The Outbreak Outsourced: Why Italy was hit hard

Incompetence and obsession with money and exports, that’s why.

Chinese nationals have been living in northern Italian cities for years (New Yorker, April 2018), serving at cheap labour for Italy’s fashion industry.  Some live and work illegally, but the majority are supplied with visas and employed by the big fashion houses (Gucci, Prada, etc.).  A lot of what they make returns to the Chinese market for the…what’s Mandarin for nouveau riche?

As the Times of India reports today (link below), there were up to 300,000 Chinese nationals working in northern Italian cities when the COVID-19 outbreak happened.  Many of these Chinese nationals were from Wuhan.

COVID-19: Did you know about Italy’s China connection

Times of India, March 19, 2020

If there is one country that has suffered the most due to COVID-19 beyond China, it has to be the European country of Italy. But what is the connection between Italy and the novel coronavirus considering the deadly virus is reported to have originated from China?

The answer is fashionably simple. The northern part of Italy has been a traditionally prosperous region due to the flourishing fashion and garment industry. Most of the big global brands like Gucci and Prada have their base in this region. With China offering one of the cheapest manufacturing options in the world, it came as little surprise that most of these fashion brands were working with China.

A large number of these Italian fashion and garment houses had outsourced their manufacturing to Chinese labour, specifically in Wuhan. Italy also has direct flights from Wuhan and reports suggest over 100,000 Chinese citizens were working in Italian factories.

Italy didn’t cut off visa issuance to Chinese citizens until January 31st (Schengen Agreement visa website)They waited three weeks to stop Italy-Wuhan travel after Beijing announced mapping COVID-19 (Axios’s timeline of events), when the disease was already widespread in Wuhan.

Three weeks.  The Italian government has to explain why it allowed travel to continue when the world already knew about the outbreak.

If the disease had hit a different Chinese city, maybe the outbreak wouldn’t be worldwide.  Then again, it’s not impossible that the disease originated in Italy and went the other way.  HIV didn’t become a worldwide crisis until it was carried to EuroNA countries.


It’s Hard Not To Laugh….

As mentioned yesterday, Taiwan has declared that as of today (2020/3/19) all foreign nationals without legal residency will have to leave when their visitor visas expire.  One Frenchman has already been detained at the airport and will be repatriated after doing a “visa run” to Singapore.  A UK national was readmitted because he is married to a Taiwanese citizen.  (Will there be any quickie marriages because of this?)

Less than 30 minutes ago as I write (14:30 UTC+8), a Briton posted a whine to a facebook group, claiming his forced repatriation to the UK in a few days is “racism” against white people.  Needless to say, the comments in the group are pure gold.  Eighty five comments in 30 minutes.

But that’s not the whole story.  Below the fold is a screenshot from his personal page.

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A Bone To Pick: Here’s that intermediate fossil they say doesn’t exist

Atheists and atavists!  Step this way and let me present to you, the Elpistostege, the earliest example of fingers in a transitional fossil!

Cue the creationists: “So what if you found a fossil?  Now you have to find TWO intermediate fossils!”

Fish finger fossils show the beginnings of hands

Researchers have discovered the fossil of a fish with finger-like digits in its fin that lived 380 million years ago, according to a new study. And they believe it bridges the evolutionary gap between marine and land vertebrates as one of the oldest examples of a skeletal pattern resembling a hand.

About 374 million years ago, life on Earth began to transition out of the world’s oceans to walk on land. This gave rise to the tetrapods, or four-limbed vertebrates, that included dinosaurs, land animals and eventually humans. Scientists consider this transition from water to land, and animals acquiring hands and feet, to be one of the most significant events in the history of life on Earth.

But the fossil record about the evolutionary step between marine and land life is sparse. Researchers have focused their efforts on tetrapod-like fish, called elpistostegalians, that lived between 359 and 393 million years ago during the Middle and Late Devonian periods.

Until now, they had never found the complete skeleton of the pectoral fin, also known as the fore-fin. But researchers have discovered one of the most complete elpistostegalian fossils yet: a 5-foot-long fossilized fish in Miguasha, Quebec.


The study published Wednesday in the journal Nature.

“Today we announce in the journal Nature our discovery of a complete specimen of a tetrapod-like fish, called Elpistostege, which reveals extraordinary new information about the evolution of the vertebrate hand,” said John Long, study author and Strategic Professor in Palaeontology at Flinders University in Australia.


Unimportant Talk: Just give them the damn trophy

Many sports leagues were late in their seasons or just beginning when the pandemic was declared.  For leagues which have playoffs, the entire year could be nullified and no champion crowned because of corona.  (See what I did there?)

Most football (soccer) leagues aound the world don’t have playoffs.  They play a double round robin against every team in the league, home and away once each.  The team with the most points wins.

In the English Premier League, teams have played 28 or 29 games, nine or ten remaining.  Liverpool (27 wins, 1 tie, 1 loss) leads the league by a staggering 25 points, a lead rarely seen in football leagues.

Only second place Manchester City can mathematically catch them. For that to happen, Liverpool would have to lose ALL nine remaining games and Man City win nine of ten, or win eight and tie two.  A single Liverpool win would clinch it.  With the exception of West Ham (near the bottom of the league), all the Premiership teams voiced support for giving Liverpool the trophy if the season is cancelled.

This is a near insurmountable margin, not a close five point lead.  Although sports are low of the status of importance, this is one where almost everyone who follows football (seriously or casually) can say Liverpool deserves their first championship in thirty years.  Just give them the damn trophy already.

The Door Slammed: Taiwan has barred entry to ALL new foreign nationals

I expected this, but not so soon.  I could leave and come back, but I have no plans to.

Sadly, this means friends of mine who planned to return won’t be able to.

Taiwan to bar entry of foreign nationals to combat virus

Taiwan will bar all foreign nationals from entering Taiwan starting Thursday, with some exceptions, as it intensifies efforts to contain the spread of the novel coronavirus disease COVID-19, the Central Epidemic Command Center (CECC) said Wednesday.

Health Minister and CECC head Chen Shih-chung (陳時中), announced the new restrictions at a CECC news conference Wednesday, and said it was necessary after seeing a spike in confirmed cases among Taiwanese who had traveled abroad recently.

Among the foreign nationals who will not be subject to the ban are those who hold Alien Resident Certificates (ARCs) or documents proving they are in Taiwan for diplomatic or other official purposes or to fulfill business contracts, as well as those who have received special permits, Foreign Minister Joseph Wu (吳釗燮) said.

Freight ships continue to come and go (imports and exports), but the crews are not permitted to leave the ships while in port.  They can be unloaded by machine without human contact.


Other unsurprising developments:

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs will not grant any extensions to foreign nationals with visitor visas. Force majeure (other than COVID-19), a lack of available flights, quarantine or a total lockdown on the foreigner’s home country are the only exceptions for remaining past the expiry date.  I guess we’ll find out who the illegal workers are when they can’t do visa runs anymore.

The government plans an NT$100 billion (~US$3b) stimulus package in expectation of a 2% drop in the local economy over the next year. Foreigners did not receive any in 2008, so it’s unlikely we will this time either. I’ll just be glad to keep my job, residency visa and health care card.

Trans People Targeted: Who will save us from the cops?

A few weeks ago, there were news items from Manila of Transgender women being rounded up by the cops.  Initial reports gave the impression it was the national government and Duterte giving the order.  Later items show that it was just two individual cops misusing an anti-sex trafficking campaign to abuse and harass people.  Both of them have been fired.

The two cops were targeting Transgender women, falsely luring them into police stations then holding them under the false pretense of “preventing sex trafficking”.  If they wanted to do that, they would shut down the SOGO three-hour hotels which operate openly all over Manila.  (Are there any Transgender sex workers in Manila?  Probably, but I never met any.  But I did meet and see several Transgender people just going about their days, working in stores or partying in bars.)

LGBTQ+ groups hit Oplan X-Men’s ‘targeted harassment’ against transgender women

Camp Queer points out ‘Oplan X-Men’ is only one example of the routine denial of transgender people’s right to exist in public spaces

LGBTQ+ groups were up in arms about the alleged profiling of transgender women in Makati City, caught especially in a viral video that circulated online on Friday, February 14.

It was in the video where two cops, Patrolman Timmy Paez and Police Corporal Juliel Atal, can be seen accosting Anne Pelos and inviting her to go to their headquarters for “profiling.”

Pelos said she was on her way home along Makati Avenue when the police stopped her.

In a now deleted Facebook post, Makati City Police dubbed their alleged profiling of transgender women in the city as “Oplan X-Men” in a bid to “rescue ladyboys” from exploitation and human-trafficking.

However, Makati City police chief Rogelio Simon said “Oplan X-Men” – the alleged profiling of transgender women in the city – was not a part of any police activity in Makati.

Simon confirmed to Rappler that Paez and Atal were relieved from their posts.

[Read more…]

Political Distance: Will Taiwan eventually close the island?

In the wake of new cases brought back to Taiwan, the government has announced travel restrictions for school teachers and all students below college level (i.e. not adults).  Infections worldwide have been much lower amongst children, so this is likely less about protecting kids than kids’ poor handwashing habits, bringing the disease back home with them.

[Addendum below the fold]

Virus Outbreak: Students, teachers barred from traveling overseas

The government has decided to prohibit students and teachers at high-school level and below from traveling abroad until the end of this semester due to the recent increase in the number of imported COVID-19 cases, the Central Epidemic Command Center (CECC) said yesterday.

Following discussions with experts, the Executive Yuan and other government agencies, the center decided that overseas travel would be inappropriate during the pandemic and made a recommendation that the Executive Yuan require that students and teachers at institutions below tertiary level not go abroad, said Minister of Health and Welfare Chen Shih-chung (陳時中), who heads the center.  The requirement would be in effect through the final day of classes, Chen said.

Summer vacation would allow ample time for self-quarantine.  Further down the item it says:

Prior to the CECC’s announcement, the National Students’ Rights Seminar in Taiwan, in response to the several local government following New Taipei City’s ban, said in a statement that it believed the local governments’ travel restrictions were in violation of Article 10 of the Constitution, which guarantees the “freedom of residence and of change of residence.”

Freedom of residence?  Their movement within Taiwan is not being restricted.  This nonsense isn’t going to fly, nor should it.

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Disease Soaked: Communal virus communion

The Greek unorthodox cult have decided that they will continue having “communion”. But unlike the catholics and wafers placed into mouths by hand, the Greeks drink from the same spoon.  Only the first person drinks from a clean spoon – if it’s washed and not handled.

In era of coronavirus, Greek church says Holy Communion will carry on

Greece’s Orthodox Church said that Holy Communion, the partaking of wine soaked in bread from the same chalice for atonement from sins, would continue despite the coronavirus outbreak.

Debate has raged in deeply religious Greece on whether it would be prudent for the Church to continue the ritual, where worshippers sip from the same spoon.

The Greek Orthodox Church attempted to put a stop to the chatter on Monday: “This cannot be the cause of the spread of illness,” the Holy Synod, the ruling body of the Church, said in a statement.

In other COVID-19 news, Taiwan’s health ministry announced the total cases are now 59, the newest all traced back to Taiwanese people who returned from vacations.

One of them was in Greece.

[Read more…]

What If This Happens: A hypothetical

Here’s a thought:

In the first three days after the 2001/09/11 attacks, the US’s air quality improved and pollution dropped.

What environmental effect will there be after close to a billion people in industrialized countries stop consuming fossil fuels and natural resources for a month or two?  Will we finally wake up and realize how much damage we’ve done, and how quickly we can change it?

I hope it’s a silver lining.

Anagram Play: Ha! Claiming one parent

Did you know the komodo dragon is a parthenogenic animal(See the title.)

I didn’t.  I also didn’t know it has W and Z chromosomes.  Females are WZ and males are ZZ, so only male parthenogenic offspring are viable.

A Komodo dragon with no male partner gave birth to three hatchlings

Charlie, a female Komodo dragon at the Chattanooga Zoo in Tennessee,

has proved to be the ultimate independent lady after successfully giving birth to three hatchlings without a male partner.

Even though Charlie and a potential mate named Kadal were placed together in hopes of breeding, the first-time mother produced the three brothers, named Onyx, Jasper and Flint, on her own through a phenomenon called parthenogenesis. It’s extremely rare among vertebrates: Only 70 backboned species can do it, which is about 0.1% of all vertebrates, according to Scientific American.

Komodo is definitely not an anagram of kodomo (child *, in Japanese).  They are aggressive and hostile, even within their own species.

[* corrected]

How To (And Not To) Respond: Putting money where empty mouths are

Talk about a hearwarming act of altruism and decency.

The ticket workers, concession staff, custodians and others who are paid hourly at NBA games will lose a lot of income during the shutdown.  The NBA players voluntarily (and NBA team owners after being shamed into it) have agreed to cover the lost income of workers at their arenas.  For a league that generates billions of dollars in annual revenue, this is a drop in the bucket, but will make a big difference to thousands of people.

Compare that with Cheetolini’s inept decision to pump a US$1.5 trillion giveaway to businesses on the stock market.  It was eaten up and disappeared in 30 minutes.  No explanation has been given for how this will be paid for except by continuing to cut off food stamps to 700,000 people . . . until a judge blocked the move because of COVID-19.

As some have noted, $1,500,000,000,000 works out to US$4200 per person in the US.  For working people, a $4000 cheque would have been enough to keep them going while the entire country shut down for one to four months.  If those earning over US$200,000 per year (8% of americans) were excluded, the 300 million remaining would have cost $1.2 trillion and kept the economy going, recouped lated by taxes and the multiplier effect.  Instead the money was thrown into a bottomless pit, never to be seen again.

What does it take to prove to people how incompetent Cheetolini is?  That so-called “wealth gain” on the stock market since 2016 (only for the rich) has completely gone.


Ottawa is planning a stimulus package for Canadians, but it is small businesses and individuals who will receive it.

In 2008, Taiwan issued coupons that could be spent as cash, with a limited time period to redeem them.  I expect the same might happen again if necessary.


WHO Lives And WHO Dies: Italian doctors are faced with a horrible task

Conditions are dire in Italy.  The resources and medical personnel needed are insufficient for the task.  The Italian College of Anesthesia, Analgesia, Resuscitation and Intensive Care (SIAARTI) has told them to treat patients as if they were in a war zone: Treat those who are easy to save, and give palliative care to the rest.

This was preventable, but politicians kowtowed to China for money.

The Atlantic: The Extraordinary Decisions Facing Italian Doctors

There are now simply too many patients for each one of them to receive adequate care.

Now the Italian College of Anesthesia, Analgesia, Resuscitation and Intensive Care (SIAARTI) has published guidelines for the criteria that doctors and nurses should follow as these already extraordinary circumstances worsen.


“Informed by the principle of maximizing benefits for the largest number,” they suggest that “the allocation criteria need to guarantee that those patients with the highest chance of therapeutic success will retain access to intensive care.”

The authors, who are medical doctors, then deduce a set of concrete recommendations for how to manage these impossible choices, including this: “It may become necessary to establish an age limit for access to intensive care.”

Those who are too old to have a high likelihood of recovery, or who have too low a number of “life-years” left even if they should survive, would be left to die. This sounds cruel, but the alternative, the document argues, is no better. “In case of a total saturation of resources, maintaining the criterion of ‘first come, first served’ would amount to a decision to exclude late-arriving patients from access to intensive care.”

In addition to age, doctors and nurses are also advised to take a patient’s overall state of health into account: “The presence of comorbidities needs to be carefully evaluated.”

The doctors will be forgiven for choosing who lives and who dies.  Those who put them in this situation should never be.

By Leaps And Bounds: Do they only get a quarter of the birthdays?

I was debating whether to talk about February 29th and my annual calendar reform rant.  Real life kept me from that, and what I said on facebook didn’t seem noteworthy enough for here.

Then on March 7, Henri Richard died, age 84.  He died a week after his birthday, February 29, 1936.  Richard won eleven Stanley Cups in a twenty (*) year career is the second most successful in North American pro team sports, bettered only by the NBA’s Bill Russell (11 titles in 13 years).

(* correction, not fourteen)

Another famous person who was born on a leap day and died in a leap year was Louise Wood (Feb. 29, 1920).  She was the head of the US Girl Scouts from 1961-1972.  She died in 1988.

Other notable leap day people (good and bad) include:

  • 1840: John Phillip Holland, inventor of the modern submarine (from Ireland)
  • 1860: Herman Hollerith, inventor of the first tabulating machine used in the 1900 US census and founder of the Tabulating Machine Company (which later became IBM)
  • 1904: Jimmy Dorsey, jazz band leader
  • 1928: Joss Ackland, actor
  • 1940: Gretchen Christopher, singer of The Fleetwoods (#1 hits “Come Softly To Me”, “Mr. Blue”)
  • 1956: Aileen Wuornos
  • 1960: Richard Ramirez, the Night Stalker
  • 1984: Cam Ward (2006 Stanley Cup and Conn Smythe Trophy, 2007 World Chamionshipship)

Sure, none of this is life changing, but it’s for the curious.

One thing I recently learnt about leap year babies: most people assume that in other years, their birthday is celebrated on Februry 28.  Maybe individuals do, but governments treat March 1st as their birthday.  When your eighteenth birthday approaches and it’s February 28th, you’re not legally eighteen until the first.  This will likely also apply to sixteen year olds wanting to drive in 2100, but….