Corona chronicles

More virus craziness.

Taiwanese musician Jay Chou allegedly inside a quarantine unit:

Road closures:

The inside of a bullet train heading towards Hubei province (source):

Stay out of my village:

Another:

Build that hospital quick:

Almost all of Hebei province is being cordoned off:

Some 56 million people are affected.

As one person commented, “This scene is usually about 15 minutes into the 2 hour movie”:

First official dead:

First infant infected:

A hot topic:

Valuable commodities:

Last flight from Wuhan

The US government stages a Last Flight from Saigon for the Americans caught up in the Wuhan Quarantine:

All aboard the Virus Express!

Japan and France are also pulling their people out. The UK and Australia are considering it.

One California-based angel investor raises a salient point:

China quarantines an entire city to stop a deadly virus from spreading. America decides to take people with “greater risk” direct to SFO.

A better plan may be to send these folks supplies so they can shelter in place. Airlifting them out into a commercial airport is not smart.

Related:

Health officials in Los Angeles County have confirmed a fourth U.S. case of the new pneumonia-like virus from China.

The Los Angeles County Department of Public Health said Sunday the infected person presented themselves for care once they noticed that they were not feeling well and is currently receiving medical attention.

The person is a returning traveler from Wuhan City, China. The case came on the heels of confirmed cases in Orange County, California, Washington state and Chicago.

Update!

Authorities on Sunday confirmed the fifth known case of the new coronavirus in the U.S.

The newly identified case was out of Maricopa, Ariz., Centers for Disease Control (CDC) director of National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases Nancy Messonier told reporters.

The confirmation follows two confirmed cases reported Sunday out of California. Cases in California have been confirmed in Orange County and in Los Angeles, according to the CDC.

Meanwhile, in Canada:

Breaking: Federal health officials say the Toronto man who has the coronavirus was symptomatic on the airplane last week when he was returning to Canada. Efforts are now underway to reach passengers who may have been in contact with him.

Health officials stress the risks to the public remain low. This virus is transmitted by droplets, i.e. when a person coughs or sneezes. People in close proximity to the infected patient, i.e. those seated next to him or immediately in front/behind may be at an increased risk

Work is being done to contact those seated within two metres of the Toronto man infected with #nCoV2019 on the plane. People who simply waked past him in the airport likely face no risk. The man flew China Southern Airlines flight CZ311 from Guangzhou to Toronto on Jan. 21.

The man took private transportation home and had limited contact with anyone after arriving home. He called 911 the next day after he developed a cough, fever and other symptoms. Toronto health officials are monitoring his family members for the next ~14 days.

What’s going in the UK?

Government officials were last night searching for some 2,000 people who flew from Wuhan to the UK over the past fortnight.

The Department of Health and the Border Force were scrambling to track down those who might not have shown any symptoms when they landed, but could still have been carrying the coronavirus.

There are usually three flights a week from Wuhan, the epicentre of the outbreak, meaning up to 2,500 passengers and crew arrived over the two-week period, though some will have already left the country.

Guess that Wuhan quarantine wasn’t exactly airtight:

About 5 million people left #Wuhan because of the Spring Festival and #pneumonia outbreak, Mayor of Wuhan, Zhou Xianwang, said on Sunday.

Contagion

More than 22 million are now cordoned off in central China. Seen around the web…

Caixin:

As of Thursday night, a total of seven cities in Hubei have imposed transport bans, including Wuhan, Ezhou, Huanggang, Xiantao, Zhijiang, Chibi and Qianjiang.

NPR:

Wuhan’s public health authorities say they are in a “state of war” as they quarantine the Chinese city in an attempt to halt the spread of a never-before-seen strain of coronavirus.

“Strictly implement emergency response requirements, enter into a state of war and implement wartime measures to resolutely curb the spread of this epidemic,” urged a committee of Wuhan’s top officials. “Homes must be segregated, neighbors must be watched.” […]

The sudden decision to lock down the city of 11 million residents, who were given less than eight hours’ notice of the suspension of public transportation, suggests the severity of the outbreak has alarmed China’s leaders. Wuhan’s lockdown comes only two days before the official start of Lunar New Year, a major, weeklong holiday during which hundreds of millions normally travel within and outside China. […]

Isolated cases of the virus, known as 2019-nCoV, also have been found in Japan, Thailand, South Korea, the U.S., Macao and Hong Kong. On Thursday, Singapore announced its first confirmed case — a 66-year-old Chinese national from Wuhan, according to the Ministry of Health.

NY Post:

The first US patient to contract the deadly coronavirus is being treated by a robot doctor in a tiny secured room to reduce the risk of the disease spreading, according to a report.

Decked out with a stethoscope, camera and microphone, the cutting-edge automaton has been tending to the 30-something man in a 20-by-20-foot “isopod” at Providence Regional Medical Center in Everett, Wash., a hospital chief told The Guardian.

The unnamed patient — who recently returned from a trip to central China — was picked up at his home, taken to the hospital by ambulance and placed in the closed isolation unit Monday, according to Dr. George Diaz, chief of infectious diseases.

Twitter has some wild stuff:

Wuhan people being smuggled outta Dodge:

And this… really makes you think. “Fortuitously,” said the Washington Post:

This is unfolding like the plot of The Stand.

I don’t why but this concerning story from last August feels relevant:

Bio-warfare experts question why Canada was sending lethal viruses to China

In a table-top pandemic exercise at Johns Hopkins University last year, a pathogen based on the emerging Nipah virus was released by fictional extremists, killing 150 million people.

A less apocalyptic scenario mapped out by a blue-ribbon U.S. panel envisioned Nipah being dispersed by terrorists and claiming over 6,000 American lives.

Scientists from Canada’s National Microbiology Laboratory (NML) have also said the highly lethal bug is a potential bio-weapon.

But this March that same lab shipped samples of the henipavirus family and of Ebola to China, which has long been suspected of running a secretive biological warfare (BW) program.

China strongly denies it makes germ weapons, and Canadian officials say the shipment was part of its efforts to support public-health research worldwide. Sharing of such samples internationally is relatively standard practice.

But some experts are raising questions about the March transfer, which appears to be at the centre of a shadowy RCMP investigation and dismissal of a top scientist at the Winnipeg-based NML.

“I would say this Canadian ‘contribution’ might likely be counterproductive,” said Dany Shoham, a biological and chemical warfare expert at Israel’s Bar-Ilan University. “I think the Chinese activities … are highly suspicious, in terms of exploring (at least) those viruses as BW agents.“

Posted without further comment.

An abundance of caution

The Wuhan coronavirus is apparently spreading much faster than SARS. The Chinese government, it seems, is concerned:

I visited Wuhan a couple times, many years ago. Even at the time it was described as “the Chicago of China.” A thriving economic, manufacturing and education hub.

Perhaps the US should be more concerned than it is:

Twenty-one students and five chaperones from the province at the epicenter of the deadly coronavirus outbreak in China arrived in the D.C. region two days ago to take part in a school exchange program with Longfellow Middle School in Falls Church, Virginia.

Fairfax County Public Schools has confirmed with FOX 5 that the students will no longer take part in classes at the school, which were supposed to begin Wednesday, and they will not stay with host families in the area “out of an abundance of caution.” Instead, the students will stay at hotels until February 3, and visit tourist and cultural sites.

Oh, they will be visiting museums instead of attending school. That’s reassuring.

My modest proposal: shut down international travel until we get this thing firmly under control.

Another one bites the dust

Societies tend to get what they deserve. A society that burns its geniuses at the stake because they uttered controversial opinions is a society that will eventually cease to have geniuses, or at least, will cease to be harnessing its geniuses in a productive way.

The eccentric and possibly mentally ill genius who pioneered GNU software, without which Android phones, cloud computing and Amazon.com would not exist, has just lost his job because he expressed an opinion, in an email, that some people disagree with. As far as I can tell, that was his only crime.

I won’t link to the story because it’s too depressing. All I can say is that if America is so desperate to remove productive people from society, because the originality or eccentricity of their ideas is perceived as a threat, then we absolutely deserve to become a colony, economic or otherwise, of saner and more competently managed foreign powers. And that is exactly what will happen.

They can’t be serious

From the Washington Post:

From NBC news:

Jeffrey Epstein’s body has been claimed from the New York City medical examiner’s office, a source close to the investigation told NBC News on Wednesday.

Epstein, 66, was found dead by apparent suicide Saturday morning in his cell at the Metropolitan Correctional Center in Manhattan. The center’s warden has been temporarily reassigned, and the two guards assigned to watch Epstein have been placed on leave.

Epstein wasn’t on suicide watch at the time of his death, multiple people familiar with the investigation have told NBC News. […]

The person who claimed Epstein’s body was described only as an “Epstein associate.”

Failed coup

Juan Guaido Venezuela

Juan Guaido may remain interim president of Venezuela for a while

Looks like plans for a Venezuelan Spring are falling apart. According to Bloomberg, opposition leader Juan Guaido amassed a mini-army of 200 exiled soldiers to storm the Venezuelan border from Colombia… and was stopped by the Colombian government:

Late last month, as U.S. officials joined Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido near a bridge in Colombia to send desperately needed aid to the masses and challenge the rule of Nicolas Maduro, some 200 exiled soldiers were checking their weapons and planning to clear the way for the convoy.

Led by retired General Cliver Alcala, who has been living in Colombia, they were going to drive back the Venezuelan national guardsmen blocking the aid on the other side. The plan was stopped by the Colombian government, which learned of it late and feared violent clashes at a highly public event it promised would be peaceful.

Almost no provisions got in that day and hopes that military commanders would abandon Maduro have so far been dashed. Even though Guaido is back in Caracas, recognized by 50 nations as the legitimate leader of Venezuela, the impromptu taking up of arms shows that the push to remove Maduro — hailed by the U.S. as inevitable — is growing increasingly chaotic and risky.

Bloomberg appears to suggest that Guaido is taking order from the US:

There have been other concerns. Guaido was planning to make a tour of European capitals this week to build international support, but the Americans told him he needed to return to Venezuela or he’d lose whatever momentum remained.

He’ll also need to be in Venezuela to serve as Maduro bait:

The Latin American diplomat, who has been in contact with Washington, said the U.S. strategy seems to be to continue to provoke instability in Venezuela in hopes that Maduro will make a move that could warrant more aggressive U.S. action. Bolton and Abrams have said that arresting Guaido would prompt a severe response.

Dunno, given its track record on regime change, maybe the US should sit this one out. Just a suggestion.

Rail of fail

Nearly 420 million people are reported to have used China’s high-speed rail system during the annual Spring Festival holiday that has just wrapped up. Late last year, China opened the Vibrant Express, Hong Kong’s first bullet train, which zips passengers from the Special Administrative Region to Guangzhou in 48 minutes.

Meanwhile, in the US:

California Gov. Gavin Newsom announced Tuesday he’s abandoning a plan to build a high-speed rail line between Los Angeles and San Francisco, a project with an estimated cost that has ballooned to $77 billion.

“Let’s be real,” Newsom said in his first State of the State address. “The current project, as planned, would cost too much and respectfully take too long. There’s been too little oversight and not enough transparency.”

The idea long championed by Newsom’s predecessor, Jerry Brown, is years behind schedule. The latest estimate for completion is 2033.

Newsom, though, said he wants to finish construction that’s already underway on a segment of the high-speed train through California’s Central Valley, arguing it will revitalize the economically depressed region. He’s also replacing Brown’s head of the state board that oversees the project and pledged more accountability for contractors that run over on costs.

One can’t really blame the new governor for this, as the promise of an LA-to-SF bullet train, which California voters approved in 2008, has always been a huge scam:

When California voters approved construction of a bullet train in 2008, they had a legal promise that passengers would be able to speed from Los Angeles to San Francisco in two hours and 40 minutes.

But over the next decade, the state rail authority made a series of political and financial compromises that slowed speeds on long stretches of the track.

The authority says it can still meet its trip time commitments, though not by much.

Computer simulations conducted earlier this year by the authority, obtained by The Times under a public records act request, show the bullet train is three minutes and 10 seconds inside the legal mandate.

Such a tight margin of error has some disputing whether the rail network will regularly hit that two-hour-40 minute time, in part because the assumptions that went into those simulations are highly optimistic and unproven. The premise hinges on trains operating at higher speeds than virtually all the systems in Asia and Europe; human train operators consistently performing with the precision of a computer model; favorable deals on the use of tracks that the state doesn’t even own; and amicable decisions by federal safety regulators.

And let’s not even get started on the New York City subway.

Actually, let’s.

Who would have thunk

I admit, it never would have occurred to me that this housing development in Turkey was not destined for success:

Burj Al Babas Turkey

From Curbed:

Nestled into the beautiful rolling hills of central Turkey, there’s a housing development of apocalyptic proportions. Rows of identical faux chateaux sit empty at the Burj Al Babas complex after its developer, Sarot Group, recently filed for bankruptcy.

When construction started in 2014, the Burj Al Babas was supposed to be a luxury residential retreat for wealthy investors from the Middle East. The $200 million complex called for 732 identical homes in the style of the French chateaux, each with an ornate facade, Juliet balconies, and a round turret fit for a princess. The interiors could be customized to the buyer’s desires.

The cookie-cutter mini-castles were going for anywhere from $370,000 and $530,000, and according to Bloomberg, plenty of people were already buying them. Just not enough, apparently. By the time the developer filed for bankruptcy, they had completed 587 homes and were $27 million in debt.

At first glance, I assumed it was in China.

People don’t like fuel tax hikes

At this point, I think that’s a safe conclusion to draw from events in France and, now, Zimbabwe:

Violent protests erupted in Zimbabwe’s two largest cities after the government announced a massive fuel hike.

Police fired tear gas in order to contain the protests in the capital Harare and Bulawayo Monday, while protesters threw rocks, burned tires and blocked streets.

There were media reports of riot police using live ammunition to disperse the crowds.

At least 13 people were injured by gunfire, the Zimbabwe Association of Doctors for Human Rights said.

The clashes came on the first day of a three-day strike called by unions in response to an intensifying economic crisis.

On Saturday, President Emmerson Mnangagwa announced a 150 percent rise in fuel prices.

More Zimbabwe news (from last November):

Zimbabwe’s President Emmerson Mnangagwa on Friday laid the foundation stone for huge new parliament to be built with Chinese funds outside the capital Harare.

The imposing circular complex will be built over 32 months by the Shanghai Construction group at Mount Hampden, 18 kilometres (11 miles) north-west of Harare, the Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation reported.

Officials say the current colonial-era parliamentary building in the city centre is too small to accommodate lawmakers.

Mnangagwa said at the ceremony that China had provided a “grant, not a loan, to build a new parliament”, without giving a figure.

“Other facilities like banks, hotels will be built around this place,” Mnangagwa said adding that a “modern, smart city” was planned.

Mnangagwa took over from long-time ruler Robert Mugabe who was ousted by the military in November 2017.

He has vowed to revive Zimbabwe’s economy that has been in ruins for nearly two decades.

China has funded and provided loans for many infrastructure projects across Africa in recent years, ranging from roads and power plants to sports stadiums and government institutions.

Critics say China’s increasing sway over the continent undermines democracy and sovereignty.