minsters, Khamenei Aide Ill With Coronavirus
Radio Farda
March 11, 2020

Iran’s Revolutionary Guard affiliated Fars News Agency on March 21 published a list of senior officials and politicians who have tested positive or died from coronavirus (COVID-19). First Vice President Es’haq Jahangiri is included among those who have tested positive and in isolation.

Jahangiri had not been seen in public for several days and was conspicuously absent from the regular Wednesday morning Cabinet meeting. However, his condoling message for Mohammad-Reza Rah-Chamani, a veteran reformist politician and lawmaker, was published on the government website on Tuesday.

Two days ago, the Head of Public Relations of First Vice-President denied the rumors that Jahangiri has coronavirus and said he was present in his office and spoken to province governors across the country about the coronavirus situation. The Cabinet has yet neither denied nor confirmed the report by Fars News Agency.

Among other eye-catching names in the list published by Fars is the name of Mohammad-Javad Iravani, one of the influential men in Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei’s office. According to Fars he has been quarantined but his health is improving. Iravani is also a member of the Khamenei-appointed Expediency Council. Another member of the Council, Mohammad Mir-Mohammadi, died of coronavirus on March 2.

Three other cabinet members who have tested positive are Vice-President in Women’s Affairs Masoumeh Ebtekar, Cultural Heritage and Tourism Minister Ali-Asghar Mounesan and the Minister of Industries, Mines and Commerce Reza Rahmani.

When questioned by the press today about the health conditions of Jahangiri and Deputy Health Minister Iraj Harirchi, Health Ministry Spokesman Kianoush Jahanpour did not even include Jahangiri’s name in the very general response that he made, leaving everyone guessing.

Iran is among the hardest-hit nations by the virus and so far even according to doctored official figures, at least 9,000 have been diagnosed with coronavirus and 354 lost their lives.

Five current lawmakers have the coronavirus and two representatives elected in February 21 parliamentary elections have died of the disease.

 

STRATEGIC PARTNERSHIP WITH CHINA LIES AT ROOT OF IRAN’S CORONAVIRUS OUTBREAK

Strategic Partnership With China Lies at Root of Iran’s Coronavirus Outbreak
Pathogen spread rapidly from Qom, where Chinese-backed projects helped prop up nation’s sanctions-hit economy
By Benoit Faucon, Sune Engel Rasmussen and Jeremy Page
Wall Street Journal
March 11, 2020

“China has been the trading partner of last resort but, in this case, it has turned into a very toxic bomb,” said Sanam Vakil, deputy Middle East director at Chatham House, a think tank in London.

China Railway Engineering Corp. is building a $2.7 billion high-speed rail line through Qom. Chinese technicians have been helping refurbish a nuclear-power plant nearby. There are also Chinese religious students studying at Qom’s seminaries.

Iranian health officials have said the source of the outbreak is likely either Chinese workers in Qom or an Iranian businessman from Qom who travelled to China. Iranian officials haven’t identified the businessman by name but say he travelled from China to Qom through an indirect flight.

Once the pathogen was loose in Qom, a city of roughly one million people, it spread rapidly, taxing a sanctions-stretched health-care system, amplifying economic woes and fueling an anti-Chinese backlash.

“We were unhappy with all these crappy Chinese goods everywhere,” said a housewife who asked to be quoted by her last name, Ms. Ashtari. “Now they brought us this crappy virus, too.”

According to official statistics, more than 350 Iranians have died from the new virus. The government says 9,000 people have been infected; epidemiologists say the number could actually be in the tens of thousands. Travellers, many of them pilgrims, carried the virus to at least 15 other countries, the World Health Organization and governments in those countries say.

Dozens of Iranian officials and parliamentarians have been infected by the coronavirus since the outbreak began in Iran. Iranian media Wednesday evening reported that First Vice President Eshaq Jahangiri had been infected, along with two other cabinet members. The semiofficial Fars news agency published a list of 24 officials infected with the virus, at the top of which was Mr. Jahangiri. On the list were also the minister of industry, mines and business, Reza Rahmani, and the minister of cultural heritage, Ali Asghar Mounesan.

Mr. Jahangiri is the most senior Iranian official yet infected with the virus. The list of infected officials also counts more than 20 lawmakers, as well as Masoumeh Ebtekar, a spokesperson for the Iranian students that besieged the U.S. Embassy in Tehran in 1979 and who currently serves as a more junior vice president and the highest-ranking Iranian woman in government. Deputy Health Minister Iraj Harirchi, prominent reformist Mahmoud Sadeghi and the head of parliament’s foreign policy commission Mojtaba Zonnouri have also been infected.

The government reacted slowly to the outbreak. Hours after the first infections were announced, the victims were declared dead, suggesting that the coronavirus had been allowed to spread for weeks.

For days after the first cases were discovered on Feb. 19, Qom’s clerics defied government orders to close shrines. By the end of the month, when authorities cancelled Friday prayers for the first time in decades in an effort to stem the epidemic, the disease had already spread to most provinces.

Weeks earlier, on Feb. 1, as the coronavirus outbreak centered on the central Chinese city Wuhan worsened, the Iranian government had banned its airlines from flying to China. It gave an exception, however, to Mahan Air, which has emerged as a popular source of air transport for the country’s powerful Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.

The U.S. government alleges the airline transported personnel, money and arms for the Guards, and provided transportation for the Lebanese Hezbollah militia, which Washington considers a terrorist organization. After the Guards’ Qods Force commander Qassem Soleimani, who frequently travelled with the airline, was killed by a U.S. drone in January, his coffin was returned to Iran on a Mahan Air flight.

Mahan Air said in a statement to The Wall Street Journal that it had carried out eight flights between Tehran and China between Feb. 1 and Feb. 9 to transfer Chinese and Iranian passengers to their respective home countries. Since February 12, the airline had flown 12 flights with cargo – such as flying testing kits and disposable masks to Iran – and followed disinfection and hygiene instructions issued by the health ministry.

“We carry out flights under full supervision of the health ministry,” Reza Jafarzadeh, spokesman of Iran’s Civil Aviation Organization, told state radio. “Whether incoming foreign passengers have been tested or not is a matter for the health ministry.”

Mahan Air has made at least 43 trips since Feb. 1, according to online flight records from FlightRadar24, including one to Wuhan on Feb. 5, which evacuated 70 Iranian students living there, according to Iran’s Foreign Ministry. The students were quarantined after their arrival from Wuhan, deputy health minister Alireza Raeisi was quoted as saying by the official Islamic Republic News Agency. Mahan Air said the numbers from the flight tracker are inaccurate.

Mahan Air’s most recent flight from China landed in Tehran from Shanghai on the morning of March 9, according to FlightRadar24. There is no official total count of passengers.

Iran’s Minister for Roads and Urban Development said Thursday that an investigation by the health ministry had concluded that the coronavirus hadn’t been brought to Iran by one of the country’s own airlines, according to state television. The minister didn’t provide an explanation for that conclusion.

Irate Iranians have accused the airline of serving as a conduit for the deadly virus. “We won’t forget the coronavirus of the traitor company #Mahan Air,” said one Twitter user, while another called on the airline’s managers to be prosecuted.

To combat the epidemic, Iran’s authorities have erected checkpoints on roads leading to and from major cities, and Revolutionary Guard and police forces on Friday closed streets leading to major infection hubs in the country’s north, far from Qom. Drones have been deployed to disinfect streets.

In contrast to China, which took draconian measures to contain the coronavirus in Wuhan, Iranian officials have insisted they won’t quarantine Qom, calling such measures a relic from pre-World War 1 times.

Iran’s health-care system has struggled to cope with the sudden case load stemming from keeping the extent of the illness under wraps, according to Kamiar Alaei, an Iranian public-health expert and co-president of the Institute for International Health and Education in Albany, N.Y. “It’s not necessarily about the quality of the health-care system,” he said. “It’s about mismanagement and misinformation.”

On March 5 – two weeks after the first deaths occurred in Iran – the commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, Maj. Gen. Hossein Salami, suggested that the global spread of the coronavirus may be the work of U.S. biological warfare against China and Iran: “Today, the country is engaged in a biological battle,” Mr. Salami said at a ceremony in Kerman.

Many Iranians have refused to get tested, worried that they might contract the virus in hospital.

China, Russia and the World Health Organization have delivered thousands of test and diagnostic kits as well as respiratory machines. France, Germany and Britain also have transported equipment and pledged close to €5 million ($5.67 million) through the World Health Organization or other United Nations agencies.

But Iran officials, traders and experts say it won’t be enough to make up for dwindling stocks of supplies and faulty equipment. Most of the installed equipment in hospitals in the country was historically supplied by Western companies, which Iranians have tended to prefer to Chinese alternatives.

Some companies that supply testing kits or respiratory equipment, such as ventilators, have stopped delivering to Tehran because their banks refuse to carry the payments, Iranian distributors said. In September, the U.S. imposed sanctions on Iran’s central bank.

Despite Iran’s own struggle to contain the virus, many Iranians are directing their anger at China for bringing the illness to their country in the first place. “When you put all your eggs in one basket, this is what you get,” said Ali, a 43-year-old kitchenware seller in Tehran. “The Chinese are everywhere.”

To keep a lid on popular anger, the government in late February blocked entry for Chinese travellers. China hasn’t blocked entry for travellers from Iran, although Beijing and Shanghai have since early March required arrivals from Iran and others badly affected by the coronavirus to self-quarantine for 14 days. Three charter flights from Iran have brought hundreds of Chinese back to China. There were about 1,400 Chinese nationals still in Iran as of Tuesday, according to Beijing’s ambassador in Tehran.

In recent days, China announced that at least 42 people – including some Chinese nationals who came back from Tehran via Moscow or Bangkok – were found to be carrying the virus after returning from Iran.

 

CORONAVIRUS DICTATES NEW REALITY FOR ISRAELI ARMY

‘It’s Not a Black Swan, It’s a Mammoth’: Coronavirus Dictates New Reality for Israeli Army
One senior officer says implications of coronavirus crisis could be more profound than 9/11
By Amos Harel
Haaretz
March 14, 2020

During the past few days public health experts in Israel have described two major bottlenecks in the battle against coronavirus. The first concerns the paucity of tests done on possible patients; the second concerns the difficulty in identifying, locating and isolating people who have been in the close vicinity of people found to be ill. Clearly a large part of Israel’s citizenry is attentive to the reports in the media, but relatively simple monitoring of credit-card usage and pinpointing mobile phones can help issue a swift warning to anyone who has been in a place and time identified as dangerous, obligate him to isolate himself and maybe thereby to some extent slow down the spread of the virus.

These are techniques that can be applied, and they are currently being employed for other uses like fighting terror or solving crimes. In effect, the worldwide breakthroughs in “fusing” the relevant information to put together an extensive intelligence picture and, accordingly, rapid action were achieved in Israel in the early 2000s. This happened in a joint effort by the various security organizations as part of the fight against the suicide terrorists during the second intifada. Later, these methods were used by the Americans and subsequently became the daily bread of police forces and security services around the world.

However, these measures also entail considerable and unusual infringement of citizens’ privacy, in circumstances in which there is no suspicion of their having committed a crime or harming to state security. It is no wonder that the two organizations most adept at these methods, the Shin Bet security service and the Israel Defense Forces, are not keen to offer to do the work. Apparently in the Shin Bet they are concerned about harm to its elevated, politically neutral status, and possible harm to democracy if it is assigned these missions. In the IDF they are wary of using “the people’s army,” which relies on soldiers doing compulsory service, for similar missions.

On the assumption that the virus will continue to spread and the government will want to undertake extraordinary measures of this sort, apparently it will require close legal oversight. Moreover, the IDF and Shin Bet would prefer that the Israel Police deal with this, even if it needs to borrow the means and even personnel to do so. Military Intelligence Unit 8200 is not going to rummage around cellular data to check who was sitting in a Tel Aviv café at what time of day. Graduates of the unit who are about to be demobilized could conceivably be put to the task, if an alternative solution is not found by then.

However, it is possible that this discussion is becoming superfluous. The increasingly firm understanding among experts is that the official number of patients suffering from the disease (about 100, by press time) is lower than the true number – that it does not reflect the many people who have the virus, hundreds if not thousands, who simply have not been tested and diagnosed yet. In such circumstances, much farther-reaching steps could come up for discussion, like those that were adopted in South Korea and Taiwan – measures that according to the reports from East Asia, indeed delayed the virus’ spread considerably.

If there is a decision to seal off parts of the country and even impose a curfew, the only organization that will be able to help the police and local authorities, both in enforcement and supplying food and medicine to the population, is the IDF. Therefore, a dramatic call-up of reservists will be required, along with extensive deployment of the Home Front Command. Defense Minister Naftali Bennett and the IDF brass should already be preparing for this possibility. Otherwise, it will turn out that Israel is lagging too far behind the spreading virus.

At the moment, the army is for the most part busy protecting itself – attempting to reduce the rate of the spread of the virus within its ranks and making preparations that will try to ensure the functioning of sensitive units – combat flight squadrons, submarines and others – even under extreme conditions in which a large part of the population is infected with corona. In a number of units, they have already put into effect initiated furloughs, with the intention of keeping the soldiers on base for longer periods in the future.

A civilian or a reservist who visits the bureaus of senior IDF officers, operation rooms or sensitive units these days is required to sign a form upon entering. They have to commit that they did not return from abroad in the past two weeks, do not have a fever and have not spent time in the presence of sick people.

In the defense organization they already understand that the coronavirus is a classic instance of a “black swan” scenario, which seems to come out of nowhere and scrambles the whole deck of cards. “This isn’t a black swan, it’s a mammoth,” says one senior officer, who agrees that the repercussions of the coronavirus could yet prove to be far-reaching, long-term and even more so than the September 11 terror attack.

For the IDF, there is another danger inherent in the developments: The ambitious multi-year plan that has been formulated by Chief of Staff Aviv Kochavi has come up against a huge and unexpected obstacle. The launch of the multi-year plan has already been delayed because of the three elections and the big deficit in the national budget, which has been estimated at a minimum of 20 billion shekels.

The IDF has managed to advance some of the projects by means of a one-time addition of 2 billion shekels that was approved by the transitional government. Now, however, when the price of the systematic neglect of the health system and the shortage of hospital beds are destined to be revealed in all their severity, and when the economy is fearing a recession, the army is facing much harder competition for resources.

This is what happened to Benny Gantz as chief of staff at the beginning of the previous decade: a temporary change in priorities, after the social protest in the summer of 2011, made it difficult for the army and two multi-year plans were buried without a trace.

Still, the IDF’s argument will be stated with fervor in the coming months, even if the politicians don’t have time or attention now for long-range decisions. The General Staff will present “momentum,” the Israeli military’s multi-year strategic plan, as an insurance policy, necessary for protecting Israel’s national security.

In the past decade, it will be argued, there has been considerable improvement in the operational capabilities of the Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, Hezbollah and to a lesser extent the Palestinian organizations in the Gaza Strip. At the same time, the withdrawal by the United States from the nuclear agreement has enhanced the need for planning for a regional clash that will also include Iran.

Without a drastic improvement in the IDF’s capability, it will be difficult to maintain the qualitative gap between Israel and the enemy. According to the army, the result in the case of a war will be prolongation of fighting for many weeks, during which the IDF will have difficulty ensuring a decisive victory and Israel will pay a far steeper price in losses and economic damage.

The cabinet has not yet found time to discuss the multi-year plan in depth. In preliminary discussions with the elected officials, Kochavi presented a diagram showing the narrowing of the capability gaps between the IDF and its enemies. He revived the expression coined by Ehud Barak in his day, which described Israel as a villa in a jungle. The chief of staff argued that without authorization of the multi-year plan, the country will be in a situation in which the top floor of the villa is exposed and vulnerable.

The answer to this situation, according to the IDF, includes not only extensive acquisition of precise attack weaponry and missiles to intercept rockets (for systems like the Iron Dome and Arrow 3), but also massive equipping with new technological means, with extensive emphasis on the field of cyber. In light of the political situation, the discussion has not yet delved into details but it is not unlikely that the army will try to persuade the government of the need for a temporary increase in the deficit in order to advance the program – an idea to which the Budget Department at the Finance Ministry is very much opposed to.

 

IN ARAB ISRAELI TOWN, 100 RETURNEES FROM EL CLÁSICO SOCCER MATCH IN MADRID LAST WEEK, FLOUT QUARANTINE

In Arab Israeli Town, 100 Returnees From El Clásico soccer match in Madrid last week, Flout Quarantine
Some of them went to the El Clásico soccer match between Real Madrid and Barcelona earlier this month where two others Israelis who were later found to have coronavirus also attended
By Jack Khoury
Haaretz
March 13, 2020

A hundred residents of the Arab-Israeli town of Tira who recently returned from overseas and are required to quarantine themselves at home (along with everyone else now arriving in Israel from abroad, both citizens and tourists) are walking around the city unrestricted, according to the municipality.

Some attended the El Clásico soccer match in Madrid last week, which was attended by two other Israelis who got diagnosed with corona upon their return. Tira’s Mayor Mamoun Abd al-Hay said he was considering turning to the police to enforce the quarantine, calling on Tira residents to adhere to Health Ministry guidelines. He noted that no case of corona had surfaced in the city of 26,000 yet.

The head of the local parents committee, Muaz Iraqi, told Haaretz that some of the people returning to Israel continued with their routines, sending their children to kindergartens and schools. “Earlier this week, parents became troubled and the number of children attending schools dropped. There was a lot of pressure by parents to take concrete steps,” he said.

Due to the situation and parental pressure, the municipality decided to close all schools from Thursday until Sunday. Thousands of children, from kindergarten to high school, did not come to class. Meetings will be held on Friday and Saturday to decide whether classes will be suspended next week as well. In the meantime, schools will be disinfected.

One resident said she decided not to send her daughter to kindergarten even without the decision by city hall. “The fact that parents and residents thumb their noses at guidelines and ignore instructions raises many concerns,” she said. “I know parents who were overseas and did not quarantine themselves when they returned, sending their children to school. It’s an attitude of ‘don’t worry, it will all be fine,’ as if nothing could happen. This only increases the stress.”

Similar complaints have been made in other Arab communities. The Galilee non-profit group, an Arab group promoting health services, held an emergency meeting in Shfaram this week, with the participation of the national committee of Arab mayors, parents committees and a monitoring committee for education in Arab communities. The group’s director, Ahmed al-Sheikh, noted that his group emphasized to the mayors the need for early preparations and increased dissemination of information, asking them to call on residents to abide by quarantine instructions.

“There is no cause for alarm,” said al-Sheikh. “On the other hand, we need to be prepared. The Arab public is relatively young but there’s a need to be extra cautious. Local authorities can help a lot with giving out information to stop the virus, assuming that the required steps are taken and people don’t dismiss the need for quarantine.”

 

CORONAVIRUS MAKES IRAN MORE DANGEROUS: U.S. GENERAL SAYS AFTER ATTACK IN IRAQ KILLS U.S. AND BRITISH TROOPS

Coronavirus Makes Iran More Dangerous: U.S. General Says After Attack in Iraq Kills U.S. and British Troops
U.S. Marine General Kenneth McKenzie, the head of Central Command said he believes Iran is significantly underreporting the number of its coronavirus victims
Reuters
March 12, 2020

A top U.S. general said on Thursday that Iran is significantly underreporting the number of its coronavirus victims and he believed that the global pandemic is making Tehran more dangerous, a day after an attack in Iraq that killed U.S. and British troops.

“I think it is having an effect on how they make decisions, I think it slows them down...I believe the numbers are probably significantly underreported,” U.S. Marine General Kenneth McKenzie, the head of Central Command, said.

McKenzie said while he did not know for sure what impact the virus was having that “authoritarian regimes” usually react to extreme pressure by looking at external threats.

“I think it probably makes them, in terms of decision making, more dangerous rather than less dangerous,” McKenzie said during a Senate hearing.

“While we are still investigating the attack, I will note that the Iranian proxy group Kataib Hezbollah is the only group known to have previously conducted an indirect fire attack of this scale against U.S. and coalition forces in Iraq,” McKenzie added.

Washington blamed Kataib Hezbollah for a strike in December that killed a U.S. contractor, leading to a cycle of tit-for-tat confrontations earlier this year that culminated in January’s U.S. killing of top Iranian general Qassem Soleimani and a retaliatory Iranian missile attack that left more than 100 U.S. troops with brain injuries.

The U.S.-led military coalition in Iraq says 18 107 mm Katyusha rockets struck Iraq’s Taji military camp.

A U.S. official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said a total of 30 of the rockets were fired from nearby truck and that only 18 of them landed at the Iraqi base.

On Wednesday, the U.S.-led coalition said about a dozen personnel were injured. McKenzie told the Senate there were several servicemembers injured, which leaves open the possibility that the additional wounded were contractors.

In a sign of concern that tensions between the United States and Iran could be headed toward open conflict, the Democratic-led U.S. House of Representatives passed legislation on Wednesday to limit President Donald Trump’s ability to wage war against Iran.

The Republican president has been engaged in a maximum-pressure campaign of renewed sanctions and near-constant rhetoric against Iran, after pulling the United States out of the international nuclear deal reached during the administration of his Democratic predecessor, Barack Obama.

Tensions between Washington and Tehran have mostly played out on Iraqi soil in recent months.

Iran-backed paramilitary groups have regularly been rocketing and shelling bases in Iraq that host U.S. forces and the area around the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad.

 

DISGRACEFULLY HARNESSING ANNE FRANK FOR COVID19-IMMIGRATION ACTION

The radical anti-Israel extreme left wing Jewish group popular writes:

Never Again Action on Twitter: “Anne Frank didn’t die in a gas chamber. Anne Frank died because she caught an infectious disease in a concentration camp. Unless people are freed from immigrant detention IMMEDIATELY, thousands upon thousands of our neighbors will die horrific deaths. We have to stop it. https://t.co/YQ0JpWx97x” / Twitter

https://twitter.com/NeverAgainActn/status/1238138973844918272

 

(Tom Gross adds: Doubts have been put on this report following publication by Haaretz yesterday.)

ISRAELI RESEARCH CENTER MAY ANNOUNCE IT DEVELOPED CORONAVIRUS VACCINE, SOURCES SAY

Israeli Research Center may Announce It Developed Coronavirus Vaccine, Sources Say
By Ido Efrati
Haaretz
March 13, 2020

Scientists at the Biological Research Institute are making significant breakthroughs in understanding the virus, the sources say, but a long process of pre-clinical and clinical trials is to follow

Scientists at Israel’s Institute for Biological Research are expected to announce in the coming days that they have completed development of a vaccine for the new coronavirus COVID-19.

According to medical sources, the scientists have recently had a significant breakthrough in understanding the biological mechanism and qualities of the virus, including better diagnostic capability, production of antibodies for those who already have the virus and development of a vaccine.

The development process requires a series of tests and experiments that may last many months before the vaccination is deemed effective or safe to use.

Asked about the development, the Defense Ministry said: “There has been no breakthrough in the efforts of the biological institute to find a vaccine for the coronavirus or to develop testing kits. The institute’s work is conducted according to an orderly work plan and it will take time. If and when there will be something to report, it will be done in an orderly fashion. The biological institute is a world-renowned research and development agency, which relies on experienced researchers and scientists with great knowledge and quality infrastructures. There are now more than 50 experienced scientists working at the institute on researching and developing a medical remedy for the virus.”

The Institute for Biological Research, located in the central Israeli town of Nes Tziona, was established in 1952 as part of the Israel Defense Forces’ Science Corps, and later became a civilian organization. It is technically under the supervision of the Prime Minister’s Office, but is in close communication with the Defense Ministry.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyhu ordered the institute to devote resources to developing a vaccine for COVID-19 on February 1.

Normally, a long process of pre-clinical trials on animals would be the next phase, followed by clinical trials. This period allows for a full characterization of side effects and a better understanding of how different populations are affected.

Yet the global emergency over the coronavirus pandemic may accelerate this process in order to vaccinate as many people who are most at risk from the virus.

The development of an effective vaccine would end the global crisis caused by the virus; it would also protect the world’s population for a more serious outbreak next year, as some predict could happen.

According to a Ynet report, three weeks ago, five shipments of virus samples arrived in Israel from Japan, Italy and other countries. They were brought by a specially secured Defense Ministry courier to the Institute for Biological Research. The samples had been frozen to -80 degrees Celsius. According to health and defense sources, since the samples arrived, there has been intensive work, including by leading experts, to develop the vaccine.

The assessment of experts in Israel and abroad is that the length of time needed to develop a vaccine runs from a few months to a year and a half. Numerous research teams all over the world are participating in the race to develop a vaccine. Many of them at this point are focusing on the way the virus presents itself in animals, with the biggest hurdle being the way it morphs when it moves from animals to human beings.

Shortly after the outbreak started in January, China released the genetic sequence of the virus on open scientific databases so that research institutes and commercial companies could try to develop treatments and vaccines without needing to obtain samples.

Around a month and a half after the genetic sequence was published, biotechnology company Moderna, Inc., based in Boston, Massachussets, announced it had completed the development of a possible coronavirus vaccine. Immediately afterward the vaccine was sent to the U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, with clinical trials, which will include up to 25 health participants, to start in April and end in the summer. Any Israel vaccine will presumably also need to go through a similar or even stricter process before it will be approved for use.

 

FOR LEBANON’S NEWLY-FORMED GOVERNMENT, CORONAVIRUS IS JUST THE LATEST EXTENSION OF A MOUNTING CRISIS

For Lebanon’s Newly-formed Government, Coronavirus Is Just the Latest Extension of a Mounting Crisis
The coronavirus hits the country during massive social upheaval, as the Lebanese government struggles with enormous public debt, forcing it to take drastic steps to reign in the economy
By Zvi Bar’el
Haaretz
March 13, 2020

In the large hospital named after Rafik Hariri in Beirut there was no need to wait for the coronavirus epidemic to see the extent of the crisis in medical services. Long before the outbreak of the plague that has so far only hit Lebanon in a limited fashion, patients faced a severe shortage of medicine and medical supplies.

In the orthopedic wards, elective surgeries have been put on hold and those scheduled for urgent operations have discovered that the staff is unable to provide basics such as bags for blood transfusions, artificial knee parts and even needles for anesthesia drips.

The medical staff and hospital managers have joined thousands of protesters in squaring off with security forces and Hezbollah activists in recent months. Neither the transition government nor the government formed a month and a half ago by Prime Minister Hassan Diab could help very much. They may have agreed to sell dollars to this hospital and the rest of the country’s health centers at an official exchange rate of 1,500 Lebanese pounds, compared to the black-market price of about 1,800 pounds to the dollar at the time, but the decision was never completely implemented. The health services were forced to pay for medicine and equipment with dollars bought on the black market.

The Lebanese government’s enormous public debt has forced it to take drastic steps, including severe limitations on spending foreign currency. The situation has gotten so dire that individuals and businesspeople who deposited dollars in their bank accounts have discovered that they are not allowed to withdraw their money.

The threatening shadow looming over the government was the impending due date for Eurobond government bonds, whose maturity date for the first series, worth $1.2 billion, was on March 9. Though the central bank may have the money in its vaults, paying out that amount would place the country on the brink of a red line for its depleted foreign currency reserves. This would endanger its ability to fund day-to-day expenses, imports and social security payments for the needy.

At the same time, nonpayment of this debt – the portion of the total national debt that is over $90 billion, about 160 percent of GDP – harms Lebanon’s ability to receive further loans in the international market and endanger the stability of its banks.

The political pressure has been enormous. The governor of the central bank, Riad Salame, demanded that the government meet its obligations and try to find additional sources of financing for its activities. The public stood against the central bank, demanding that the payment be postponed so the government could meet its budgetary commitments and use funds for economic development.

Last Saturday, a historic decision was reached. For the first time, Lebanon will not pay its debts and not redeem its bonds. The country that once enjoyed the title “banker of the Middle East” is now facing a three-sided crisis. It must conduct negotiations with bondholders over how to pay them what they are owed, it must find sources for financing the next two rounds of bond payments – about $700 million in April and another $600 million in June – and it must assemble enough foreign currency to pay for government operations.

Even before they decided to postpone the Eurobond redemption payment, the government unsuccessfully tried to reach an understanding with bondholders – mostly Lebanese banks and foreign investors – who refused to hear of a delay in payment. The government now has two unpalatable options: Give the bondholders a “haircut” pay them less than they are owed, or ask the International Monetary Fund for a loan.

Diab said this week that negotiations with the bondholders could very well last for nine months if “everyone demonstrates understanding and good will.” The question is, who will agree to conduct negotiations with a government that does not keep its commitments, and where will the money come from for payment even if an agreement is reached. The most reasonable path is to turn to the IMF, but Lebanon’s political leaders know that receiving such a loan means a commitment to carry out deep reforms, without which the IMF will not approve the aid.

Reforms have long ago become a false hope in Lebanon, after every government in the last few decades has promised to carry out some reform and ended its term with an even larger debt than when it began. The latest budget approved for 2019 was also phrased in a way that promised reforms, but so far nothing has been implemented.

It is clear to every political and ideological movement in Lebanon that any reforms would require a systematic and effective battle against corruption, greater transparency in government activities, structural changes, including in the central bank, and building a list of budgetary priorities that would meet the needs of the economy, instead of the political elites.

This would mean a loss of control over the sources of funding enjoyed by interested parties, and placing the economy – at least for a few years – under the oversight of the International Monetary Fund. It is hard to imagine the heads of Lebanon’s political movements reaching such an understanding on the nature of the reforms before the government goes completely bankrupt. This is evidenced by the lack of an economic plan attached to the decision to delay the bond payment.

Lebanon has not yet decided whether it wants to restructure its debt by building a new payment schedule over a longer period of time, or to refinance the debt – a step that would mean asking the bondholders to forgo part of what they are owed, in return for a large-scale reform plan.

For now, the government may be enjoying the lull in the ongoing social protests due to public fears of coronavirus, but it will soon need to reach some conclusions regarding its ability to continue running the country.

 

HAMAS ANNOUNCEMENT PUTS A BBC NARRATIVE INTO PERSPECTIVE

Hamas announcement puts a BBC narrative into perspective
By Hadar Sela
BBC Watch
March 13, 2020

Earlier this week the Times of Israel reported that:

The Hamas-run Health Ministry has urged Palestinians in the Gaza Strip to avoid travel abroad as the coronavirus continues to spread around the world.

No cases of the virus have been reported in Gaza, where more than 2 million people live, including many in densely populated neighborhoods.

“We call on citizens to not depart the Gaza Strip — unless totally necessary — in order to preserve their well-being,” the ministry said in a statement on Saturday. […]

The ministry also said that all persons returning to Gaza via the Rafah crossing would be required to quarantine themselves in their homes for two weeks.

***

That announcement may come as something of a surprise to those accustomed to the BBC’s cross-platform portrayal of the topic of travel to and from the Gaza Strip – including that sourced from Hamas officials.

“Those in Gaza have great difficulty in travelling at all. There are only two crossings out: Rafah and Erez, controlled by Egyptian and Israeli authorities respectively.” (BBC Culture, September 2019)

“… we are under siege, we can’t…we can’t leave Gaza, you know. You need to wait one year if you decide to leave to study or to attend a festival outside of Gaza. So they need their rights.” (BBC World Service radio, August 2019)

“…it’s just another reminder of how wrong it is that we can’t travel. It’s, you know, it’s unjust.” (BBC Radio 4, August 2019)

“…many young people, I mean, have simply never left Gaza. There’s huge restrictions on freedom of movement. I mean some people you talk to describe it as like living in an open-air prison.” (BBC Radio 1, May 2019)

“It’s not easy because Gaza’s like prison. It’s closed from all sides. The gates of Gaza are controlled by the occupation.” (BBC World Service radio, BBC News channel, BBC World News, May 2019)

“More than half of Gaza’s two million inhabitants live in poverty and rely on aid. And they’re prevented from leaving what is one of the most densely populated regions on earth.” (BBC Two, May 2019)

As has been noted here before, at the Erez crossing into Israel:

“Every day an average of 1,000 Gazan residents enter Israel through Erez Crossing. The vast majority of these people are those in need of medical treatment, but it also includes businessmen, industry professionals, students, individuals going to pray on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, and others.”

The Gaza Strip of course also has a border with Egypt and the territory’s other pedestrian crossing into a neighbouring country is located on that border. The Rafah crossing into Egypt has been mostly open since November 2017 and last May Ha’aretz reported that:

“According to data compiled by aid agencies affiliated with the United Nations, 60,907 Palestinians left Gaza via Egypt in 2018…”

While travel to and from the Gaza Strip may certainly not be straightforward, the Hamas-run health ministry’s announcement clearly shows the BBC’s standard portrayal of the subject to be partial and misleading.

 

* You can also find other items that are not in these dispatches if you “like” this page on Facebook www.facebook.com/TomGrossMedia

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

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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US to deport Nazi to Germany, Italy to ban kissing, Bibi: ‘namaste’ instead handshakes

March 08, 2020

Tom Gross writes: Coronavirus is a problem, but so is the hysteria, overreaction, xenophobia and racism that seem to stem from it. Story here and here.

 

[Note by Tom Gross]

When I don’t have time to write dispatches I am still posting regularly on my professional Facebook page: http://www.facebook.com/TomGrossMedia

Below are some of the items I posted on Facebook in recent days, which may interest you.

 

EX-NAZI GUARD LIVING IN TENNESSEE TO BE DEPORTED TO GERMANY, JUDGE RULES

About 100,000 people were imprisoned in the Neuengamme slave labor camp on the outskirts of Hamburg, between 1938 and 1945, and at least 42,900 were tortured and then murdered there.

From NBC News (March 5):

https://nbcnews.trib.al/qZxb4eY

Tom Gross adds:

The camp is on the outskirts of Hamburg, surrounded by farms and small holdings many of which paid the SS for use of the prisoners as slave labor. The camp was notorious for the torture of prisoners before they were killed. All the guards were volunteers. Many were psychopaths. No one, to refute the antisemitic lie, was “just obeying orders”. “Medical” experiments were also conducted on inmates there.

Jews, Roma, Jehovah’s witnesses and others from Russia, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium, Denmark, Hungary, Norway, Yugoslavia, Latvia Czechoslovakia, Greece, Italy, Austria, Luxembourg and elsewhere, were murdered there.

Thousands of prisoners from Auschwitz and other camps were brought there to be used as slave labor.

Among them was the world-renowned Czech-Jewish harpsichordist Zuzana Růžičková (1927-2017) who I had the honor to meet several years ago in Prague. She was imprisoned in Terezin and then Auschwitz before being transported to be used as a slave laborer in Neuengamme and from there to Bergen-Belsen. About Belsen she later said “if ever there was Hell, this was the lowest part of Hell.”

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zuzana_R%C5%AF%C5%BEi%C4%8Dkov%C3%A1

Among those murdered at Neuengamme was Friedrich Pfeffer, a German-Jewish dentist who hid with Anne Frank and her family during the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands. Pfeffer was given the pseudonym Albert Dussel in Anne Frank’s diary.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fritz_Pfeffer

Among those who survived Auschwitz and then Neuengamme was the Yiddish poet and novelist Chava Rosenfarb (1923 –2011) .

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chava_Rosenfarb


The Washington Post adds: Tennessee resident and German citizen Friedrich Karl Berger, 94, acknowledged having served as a guard at a subcamp of the Neuengamme during World War II. After the war, Berger escaped from Germany to Canada with his wife and daughter, and came to the U.S. in 1959.

https://www.washingtonpost.com/national-security/nazi-concentration-camp-guard-in-united-states/2020/03/05/b906cdf8-5efc-11ea-9055-5fa12981bbbf_story.html

 

GOLDEN BEAR FILM WINNER MOHAMMAD RASOULOF SENTENCED TO JAIL IN IRAN

From the Associated Press (March 4):

Mohammad Rasoulof, the Iranian director who won the top award at last Saturday’s Berlin film festival, was yesterday ordered to serve a one-year prison sentence for his movies.

Rasoulof won the Golden Bear for his film “There Is No Evil,” which tells four stories loosely connected to the use of the death penalty in Iran and dealing with personal freedom under tyranny. Rasoulof could not go to Berlin to accept the award in person, because he is banned from travelling by Iranian authorities. Organizers left an empty chair and place sign for Rasoulof at the news conference for his entry.

More here:

https://www.theguardian.com/film/2020/mar/04/golden-bear-winner-mohammad-rasoulof-sentenced-jail-iran

 



As the antisemitic incidents continued at her New Jersey high school and the school authorities refused to do anything to stem them, Paige found a rock placed behind her seat in English class that read “Hope” but also “adolf” when turned upside down -- part of an antisemitic meme on social media that translates as “Adolf is our last hope.” Paige reported it to the teacher who merely threw the rock outside.

 

SHE WAS EXCITED FOR A NEW SCHOOL. THEN THE ANTI-SEMITIC ‘JOKES’ STARTED

The New York Times reports (March 4):

The letters stretch over 30 feet, written into the sand on a beach in New Jersey. The teenager in the photo rests casually on his side above the words, smiling, his head propped up in his hand.

“I h8 Jews,” the words read.

The anti-Semitic picture, taken on a junior class trip and texted to a group of classmates at a high school on the Jersey Shore in 2018, was portrayed to the group as an edgy joke.

“Yearbook cover,” the boy in the picture texted.

“Oh yea,” responded one girl, active in the yearbook club, adding that she had already submitted the photo to the faculty adviser. “Its gonna be great.”

There had been other anti-Semitic slights at the high school, the Marine Academy of Science and Technology, a competitive military-themed magnet school in the seaside borough of Highlands, but nothing as blatant as this…

She’d seen classmates doodling swastikas. A group of students had been reading “Mein Kampf,” Hitler’s autobiography, during free periods. And several students, Paige said, had been calling the SAT teacher an “obnoxious Jew.”

Rest of the article here: https://www.nytimes.com/2020/03/04/nyregion/new-jersey-antisemitism-high-school.html

 

DUTCH-MUSLIM COMMUNITY LEADER ACCUSED OF WRITING THAT HITLER WAS JEWISH IN PRO-HAMAS EMAIL

JTA reports (March 6):

An email from 2014 bearing the signature of an influential leader of Dutch Muslims expressed support for Hamas and said that Adolf Hitler was Jewish.

The email carrying the signature of Yahia Bouyafa, chairman of the Association of Moroccan Mosques in the Netherlands, said that the Holocaust, “perpetrated by the Jew Hitler,” according to a new article published by De Telegraaf daily.

 





 

NETANYAHU ASKS ISRAELIS TO DO ‘NAMASTE’ INSTEAD OF SHAKING HANDS AMID CORONAVIRUS FEARS

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Wednesday encouraged his countrymen to adopt Namaste - the Indian way of greeting - instead of the normal handshake as a measure to prevent the spread of coronavirus. He demonstrated at a press conference how the Indians do Namaste while greeting people.

More from the Press Trust of India:

https://www.hindustantimes.com/world-news/pm-netanyahu-asks-israelis-to-do-namaste-instead-of-shaking-hands-amid-coronavirus-fears/story-K8wptYhL3G8ognS2CeQlqI.html


See also:

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/mar/05/hong-kong-warns-residents-not-to-kiss-pets-after-dog-contracts-coronavirus

https://www.algemeiner.com/2020/03/04/top-rabbis-in-israel-and-europe-urge-jews-not-to-kiss-mezuzot-due-to-coronavirus/

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/mar/05/has-covid-19-mutated-into-a-more-deadly-strain-busting-the-coronavirus-myths

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/mar/06/the-coronavirus-challenge-how-not-to-not-touch-your-face

 

‘NO TIME TO DIE’ POSTPONED DUE TO CORONAVIRUS OUTBREAK

Tom Gross adds: Now there’s a headline.

The James Bond film is postponed.

More here from Variety (March 4):

https://variety.com/2020/film/news/james-bond-no-time-to-die-coronavirus-1203523859

 

ITALY PLANS KISSING BAN

Resulting from Coronavirus fears.

More here from the Daily Mail (March 4):

https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-8073743/Italy-plans-ban-KISSING-stop-coronavirus-spread.html

 

CNN: TRUMP WILL ‘DUMP PENCE’ FOR HALEY ON DAY OF DEMOCRATIC NOMINEE’S ACCEPTANCE SPEECH

Tom Gross adds: The year-long Nikki Haley for VP rumors (which I have written about several times before ever since she stepped down as UN ambassador) are still swirling... Could be even more likely should Biden/Sanders choose a female VP candidate such as Amy Klobuchar.

More here from the Hill (March 3):

https://thehill.com/homenews/media/485562-cnns-begala-trump-will-dump-pence-for-haley-on-day-of-democratic-nominees

 

TRUMP NOMINATES FIRST AFRICAN-AMERICAN AIR FORCE CHIEF OF STAFF

President Trump has nominated Gen. Charles Brown Jr. to be the next Air Force chief of staff.

If Brown is confirmed by the Senate, he will be the Air Force’s first black service chief. Brown is currently commander of Pacific Air Forces, a role he has been in since 2018.

If confirmed, Brown, known as C.Q., would take over for Gen. David Goldfein, who has been Air Force chief of staff since July 2016 and is expected to retire this year.

More here from the Washington Examiner (March 3):

https://www.washingtonexaminer.com/news/one-of-the-finest-warriors-trump-nominates-first-black-air-force-chief-of-staff

 

BILL CLINTON: MONICA LEWINSKY AFFAIR WAS TO ‘MANAGE MY ANXIETIES’

From the New York Post (March 5):

https://nypost.com/2020/03/05/bill-clinton-monica-lewinsky-affair-was-to-manage-my-anxieties

Tom Gross adds:

It’s funny to read that Bill Clinton is still only 73, younger than all the present candidates

I’m sure Monica Lewinsky and Clinton’s other victims are not thrilled to hear that the Monica Lewinsky affair was to “manage my anxieties”.

And no doubt his wife and daughter are not either...

 

AUSTRIAN PARLIAMENT CONDEMNS BDS MOVEMENT AS ANTISEMITIC

The resolution passed unanimously.

More here from the Jerusalem Post:

https://www.jpost.com/Diaspora/Antisemitism/Austrian-Parliament-condemns-BDS-movement-as-antisemitic-619108?

 

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“The most dangerous thing about coronavirus is the hysteria” (& virus could break Iran) (The origins of ‘quarantine’)

March 02, 2020

Ballet dancers practicing in Shanghai

 

Iranian Deputy Health Minister Iran Mariachi during a press conference in Tehran last week, before realizing that he had caught coronavirus. Video here: https://youtu.be/fctowSC1tbI

The Islamic regime has refused to impose quarantines and last week was still encouraging people to visit the holy city of Qom, the center of the outbreak.

 

CONTENTS

1. “If you have just cancelled your trip to Venice”
2. “The bodily fluids are flowing as the crowd gets denser”
3. Trump administration quietly helps Iran combat coronavirus
4. The origins of the word ‘quarantine’
5. Israeli doctors may develop a vaccine. Will US academics and students boycott it?
6. “The most dangerous thing about coronavirus is the hysteria” (By Ross Clark, The Spectator, Feb. 29, 2020)
7. “Coronavirus could break Iranian society” (By Graeme Wood, The Atlantic, Feb. 27, 2020)
8. “The Middle East’s future of perpetual pandemics” (By Michael Knights, Politico, Feb. 26, 2020)
9. “Iran battles coronavirus – and the black market for medical supplies” (Wall St Journal, March 1, 2020)
10. “How Iran’s regime spread coronavirus to the Middle East” (By Seth Frantzman, Jerusalem Post, Feb. 25, 2020)
11. “Coronavirus and the Tragedy of Iran: The regime is now in its decadent, late-Soviet stage” (By Robert Kaplan, Wall St Journal, March 2, 2020)
12. “Israeli scientists: ‘In a few weeks, we will have coronavirus vaccine’” (Jerusalem Post, Feb. 28, 2020)

 

“IF YOU HAVE JUST CANCELLED YOUR TRIP TO VENICE”

[Note by Tom Gross]

I attach several pieces below.

We don’t know yet how bad coronavirus might become, but the first piece is a counterpoint to much of the other media we are seeing on the subject.

Ross Clark writes in the British magazine the Spectator:

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 (British) 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’.

Coronavirus (Covid-19) is a pretty virulent virus all right, but not in the way you might imagine. It is less our respiratory tracts it has infected than our inner sense of angst. By last Monday there were 79,331 confirmed cases worldwide, all but 2,069 of which were in China. There have been 2,595 deaths in China and 23 elsewhere in the world. And seasonal flu? According to an estimate by the US-based Center for Disease Control and Prevention, it has caused between 291,000 and 646,000 deaths globally a year. To put it another way, if the number of deaths from coronavirus rises a hundredfold in the next few weeks or months, it will only have reached the lower bound of the estimate for existing strains of flu.

Coronavirus hysteria occurs because we confuse precaution with risk… There was a brief flurry of concern in 2014 when Ebola, vastly more lethal than Covid-19, emerged in West Africa (it has since killed 11,310 people globally). But if we are going to worry about any infectious disease, it ought to be tuberculosis. The World Health Organization reports there were ten million new cases worldwide in 2018, 1.45 million deaths, and 4,672 cases in England. But no one ever bought a face mask because of that. How many people even know that the epicentre of tuberculosis is India, with 27 per cent of cases globally?

***

Tom Gross adds: Nobody is suggesting we should not be wary of this virus but thought also needs to be given to some of the unintended consequences of the counter measures taken.

To cite one example from many:

BBC news: Disabled boy dies in China after father quarantined in case he had virus
https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-china-51362772

 

“THE BODILY FLUIDS ARE FLOWING AS THE CROWD GETS DENSER”

Graeme Wood writes in the American magazine The Atlantic:

Picture the following sacred but unhygienic scene: Pilgrims from a dozen countries converge on one small city. They stay in cramped hotels, using communal toilets and eating meals together. For their main ritual, they converge on the tomb of a woman…

The grief is a commandment: Each tear, according to one tradition, will be transformed in the afterlife …

The bodily fluids are flowing, wiped away occasionally by bare hands, and the crowd is getting denser. A metal cage surrounds the tomb itself, and when the weeping pilgrims reach it, they interlace their fingers with its bars, and many press their face against it…

In a single day, many thousands pass through the same cramped space – breathing the same air, touching the same surfaces.

The city is Qom, Iran, the center of infection, a seat of Shiite learning, and as a result, it draws the pious from all over the Shiite world…

Qom feels like a Shiite Disneyland, filled with religious attractions (with junk food for sale between stations), and that comparison might be the best way for Americans to understand the gravity of this outbreak. What if we found out that thousands of people at Disney World all had a highly contagious, sometimes fatal illness – and that vacationers had been coming and going, returning to their home city, for weeks?

 

TRUMP ADMINISTRATION QUIETLY HELPS IRAN COMBAT CORONAVIRUS

Tom Gross adds:

Iran has experienced the world’s second-deadliest national coronavirus outbreak after China.

Despite its tough general sanctions on the Islamic regime, the Trump administration is now quietly helping to make sure Iran has protective suits and other medical supplies to fight the virus. The efforts are being coordinated in a back channel through Switzerland.

 

THE ORIGINS OF THE WORD ‘QUARANTINE’

Quarantine derives from the Italian word for 40, because during outbreaks of the Black Death, ships entering Venice had to wait 40 days before sailors and goods could come ashore.

The Black Death, oddly enough, seems to have started in the Hubei province of China, also the epicenter of coronavirus. It killed roughly a third of the population of Europe.

 

ISRAELI DOCTORS MAY DEVELOP A VACCINE. WILL US ACADEMICS AND STUDENTS BOYCOTT IT?

I attach several further pieces below. The last is titled:

Israeli scientists: ‘In a few weeks, we will have coronavirus vaccine’

Tom Gross asks: Will the Iranian regime and all those “progressive” academics at American universities who single out everything Israeli for boycott, also boycott such a vaccine?


FULL ARTICLES

THE MOST DANGEROUS THING ABOUT CORONAVIRUS IS THE HYSTERIA

The most dangerous thing about coronavirus is the hysteria
It is the latest phenomenon to fulfil our weird and growing appetite for doom
By Ross Clark
The Spectator
February 29, 2020

https://beta.spectator.co.uk/article/The-most-dangerous-thing-about-coronavirus-is-the-hysteria

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 (British) 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’.

Coronavirus (Covid-19) is a pretty virulent virus all right, but not in the way you might imagine. It is less our respiratory tracts it has infected than our inner sense of angst. By last Monday there were 79,331 confirmed cases worldwide, all but 2,069 of which were in China. There have been 2,595 deaths in China and 23 elsewhere in the world. And seasonal flu? According to an estimate by the US-based Center for Disease Control and Prevention, it has caused between 291,000 and 646,000 deaths globally a year. To put it another way, if the number of deaths from coronavirus rises a hundredfold in the next few weeks or months, it will only have reached the lower bound of the estimate for existing strains of flu.

How many of us wear face masks because of winter flu? How many planes and trains are cancelled? Does the stock market slump? There is some justification for being more wary of Covid-19 than the flu. The former is an unknown quantity and we don’t yet have a vaccine. But we know more about it by the day. Its death rate is now around 1 per cent or less and it is mostly killing people with pre-existing health conditions; anyone else would be unlucky to die from it.

Coronavirus hysteria occurs because we confuse precaution with risk. We see Chinese cities being cut off, people being quarantined, factories closed, the streets emptying (save for a few people in face masks) and we interpret this as a sign of grave and imminent danger. If China had not taken such dramatic steps to stop the disease, we wouldn’t be half as worried.

There seems to be a distinct strain of Sino-phobia in our attitude towards infectious disease. Every novel disease that comes out of China instantly seems to gain the description ‘pandemic’ – even when diseases such as Sars and H5N1 avian flu hardly justify being called an ‘epidemic’. Covid-19 seems to fit neatly with our fears about Huawei spying on our phones and Chinese manufacturers stealing our jobs. Diseases from elsewhere don’t excite the imagination nearly so much. There was a brief flurry of concern in 2014 when Ebola, vastly more lethal than Covid-19, emerged in West Africa (it has since killed 11,310 people globally). But if we are going to worry about any infectious disease, it ought to be tuberculosis. The World Health Organization reports there were ten million new cases worldwide in 2018, 1.45 million deaths, and 4,672 cases in England. But no one ever bought a face mask because of that. How many people even know that the epicentre of tuberculosis is India, with 27 per cent of cases globally?

There is something more to the Covid-19 panic. It is the latest phenomenon to fulfil a weird and growing appetite for doom among the populations of developed countries. We are living in the healthiest, most peaceful time in history, yet we cannot seem to accept it. We constantly have to invent bogeymen, from climate alarmism, nuclear war and financial collapse to deadly diseases. Covid-19 has achieved such traction because it has emerged at just the right time. At the end of January, Brexit had just been completed without incident. The standoff between the US and Iran – which preposterously led the ‘Doomsday Clock’ to be advanced closer to midnight than during the Cuban missile crisis – fizzled into nothing. The Australian bush fires, which caused an explosion in climate doom-mongering (even though the global incidence of wildfires has fallen over the past two decades) had largely gone out. What more was there to worry about?

Then along came a novel strain of disease and the cycle of panic began again. But there are already strong signs that it has peaked. In the seven days before 24 February, the WHO recorded 6,398 new infections in China – down from 13,002 the previous week. On Monday it was 415. Very soon we are going to have to find another thing to agonise about. Asteroids? The next ‘freak’ weather incident, now the storms have died down? Who knows, but we will certainly find something.

 

CORONAVIRUS COULD BREAK IRANIAN SOCIETY

Coronavirus Could Break Iranian Society
The government has refused to impose quarantines and is encouraging people to visit the city of Qom, the center of the outbreak.
By Graeme Wood
The Atlantic
February 27, 2020

https://www.theatlantic.com/ideas/archive/2020/02/iran-cannot-handle-coronavirus/607150

Picture the following sacred but unhygienic scene: Pilgrims from a dozen countries converge on one small city. They stay in cramped hotels, using communal toilets and eating meals together. For their main ritual, they converge on the tomb of a woman, the sister of a holy man, and as they get closer, they feel with rising intensity grief over her death and the deaths of her kin. The grief is a commandment: Each tear, according to one tradition, will be transformed in the afterlife into a pearl, and an angel will compensate them for their tears with a bucket of pearls that will be signs of their devotion when they arrive at the gate of paradise. But for now the bodily fluids are flowing, wiped away occasionally by bare hands, and the crowd is getting denser. A metal cage surrounds the tomb itself, and when the weeping pilgrims reach it, they interlace their fingers with its bars, and many press their face against it, fogging up the shiny metal with their breath. Some linger for minutes, some for seconds. In a single day, many thousands pass through the same cramped space – breathing the same air, touching the same surfaces, trading new and exotic diseases.

The city is Qom, Iran, and two days ago, a local health official declared on Iranian television that the coronavirus was burning through the community. The situation, he said, is grim. Iran claims that, countrywide, 26 people have died from the coronavirus illness (known as COVID-19), out of 245 total infections. All acknowledge that Qom is the center of infection, but many doubt that the numbers are accurate. Another official, a member of Iran’s Parliament from Qom, said last weekend that his city had already lost 50 people to COVID-19. That figure, assuming it’s accurate, suggests that if COVID-19 is as deadly in Iran as it is elsewhere and kills 2.3 percent of its victims, another 2,000 people have the disease in Qom alone.

It is difficult to overstate what a disaster these numbers express – not just for Iran, but for everyone. Qom is a seat of Shiite learning, the spiritual omphalos of Iran, and as a result, it draws the pious from all over the Shiite world. I profiled a Lebanese cleric in Paraguay for The Atlantic in 2009; his previous address had been in a seminary in Qom. On the streets of Qom, you hear Persian spoken in many accents, including Tajik and Afghan. In some restaurants, servers will address you in Arabic, and posters of Muhammad al-Sadr, a revered Iraqi ayatollah, look down at you as eat your kebab. Qom feels like a Shiite Disneyland, filled with religious attractions (with junk food for sale between stations), and that comparison might be the best way for Americans to understand the gravity of this outbreak. What if we found out that thousands of people at Disney World all had a highly contagious, sometimes fatal illness – and that vacationers had been coming and going, returning to their home city, for weeks?

Zeynep Tufekci has written about the advantages and disadvantages of authoritarianism in dealing with a disaster like this. China can lock down a city, quarantining tens of millions at a time, and it can marshal its top experts, allowing them to wage a campaign against the disease with the absolute authority of a caesar. But it can’t avail itself of the benefits of public trust, including transparent and honest accounts of the disease and its toll. In Iran, it appears that the government has all the disadvantages of an unfree society, and none of the compensating advantages. Watch this incredible video, at once comic and horrifying, of a top Iranian health official, Iraj Harirchi, assuring the public that the situation is being addressed, while sweating and coughing on colleagues and his audience because he has contracted the coronavirus:

https://youtu.be/fctowSC1tbI

Nor is he the only top official to have been infected: Today, Masoumeh Ebtekar, Iran’s vice president and a notoriously cruel member of the group of Iranians who held U.S. diplomats hostage in 1979, announced that she, too, has the disease. According to reports, she met with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and his cabinet just yesterday, potentially exposing the entire senior leadership of Iran to the disease.

Harirchi stated that the government refuses to impose quarantines, because they are premodern and ineffective. Mohammad Saeedi, the head of the shrine in Qom and a local representative of the country’s supreme leader, not only opposes a quarantine but begged people to visit the shrine, calling it a “place of healing.”

At some point, incompetence and evil become indistinguishable. I feel like we have passed this point several times in the past few years, and Iran’s leadership in particular keeps passing it over and over, like a Formula 1 car doing laps. Last month’s accidental downing of a civilian airliner exposed one form of fatal incompetence, followed by an abortive effort to cover it up. Iranians are understandably primed to wonder whether this disaster is similar, a tragedy of malign incompetence that is expanding beyond the government’s ability to contain.

The quarantine measures that Iran has rejected are imperfect, and they would stigmatize Qom unfairly. But the current situation of what appears to be virtually uncontrolled pathogen spread is accelerating the epidemic, and right now the most valuable commodity is time – time to stockpile medicine, improve diagnosis and treatment, and teach the world how to react to a plague that may kill millions. The quarantine in China seems to be buying us time. The lack of one in Iran is spending it away.

Quarantine is from the Italian word for 40, because during outbreaks of the Black Death, ships entering Venice had to wait 40 days before sailors and goods could come ashore. (The Black Death, curiously enough, seems to have found its first footing in none other than the Hubei province of China, also the epicenter of COVID-19. It killed roughly a third of the population of Europe.) Forty days is a long time, longer than any of the quarantines currently being imposed on individuals traveling from outbreak sites.

But any amount of waiting can be stressful, even in a place much more competently run than Iran. Earlier this month, I visited Hong Kong. Everyone wore masks. In public, no one crowded into my personal space on buses or in narrow pedestrian alleys. Shopkeepers came outside every quarter hour or so to wipe down the doorknobs and door buzzers of their shops, in case the last customer had left a viral particle. The burden of containing the coronavirus felt collective, and heavy. Hong Kong has a strong sense of identity and group responsibility, which has up until now kept it sane. I could take just a few days of it. Only in the middle of the night, when I knew I would encounter no one up close, did I feel comfortable – and not like some kind of norm-violating monster – walking around with my face exposed to the air.

Iranians are under immense stress already, from economic, political, and military pressure. They do not trust their government. The daily stress of worrying, literally every few minutes, whether you will accidentally kill yourself by picking your nose or opening a door may prove, additively, too much for a society to bear. Urging visits to Qom, I fear, is the reaction of a government that has at last recognized its own limitations and has, at some level, embraced the virus. These crazy reactions greatly increase the chances that you will soon embrace it too.

 

THE MIDDLE EAST’S FUTURE OF PERPETUAL PANDEMICS

The Middle East’s Future of Perpetual Pandemics

If outbreaks like the coronavirus shift from ‘black swan’ events to regular occurrences, globalization trends in the region may reverse, with sobering consequences.

By Michael Knights
Politico
February 26, 2020

As the coronavirus outbreak has spread internationally, the world’s attention has focused on China, the country where it originated. But as a Middle East watcher for the past two decades, I really got interested when it popped up in Iran, a Chinese trading partner and an equally authoritarian and deceptive regime. Financial markets and political leaders are fixated on the virus’ arrival in Europe and the United States, but what is happening in Iran, the geographic keystone that connects Asia, Eurasia, the Arabian Peninsula and the Levant, should be just as worrying.

The challenges of combating the spread of the virus in a country that is not known for its transparency became obvious on Monday when Iran’s deputy health minister showed signs of infection at his own press conference. Just hours earlier, Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani had characterized the outbreak as “a conspiracy by the enemies” of Iran. Even after acknowledging later that he had tested positive for the virus, the health minister minimized the extent of the emergency, insisting that a widely publicized death toll of 50 people in the city of Qom was inflated and that there was no need for a quarantine.

Undervaluing the impact of pandemics is not limited to Iranian government officials. It’s actually a widespread phenomenon among Middle East experts who tend to focus more on war and terrorism risks when doing their forecasts. But the spread of coronavirus to the seat of many of the world’s oldest and greatest civilizations is a dramatic development with long-term consequences for the region and the world. Pandemics will soon be both commonplace and a key driver of the future of society.

One idea emerging from future-gazers – and I pay attention to novelists as well as economists, sociologists and technologists – is the idea that pandemics will roll back aspects of globalization or even bring it to a screeching halt. In Paolo Bacigalupi’s The Windup Girl, a novel set in a futuristic Thailand, today’s globalization is a past period remembered as “the expansion.” In the face of pandemics and resource wars, global trade has collapsed into a new reality known as “the contraction.”

These concepts are already beginning to show themselves in the Middle East, which is why I have increasingly placed pandemics at the center of my forecasts for the region. In addition to being tightly connected to so many places, at the literal center of global aviation, energy and shipping hubs, the Middle East is weakened by wars, corruption, failing health services and deceptive regimes that may try to cover up the extent of future pandemics, as the Iranian government is trying to do today.

Displaced person camps (such as the 80,000-person Zaatari refugee camp in Jordan) are particularly vulnerable. Refugees and other migrants flowing undetected to Europe are further risk factors for the spread of pandemics via the Middle East.

The civil wars and refugee crises of the present day give us some insights into how pandemics could shape the future world. In my work, I have seen how terrorism, refugees and resource constraints combine to test the cohesion of societies.

The scourges of al-Qaida – and later the Islamic State – brought out mixed reactions in the populations of weak states like Iraq, Syria and Yemen. Sometimes more stable areas tried to cut themselves off, restrict freedom of movement to countrymen of different sects, or even hoard their ample resources (such as electricity) from dysfunctional parts of civil war states.

More often, I was shocked by how open and welcoming the “haves” were to the “have-nots” from less fortunate communities “infected” by war. Tight social connections, a generally merciful outlook and loosely controlled societies will unfortunately be wide open to future pandemics like the coronavirus.

A common ode to globalization is that we live in a world that is getting smaller all the time, meaning that travel and the ordering of goods are easier, faster and cheaper. But what if the future is more like Bacigalupi’s “contraction”?

Thinking about my own area of focus, the Middle East region, I can imagine that some things might not be affected. Commodities will continue to flow as long as hydrocarbons are needed, because it is possible to run an oil and gas sector with a minimal number of well-protected people, and energy exports pose almost no risk of infection.

In contrast, the movement of people would be entirely changed, with profound societal and economic impacts on some parts of the region. Imagine the constriction of pilgrim flows to Mecca, the exodus of expatriate technocrats from Dubai, or the end of imported Asian guest workers in the Gulf.

Many societies are built on travel, including many Western states. (When trapped in the United Kingdom due to ash clouds from the 2010 eruption of Iceland’s Eyjafjallajokull volcano, I had the time and inclination to imagine how a U.K. under a permanent no-fly zone might evolve.)

Under a contraction scenario, when people wanted to work in a country, they might have to commit to stay there for a very long time, if not forever. In the near-future movie “Code 46,” all cross-border movement is a complex bureaucratic endeavor, carrying the risk of permanent exclusion. States – including the exclusive Gulf monarchies – might have to reconsider their citizenship rules to incentivize targeted immigration.

One upside for Middle Easterners, after a harsh period of adjustment, might be the localization of their economies. This development may be coming in any case, with the maturation of 3D printing, additive manufacturing and nanotechnology making it less necessary to ship items from long distances away. Pandemic-driven contraction could accelerate this trend. For countries bypassed by the 19th-century industrial revolution, including most of the Middle East, there could be a new driver away from import dependence and toward job creation.

The globalized spread of ideas and culture might not be directly affected by pandemic-driven contraction, but there might nonetheless be an upsurge in the nationalism, nativism and protectionism that is already rearing its head in reaction to the economics and social diversification effects of globalization. Many Middle Easterners might be quite happy to see a tempering of the imposition of what Henry Kissinger aide David Young once called “the peril of the dominant culture” – the risk that globalization might make everywhere the same, wiping away the differences that delight and surprise.

In a pandemic-ridden future, nation states might become stronger, because they clearly define who can come and who must go based on nationality, and because they have potentially well-policed borders. But states will gain in legitimacy only if they prove effective when tested by pandemics and other threats.

Inefficient states with long land borders and poor public health systems – such as Russia, Iran and perhaps China – may prove the most susceptible in the new ecosystem of regularly recurring pandemics. In those kinds of vulnerable states, a breakdown into smaller, more cohesive, perhaps more authoritarian subsystems might be the natural effect of pandemic-driven contraction.

Where today the world is getting smaller, there is a good case for thinking through how we (collectively and individually) would cope with living in a bigger world again, where everywhere is further apart and where local actors become the uncontested masters of their fate once more. As pandemics become a dominant feature of the global system, the short-lived “expansion” may risk coming to an end. Some more isolationist voices in America might see pandemics as yet another reason to view the world as a dangerous place that should be avoided at all costs. On the other hand, if the United States still stands for a global order and global markets, then it needs to lead a collective defense against the threat of pandemic, the coming global earthquake of which the coronavirus may merely be an early and gentle tremor.

 

IRAN BATTLES CORONAVIRUS – AND THE BLACK MARKET FOR MEDICAL SUPPLIES

Iran Battles Coronavirus – and the Black Market for Medical Supplies
As Iran struggles to contain the virus, security forces are targeting people hoarding masks for sale on the black market
By Aresu Eqbali and Sune Engel Rasmussen
Wall Street Journal (news)
March 1, 2020

https://www.wsj.com/articles/iran-battles-coronavirusand-the-black-market-for-medical-supplies-11583081174

TEHRAN – Iranian authorities have seized millions of medical supplies being hoarded by black-market traders, an effort to alleviate their own shortfall as they battle to contain the world’s second-deadliest national coronavirus outbreak.

The death toll from the epidemic in Iran rose to 54 people Sunday, the health ministry said, up from 43 the previous day. The number of confirmed cases rose 65% from the day before to 978.

The country is suffering from a shortage of critical medical supplies, caused partly by an import ban on a variety of products aimed at boosting Iran’s domestic industry in the face of U.S. sanctions. The import ban on protective masks was lifted last week, and an import tariff of 55% was lowered to 5%.

As the epidemic has spread, traders and smugglers have stocked up on supplies in order to sell them at inflated prices, government officials say. Some consumers and health clinics have been forced to buy them from the black market.

In the past week, Iranian police have responded by confiscating more than 27 million hygienic items, including 6.7 million masks – about four days’ worth of domestic production – from hoarders, arresting at least 70 people. In the past 48 hours, they have confiscated more than 10 million gloves, 10 tons of disinfectant and 9,000 gallons of dialysis machine acid, said the police chief for economic crimes, Mohammadreza Moghimi.

Authorities have also temporarily closed down dozens of pharmacies for hoarding and overcharging for masks.

The push has implicated Iran’s biggest online retailer.

In a news broadcast, state television reporters followed agents from the country’s judiciary into a warehouse belonging to Digikala, where they found a stock of what the company said was 34,000 protective masks, despite not having a license to sell them. Digikala in a statement denied breaking any regulations.

Iranian Health Minister Saeed Namaki in a letter to President Hassan Rouhani said once the coronavirus took hold in China, he ordered the customs bureau to ban exports of masks and assigned colleagues to stock up on them in case they were needed for an outbreak in Iran.

“Unfortunately, a small amount was purchased and the rest of the products went to the black market,” Mr. Namaki wrote in the letter published Saturday by the semiofficial Mehr news agency.

Faced with a public-health crisis, Iranian authorities have ordered hospitals to focus on coronavirus patients and other emergency cases. They have canceled public events such as Friday prayers.

“If people follow the instructions, avoid hanging out and socializing, traffic and stop traveling, we will see the outcome in the next three, five days or next week,” health ministry spokesman Kianoush Jahanpour said on state television.

Experts have questioned the official Iranian statistics and suggested that the actual number of cases may be in the tens of thousands, based on the number of deaths and cases abroad originating from Iran.

Experts say the official number might reflect insufficient surveillance and a lack of ability to detect the virus. Some Iranians have said they are reluctant to get tested out of fear of contracting the virus in hospitals. Iranian authorities have denied misleading the public about the epidemic.

The sharp increase in cases on Sunday shows the results of stepped-up surveillance and more willingness among Iranians to be tested, the health ministry said.

The coronavirus has spread from Iran, primarily via travelers who visited the holy pilgrimage city of Qom, to at least 12 other countries, including Armenia, which on Sunday reported its first case.

Mr. Rouhani in a phone call Saturday with Russian President Vladimir Putin said, “We are moving toward complete control of the situation.”

But the head of Tehran’s coronavirus management operations, Alireza Zali, said, “We will definitely be dealing with this virus for a considerable period.”

Iran’s deputy health minister for treatment, Qassem Janbabaei, said that in the best-case scenario, Iran would be dealing with the virus until the Iranian New Year on March 19, but possibly until late June, according to the Young Journalists Club state news agency.

 

HOW IRAN’S REGIME SPREAD CORONAVIRUS TO THE MIDDLE EAST

How Iran’s Regime Spread Coronavirus to the Middle East
By Seth Frantzman
The Jerusalem Post
February 25, 2020

On Monday, Iranian official Ahmad Amirabadi said there have been up to 50 deaths in Iran from coronavirus. The regime did what it knows how to do best: It sought to silence him and condemn him for spreading the news, claiming that only 12 had died from the virus and that there were only 61 cases in the country.

However, for five days Iran has known that there were likely more cases concentrated in the holy city of Qom, where religious pilgrims gather.

Iranians have been largely left in the dark since last Wednesday, when two deaths were announced in the Islamic Republic from coronavirus. The regime wanted elections to go well on February 21, so it sought to prevent any news of the virus for days.

By Saturday it was too late, and the country moved to shut down schools and universities. But Iranians and other pilgrims who came to Qom and became sick with the virus were already on the move.

They flew back to Iraq’s Najaf and via Dubai to Bahrain, as well as arriving in Kuwait and Oman. Iran did not inform its neighbors until it was too late. Last Friday, Turkish government officials were already warning that there might be 750 cases in Iran.

Iranian Deputy Health Minister Iraj Hairichi and MP Mahmoud Sadeghi now say they are sick with the virus, and officials admit that many more are sick. New cases in Oman and Bahrain were announced Tuesday – all linked to Iran.

Iran has now set the Middle East ablaze with fears of coronavirus. The virus was mostly limited to China until two weeks ago. Then it moved rapidly to Italy and South Korea, where there are thought to be hundreds and 1,000 cases, respectively. But the regime in Tehran purposely hid the numbers of sick.

It may have done so partially out of incompetence, with a Health Ministry that did not know how to find, quarantine or test the sick. In fact, Iran has not done what China or Italy or other places have done. It has not been transparent and did not even quarantine the cases in Qom or elsewhere. Instead, Iran has acted like an incubator.

IRAN HAS ACTED LIKE AN INCUBATOR FOR CORONAVIRUS

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani spoke with an Austrian delegation on Sunday. Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif smiled and laughed with the Austrians. The virus was a big joke for the president and minister. Zarif later joked that he did not have the virus. Rouhani claimed the virus was like US sanctions: It seemed worse than it was.

Not far from where the men were laughing, Mojtaba Rahmanzadeh, mayor of district 13 in Tehran, was sick and hospitalized for coronavirus. He had been diagnosed on Saturday. But the Iranian regime was not pressed by the Austrians to discuss the issue.

After Iran closed schools and a university on Sunday and Monday, people began to demand answers and protective masks. By Tuesday, three more had died, bringing the toll to 15, the second highest outside China. Iran’s police were hunting for medical masks.

Fears of price gouging were rampant. The police claimed on Tuesday that they had found millions of masks hidden in warehouses. The virus appears to be a national emergency, because Ali Shamkhani of the Supreme National Security Council has attacked Amirabadi for spreading news of the 50 deaths.

Iran’s neighbors are fed up with the regime’s lack of transparency. They have closed their borders or instituted drastic checks. People who traveled to Iran and arrived in Najaf in Iraq, Bahrain and Oman are now sick. There are eight cases in Kuwait and six in Bahrain.

The UAE this week stopped dozens of flights to Iranian cities. Oman has stopped imports from Iran. Kuwait has closed borders and ports. Afghanistan has shut its border but is concerned over the thousands who cross illegally. Bahrain is stopping flights from the UAE.

Iran’s export of the virus has caused massive concern in Iraq. In Najaf there are now 20 people under observation for the virus. And Iraq is not well prepared. Medical masks are out of date, ministry phone numbers don’t work, and the country is struggling to stop travel to Najaf and suspend travel to Iran.

Iran and Iraq are closely linked in religious issues, weapons trafficking and trade. Cutting off these contacts is a major move. It comes at a bad time for Baghdad, after months of protests and with a new prime minister who lacks a government. In the Kurdistan region there are long lines at gas stations as people fear borders will close.

ROUHANI SAYS DIVINE HELP WILL OVERCOME THE VIRUS

Iran’s government is in denial. Rouhani has claimed that the virus is no worse than the flu in the US that kills thousands of people a year. He claims the country, with divine help, will overcome the virus.

“The coronavirus is an uninvited traveler and goes to any country, but we have to overcome this problem,” he said Tuesday.

The truth is that Rouhani’s government has made the situation worse by covering up the extent of the virus and also by not providing transparent answers to the international community or Iran’s neighbors. The regime has gotten used to this over the last few months, after downing a Ukrainian airliner and killing 1,500 protesters. The deaths from the virus do not matter to the regime, as Rouhani indicates: If thousands die or even tens of thousands, it will be like any other flu virus, and the country will move on.

For average Iranians, becoming collateral damage to the country trying to preserve its reputation may not be what they bargained for. For Iraq, Bahrain, Oman, Kuwait, Lebanon and other countries now under threat because of people who traveled to Iran, the government’s indecision – and its not treating the issue as an emergency – could also be bad news.

IRAN’S REGIME HAS A SIEGE MENTALITY THAT BLAMES FOREIGNERS FOR ITS PROBLEMS

It is already causing panic in the Gulf and Iraq. Health ministries from Erbil in the Kurdistan region to Abu Dhabi are trying to reassure people not to panic or spread rumors. Tehran’s unwillingness to take part in a regional response to the crisis is not helping tamp down the rumors.

Iran’s regime has a siege mentality that is used to blaming foreigners for its problems. It blames foreign media for reporting on the virus. Even Iran’s authoritarian contacts in other countries will have warned it to take no chances with this virus. China knows what the results can be, as do Gulf states.

But Iran did not listen. It kept its Mahan Air and other carriers flying. Pilgrims kept coming because the theocracy, which is the regime, judged faith to be more important than science. Pharmacies are now out of masks in Iran. People are confused and worried – and so is the entire Middle East.

 

CORONAVIRUS AND THE TRAGEDY OF IRAN

Coronavirus and the Tragedy of Iran
The Islamic Republic has missed out on global prosperity and is now in its decadent, late-Soviet stage.
By Robert D. Kaplan
Wall Street Journal (opinion)
March 2, 2020

https://www.wsj.com/articles/coronavirus-and-the-tragedy-of-iran-11583101054

Nowhere other than in China is the coronavirus epidemic more severe than in Iran, where authorities confirmed Sunday that at least 54 people, including an 81-year-old former ambassador, have died from Covid-19. The real death toll may be considerably higher than that; on Friday, BBC Persian tallied 210 deaths from individual hospitals. Seven prominent officials have contracted the disease, including Vice President Masoumeh Ebtekar, who in her youth served as a spokesman for U.S. Embassy hostage-takers. Deputy Health Minister Iraj Harirchi broke out in a sweat Feb. 24 as he assured the public that the epidemic was under control; the following day he announced he was sick.

President Hassan Rouhani has lamely insisted the epidemic is “one of the enemy’s plots.” His government, meanwhile, has inspired unprecedented apathy. Turnout in February’s parliamentary elections was the lowest in the Islamic republic’s history: 43% nationally and 25% in Tehran.

These are symptoms of a broader malaise. The world-wide material and human progress of the past few decades has largely left Iran behind, despite conditions that should encourage success. It sits at the crossroads of Eurasia and has a highly educated population of 85 million. Perhaps the greatest cultural, economic and geopolitical tragedy of our time is the near-absence of the Iranian nation in a world perfectly suited for its human potential.

History often moves on a hinge, and there were many hinges in the late 1970s. Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi suffered from lymphatic cancer: that, and his prednisone regimen, adversely affected his judgment and decisiveness. President Jimmy Carter was prone to vacillating and misread the intentions of the Iranian clerical movement. Iraqi Vice President Saddam Hussein expelled the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini from the Shiite holy city of Najaf, forcing Khomeini into exile in the Paris suburb of Neauphle-le-Château. There he sat cross-legged beneath an apple tree, rallied his followers, and methodically seduced the world media.

If these hinges had not worked together as they did, Iran today might look like South Korea – a vibrant, pulsing economic engine at the forefront of globalization. The Pahlavis might have gradually been reduced from absolute rulers to constitutional monarchs. Instead, Iran went backward politically, while barely crawling forward economically.

In 1977 Iran’s economy was 26% larger than Turkey’s, 65% larger than South Korea’s, and almost 5.5 times the size of Vietnam’s – all countries with somewhat larger populations. In 2017 on the eve of the Trump administration’s sanctions, Turkey’s economy was nearly 2.5 times the size of Iran’s, South Korea’s more than seven times, and Vietnam’s had gone from less than 20% to 70%, according to Nadereh Chamlou, a former World Bank official. While poverty has declined in Iran, 40% of the population earns less than $10 a day, which the bank classifies as “near poverty.”

What went wrong? “Domestic policies to promote entrepreneurship could have helped to capitalize on Iran’s young and educated population,” Ms. Chamlou concludes. “A foreign policy geared to regional and global integration could have permitted Iran to benefit much more from its unique economic geography.”

Imagine the geopolitical clout a stable Iranian constitutional monarchy would have today. Iran would enjoy strategic cooperation with Israel and stable, nonconfrontational relations with Saudi Arabia and the Sunni Arab world. Iran is economically, culturally and demographically suited to be at the crossroads of Central Asia: Only its relative backwardness and extreme religiosity prevent the secular, vodka-drinking leaders of former Soviet republics from being more attracted to it.

Instead, Iran is a pauperized and lonely nation. Its only allies in the Greater Middle East are the murderous proxy militias it supports and Bashar Assad’s regime in Syria. Arab states like Egypt and Saudi Arabia, not Iran, now have de facto security relationships with Israel, though the Persians have had better relations with the Jews for millennia.

At the same time, the clerical regime has worked to obscure the memory of historic Persia, which preceded Islam by more than a thousand years, reducing a rich civilization to a bleak lumpen proletariat. Theocracy has promoted cynicism about religion. Mosque attendance has been down for years. As the French political scientist Olivier Roy puts it, “the political victory of Islamism is the end of true devotion.” Instead, crowds gather in Shiraz at the tomb of Hafez, the 14th-century poet of wine and romance. Many an Iranian bookshelf holds a volume of his sensuous verse, a quiet symbol of defiance against the Islamic authorities.

In the Islamic Revolution, one bureaucratic power structure – that of the shah – quickly gave way to another, that of the clerics. In this and other ways, the Islamic Revolution was far more sophisticated than the formless, leaderless uprisings of the 2011 Arab Spring. But Iran is in the decadent phase of its revolution. Like the Soviet Union under Leonid Brezhnev, the regime seems stable yet is widely seen as illegitimate by the population, and thus is in danger of unraveling – perhaps with disastrous aftershocks.

The Soviet collapse under Mikhail Gorbachev led to social and economic upheaval, with violent ethnic conflicts on the Russian imperial periphery and the eventual re-establishment of dictatorship under Vladimir Putin. Iran, like late-Soviet Russia, has a deeply corroded political culture. Prompt establishment of constitutional order may be too much to hope for.

A regime collapse could give way to even more tyrannical rule by the Revolutionary Guards, and to uprisings in the Kurdish, Azeri, Turkman and Baluchi peripheries. Apart from the Revolutionary Guards, there would be no pre-existing bureaucratic power structure to replace the clerical one. Civil society has been decimated for decades. It’s not clear if any faction would have complete control of Iran’s formidable missile arsenal, which may extend to sites in Iraq and Syria.

The Trump administration is trying to bring Iran to its knees, but it needs to focus on what will come afterward. With a declining economy, a raging coronavirus epidemic, and an aged and ailing supreme leader, Iran in the coming years promises to be more interesting – and more dangerous – than at any time in recent memory.

 

ISRAELI SCIENTISTS: ‘IN A FEW WEEKS, WE WILL HAVE CORONAVIRUS VACCINE’

Israeli scientists: ‘In a few weeks, we will have coronavirus vaccine’

Once the vaccine is developed, it will take at least 90 days to complete the regulatory process and potentially more to enter the marketplace.

By Maayan Jaffe-Hoffman
Jerusalem Post
February 28, 2020

https://m.jpost.com/HEALTH-SCIENCE/Israeli-scientists-In-three-weeks-we-will-have-coronavirus-vaccine-619101

Israeli scientists are on the cusp of developing the first vaccine against the novel coronavirus, according to Science and Technology Minister Ofir Akunis. If all goes as planned, the vaccine could be ready within a few weeks and available in 90 days, according to a release.

“Congratulations to MIGAL [The Galilee Research Institute] on this exciting breakthrough,” Akunis said. “I am confident there will be further rapid progress, enabling us to provide a needed response to the grave global COVID-19 threat,” Akunis said, referring to the disease caused by the novel coronavirus.

For the past four years, a team of MIGAL scientists has been developing a vaccine against infectious bronchitis virus (IBV), which causes a bronchial disease affecting poultry. The effectiveness of the vaccine has been proven in preclinical trials carried out at the Veterinary Institute.

“Our basic concept was to develop the technology and not specifically a vaccine for this kind or that kind of virus,” said Dr. Chen Katz, MIGAL’s biotechnology group leader. “The scientific framework for the vaccine is based on a new protein expression vector, which forms and secretes a chimeric soluble protein that delivers the viral antigen into mucosal tissues by self-activated endocytosis, causing the body to form antibodies against the virus.

Endocytosis is a cellular process in which substances are brought into a cell by surrounding the material with cell membrane, forming a vesicle containing the ingested material.In preclinical trials, the team demonstrated that the oral vaccination induces high levels of specific anti-IBV antibodies, Katz said.

“Let’s call it pure luck,” he said. “We decided to choose coronavirus as a model for our system just as a proof of concept for our technology.”

But after scientists sequenced the DNA of the novel coronavirus causing the current worldwide outbreak, the MIGAL researchers examined it and found that the poultry coronavirus has high genetic similarity to the human one, and that it uses the same infection mechanism, which increases the likelihood of achieving an effective human vaccine in a very short period of time, Katz said.

“All we need to do is adjust the system to the new sequence,” he said. “We are in the middle of this process, and hopefully in a few weeks we will have the vaccine in our hands. Yes, in a few weeks, if it all works, we would have a vaccine to prevent coronavirus.”

MIGAL would be responsible for developing the new vaccine, but it would then have to go through a regulatory process, including clinical trials and large-scale production, Katz said.

Akunis said he has instructed his ministry’s director-general to fast-track all approval processes with the goal of bringing the human vaccine to market as quickly as possible.

“Given the urgent global need for a human coronavirus vaccine, we are doing everything we can to accelerate development,” MIGAL CEO David Zigdon said. The vaccine could “achieve safety approval in 90 days,” he said.

It will be an oral vaccine, making it particularly accessible to the general public, Zigdon said.

“We are currently in intensive discussions with potential partners that can help accelerate the in-human trials phase and expedite completion of final-product development and regulatory activities,” he said.

 

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