Another dissenting voice

Skepticism grows about the wisdom of locking down whole populations as the response to a disease outbreak, in particular when it comes to the neglected issue of the civil liberties that are being thrown in the trash thereby:

Politicians are there to take difficult decisions, by weighing up all the expert advice and choosing a policy with the least worst outcome depending on the options available. But in the current crisis over coronavirus, the damaging impact of drastic interference in our civil liberties has apparently barely been considered at all.

Since the nationwide lockdown was announced we have had no right of association, and so political parties, trade unions, businesses and every other form of organisation outside the state has been severely disrupted, if not destroyed. This has occurred with barely a whimper of protest from the political class.

Worse, it has been cheered on by most of the national media, with their shrill calls for lockdowns and punishments for people going about perfectly lawful activities. Thankfully, there are now some voices raised about particularly stupid examples of police harassment of dog owners, and the constables ignoring actual crimes while investing in drones to harass moorland walkers.

Emergencies create vast opportunities for abuses of power, and reasons can always be found to strip away your liberties. The lockdowns being inflicted across the West are ostensibly temporary but with moveable and sometimes vague expiration dates. While the restrictions will (presumably) eventually be lifted, they can and therefore will be imposed again during another (real, imaginary or self-inflicted) crisis. We are told that staying at home and practicing social distancing makes everyone safer by flattening the curve, such that going outside to socialize with your friends or make an unnecessary trip to the store is selfish and even tantamount to murder. After all, computer simulations show that if you don’t cooperate, we’re all gonna die. But is that true? And even if it can be proven that surrendering our freedom of movement, property rights and freedom of association to the state, even temporarily, saves lives – is that cost worth it? Everybody seems to think so, but if everyone felt the same way in, say, 1776, would there be a United States?

A powerful rebuke

Jonathan Sumption, the former UK Supreme Court judge whom The Guardian has described as “the brain of Britain” and “the establishment personified,” has delivered a powerful rebuke to the country’s embrace of authoritarian methods in its war against the Microbe that Ended the World. I believe Lord Sumption’s reflections also apply to the incredible stay-at-home orders being imposed across the US in places like Maryland and Virginia. Peter Hitchens provides the transcript. Please read it:

The real problem is that when human societies lose their freedom, it’s not usually because tyrants have taken it away. It’s usually because people willingly surrender their freedom in return for protection against some external threat. And the threat is usually a real threat but usually exaggerated. That’s what I fear we are seeing now. The pressure on politicians has come from the public. They want action. They don’t pause to ask whether the action will work. They don’t ask themselves whether the cost will be worth paying. They want action anyway. And anyone who has studied history will recognise here the classic symptoms of collective hysteria.

Hysteria is infectious. We are working ourselves up into a lather in which we exaggerate the threat and stop asking ourselves whether the cure may be worse than the disease.

Q: At a time like this as you acknowledge, citizens do look to the state for protection, for assistance, we shouldn’t be surprised then if the state takes on new powers, that is what it has been asked to do, almost demanded of it.

A: Yes that is absolutely true. We should not be surprised. But we have to recognise that this is how societies become despotisms. And we also have to recognise this is a process which leads naturally to exaggeration. The symptoms of coronavirus are clearly serious for those with other significant medical conditions especially if they’re old. There are exceptional cases in which young people have been struck down, which have had a lot of publicity, but the numbers are pretty small. The Italian evidence for instance suggests that only 12% of deaths is it possible to say coronavirus was the main cause of death. So yes this is serious and yes it’s understandable that people cry out to the government. But the real question is: Is this serious enough to warrant putting most of our population into house imprisonment, wrecking our economy for an indefinite period, destroying businesses that honest and hardworking people have taken years to build up, saddling future generations with debt, depression, stress, heart attacks, suicides and unbelievable distress inflicted on millions of people who are not especially vulnerable and will suffer only mild symptoms or none at all, like the Health Secretary and the Prime Minister.

Q: The executive, the government, is all of a sudden really rather powerful and really rather unscrutinised. Parliament is in recess, it’s due to come back in late April, we’re not quite sure whether it will or not, the Prime Minister is closeted away, communicating via his phone, there is not a lot in the way of scrutiny is there?

A: No. Certainly there’s not a lot in the way of institutional scrutiny. The Press has engaged in a fair amount of scrutiny, there has been some good and challenging journalism, but mostly the Press has, I think, echoed and indeed amplified the general panic.

Q: The restrictions in movement have also changed the relationship between the police and those whose, in name, they serve. The police are naming and shaming citizens for travelling at what they see as the wrong time or driving to the wrong place. Does that set alarm bells ringing for you, as a former senior member of the judiciary?

A: Well, I have to say, it does. I mean, the tradition of policing in this country is that policemen are citizens in uniform. They are not members of a disciplined hierarchy operating just at the government’s command. Yet in some parts of the country the police have been trying to stop people from doing things like travelling to take exercise in the open country which are not contrary to the regulations, simply because ministers have said that they would prefer us not to. The police have no power to enforce ministers’ preferences, but only legal regulations which don’t go anything like as far as the government’s guidance. I have to say that the behaviour of the Derbyshire police in trying to shame people into using their undoubted right to take exercise in the country and wrecking beauty spots in the Fells so that people don’t want to go there, is frankly disgraceful.

This is what a police state is like. It’s a state in which the government can issue orders or express preferences with no legal authority and the police will enforce ministers’ wishes. I have to say that most police forces have behaved in a thoroughly sensible and moderate fashion. Derbyshire Police have shamed our policing traditions. There is a natural tendency of course, and a strong temptation for the police to lose sight of their real functions and turn themselves from citizens in uniform into glorified school prefects. I think it’s really sad that the Derbyshire Police have failed to resist that.

Q: There will be people listening who admire your legal wisdom but will also say, well, he’s not an epidemiologist, he doesn’t know how disease spreads, he doesn’t understand the risks to the health service if this thing gets out of control. What do you say to them?

A: What I say to them is I am not a scientist but it is the right and duty of every citizen to look and see what the scientists have said and to analyse it for themselves and to draw common sense conclusions. We are all perfectly capable of doing that and there’s no particular reason why the scientific nature of the problem should mean we have to resign our liberty into the hands of scientists. We all have critical faculties and it’s rather important, in a moment of national panic, that we should maintain them.

Flatten the economy

Mad MaxNearly three months after the WuFlu outbreak was first reported to the World Health Organization, the total official global death toll of this once-in-a-century pandemic remains modest – even trivial, on the scale of the human population – notwithstanding relentless wall-to-wall media coverage, social media hysterics, and deliberately scary-looking “trackers” like that sinister map from Johns Hopkins. Although the death toll will certainly rise a great deal in the coming months as the virus spreads, it is currently a tiny fraction of the ~1 million global deaths from each of the influenza pandemics of 1957-58 and 1968; neither of which brought society and commerce to a screeching halt.

We don’t know if the repressive measures that are being taken to “flatten the curve” in the West, such as turning Britain into an Orwellian dystopia where you are only permitted to walk your dog once a day, will be beneficial overall, given the speculative nature of the epidemiological models used to justify them and the (unaccounted-for) public health costs of putting hundreds of millions of people under de facto house arrest. But it seems obvious that if these mega-interventions continue for the duration that is apparently required for them to be effective, then they will trigger a violent collapse of the global economy, and with it, widespread immiseration, political chaos and a truly Biblical scale of human suffering and death.

Yet that crazy, nation-wrecking strategy is precisely what is being rolled out around the world. The US is extending its “social distancing” guidelines to April 30, while the UK government is signaling that social distancing measures will be in place for three to six months; while similar measures are being taken in Europe, Australia, New Zealand, India (which has imposed a total ban on leaving the home for 21 days)…

It would appear that the epidemiologists have staged a global coup d’état. The Anglo-American policies are heavily influenced by Neil Ferguson’s team at Imperial College London, whose March 16 study recommended the adoption of Chinese-style “suppression” measures:

We therefore conclude that epidemic suppression is the only viable strategy at the current time. The social and economic effects of the measures which are needed to achieve this policy goal will be profound. Many countries have adopted such measures already, but even those countries at an earlier stage of their epidemic (such as the UK) will need to do so imminently.

Our analysis informs the evaluation of both the nature of the measures required to suppress COVID-19 and the likely duration that these measures will need to be in place. Results in this paper have informed policymaking in the UK and other countries in the last weeks. However, we emphasise that is not at all certain that suppression will succeed long term; no public health intervention with such disruptive effects on society has been previously attempted for such a long duration of time. How populations and societies will respond remains unclear.

But for how long? Earlier, the study notes:

The main challenge of this approach is that NPIs [non-pharmaceutical interventions] (and drugs, if available) need to be maintained – at least intermittently – for as long as the virus is circulating in the human population, or until a vaccine becomes available. In the case of COVID-19, it will be at least a 12-18 months before a vaccine is available. Furthermore, there is no guarantee that initial vaccines will have high efficacy.

Elsewhere in the Discussion section, the authors write (emphasis mine):

However, there are very large uncertainties around the transmission of this virus, the likely effectiveness of different policies and the extent to which the population spontaneously adopts risk reducing behaviours. This means it is difficult to be definitive about the likely initial duration of measures which will be required, except that it will be several months. Future decisions on when and for how long to relax policies will need to be informed by ongoing surveillance.

The measures used to achieve suppression might also evolve over time. As case numbers fall, it becomes more feasible to adopt intensive testing, contact tracing and quarantine measures akin to the strategies being employed in South Korea today. Technology – such as mobile phone apps that track an individual’s interactions with other people in society – might allow such a policy to be more effective and scalable if the associated privacy concerns can be overcome. However, if intensive NPI packages aimed at suppression are not maintained, our analysis suggests that transmission will rapidly rebound, potentially producing an epidemic comparable in scale to what would have been seen had no interventions been adopted.

In his testimony last Wednesday, Ferguson seemed to offer another possibility:

Ferguson said the current strategy was intended to keep transmission of the virus at low levels until a vaccine was available. Experts say that could take 12 to 18 months and Ferguson acknowledged it was impractical to keep the UK in lockdown for so long, especially because of the impact on the economy. “We’ll be paying for this year for decades to come,” he said.

The UK government is aiming to relax restrictions on people’s movements only when the country has the ability to test more people for the virus, said Ferguson. Some have criticised the UK for not following the advice of the World Health Organization to “test, test, test”. But Ferguson said community testing and contact tracing wasn’t included as a possible strategy in the original modelling because not enough tests were available.

He said the UK should have the testing capacity “within a few weeks” to copy what South Korea has done and aggressively test and trace the general population.

But if the country’s deputy chief medical officer is to be believed, Britain is going to be on some form of lockdown for months. What most people don’t seem to understand is that the massively complex, interdependent nature of the world economy means that switching off large parts of it for an extended period of time is likely to bring the whole system crashing down. I don’t expect infectious disease experts to consider this, but then again, who put them in charge of the world?

The backpedaling begins

It’s going to be interesting to observe how the global establishment walks back its panic-mongering regarding the Wuhan Flu, if and when the expected mountains of corpses fail to materialize. Perhaps we will be told that the media-fueled mass hysteria and draconian controls imposed on hundreds of millions of Westerners actually worked at crushing the outbreak.

I’m not sure that explanation will fly, though, given that 1) we have also been told that Western governments acted too late in imposing “lockdowns” on their own citizens, thus practically guaranteeing Wuhan-like outcomes across the US and Europe; 2) the controls have not been nearly draconian enough, as evidenced by the photos of packed subway cars in New York and London and the outraged reports of people going surfing, playing basketball at the park, meeting their friends for board game nights, etc., in defiance of public health guidelines.

Most inconvenient of all is the example of Sweden, which has stubbornly refused to subject its own population to a Chinese-style “lockdown” despite suffering a staggering 77 WuFlu deaths to date:

While the UK has been placed under virtual lockdown, Swedes are enjoying life with the fewest restrictive measures so they can go where they want and do what they want without the threat of police action. Schools for children up to 16 remain open and commuter trains continue to be jam-packed with workers on a daily basis. Stockholm argues life must go on despite the worrying increases in the death toll as the global pandemic continues to spread.

Johan Carlson, head of Sweden’s public health agency, last week said the country “cannot take draconian measures that have a limited impact on the epidemic but knock out the functions of society”.

In any case, the tide may already be starting to turn:

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Thursday that his stay-at-home order for the entirety of New York State was “probably not the best public health strategy.”

In a press conference in Albany, Cuomo said the smartest way forward would be a public health strategy that complemented a “get-back-to-work strategy.”

“What we did was we closed everything down. That was our public health strategy. Just close everything, all businesses, old workers, young people, old people, short people, tall people,” said Cuomo. “Every school closed, everything.”

“If you rethought that or had time to analyze that public health strategy, I don’t know that you would say quarantine everyone,” Cuomo admitted. “I don’t even know that that was the best public health policy. Young people then quarantined with older people was probably not the best public health strategy because the younger people could have been exposing the older people to an infection. “

Cuomo stressed the need for both public health and economic growth. “We have to do both,” said the governor. “We’re working on it.”

Funny, it was on Wednesday that I asked the following question:

Have mass “lockdowns” ever been demonstrated to successfully contain a viral epidemic, outside of Communist China, which has a track record of lying about the current outbreak?

Does the governor of New York read my blog? See, while it may seem “obvious” that confining people to their homes is an effective way of curbing an epidemic, the fact is that you don’t know that anything works until you try it in the real world. In this case, the observation that a virus spreads through human interaction does not mean that mass lockdowns will contain the outbreak, let alone produce a better public health outcome than a scalpel approach to identifying and isolating the sick. Cuomo, who has presumably discussed this issue with health officials, raises what seems like a very good point here.

In related news, a British scientist whose terrifying predictions were instrumental in shaping UK and US policy, has changed his tune a bit:

The UK should now be able to cope with the spread of the covid-19 virus, according to one of the epidemiologists advising the government.

Neil Ferguson at Imperial College London gave evidence today to the UK’s parliamentary select committee on science and technology as part of an inquiry into the nation’s response to the coronavirus outbreak.

He said that expected increases in National Health Service capacity and ongoing restrictions to people’s movements make him “reasonably confident” the health service can cope when the predicted peak of the epidemic arrives in two or three weeks. UK deaths from the disease are now unlikely to exceed 20,000, he said, and could be much lower.

The need for intensive care beds will get very close to capacity in some areas, but won’t be breached at a national level, said Ferguson. The projections are based on computer simulations of the virus spreading, which take into account the properties of the virus, the reduced transmission between people asked to stay at home and the capacity of hospitals, particularly intensive care units.

Here is Ferguson’s explanation of why the simulations, which previously scared the shit out of Britain and the world by predicting up to 500,000 deaths in the UK, are now projecting less than 20,000 deaths. Judge it for yourself. I suspect we’re going to be seeing a lot more of these types of explanations and clarifications over the coming weeks.

UPDATE: Moving this section to the end of the post, as I thought this editorial co-authored by Anthony Fauci was new (March 26), but in reality it was originally published Feb 28. It is still of interest:

If one assumes that the number of asymptomatic or minimally symptomatic cases is several times as high as the number of reported cases, the case fatality rate may be considerably less than 1%. This suggests that the overall clinical consequences of Covid-19 may ultimately be more akin to those of a severe seasonal influenza (which has a case fatality rate of approximately 0.1%) or a pandemic influenza (similar to those in 1957 and 1968) rather than a disease similar to SARS or MERS, which have had case fatality rates of 9 to 10% and 36%, respectively.

A pandemic similar to the “Asian flu of 1957” and the “Hong Kong flu of 1968” – which killed an estimated 116,000 people and 100,000 people in the US, respectively – certainly sounds better than the doomsday virus that was supposed to kill millions of Americans. This of course raises the question of whether a relatively normal Asian viral pandemic is scary enough to justify the “emergency” imposition of martial law on whole states and countries, and the cascading economic failure and collapse that will surely accompany it.

House arrest

Now that politicians, health officials and their media mouthpieces have successfully terrified and demoralized the American public into accepting draconian curbs on their personal and economic freedom that were almost unthinkable two weeks ago, several questions come to mind.

1) What, precisely, do Western governments know about this virus and its characteristics that the public doesn’t know? When are we going to find out?

2) Is it possible that the actual coronavirus death toll in China is not <3,300, but in fact closer to 30,000, 300,000, or 3 million, and that China has successfully covered this up? If so, are Western governments aware of the truth about happened in China? If they are, why are they not informing the public? If they are not, why are they reacting to the virus as if the true death toll is orders of magnitude larger than it is reported to be?

3) What is the logical connection between a relatively normal respiratory virus, and the forced closure of thousands of businesses including restaurants, bars, beaches, parks, hair salons, etc. across roughly half of America? Why am I seemingly the only person who is unable to understand the justification for this no matter how many times it is explained to me?

4) Have mass “lockdowns” ever been demonstrated to successfully contain a viral epidemic, outside of Communist China, which has a track record of lying about the current outbreak?

5) Does the US have a mandatory 14-day quarantine for all inbound travelers, given the existential threat posed by the virus? If not, why not? Are any public figures calling for such a measure? Again: if not, why not?

6) Are there plans to distribute facemasks to urban residents and require them to be worn in public, given the existential threat posed by the virus? If not, why not? Are any public figures calling for such a measure? Again: if not, why not?

7) Will there be severe consequences for public figures who incited panic and hysteria by making frightening claims about the virus, if those predictions do not come to pass?

8) If the threat of coronavirus warrants mass business closures and stay-at-home orders affecting 100 million Americans, will this process of powering down large swaths of the nation by government edict be repeated every time a virus kills a thousand people? If so, how many times can this process be repeated before the US is reduced to a pre-industrial state?

9) What are the public health consequences of depriving senior citizens of social interactions and hobbies that make life worth living? Have these been considered by the authorities that have seized unprecedented powers over our daily lives?

10) Is the economy a public health issue? How will the US pay for its $3.6 trillion health care sector during a deep economic depression?

11) If it is true that “We will not put a dollar figure on human life” and “We will fight to save every life we can,” as the governor of New York put it, what possible justification can there be for allowing motor vehicles to kill some 37,000 people in the US each year? Is any public figure calling for a nationwide ban on cars? If not, why not?

For reference:

About half of U.S. states have imposed lockdown measures restricting gathering and social contact, disrupting the lives of more than 100 million people and suspending the operations of thousands of businesses.

No state has completely walled off their residents from the outside. Generally, people are free to leave their homes to obtain food, supplies and medical care or to get exercise or care for loved ones. The rapidly drafted executive orders also exempt millions of jobs and services deemed too essential to shut down.

Some measures were more drastic than others. California Gov. Gavin Newsom effectively made it a crime to socialize outside the home, while New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s measures are more advisory than mandatory.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s lockdown came closest to quarantining the elderly and sick populations. And some leaders like New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy wrote in broad protections for political and religious activity.

States have vowed to ensure compliance with the lockdowns, but it is unclear whether any of them can or will effectively enforce their mandates.

Then and now

This review of the public health response to the Spanish Flu of 1918-19 in the US and Europe is interesting both for its similarities and differences to the current situation. Worth nothing is the highly varied and localized approach, and the absence of mass lockdowns, “shelter-in-place” orders and demands to shut down all commerce and social life indefinitely:

The public health authorities in both the United States and Europe took up fundamental measures to control epidemics that dated back to Medieval times of the Bubonic Plague. They aimed to reduce the transmission of the pathogen by preventing contact. They framed their public health orders in scientific ideas of their understanding of how the influenza microbe spread through the air by coughing and sneezing, and their conception of the pathogenesis of influenza. Since they concluded that the pathogen was transmitted through the air, efforts to control contagion were organized to prevent those infected from sharing the same air as the uninfected. Public gatherings and the coming together of people in close quarters was seen as a potential agency for the transmission of the disease. The public health authorities believed that good ventilation and fresh air were “the best of all general measures for prevention, and this implies the avoidance of crowded meetings,” (BMJ, 10/19/1918). This translated into the controversial and imperative measure of closing of many public institutions and banning of public gatherings during the time of an epidemic.

The rigidity of these regulations varied immensely with the power of the local health departments and severity of the influenza outbreak. In the United States, the Committee of the American Public Health Association ( APHA) issued measures in a report to limit large gatherings. The committee held that any type of gathering of people, with the mixing of bodies and sharing of breath in crowded rooms, was dangerous. Nonessential meetings were to be prohibited. They determined that saloons, dance halls, and cinemas should be closed and public funerals should be prohibited since they were unnecessary assemblies. Churches were allowed to remain open, but the committee believed that only the minimum services should be conducted and the intimacy reduced. Street cars were thought to be a special menace to society with poor ventilation, crowding and uncleanliness. The committee encouraged the staggering of opening and closing hours in stores and factories to prevent overcrowding and for people to walk to work when possible (JAMA, 12/21/1918). Some of the regulations in Britain were milder, such as limiting music hall performances to less than three consecutive hours and allowing a half-hour for ventilation between shows (BMJ, 11/30/1918). In Switzerland, theaters, cinemas, concerts and shooting matches were all suspended when the epidemic struck, which led to a state of panic (BMJ, 10/19/1918). This variation in response was most likely due to differences in authority of the public health agencies and societal acceptance of their measures as necessary. This necessitated a shared belief in the concept of contagion and some faith in the actions of science to allow them to overcome this plague.

The most frequently discussed and debated public health measure in the journals of the period was the closure of the schools. In Britain the prevalence of the epidemic led to the closure of the public elementary schools (BMJ, 11/30/1918). In France, students with any symptoms and their siblings were to be excluded from school. If three fourths of the students were absent then the whole class was to be dismissed for 15 days (JAMA, 12/7/1918). Some believed closing schools to be a useful measure to control infection but complained that it often occurred too late, after most students and teachers were sick (BMJ, 10/19/1918). In the United States, school closure was not as widely accepted. One article in JAMA said that, “the desirability of closing schools in a large city in the presence of an epidemic is a measure of doubtful value,” (10/5/1918). The APHA Committee debated its value too, questioning the effectiveness against the loss of educational standards. Generally, school closure was thought to be less effective in large urban metropolises than in rural centers where the school represented the point of dissemination of the infectious agent. The closing of schools and other public institutions as public health regulations to reduce the epidemic was not universally accepted. One editorial in the BMJ states that “every town-dweller who is susceptible must sooner or later contract influenza whatever the public health authorities may do; and that the more schools and public meetings are banned and the general life of the community dislocated the greater will be the unemployment and depression,” (12/21/1918).

Related – the jobs Armageddon has begun:

The state of play: Goldman Sachs predicts that more than 2 million Americans will file for unemployment claims by next week, pointing to “an unprecedented surge in layoffs this week.” […]

“We expect a total of approximately 3.5 million jobs will be lost,” BofA strategists said in a note to clients before the release of the Labor Department’s initial jobless claims report.

California is closed

Escape from L.A.America’s CPC-approved phased lockdown/economic self-immolation continues, with the most populous state in the Union ordering all its residents to huddle at home for an indefinite period of time:

Gov. Gavin Newsom on Thursday ordered California’s nearly 40 million residents to stay home, making it the first state to impose that strict mandate on all residents to counteract a looming surge of new infections.

The order takes effect immediately and remains in place “until further notice.” Californians are not allowed to leave home except for essential purposes. They are allowed to purchase groceries, prescriptions and health care, as well as commute to jobs deemed essential.

The governor’s order comes with misdemeanor penalties for anyone who violates the restrictions, though he said he believes social pressure will keep people home rather than law enforcement.

“There’s a social contract here,” Newsom said. “People, I think, recognize the need to do more and meet his moment.”

Newsom said the order has to remain in effect indefinitely. He has repeatedly said the next eight weeks are crucial to bend the curve and stop the rapid contagion. He also said, however, that he does not expect the order to last “many, many months.”

Newsom invoked some worst-case-scenario estimates, of the type being hysterically pushed on social media, to explain why the Golden State needs to be turned into an open-air prison camp:

The measures are intended both to shield vulnerable residents and to maintain California’s health care systems’ capacity to handle an influx of new patients. Earlier in the day, Newsom laid out a grim scenario if California does not respond decisively: 56 percent of the state’s residents, or some 22 million people, could contract the virus in the next eight weeks.

Newsom’s office clarified that figure did not account for the sweeping mitigation efforts California has imposed, making it a kind of worst-case scenario. But it nevertheless communicated the dire stakes.

“It’s for their own health”:

A nationwide lockdown is most likely coming and you need to be preparing for this RIGHT NOW:

Whether you are reading this in your living room in Vancouver, office in London, or on a subway in New York City, you need to think hard, and fast, about two crucial questions: Where, and with whom, do you want to spend the next six to 12 weeks of your life, hunkered down for the epidemic duration? And what can you do to make that place as safe as possible for yourself and those around you?

Your time to answer those questions is very short—a few days, at most. Airports will close, trains will shut down, gasoline supplies may dwindle, and roadblocks may be set up. Nations are closing their borders, and as the numbers of sick rise, towns, suburbs, even entire counties will try to shut the virus out by blocking travel. Wherever you decide to settle down this week is likely to be the place in which you will be stuck for the duration of your epidemic.

Economic suicide: the cure for coronavirus

Florida is closedI admit, I’m having trouble wrapping my mind around the speed and scale of the changes that are being imposed on our society right now. A decision has apparently been made to power down huge swaths of the US economy, perhaps indefinitely, to fight the Wuhan Flu, the invisible enemy that has so far killed 155 people in the U.S. and a grand total of less than 10,000 people worldwide.

Disney World is closed. The Las Vegas Strip is closed. Atlantic City is closed. Macy’s is closed. Nordstrom is closed. Apple stores are closed. Half of all school children have been sent home. Nationwide.

For people living in New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut, it is no longer legally possible to eat at a restaurant, drink at a bar, work out at a gym, or assemble a crowd of more than 50 people. Andrew Cuomo, Phil Murphy and Ned Lamont have effected a radical (if “temporary”) transformation of social life that would be the envy of any totalitarian social engineer – and the alacrity with which the people of the tri-state region have accepted, even embraced, these changes is truly shocking.

Maybe I have it backwards – maybe it is the people in authority, the governors, mayors, health bureaucrats and CEOs, that have buckled to pressure from the social media hive-mind, which grows ever more powerful as the US state gets hollowed out. Perhaps it is blue check Twitter, and its sudden demands for ever-intensifying, draconian action, that truly occupies the driver’s seat of our national clown-car.

In any case, a vast chain reaction has now been set in motion that will be difficult or impossible to stop. Where it will lead, nobody knows. We are in uncharted territory and few people have even begun to think this through. A nationwide shutdown that lasts 15 days is perhaps survivable. One that continues for, say, five months probably is not. Having the entire country hunker down at home for a prolonged period of time will slaughter the economy and hurt millions of Americans, perhaps killing a large number of them through knock-on effects: stress, drink, drugs, suicide, vitamin D deficiency… At a certain point you begin to wonder whether the cure won’t be orders of magnitude worse than the disease.

The Fake Black Death

Costco toilet paperBased on the official reactions around the world, you’d think the death toll of the Wuhan Flu has surpassed one million people and the bodies are stacking up like cordwood in Western cities. But the virus has killed less than 8,000 people so far, three and a half months after being identified. Apparently not a single person under the age of 50 in Europe has died from it. As far as I can tell – based on publicly available information – this thing is orders of magnitude away from being a significant global threat.

And yet, Western governments are treating this like it’s an emergency unprecedented since WWII, demanding immediate, radical changes to the way we organize our lives. In the US, sweeping emergency powers are being invoked on the municipal, state and federal levels. Large gatherings are being banned. Churches are suspending services. Everyone is told to hunker down at home, to avoid human contact – that is the “responsible” thing to do. We are told that these are temporary measures to “flatten the curve,” to slow the spread of the infection and protect public health.

But how temporary? New York City schools have been shuttered until “at least” April 24 – that’s five weeks. San Francisco and surrounding counties have issued “shelter-in-place” orders covering 6.7 million people until April 7. The president, meanwhile, is saying that the pandemic could end in the US in July or August “if we do a really good job.” Something tells me that normal life is not going to be resumed in the next few weeks. And it seems obvious that if this national hunkering-down drags on for months rather than weeks, it will crater the US economy. Given this country’s sudden obsession with public health and safety, it’s interesting to speculate about how many people might die as a result of an economic depression.

There is a massive disconnect between the known facts about the virus and the political and economic reaction it has engendered. Perhaps, as one blogger suggests, the authorities know something about this virus that they’re not letting on. There are even darker possibilities. But it’s worth nothing that much of the impetus for these draconian changes in the US has been driven by social media, where it has suddenly become fashionable to post self-quarantine pics and berate others who have the effrontery to eat at restaurants. Many of those same people are going to be demanding Chinese-style totalitarian “lockdowns” and electronic surveillance in the interests of public health. A narrative is already being formed that China has conquered the coronavirus and that the rest of the world should follow its wise example.

Meanwhile, Wuhan – remember Wuhan? – is still under lockdown…

The lockdowns commence. Mass hysteria grips the US

America is going the way of Wuhan very rapidly. Consider:

Lamont issues executive order banning gatherings of more than 250

[Connecticut] Gov. Ned Lamont is using emergency powers to prohibit gatherings of more than 250 people to try to check the spread of coronavirus infection, excluding religious services. […]

The executive order prohibits gatherings of more than 250 people for social and recreational events. The prohibition remains in effect until midnight April 30, unless modified by a subsequent executive order.

The current order covers community, civic, leisure, or sporting events, parades, concerts, festivals, movie screenings, plays, performances, and conventions. It does not apply to any spiritual gathering or worship service. […]

The order also states that violation of the prohibition on large gatherings is a felony offense. The crime carries a maximum prison sentence of five years and a maximum fine of $5,000.

New York Gov. Cuomo bans gatherings of 500 or more amid coronavirus outbreak

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Thursday announced a ban on gatherings of 500 or more people across the state “for the foreseeable future” as public officials try to contain the fast-moving coronavirus outbreak that’s spread across 44 U.S. states and infected at least 127,800 people across the world.

How quickly the freedom to socialize in large groups gets thrown out the window over a respiratory virus that has so far killed [checks notes] two people in New York State and zero people in Connecticut. Does this order cover political protests, i.e. freedom of assembly?

That was Thursday. On Saturday, Hoboken, New Jersey became the first city in America to implement a mass curfew:

Hours after announcing that gyms, health clubs, day cares and movie theaters would join the list of closures in Hoboken, Mayor Ravi S. Bhalla announced the forthcoming curfew and additional restrictions.

The citywide curfew that begins Monday will be in effect from 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. and requires all residents to remain in their homes, barring emergencies. People who are required to report to work are exempted, the statement released late Saturday said.

What public health purpose is served by banning people from going outside between the hours of 10pm and 5am? Especially when bars, move theaters, etc. have already been ordered closed and restaurants have been ordered to stop serving food on the premises? I don’t know, but I do know that people in a state of terror are easier to manipulate and control.

The newspaper of record has a front-page story today with the headline “The Coronavirus Swamps Local Health Departments, Already Crippled by Cuts.” Imagine my surprise to learn that the headline refers to something other than an uncontrollable wave of sick bodies:

CHICAGO — A widespread failure in the United States to invest in public health has left local and state health departments struggling to respond to the coronavirus outbreak and ill-prepared to face the swelling crisis ahead.

Many health departments are suffering from budget and staffing cuts that date to the Great Recession and have never been fully restored. Public health departments across the country manage a vast but often invisible portfolio of duties, including educating the public about smoking cessation; fighting opioid addictions; convincing the reluctant to vaccinate their babies; and inspecting restaurants and tattoo parlors.

Now, these bare-bones staffs of medical and administrative workers are trying to answer a sudden rush of demands — taking phone calls from frightened residents, quarantining people who may be infected, and tracing the known contacts and whereabouts of the ill — that accompany a public health crisis few have seen before. […]

With the virus now consuming all attention, key functions have been put on hold. Some health departments are now making reductions in home health care and education on unwanted teenage pregnancy and other core issues. In Wayne County, Ohio, the health department called off upcoming seminars to vaccinate people in Amish communities, where parents are often reluctant to immunize their children.

I’m not pointing out the glaring discrepancy between headline and news content in order to minimize the problem that our hospitals are probably ill-equipped, maybe severely so, for a major outbreak – an issue I’ve addressed here.

I would, however, like to call attention to the way the media is fanning the flames of mass hysteria over a novel virus that is still not well understand and has still, despite the chain reaction of extreme global dislocations it has triggered, killed fewer than 6,500 people worldwide since its first documented case in either November or December 2019. And yes, I understand exponential growth, but the data is so vague at this point that it’s safe to assume that any “projection” (of death tolls, etc.) is total conjecture. Complacency is not the answer, but neither is fear.