Fear & Loathing in the Land Down Under – EOH 8/13

As mentioned in Tuesday’s newsletter at the very end, unsurprisingly, despite claims that Jacinda Ardern’s government in New Zealand managed to end COVID-19 in the country, cases have risen, leading to the government to enact a lockdown in Auckland. A similar situation has occurred in Australia, except involving hotels and hotel employees behaving badly. In both cases, the trouble with a lockdown after the fact is that it’s an inherently top down measure, without a meaningful way to measure success, and ignores the negative secondary impacts that cost lives. While one may try, you can’t see everything, and eventually, something slips through the cracks. 


Small Businesses Are Dying by the Thousands — And No One Is Tracking the Carnage


“Big companies are going bankrupt at a record pace, but that’s only part of the carnage. By some accounts, small businesses are disappearing by the thousands amid the Covid-19 pandemic, and the drag on the economy from these failures could be huge. This wave of silent failures goes uncounted in part because real-time data on small business is notoriously scarce, and because owners of small firms often have no debt, and thus no need for bankruptcy court. “Probably all you need to do is call the utilities and tell them to turn them off and close your door,” said William Dunkelberg, who runs a monthly survey as chief economist for the National Federation of Independent Business. Nevertheless, closures “are going to be well above normal because we’re in a disastrous economic situation,” Dunkelberg said.”

Coronavirus makes for a brutal quarter for smaller US companies


“Small and medium-sized US companies suffered a complete wipeout in profits in the second quarter because of the Covid-19 crisis, in sharp contrast to large multinationals that emerged from the most intense phase of the pandemic in better shape.

As the earnings season draws to a close, companies within the Russell 2000 stock index — the small-cap benchmark — have reported an aggregate loss of $1.1bn, compared to profits of almost $18bn a year earlier, according to data provider FactSet. Meantime, the much bigger companies within the benchmark S&P 500 index have posted a 34 per cent aggregate drop in earnings, to $233bn.“

How to Understand COVID-19 Numbers


“The first thing I asked experts was: What metric would you recommend I track if I wanted to understand what was going on in my state? Both Matthew Fox, professor of epidemiology and global health at Boston University, and Youyang Gu, a data scientist best known for his COVID-19 prediction models, advised looking at three measurements together: number of cases, case positivity rates and number of deaths. “Cases going up or down tells you a fair bit about what’s going on at the moment in terms of transmission of the virus — but it’s only valid if we’re testing enough people,” Fox said. When there aren’t enough tests available, as was the case in New York in March, the number of cases reported will be an undercount, perhaps by a lot. That’s where case positivity rates come in: that measures the percentage of total tests conducted that are coming back positive. It helps you get a sense of how much testing is being done overall in a region.”

Scientists uneasy as Russia approves 1st coronavirus vaccine


“Russia on Tuesday became the first country to approve a coronavirus vaccine, a move that was met with international skepticism and unease because the shots have only been studied in dozens of people. President Vladimir Putin announced the Health Ministry’s approval and said one of his two adult daughters already was inoculated. He said the vaccine underwent the necessary tests and was shown to provide lasting immunity to the coronavirus, although Russian authorities have offered no proof to back up claims of safety or effectiveness. “I know it has proven efficient and forms a stable immunity,” Putin said. “We must be grateful to those who made that first step very important for our country and the entire world.””


Munk Debates: Lockdown


“Over five million cases. More than 160,000 deaths, and counting. The U.S. currently leads the global tally for the highest number of COVID-19 cases. California, an early success story, has had to aggressively rollback the reopening of schools and business. Louisiana, Idaho, Texas, and Nevada are among dozens of states experiencing surging case counts, rising hospitalizations and increased deaths. Meanwhile some countries, originally devastated by the coronavirus, are reopening successfully, after driving new infections down to manageable levels. When public health policies, such as physical distancing, hand washing, masks, and increased testing, can’t bend the curve in new infections, some say the only way to prevent tens of thousands of more deaths is a second wave of shutdowns targeting the hardest hit areas. Critics say with shutdowns, the supposed “cure”, is worse than the disease. Millions will be denied essential medical treatment, including mental health. Jobs and businesses will be permanently lost. And, closed schools will prevent a much-needed return to normalcy for children and parents alike. Shutdowns are not the answer to the ongoing threat of COVID-19.”

COVID‐19 and Vitamin D: A lesson from the skin


The negative outcomes of COVID‐19 diseases respiratory distress (ARDS) and the damage to other organs are secondary to a “cytokine storm” and to the attendant oxidative stress. Active hydroxyl‐forms of vitamin D are anti‐inflammatory, induce anti‐oxidative responses, and stimulate innate immunity against infectious agents. These properties are shared by calcitriol and the CYP11A1‐generated non‐calcemic hydroxyderivatives. They inhibit the production of pro‐inflammatory cytokines, downregulate NF‐κΒ, show inverse agonism on RORγ and counteract oxidative stress through the activation of NRF‐2. Therefore, a direct delivery of hydroxyderivatives of vitamin D deserves consideration in the treatment of COVID‐19 or ARDS of different etiology. We also recommend treatment of COVID‐19 patients with high dose vitamin D since populations most vulnerable to this disease are likely vitamin D deficient and patients are already under supervision in the clinics. We hypothesize that different routes of delivery (oral and parenteral) will have different impact on the final outcome.“”

Exaggerated risk of transmission of COVID-19 by fomites


“A clinically significant risk of severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) transmission by fomites (inanimate surfaces or objects) has been assumed on the basis of studies that have little resemblance to real-life scenarios.

The longest survival (6 days) of severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus (SARS-CoV) on surfaces was done by placing a very large initial virus titre sample (107 infectious virus particles) on the surface being tested. Another study that claimed survival of 4 days used a similarly large sample (106 infectious virus particles) on the surface. A report by van Doremalen and colleagues found survival of both SARS-CoV and SARS-CoV-2 of up to 2 days (on surfaces) and 3 days (in aerosols generated in the laboratory), but again with a large inoculum (105–107 infectious virus particles per mL in aerosols, 104 infectious virus particles on surfaces). Yet another study found long survival (5 days) of human coronavirus 229E on surfaces with what I would still consider a substantially large viral load (103 plaque-forming units) in a cell lysate. However, using a cell lysate rather than purified or semipurified virus might enable initial viral proliferation or protection from the effects of the sample drying out.”

COVID-19 and Severe Obesity: A Big Problem?


“Early reports from China and Italy, where the pandemic first took hold, identified a broad range of factors—old age, autoimmune disease, hypertension, and coronary artery disease—as risks for worse outcomes. However, as the pandemic reached the United States, another factor appeared that was particularly common in severely affected patients: obesity. The United States has a 20% rate of severe obesity (body mass index [BMI] >35 kg/m2) and a 10% rate of morbid obesity (BMI >40 kg/m2)—the highest rates in the industrialized world. More than 40% of Americans are considered obese (BMI >30 kg/m2). One possibility was that given this high prevalence, one would expect to find obesity more often in patients with COVID-19 as well. Yet, by early April, research was countering this hypothesis, showing that patients with COVID-19 in the intensive care unit were more likely to be obese than historical ICU patients without COVID-19 (1), and that obese persons who had COVID-19 were more likely to require hospitalization and intensive care unit treatment (2). In contrast to other known risk factors, obesity was very common even in persons younger than 50 years, and this high prevalence predicted a shift in severe COVID-19 disease to younger populations (3).”

Charts and Graphics

COVID-19 Deaths in England

The United Kingdom recently removed some deaths from the COVID-19 death toll count after allegations of inaccuracy arose regarding the exact cause of death. With the excluded deaths, the decline in COVID-19 deaths is faster than it seemed in practice.  

Daily and cumulative number of reported COVID-19 cases in Australia

While Australia had enacted a lockdown in several of its cities recently, 

Daily Confirmed and Probable Cases (New Zealand)

While New Zealand did have a first wave that they managed to stop, closing the country in the end is impossible. You can’t just close down a country forever. 

Daily New Confirmed COVID-19 Cases

Despite Peru having some of the strictest lockdowns in the world, the amount of deaths in Peru has not declined and has been steadily increasing since the middle of spring. 

UK Officially in Recession 

After two quarters of a decline in GDP, the UK has entered a recessionary period. It isn’t surprising as the UK still has one of the strictest lockdowns in the world. 

More  than 80% of  companies in the S&P 500 Topped Earnings Forecasts

Despite economic life being disrupted, many companies have been able to make the best of it. However, companies whose work depends most on in-person interaction, such as Real estate or hospitality, have not fared as well. 

International News

The primary focus for today is on New Zealand and Australia’s new lockdowns.

Additionally, here is a nice opinion piece from Unherd on COVID-19 in Sweden that contrasts well to the approach New Zealand and Australia are taking. Their laissez faire approach is taking the lead by emphasising stability, trust, and the long-term health of their society rather than short-term media gains.  

New Zealand records first new local Covid-19 cases in 102 days


“A swift, early lockdown appeared to have quashed the spread of Covid-19 and made New Zealand the envy of the world as daily life returned to normal, free from restrictions. But that all changed on Tuesday when four cases of the coronavirus – the first spread locally from an unknown source in more than 100 days – were diagnosed in Auckland, plunging New Zealand’s largest city, into a strict three-day shutdown. The mystery cases were all diagnosed in one family, and Jacinda Ardern, New Zealand’s prime minister, said “many questions” remained about their source. At a hastily-arranged, late night news conference at parliament in Wellington on Tuesday, Ardern said those who had tested positive did not work at the country’s borders and had not traveled from overseas. They also had no known connection with the managed isolation facilities where all New Zealanders returning to the country from overseas must spend two weeks in quarantine.”

New Zealand suspects ‘some failure at the border’ after COVID-19 returns


“New Zealand officials and scientists are eying a breach in isolation security as the possible cause of the first cases of community transmission in the country in 102 days. Investigators are exploring several possibilities, but experts believe the alternatives—that the virus was circulating undetected or that it entered the country on a freight shipment—are unlikely. “We must have had some failure at the border, it’s unlikely there could have been silent transmission for that long,” says Nick Wilson, a public health scientist at University of Otago.”

Australia’s 2nd-largest city goes into tough coronavirus lockdown that could cost economy up to $6.5B


“More than 250,000 Australians are now being told to stay home from their workplaces Thursday as the city of Melbourne has entered a 6-week lockdown to contain a growing coronavirus outbreak. The tough, wide-ranging measures – which regulate daily living ranging from who can shop at stores to exercise time – are expected to cost Australia’s economy up to $6.5 billion in the September quarter, according to Prime Minister Scott Morrison. “This is a heavy blow,” Morrison said Thursday as the government forecast the lockdown will push up the unemployment rate from just over 11% to almost 14%. “A heavy blow.”

New Zealand considers freight as possible source of new coronavirus cluster


“New Zealand officials are investigating the possibility that its first COVID-19 cases in more than three months were imported by freight, as the country’s biggest city plunged back into lockdown on Wednesday. The discovery of four infected family members in Auckland led Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern to swiftly reimpose tight restrictions in the city and social distancing measures across the entire country. The source of the outbreak has baffled health officials, who said they were confident there was no local transmission of the virus in New Zealand for 102 days.”

New Zealand economy doing better than expected, finance minister says


“New Zealand’s economy is doing better than predicted, thanks to an early economic and health response to the coronavirus pandemic, the finance minister said on Monday. The government announced plans to tackle a potential second wave of infections by setting aside NZ$14 billion ($9.16 billion) from a COVID Response and Recovery Fund included in this year’s budget in May. “The economy is doing better than expected and is more open than anywhere else in the world,” Grant Robertson told a news conference. “We want to manage debt as tightly as possible and remain prepared for a rainy day.” Robertson said the government was no longer considering ‘helicopter’ cash handouts, or the direct distribution of free cash to individuals as a form of policy stimulus for the economy, a strategy it had said in May was being discussed.”

How one hotel outbreak of Covid-19 put an Australian state back in lockdown


“The south-eastern state of Victoria in Australia is in the midst of a second lockdown. A breach in infection control procedures by security staff contracted by the government to monitor returned international travellers was one of the factors that triggered Victoria’s resurgence of infections. Melissa Davey, the Melbourne bureau chief for Guardian Australia, tells Rachel Humphreys how Australia fought the virus so effectively during the first wave and how people have responded to this new infection. Australia’s only free 24/7 counselling service for young people has reported that demand in Victoria increased 8% in July compared with the previous month.”

What we can learn from the Swedish paradox

Note: A nice perspective on Sweden’s COVID-19 approach from someone who is currently in Sweden. Check out the island he is likely on, Sandhamn

“I am writing this from the water’s edge on one of the 24,000 islands of the Stockholm archipelago. It’s a lovely summers day, boats are coming in and out of the little harbour and the restaurant is doing a busy trade. Across the sound, the rocks slope straight into the sea and are dotted with summer houses. The homes are not divided by fences, but sit at a respectful distance from each other, never in a row but each positioned in a particular spot of the owner’s choosing; there’s a harmony of style which still leaves room for individuation — some houses are yellow, some red, some slightly more modern, some slightly more traditional, but each adorned with a well-kept garden, a boat-house and pier, and of course a Swedish flag. It’s a vision of the Good Life, Swedish-style. Since its lockdown-free response to Covid-19, Sweden has suddenly found itself the pin-up nation for libertarians worldwide, who see in its more laissez-faire response a defence of individual freedom and self-governance above all else. But Sweden is not a libertarian society — far from it; in reality, they are sticklers for the rules. Try putting decking on the seaside edge of your garden, or buying alcohol from anywhere other than the state monopoly — you will be met with restrictions that would be unthinkable in either Britain or the United States.”

The lockdown has been a catastrophe


“For the past seven weeks, the number of excess deaths in Britain has been below the five-year average. The number of people in hospital with Covid-19 has fallen by 96 per cent since the peak of the pandemic, and deaths in hospitals have fallen by 99 per cent. Despite the summer heatwave, nearly three times as many people are currently dying in Britain from pneumonia and flu than from Covid-19. The Office for National Statistics (ONS) estimates that at any given time between 27 July and 2 August, just 0.05 per cent of the population not in hospitals or care homes were likely to test positive for Covid. Barring the possibility of a second wave, the actual Covid epidemic seems to be behind us. But the broader disaster, sadly, is not. A newly released government report from the ONS and other government departments suggests that in the past two months, for every three excess Covid deaths, two more were caused by lockdown. The report is an update of a previous SAGE paper which, back in April, estimated that 200,000 could die from the cost of lockdown.”

An Announcement 

The team behind this newsletter recently rolled out a data dashboard to help provide additional analysis on  COVID-19. However, the data requires a subscription. Take a look and reach out to us if you are interested in additional COVID-19 analysis. 

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