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.

Italy on full lockdown

It has been less than seven weeks since Wuhan and nearby cities began to impose travel bans – and only three weeks since Hubei province itself (population: ~58 million) was placed on full lockdown by the authorities.

Now the Western, democratic world is witnessing its first lockdown on a similar scale, with Italy (population: 60 million) extending quarantine measures across the whole country.

At this rate, how long before Governor Cuomo blocks the roads and trains out of New York City?

Bonus: notes from a very interesting podcast chat with Scott Adams and Naval Ravikant.

The effectiveness of a mass quarantine

Hypothesis: The effectiveness of a mass quarantine is greatly reduced when the target population is given several hours’ advance notice of it.

Item (Wuhan):

A sudden overnight quarantine, with a 7-hour grace period for people to leave, has predictably led to this. Can an epidemic both be severe enough to justify a lockdown of 10m people and sufficiently under-control to allow this?

Item (Northern Italy):

There was chaos and confusion in the hours before Conte signed the decree, as word leaked to the news media about the planned quarantine. Students at the University of Padua in northern Italy who had been out at bars on a Saturday night saw the rumors on their cellphones and rushed back to their apartments to grab their belongings and head to the train station.

Hundreds of passengers, some wearing face masks and rubber gloves, crammed onto the last local train leaving Padua at 11:30 p.m. Anxious students wrapped scarves around their heads, shared sanitizing gel, and sat on their suitcases in the aisles. No conductor came by to check tickets.

More supply chain disruption

Chris Martenson of Peak Prosperity talks about how the Indian government has banned the export of 26 active pharmaceutical ingredients (APIs) due to coronavirus (Reuters report here):

And more:

And here’s an excellent interview with Cornell professor David Collum on coronavirus, what we don’t know, and erring to the side of caution: https://quoththeraven.podbean.com/e/quoth-the-raven-175-cornell-professor-dave-collum-on-the-coronavirus/

Italy quarantines a quarter of its population

Escape from Milan (source)

Wuhan-style mass quarantines come to the West:

Italy announced a sweeping quarantine early Sunday, restricting the movements of about a quarter of its population in a bid to limit contagions and end the virus’ advance at the epicenter of Europe’s outbreak.

Shortly after midnight, Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte signed a decree affecting about 16 million people in the country’s prosperous north, including the Lombardy region and at least 14 provinces in neighboring regions. The extraordinary measures will be in place until April 3.

“For Lombardy and for the other northern provinces that I have listed there will be a ban for everybody to move in and out of these territories and also within the same territory,” Conte said. “Exceptions will be allowed only for proven professional needs, exceptional cases and health issues.” […]

In its daily update, Italy’s civil protection agency said the number of people with the coronavirus rose by 1,247 in the last 24 hours, taking the total to 5,883. Another 36 people also died as a result of the virus, taking the total to 233.

There was chaos and confusion hours before Conte signed the decree, as word leaked that the government was planning the quarantine.

Packed bars and restaurants emptied quickly as people rushed to the train station in Padua’s Veneto region. Travelers with suitcases, wearing face masks, gloves and carrying bottles of sanitizing gel shoved their way on to trains.

All this over 233 deaths? Yes, yes, I understand the concept of exponential growth; still, this seems extreme.

Next up: Seattle?

The West Coast?

New York?

The Northeast? (Oh wait: “Amtrak to suspend nonstop Acela trains between DC, NY amid coronavirus concerns”)

Life imitates art

Did China take a page out of a bestselling American author’s book?

The Eyes of Darkness, a 1981 thriller by bestselling suspense author Dean Koontz, tells of a Chinese military lab that creates a virus as part of its biological weapons programme. The lab is located in Wuhan, which lends the virus its name, Wuhan-400. A chilling literary coincidence or a case of writer as unwitting prophet?

In The Eyes of Darkness, a grieving mother, Christina Evans, sets out to discover whether her son Danny died on a camping trip or if – as suspicious messages suggest – he is still alive. She eventually tracks him down to a military facility where he is being held after being accidentally contaminated with man-made microorganisms created at the research centre in Wuhan.

If that made the hair on the back of your neck stand up, read this passage from the book: “It was around that time that a Chinese scientist named Li Chen moved to the United States while carrying a floppy disk of data from China’s most important and dangerous new biological weapon of the past decade. They call it Wuhan-400 because it was developed in their RDNA laboratory just outside the city of Wuhan.”

In another strange coincidence, the Wuhan Institute of Virology, which houses China’s only level four biosafety laboratory, the highest-level classification of labs that study the deadliest viruses, is just 32km from the epicentre of the current coronavirus outbreak
. The opening of the maximum-security lab was covered in a 2017 story in the journal Nature, which warned of safety risks in a culture where hierarchy trumps an open culture.

There’s a twist, though:

However, Wuhan wasn’t even originally mentioned in The Eyes of Darkness. The first edition of the book, written under Koontz’s pseudonym Leigh Nichols, concerns a virus called Gorki-400 that was created by the Russians and emerged from “the city of Gorki”.

The change to Wuhan came when the book was released in hardback under Koontz’s own name in 1989. The year of the book’s re-release is significant – 1989 marked the end of the Cold War. And with the collapse of the Soviet Union, the country was no longer communist.