Stock up now

The billionaires, as one Twitter wag put it, are retreating to their bunkers:

Marc Andreessen: co-founder of Netscape; worth $1.3 billion; not generally considered to be crazy.

By the way, when a CDC official says things like “We are asking the American public to prepare for the expectation that this might be bad,” that is a strong signal that we are f*cked.

“It’s not so much of a question of if this will happen in this country anymore but a question of when this will happen,” the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Dr. Nancy Messonnier told reporters.

A Wuhan-style adventure may be coming to a neighborhood near you, in a matter of weeks if not days.

Prepare accordingly.

Korean death cult infects the world

I hope this isn’t real, but at this point, I wouldn’t be all that surprised:

The Coronavirus Chronicles keep getting weirder and weirder.

You’ve probably heard about the sudden outbreak of the virus in South Korea. Well, did you also know that this is, in large part, to thank to an actual death cult? It’s called #Shincheonji, and it’s super scary.
The 31st Coronavirus case in South Korea was a member of the Shincheonji cult. She’s considered a superspreader, and it’s unclear how she has contracted the virus, as she hasn’t traveled to Wuhan, China or even anywhere abroad. Scary.
Members of the Shincheonji cult are ordered not to fear diseases, not to wear face masks, not to miss meetings, and to pray together in close-knit circles. Makes you wonder why, eh?
The cult is almost 36 years old and is lead a by an 88-year old man named Lee Man-hee, who believes he is both Satan and the Second Coming of Jesus Christ. Much more dangerously, however, is the fact that his teachings are based on his unique interpretation of biblical texts.
I.e. Shincheonji believes that Lee Man-hee is the only one that can accurately interpret the Bible. That has lead to incredibly exclusionary teachings, similar to the ‘144.000 saints’ teaching of the Jehova’s Witnesses.
Most dangerously, Lee Man-hee is very eschatology-focused, in such a way that people within Schincheonji have claimed that they are not simply beholding the End Times, but are actively *bringing it about*.

This is also why some believe that they’ve purposefully spread the virus.
Schincheonji, like other cults, have very deceitful and aggressive ways of recruiting new members. E.g. they pose as a non-denominational christian church and gain your trust after months of ‘bible study’ before exposing their true teachings and loyalty to Lee Man-hee.
These tactics have resulted in the recruitment of atheists, agnostics and christians, which is why the cult has shown explosive growth in the last decade. ImageImage
They’ve grown so massively, in fact, that they’ve set up lots of cell branches in many countries over the last few years.

This especially is scary considering how much they love to ‘stay in touch’ with all of their cell branches now that we know how fond they are of pathogens. Image
We haven’t nearly reached peak scaremongering yet, however.

1) The cult has spread similar diseases twice before.
2) Infected members of the cult have been using travel extensively in the past few weeks, including to Israel.
3) They had a branch in Wuhan.
4) They scrubbed that branch off the internet immediately after the Wuhan outbreak.
5) Around half of all Korean Coronavirus cases are tied to the cult.
6) Lee Man-hee claims that his Messianic powers won’t be fully manifested until after the apocalypse. Which “is close”.
7) Shincheonji has gotten such an obvious bad reputation in South Korea that members have started lying about their affiliation in order to secretly continue their practices + recruitment.
8) As with any cult, it’s almost impossible to leave. Apostates are threatened and abused.
9) Oh, yeah, Lee Man-hee also claims he’s immortal, by the way. The guy’s fucking insane.

Make no mistake, people: Shincheonji has nothing to do with christianity (they’re just using the name of Jesus Christ to further Lee’s beliefs) and is the worst kind of cult.
Think I’m making shit up? One of the most popular apps in S. Korea right now is one that alerts you if you’re close to one of Shincheonji’s ‘churches’ or other affiliated establishments. Of which there are over 730 across S. Korea alone, btw.

Prophylactic measures

Some people just aren’t taking any chances. And under the circumstances, can you really blame them?

For those who are unlucky enough to catch the dreaded coronavirus, a boozy remedy may be at hand:

UK teacher claims he beat coronavirus with ‘hot whisky and honey’

The first Briton believed to have been diagnosed with coronavirus reckons he cured himself with “hot whisky and honey.”

Teacher Connor Reed, 25, told the Sun that he thought he was “going to die” when he was hospitalized two months ago in Wuhan, the Chinese city at the center of the outbreak that has killed more than 360 people.

Yet he claims he refused to take antibiotics — and instead used an inhaler and “drank a hot whisky with honey until that ran out.”

“It’s an old-fashioned remedy but it seemed to do the trick,” he told the UK paper. “I am proof coronavirus can be beaten.”

Hero! Give this man a bloody medal.

Coronavirus class

Remember, folks, the authorities are looking out for you and the situation is totally under control:

There’s first class and there’s business class. But on this flight, everyone flew coronavirus class.

These exclusive photos show the surreal, polyethylene-wrapped aerial hell suffered by 329 American passengers of the Diamond Princess cruise ship as they were flown back to the US this week — after two weeks quarantined in their cabins off the coast of Yokohama, Japan. […]

And worst of all, 14 of their fellow passengers were actually infected with the deadly virus, though they showed no symptoms as yet.

Perhaps the State Department should be disbanded if it can’t fulfill its primary function as expressed in its mission statement:

The State Department’s decision to allow the infected, but asymptomatic, passengers to fly back to the US — rather than to stay in quarantine in Japan — was highly controversial.

The 14 were allowed on the two flights even though the CDC was reportedly adamant that they not come to the US.

And President Trump was “furious” to learn after the fact that the 14 were flown home, the Daily Mail reported.

Is this an example of “advancing the interests of the American people, their safety and economic prosperity”? You be the judge.

In other news:

A mistake in the lab led U.S. health officials to release an infected coronavirus patient from a San Diego hospital, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention confirmed Tuesday.

The patient was evacuated from Wuhan, the epicenter of the new coronavirus outbreak, on a government-chartered flight last week. Two such evacuation flights carrying more than 200 Americans in total arrived last week at Marine Corps Air Station Miramar in San Diego.

It’s easy to mock China, but the US is comically inept. We sat on our hands for a month while China locked down hundreds of millions of people to prevent the spread of a mysterious virus. What is our plan when the pandemic starts claiming victims here? There are probably thousands of undetected cases in major cities already. I hope I’m wrong, but the US will have no one to blame but itself if this thing explodes in our faces.

The economic impact

It looks increasingly plausible, even likely, that coronavirus will tank the global economy. Let’s take a gander at some recent headlines:

From the Fortune article:

Now, as coronavirus continues to spread, the region of China most heavily affected by the outbreak is a hub of global supply chains. A new Dun & Bradstreet study estimates that 163 of the Fortune 1000 have tier 1 suppliers—those they do direct business with—in the area. And 938 have tier 2 suppliers, which feed the first tier.

“That’s where it becomes troubling,” Nelson said. “It’s going to be that [item] where only one plant is qualified to make that and it’s going to interrupt a whole production line.”

Allow me to reference a blog post I wrote on the long-ago date of Feb 4. How many other people were writing about this at the time?

[Your humble author:] Mark Kern’s thinking about the global economic shocks being set in motion by the coronavirus outbreak is likely to prove prophetic, even if the virus itself doesn’t morph into a devastating pandemic:

On a related note, Asia’s gigantic work-from-home experiment continues in Japan:

From Sony to Takeda Pharmaceutical, top Japanese companies across industry lines are telling employees to work from home as the country continues to see a rise in coronavirus cases.

The outbreak has spread to nations across Asia in the weeks since it started in the Chinese city of Wuhan. With 66 cases [Ed: 132 now], Japan is among the countries with the most cases outside China, and the growing number of infections with no traceable links to the original epicenter have alarmed experts and government officials alike.

To keep employees out of large crowds, Sony urged staffers Tuesday to telework and avoid commuting during rush hour. It is suspending its usual 10-day monthly cap for working from home.

John Robb asks a pertinent question:

This thing is going to hit the US like a freight train and we won’t be ready for it.

Preparations have begun but they will almost certainly be inadequate.

CNBC: FBI has ordered $40,000 in hand sanitizer and face masks ‘in case the coronavirus becomes a pandemic in the United States’

Time’s up

A molecular biologist and contributing correspondent for Science Magazine reflects on the apparent failure of the global efforts to contain the coronavirus outbreak to China:

For me and for everyone I know who has been following #covid19, the last few days have felt like a profound shift in the epidemic. We are clearly entering a new phase. And since I’ve had some time to digest recent news, here is a short thread about that „window of opportunity“

From the start, @WHO has been very clear about its strategy: Fight #SARSCoV2 hard at its source in China and keep it from establishing a foothold elsewhere. It was always a long shot, but it was the right thing to do and it has bought the world time.

The @WHO and @drtedros have emphasized again and again that there is a “window of opportunity” to contain #COVID19. On Friday, Tedros said he believed that window of opportunity was still there, but narrowing. Personally, I think the last days have shown that time is up.

Why do I believe that? First in general: there is the way the virus has spread on the #Princessdiamond, in hospitals, in prisons. #SARSCoV2 is very infectious, patients seem to spread it for a long time and cases are hard to detect. It is simply very hard to contain such a virus.

Iran: Until three days ago, Iran had not reported a single #COVID19 case. Now we are at 28 cases, incl. 5 deaths. The number of deaths and also the cases of travellers from Iran testing positive suggests this is the tip of an iceberg. We will soon see how large that iceberg is.

South Korea: The country has now confirmed 433 #COVID19 cases. Most of these are related to a hospital outbreak and to meetings of a religious group. The sheer number is going to make it hard to contain this. Are we looking at a second China? Hopefully not, but it’s possible.

Singapore with its gold-standard surveillance, has at least 7 #COVID19 cases that have not been traced to a known transmission chain. Japan has a similar problem. Italy has local transmission incl. 2 deaths, which suggests those numbers will go up significantly.

And these are just the things we know. We can only guess what we don’t know. This MRC analysis suggests that 2/3 of all #COVID19 cases exported from China have been missed–wuhan-coronavirus/

From the summary: “we estimated that about two thirds of COVID-19 cases exported from mainland China have remained undetected worldwide, potentially resulting in multiple chains of as yet undetected human-to-human transmission outside mainland China”

None of this is a shock. Most researchers always expected it would get to this point. The question is: What happens now? I’m not a public health expert, I’m not an epidemiologist. I’m a journalist. That means I think a lot about communication and that has to enter a new phase too

The massive efforts in China have bought us time. But we should be using that time to prepare and that includes preparing the world by communicating what is happening, what is likely to happen and what the response might look like. That is the “window of opportunity” we have now

I first posted about coronavirus almost exactly one month ago. I commented: “My modest proposal: shut down international travel until we get this thing firmly under control.”

At the time, according to an article I cited in the post, coronavirus had sickened more than 400 people and killed at least 17. China had just made the decision to shut down transportation out of Wuhan (Jan 23). The first US case had been reported on Jan 21.

Now? 77,923 total cases in 29 countries. 2,361 deaths.

634 cases from that cruise ship. 433 cases in South Korea. 132 cases in Japan. 86 cases in Singapore.

35 cases in the US. 7,600 people who recently traveled to China have been asked to self-quarantine in California, not including those returning from Hubei province, who are being quarantined on military bases.

In other words, read this blog today to find out what everyone’s going to be discussing tomorrow.

South Korea, Italy begin to shut down as virus spreads

As if there wasn’t enough evidence already that COVID-19 is a lot more serious than your garden-variety seasonal flu, the mayor of South Korea’s fourth-largest city, with a population roughly the size of Chicago, is telling everyone to stay home:

South Korea reported its first death from the new virus on Thursday while the mayor of a southeastern city urged its 2.5 million people to stay inside as infections linked to a church congregation spiked.

The death was the ninth confirmed from the virus outside mainland China. Other deaths have occurred in France, Hong Kong, Japan, the Philippines and Taiwan. […]

Twenty-one of those new cases were in and around the city of Daegu, where the mayor urged citizens earlier Thursday to stay home and wear masks even indoors if possible.

In a televised news conference, Mayor Kwon Young-jin expressed fears that rising infections in the region will soon overwhelm the city’s health system and called for urgent help from the central government.

Update on caseload:

South Korea reported a jump of 142 additional cases overnight, bringing the country’s total to 346, according to the South Korean Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (KCDC).

Meanwhile, in Italy:

10 towns in northern Italy have been put on a virtual lockdown due to coronavirus, according to local media


For those 10 towns (50,000 people):
– Residents are asked to stay at home for 1 week
– All public events are suspended
– No work and commercial activities
– No recreational activities
– All schools are closed
– Public transport won’t stop in those areas

Buckle up.

Virus ship

An infectious disease expert at Kobe University Hospital talks about what he saw aboard the cruise ship Diamond Princess, from which he was hastily removed by the bureaucrats in charge:

I dealt with a lot of infections, more than 20 years. I was in Africa dealing with the Ebola outbreak. I was in another countries dealing with the cholera outbreak. I was in China in 2003 to deal with SARS, and I saw many febrile patients there. I never had fear of getting infection myself. For Ebola, SARS, cholera, because I know how to protect myself and how to protect others and how the infection control should be. So I could do the adequate infection control, protect myself and protect others. But inside Princess Diamond, I was so scared. I was so scared of getting COVID-19, because there was no way to tell where the virus is. No green zone, no red zone, everywhere could have virus and everybody was not careful about it. There was no single professional infection control person inside the ship and there was nobody in charge of infection prevention as a professional. The bureaucrats were in charge of everything.

760 million people on lockdown

One-tenth of the human race is under some form of quarantine… but “it’s just the flu, bro”…

From the NY Times:

To stop the spread of the coronavirus much of China has effectively shut down. What’s not been fully appreciated is how extensive the closures are. By our calculations 760 million are living under some kind of residential lockdown.

A friend of mine in a large city not in Hubei province wrote (Feb 7):

A lot of companies are going to shut down soon. No business is allowed to open. Shopping malls are closed. There is nobody in the street. It’s like a zombie movie.

This person, who runs a small business, a few days later told me his office lease was about to expire and he had fired all his staff.

I cannot even go to my office. The government is asking all companies to apply for a certificate to open a business. Before you get the certificate you cannot go back to the office. But you are still paying for the rent and your staff. Amazing. In order to get the certificate, you need enough supplies: masks, sanitizer… make sure it’s enough for all your staff to use for at least a month. Nobody is going to want to do business after this. I cannot even get enough supplies for myself, now I have to provide for my staff.

Today I received the following messages:

Supermarkets and pharmacies are open. All restaurants are shut down. Malls are open but nobody goes shopping. They only go to the supermarkets in the mall. Cinemas are closed. Some companies are back to business. Most are still not open. Employees work at home. There were some incidents where employees got diagnosed with the virus after back to office. Then the whole company/floor has to lock down. All people have to be isolated.

A Reddit user comments:

It might not fit the true definition of a a quarantine, but the restrictions are still locking everything down. You can’t enter certain cities, currently, schools are going all online or cancelling altogether, 95% of all businesses are closed or operating on a skeleton crew with limited hours, and restaurants are banned from dine-in in most cities. Couple that with being required to wear a mask outdoors and constant temperature checks, plus most housing districts not allowing visitors inside, it’s as close as you can get without locking the front doors.

John Robb, a former advisor the Chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff who is not given to hysteria, comments thusly:

Top tier US Government national security insiders all saying the same thing:

China’s extreme mismanagement of the virus (Chernobyl-like reflexive information control, refusing intl aid, etc.) makes it very likely it will become a pandemic. US needs to prepare.

Simple way to think about this:

Very easy to get sick with this virus (possibly very high % of people getting sick).

80% get a little sick (as little as a slight fever).
20% get very sick.
2-3% die (mostly elderly + smokers) vs. 0.1% w/flu.

And this is hardly reassuring:

As the number of coronavirus cases jumps dramatically in China, a top infectious-disease scientist warns that things could get far worse: Two-thirds of the world’s population could catch it.

So says Ira Longini, an adviser to the World Health Organization who tracked studies of the virus’s transmissibility in China. His estimate implies that there could eventually be billions more infections than the current official tally of about 60,000.

“Shut your damn mouths,” she explained

Somehow this is one of the less reassuring public statements I’ve read. But the virus-as-punishment explanation is very interesting indeed:

When virologists and medical experts around the globe discussed the suspicious nature of the novel coronavirus and pointed to Wuhan’s P4 lab as a likely source, netizens inside China were watching. A Chinese scholar recently challenged Wuhan’s P4 lab to explain how the proteins of the novel coronavirus seem to have been precisely engineered to enable the virus to bind onto human cells. He also disclosed unethical and unprofessional practices he previously observed in China’s bioresearch labs.

According to Wuhan-based Yangtze Daily, Shi Zhengli, Deputy Director of Wuhan’s P4 Lab, publicized a statement on Feb. 2 saying: “I pledge with my life that the 2019 novel coronavirus has nothing to do with our lab. This virus is a punishment imposed on mankind from nature, to condemn mankind’s uncivilized way of living. Those of you who believe rumors or so-called scientific analysis by unqualified researchers, I advise you to shut your damn mouths!”

One WeChat user chimed in:

“For instance, some researchers in these labs kept the laboratory dogs as pets; some disposed of animal carcasses casually because following the biosafety rules and cremating them costs a lot of money. Some cut up the laboratory pigs and took the meat home to eat. I know this happened at Beijing 301 Hospital’s spine surgery lab. Worst of all, some laboratory animals were sold to wet markets as wild-caught animals for profit,” he wrote.

In other news, the death rate for coronavirus is almost certainly way higher than you’ve been led to believe:

On 7 Feb 2020, 22:17 Singapore time, the latest figures are:

Confirmed: 31586 Deaths: 639 Recovered: 1777

A large number of commentators, including mainstream media, report this as a 2% CFR, calculated as 639/31586 = 2%. While this is worse than the seasonal flu, it is much less than SARS (10%) and MERS (30%), so no need to worry, they say. We, the smart informed people who watch CNN and the like, can feel smug, having made our part in avoiding a panic by relaying this reassuring information to our friends.


Of the 31586 confirmed cases, about 85% have been diagnosed in the last 10 days. Many are in worsening condition and we do not know if they will die or recover. Therefore, to estimate the CFR, we can do one of two things:

– We can consider only the cases for which an outcome is known: dead or recovered. This would lead us to estimate the CFR as 639/(639+1777) = 26%.

– We can assume that after a certain time period, e.g. 1 week, the patient has either died or recovered. A week ago, there were 9803 confirmed cases. This would lead us to estimate the CFR as 639/9803 = 6%. Obviously, we do not know the right lag, but something between 1 and 2 weeks seems plausible given what we know about the disease. And it is certainly not zero.

Somehow this very simple logic seems to have escaped most of the people that are commenting and reporting on the issue.