Migrant workers hit hard by pandemic

If there is one thing you can be sure of, is that every time a pandemic hits, it is the poorest among us that suffers the worst. COVID-19 is no exception. And it is clearly demonstrated in Singapore, where the poorest people are, as often is the case, the migrant workers.

Covid-19 Singapore: A ‘pandemic of inequality’ exposed

Once lauded for its containment of the virus, Singapore’s success crumbled when the virus reached its many foreign worker dormitories, something activists say should have been seen coming a mile off.

Now months on, Singapore is reporting single figure daily cases in the local community. People are going back to work, cinemas have reopened and laughter can be heard coming out of restaurants again.

But many of Singapore’s lowest earners remain indoors, facing uncertainty.

The dormitories are overcrowded, with too few facilities for the number of people living there. A ripe place for a virus to spread rapidly, and so it has done.

COVID-19 cases in Singapore

COVID-19 cases in Singapore (image source: BBC)

As the above image of COVID-19 cases in Singapore in general versus among people living in dorms shows, the difference is stark. A lot of the differences is that the people in the dorm are quarantined until they have been tested. Or as the BBC article explains

The authorities decided that the dormitories would have to be sealed off.

Around 10,000 healthy migrant workers in essential services were taken out to other accommodation – a skeleton staff to keep the country running.

But the majority were trapped in the dorms – some not even allowed to leave their rooms – while mass testing was carried out. Infected workers were gradually removed, isolated and treated.

It was a remarkably different experience to the lockdown the rest of the country was going through, with shopping allowed, daily exercise encouraged and every type of outlet offering delivery. These people were well and truly locked down, with only basic meals delivered to them.

“Once the lockdown was in place, we were not allowed to come out of the room. We were not allowed to go next door too,” Vaithyanathan Raja, from southern India, told the BBC.

This is an inhuman way to treat people, and it makes it a certainty that everyone in a dorm would get infected if anyone in it, is infected.

We have seen similar things happen in US jails and ICE detention centers. I would guess that it has also happened among the many migrant workers in India, who were severely affected by the sudden shutdown of India.

It seems like the pandemic are forcing some employers in Singapore to provide better places for foreign workers. Hopefully this will last. And hopefully, it will lessen the impact of the next pandemic.

The mother of all super spreader events

One of the things we learned early about COVID-19, was that a lot of the cases comes from so-called super spreader events. Events where a lot of people got infected, and then spread the virus after going home.

So far, the biggest super spreader event has probably been the Atalanta-Valencia Champions League match in February, which is thought to have pretty much been the reason for the rapid spreading in Italy. It could probably be considered a number of super spreader event. The actual football match at the stadium, where a lot of people got infected, but also the many gatherings of people watching the game, where many people undoubtedly got infected.

Back then, people at least had the excuse of not knowing any better. The virus was not yet well known in Italy, and few cases, if any, had been identified. This changed rapidly after the match, where Italy became one of the worst hit countries.

The same excuse cannot be made by anyone now, especially not in the US, which is one of the worst hit countries.

This is one of the things that makes this year’s Sturgis Motorcycle Rally such a baffling event. Who in their right mind would think it would be a good idea to gather nearly half a million people during a pandemic? Many of these people not even doing the simplest measures, e.g. masks and social distancing, to avoid the spreading of the COVID-19 virus.

Sadly someone obviously thought it was a perfectly acceptable idea, and allowed the event to go ahead.

Now, a study, The Contagion Externality of a Superspreading Event: The Sturgis Motorcycle Rally and COVID-19 (pdf), has evaluated the results of the rally, and have estimated that it has resulted in up to 219,000 infected people since the start of the rally, which is approximately 19% of all cases in the US during that period. Due to the diverse geographical origins of the participants of the rally, the spreading is not just in South Dakota where the rally took place, but in the surrounding states as well.

On top of looking at the spreading of the virus, the paper also estimates the financial costs to society. The paper estimates that the rally has cost more than $12B so far.

In other words, the human and financial costs of the rally is truly staggering, and is probably only going to grow, as time goes on.

Will this event be a lesson for other organizers and local authorities? One would think so, but sadly there is nothing in past behavior to indicate that this will be the case

The state of COVID-19 vaccine and treatment research

Yesterday I spoke with a couple of colleagues about COVID-19 vaccines, and it became clear for me that there is a lot of news about potential vaccines, but it is hard for people to get a grip of the current state.

This made me recommend the New York Times vaccine tracker to several people.

Here is the status of all the vaccines that have reached trials in humans, along with a selection of promising vaccines still being tested in cells or animals.

As the description explains, it is an overview of vaccines that has reached a stage where they are relevant to talk about.

There is a companion site to the vaccine tracker, the Coronavirus Drug and Treatment Tracker, which is described thus:

The Covid-19 pandemic is one of the greatest challenges modern medicine has ever faced. Doctors and scientists are scrambling to find treatments and drugs that can save the lives of infected people and perhaps even prevent them from getting sick in the first place.

Below is an updated list of 21 of the most-talked-about treatments for the coronavirus. While some are accumulating evidence that they’re effective, most are still at early stages of research. We also included a warning about a few that are just bunk.

Both of these sites are great resources on the current state of the research, and well worth checking up on from time to time.

This is why you cancel conferences in times like this

A facebook friend posted this link to an overview of Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) Cases in MA (pdf link), and pointed out that three quarters of coronavirus cases in Massachusetts are attributable to a conference in Boston for a company called Biogen.

NBC Boston has more: After Spreading Coronavirus, Boston Biogen Meeting Serves as Stark Warning

As the NBC Boston link says, this should serve as a warning. Don’t hold these large gatherings while a pandemic is going on. It will create a easy path for the virus to spread, making it more likely it will get in contact with vulnerable people.

 

Shutdown of Denmark

After a few weeks of trying to contain the COVID-19 through placing people in quarantine, the Danish government took much more drastic measures the last couple of days.

  • New time-limited emergency laws have been put in place, allowing:
    • The closing of schools and other institutes of learning, as well as public institutions in general
    • Forcing people into isolation if they have a dangerous disease
    • Allowing police to force their way into homes without a court order, if the Ministry of Health asks them to do so
    • Prohibiting events over a certain size
    • To put aside certain laws guaranteeing treatments for certain ailments within a certain time frame
    • Make it possible to limit access to public transportation, hospitals, and nursery homes
    • Create protective measures that guarantees delivery of goods
  • All public schools, high schools and places of higher education is shut down for two weeks from tomorrow (most closed down today)
  • All public cultural institutions (e.g. museums), libraries etc are closed down for two weeks
  • All state employees working in non-critical roles are sent home with pay for the next two weeks. If they can work from home, they should do so, otherwise they will get a paid leave.
  • Courts have closed down for the next two weeks, except in exceptional situations
  • The travel from certain places (Italy, Iran, China, parts of South Korea, different parts of Europe) are restricted, in the sense that you are forced to a mandatory examination
  • The government has asked for all events with more than 100 people to cancel the next two weeks
  • The government has suggested that cafe, restaurants, and bars consider closing down the next two weeks
  • The government has asked everybody to try to limit their travel on public transportation, especially during peak hours
  • The government has suggested that all private schools, high schools, and institutes of learning close down the next couple of weeks
  • The government has asked all private employers to get their employees to work from home or use their vacation if possible
  • The government has suggested that private religious congregations, museums etc close down for the next two weeks

As you can see, the actions taken are quite far-reaching, and affect most Danes. Personally, I will be working from home the next two weeks, communication with colleagues via the internet. For a lot of introverts, this probably sounds fantastic, for me, as an extrovert, it is not something I look forward to.

I am not too happy about the temporary law allowing the police to force their way into homes without a court order on behalf of the Ministry of Health, but I guess I can see the need for it under certain circumstances. If it is misused, the police and/or the Ministry of Health can be dragged in front of a court (unlike in some countries, people actually occasionally win over the state in Denmark).

The reason the Danish government is taking these actions, is because the spread of the virus was getting out of control, and because the Italian health minister warned Denmark that they needed to take drastic actions to avoid getting into a similar situations as Italy.

The measures taken is an attempt to both try to limit the spreading of the disease and to protect the most vulnerable. Before this, the idea was to contain the virus through asking people to go into quarantine – this clearly didn’t work, as the spread has more than doubled every day this week.

Generally, the steps taken by the government are widely supported, though a large minority believe that the whole threat is overblown. None of the later group appears to be working in health care or similar.

For more coverage, see The Local which has made the article free to read.