If You Need Something To Do: It’s Quarantineowe’en!

If you haven’t heard, March 31 is Quarantineowe’en, a time to dress up in Hallowe’en costumes and post your pictures on whichever site or social media you use. I plan to participate and will post them here and elsewhere.

I was originally planning a Walpurgisnacht party this year (e.g. renting a venue, alcohol, etc.) for April 30th, but nearly all clubs and events are closed locally.  They will open up again soon, but not for a week or two and most will want to go to their regular venues.  Oh well.

Happy Quarantineowe’en to you all!

You Have To Laugh: A coping mechanism for COVID-19

On my facebook page are three posts of collected memes and humour about COVID-19, seen in (read: stolen from) the pages of various groups and friends.  They are sorted as:

Part 1: Welcome to the new normal.

Part 2: Social distancing.

Part 3: Toilet paper and others.

Sometimes, you have to laugh or you’ll break down and cry.

There are 33 pics plus the one below which would be too much of a strain for FtB.  The privacy setting is “world” so anyone can view them, even those not logged in to facebook.  Enjoy.

As for this picture, I’m told the graffiti reads:

“We can’t return to normal, because the normal that we had was precisely the problem.”

Two more, the first in response to Oceanoxia’s post on the people keeping society from breaking down:

And this one’s just too good not to add:

When It Happened Before: An NIH paper on historical epidemics

I ran across the paper quoted below about epidemics and pandemics of the past, published by the US’s National Institute of Health in 2013.  It makes for interesting reading.

The biggest difference between this pandemic and those before the late 20th century is politics.  Yes, the speed of travel makes the spread much faster, but the interaction between governments and what they can justify (read: get away with) has changed drastically.  Unprovoked war measures can no longer be justified against neighbors, not even by China.  It’s not 1945 anymore – during epidemics and pandemics from the 1968 flu until now, governments tread carefully.

During the Black Plague, groups and nations would isolate themselves, sometimes enacting “shoot to kill” policies to outsiders and creating quarantine zones (oft times islands) to place all the infected and keep them away from the rest of society.  In modern politics, countries can’t afford to take a “first strike” attitude towards approaching foreigners.  They can ban airplanes from landing, but they dare not shoot one down as they might have shot people walking and on horseback hundreds of years ago.  We’re not talking about zombies.

Lessons from the History of Quarantine, from Plague to Influenza A

Abstract

In the new millennium, the centuries-old strategy of quarantine is becoming a powerful component of the public health response to emerging and reemerging infectious diseases. During the 2003 pandemic of severe acute respiratory syndrome, the use of quarantine, border controls, contact tracing, and surveillance proved effective in containing the global threat in just over 3 months. For centuries, these practices have been the cornerstone of organized responses to infectious disease outbreaks. However, the use of quarantine and other measures for controlling epidemic diseases has always been controversial because such strategies raise political, ethical, and socioeconomic issues and require a careful balance between public interest and individual rights. In a globalized world that is becoming ever more vulnerable to communicable diseases, a historical perspective can help clarify the use and implications of a still-valid public health strategy.

There’s more quoted below the fold.

[Read more…]

Guess Work: Numberphile looks at the derivatives that matter

Unlike Cheetolini who only cares about Wall Street derivatives, Numberphile thinks in human terms and talks about the spread.  These are not predictions because they lack important variables (e.g. how quickly transmission occurs) but it shows the average viewer how predictions are made.

I’ve done simuations in college, but these equations are over my head.

Music Rules: The soundtrack for your quarantine period

On the lighter side of things. . . .

Below is a list of twenty songs I recommend for your fourteen months weeks days in quarantine to listen at your leisure.  Because you might have nothing else to do.

[ Update: There’s another song added to the end. ]


First up, a Statler Brothers hit recorded in March 1965, “Flowers On The Wall”:

“I keep hearing you’re concerned about my happiness

All that thought you’re giving me is conscience I guess

If I were walking in your shoes I wouldn’t worry none,

While you’re out there and thinking about me,

I’m having lots of fun

Counting flowers on the wall, that don’t bother me at all

Playing solitaire ’til dawn with a deck of 51

Smoking cigarettes and watching Captain Kangaroo

Now don’t tell me I’ve nothing to do”

I think you can guess where this is going. . . .

[Read more…]

Data That I Correlate: Is smoking a factor in COVID-19 deaths?

I know I harp on about smoking.  But when we’re talking about a pandemic that is literally choking people to death and damaging lungs, how can you ignore the possible connection?


Worldometers has become a commonly cited source on COVID-19 for number of infections, deaths and recoveries, providing daily updates. The site is run by a company a Chinese company Dadax, but the site’s “About” page shows where it’s referenced and recommended by other sites (e.g. American Library Association). The numbers of cases and deaths in the table below come from the Worldometers site (copied at time of writing).  The fatality rate is not given, but is easily calculated.  The percentage of smokers by country comes from World Population Review.  (Iraq’s rate of men who smoke is approximately 30%.)

Coronavirus Cases: 338,225    
Deaths: 14,457    
Recovered: 96,958    
    
Country,       Total     Total     Deaths    % of    
Other          Cases     Deaths    by %      Smokers
----------     ------    ------    ------    -------
China          81,054     3,261    4.02%     24.70%
Italy          59,138     5,476    9.26%     24.00%
USA            38,167       396    1.04%     17.25%
Spain          28,603     1,756    6.14%     29.20%
Germany        24,806        93    0.37%     30.35%
Iran           21,638     1,685    7.79%     11.10%
France         14,459       562    3.89%     27.70%
S. Korea        8,897       104    1.17%     27.00%
Switzerland     7,474        98    1.31%     23.30%
UK              5,683       281    4.94%     19.15%
Netherlands     4,204       179    4.26%     25.05%
Belgium         3,401        75    2.20%     23.25%
Austria         3,302        16    0.48%     35.15%
Norway          2,263         7    0.31%     22.25%
Sweden          1,931        21    1.09%     20.60%
Portugal        1,600        14    0.88%     22.60%
Canada          1,426        20    1.40%     14.95%
Denmark         1,395        13    0.93%     17.00%
Australia       1,353         7    0.52%     14.90%
Malaysia        1,306        10    0.77%     22.20%
Brazil          1,209        18    1.49%     15.30%
Czechia         1,120        NA              NA
Japan           1,086        36    3.31%     22.15%
Turkey            947        21    2.21%     25.95%
Israel            945         1    0.11%     30.25%
Ireland           906         4    0.44%     22.15%
Luxembourg        798         8    1.00%     23.60%
Ecuador           789        14    1.77%      8.65%
Pakistan          646         4    0.62%     22.45%
Chile             632         1    0.16%     38.00%
Poland            627         7    1.12%     28.05%
Finland           626         1    0.16%     20.85%
Greece            624        15    2.40%     42.65%
Thailand          599         1    0.17%     21.85%
Iceland           568         1    0.18%     16.05%
Indonesia         514        48    9.34%     39.90%
Saudi Arabia      511        NA              15.40%
Qatar             481        NA              NA
Singapore         455         2    0.44%     16.50%
Romania           433         2    0.46%     29.80%
Slovenia          414         2    0.48%     20.20%
India             396         7    1.77%     11.15%
Philippines       380        25    6.58%     25.75%
Russia            367         1    0.27%     40.90%
Peru              363         5              NA
Bahrain           332         2    0.60%     28.20%
Estonia           326        NA              33.05%
Hong Kong         317         4    1.26%     NA
Egypt             294        10    3.40%     25.10%
Croatia           254         1    0.39%     36.45%
Mexico            251         2    0.80%     13.70%
Lebanon           248         4    1.61%     38.20%
Panama            245         3    1.22%      6.60%
South Africa      240        NA              18.95%
Iraq              233        20    8.58%     NA

There is a noticeable trend. In most countries with high rates of smoking and at least 10 deaths, the mortality rate from COVID-19 is over 2%. (The world national average of smokers is 20%.)  The only countries with a mortality rate over 2% and a smoking rate below the world average of smokers are the UK (19.15%) and Iran (11.10%). They are not outliers since UK smoking rates were over 20% until 2010 and Iran and Italy are both part of China’s “belt and road initiative”, many people commuting between the countries.

China, Italy, Spain, France, UK, Netherlands, Belgium, Greece, Japan, Turkey, Indonesia, Philippines and Egypt all have smoking rates over 20% and over 2% of their infected have died.  Few countries buck that trend (many smokers but less than 2% fatality rate: South Korea, Switzerland, Austria, Germany, Malaysia, Portugal).  Most have advanced medical care systems or were prepared when the first cases appeared.

Worldometers groups all people into two genders, and gives no information on Transgender and Non-Binary people.  There is a much higher fatality rate among “males” than “females” from COVID-19. The WHO claims 40% of men smoke worldwide, only 9% of women, so if smoking is involved, it follows the pattern.

Death Rate by sex:

          Confirmed      All
Sex       cases          cases
------    ---------      -----
Male      4.7%           2.8%
Female    2.8%           1.7%

If smoking is a factor in the mortality rate, then Indonesia is the country at greatest risk. Smoking rates among Indonesian men is 76%, and before COVID-19 appeared 600 smokers die daily in Indonesia from cancer, lung disease and heart disease (youtube video by Al Jazeera). The country has had an estimated 500,000 COVID-19 exposures. Most income earners are men and there is no government social welfare system.


I know, I know, correlation does not prove causation, and I’m not a medical professional. But COVID-19 is a disease that attacks and damages the lungs. I find it hard to believe that smokers and non-smokers will be infected and die at the same rate, even among younger smokers.

Governments Lie, Taxes Don’t: Your phone is dead

Either the phones are dead or the customers are.

Beijing claims to have COVID-19 as under control as the media and internet.  They maintain that the death toll was less than 3200, the number infected only 81,000 and have “no new infections”.

So how did China Mobile lose 7.25 million customers in two months?  Did they just cut off people’s phones to censor people and silence the sharing of information?  Is no one around to use those phones anymore?  Or a combination of the two?

Time will tell.

China Mobile Lost 73 Lakh Users Last Month, People Fear It Exposes A Dangerous Fact

China Mobile’s executive director and chairman Yang Jie said Coronavirus pandemic affected their overall business, with total number of mobile customers decreasing by 7.25 million last month while 4G users fell by 12 million, according to a report in The Standard, a Hong Kong-based newspaper.

This has led to some people to make some sensational claims about the real COVID-19 death toll in China, as opposed to current official numbers.

[…]

Number of new customers signing up for China Mobile also fell 60 percent for the first two months this year (January and February 2020) amid the Coronavirus outbreak, but what’s causing people to especially sit up and take notice is the number of 7.25 million or 72.5 lakh subscriber dip.

There can be plenty of legitimate reasons to explain the fall, but some online commentators and Reddit threads are taking the China Mobile’s 7.25 million sharp subscriber dip number indicative of Coronavirus pandemic’s real casualty number in China, even as official numbers indicate just over 81,000 total affected by COVID-19 leading to over 3,200 deaths.

 

It’s Already Happening: Intimate Partner Violence will get worse

[ Update: France has seen a 30% spike in IPV since quarantine began.  More below the original post. ]


Many people have predicted that isolation, claustrophobia and other things related to quarantine could lead to a rise in Intimate Partner Violence (IPV).

In northern Canada, Alaska and other regions with long winters, IPV is higher than in warmer climates.  Both during and after the wildfires in Australia, there was a spike reports of IPV.

Governments act blindly, if at all, to violence where the perpetrator is usually male and the victims women and children.  Victims need escape from IPV, not “counseling”, yet during a crisis of mass quarantine, governments are likely to make this a lower priority than they usually do.

Professionals have warned that IP will happen more often during quarantine.  I suspect that in some cases there will be no prior instances of IPV, making it hard to predict who will be the perpetrator.  Sadly, there are reports that it has already started.

Domestic violence calls increase as people shelter in place during COVID-19 outbreak

During this time, as family are sequestered inside their homes, there is a dark side. 

Domestic violence shelters are seeing a dramatic increase in calls for help as people shelter in place to avoid COVID-19 exposure.

Staying at home can be a horrible situation for domestic violence victims.

[…]

Some shelters have run out of room and are looking to put victims in hotel rooms and other places, because of social distancing rules.

“What has also happened is because some shelters don’t have private bedrooms, they are having to isolate people and spread them apart, which has reduced how many people they can take in,” said [Paige Flink, The Family Place CEO].

Flink says they are getting extremely violent calls that are COVID-19 related.

“People being locked in rooms, being shot through the doors, prevented from leaving, having to stay because he’s afraid she will go out and get it. Crazy stuff,” said Flink.

Governments need to be flexible and treat this as a serious issue.  People need to be able to take short walks and have time alone, even if it’s just outside the front door or walking the hallways of apartment buildings.  Confined prison spaces can be mentally wearing, and so can being trapped in your home – especially if there’s an abuser in it.


As mentioned above, IPV is running rampant in France.  Imagine what it’s like when you combine sudden unemployment, poverty and total abandonment by a government as in the US.  Many US governors are saying “abortion will be banned as non-essential surgery”.  No doubt there won’t be exceptions when males rape their partners.

Domestic violence cases jump 30% during lockdown in France

France’s interior minister says that reports of domestic violence across the country have jumped by more than 30% since the country went into lockdown on March 17th.

Christophe Castaner revealed on Thursday that in Paris alone, cases were up by 36%.

France’s anti-coronavirus lockdown has forced people to stay home for the last 11 days. The lockdown has now been extended until April 15.

Being confined at home with abusive partners is thought to have increased the risk to victims.

France already has one of the highest rates of domestic violence in Europe. Every year, an estimated 219,000 women, aged 18 to 75, face physical or sexual violence by current or former partners, but only 20% report it. According to official figures, one woman is killed by a partner or former partner every three days.

About Face: And quickly, at that

I mentioned yesterday that Taiwan’s government declared that foreigners without legal work visas would not be allowed to return once their visas expire, and no extension would be given.  It took only two days for the government to change their tune and offer leniency.

The government has enacted the Expanded Overstayers Voluntary Departure Program which will allow foreigners to overstay their visitor visas until June 20th, provided they turn themselves in during a certain time window and pay a fine.  Normally, foreigners who knowingly overstay would be subject to a ten year exclusion ban, but Taiwan will waive it due to the circumstances. The fine will be minimal (NT$2000 = US$66), not the usual NT$10000.

So much for a shortage of teachers and extra working hours for me. ^_^  From the official government website:

Expanded Overstayers Voluntary Departure Program Starts to Encourage Overstaying Foreign Citizens to Turn Themselves in

With the spread of coronavirus-19(COVID-19) worldwide and the discovery of case 32 confirmed COVID-19 patient to be an undocumented migrant worker, it has been a topic of wide discussion on whether overstaying population causes vulnerability to Taiwan’s disease control. “To cope with this issue, the National Immigration Agency(NIA) initiated the Expanded Overstayers Voluntary Departure Program, which starts from April 1st and ends on June 30th with a promotion period from March 20th to March 31st, 2020. Overstayers who turn themselves in during either period are entitled to receive penalty relieves including no detention, no entry ban and a minimum amount of fine. The purpose of this program is to encourage overstayers to turn themselves in so the Agency can help them return home safely” said General Director Chui, the head of the NIA. In order to follow the government’s policy of disease control, and attempt to reduce overstaying population in Taiwan, the NIA initiated the program from today to June 30th, while other authorities of law enforcement follow suit to the program when overstayers turn themselves in. To overstayers who turn themselves in during the designated period of this program, penalty relieves including no detention, no entry ban and a minimum fine of NTD 2,000 are entitled. After the designated period of the program, the NIA will push for an enhanced penalty amendment under the Immigration Act. On top of that, once the pandemic of COVID-19 eases, the Agency will strengthen enforcement and launch nation-wide sweeps against overstaying population.

This isn’t the first time the Taiwan government has shown common decency to foreigners without legal residency or work visas.

In 2017, a Taiwanese business owner held people from various countries as slaves working on a fishing vessel.  After the business was raided, the men were repatriated to their countries.  The Taiwan government seized US$123,000 from the boat owner, and gave it to the departing men as back wages.  Not the best way to leave, but at least they would feel they weren’t treated unfairly as they went home.


One thing I don’t like: Taiwan’s “marriage equality” law is a joke.  It says that for non-cishetero couples, the country of the foreign national must have marriage equality or Taiwan won’t recognize their marriage.  In other words, those from countries with marriage equality can marry Taiwanese people.  Those who come from oppressive countries with hateful and violent bigots cannot.  There is (for example) a foreign national from a Central American country who cannot marry his partner and will have to leave after June 20.

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.