A few more days and more developments

First we’re seeing reports of Covid19 (as we are now supposed to call it) in North Korea.

One sure sign of the regime’s fears is that it failed to stage a parade in central Pyongyang on Saturday, the 72nd anniversary of the founding of the country’s armed forces. Last year, Kim Jong Un himself presided over the procession that displayed the North’s latest missiles and other fearsome hardware along with goose-stepping soldiers in serried ranks.

This year, nothing about the nation’s nuclear warheads, much less the “new strategic weapon” that Kim has vowed to unveil. Rodong Sinmum, the newspaper of the ruling Workers’ Party, merely cited the armed forces’ supposed success combating “severe and dangerous difficulties”—and said nothing at all about the parade.

But reports have filtered out about Kim’s subjects falling prey to coronavirus despite the country’s decision to seal its 880-mile border with China, most of it along the Yalu River into the Yellow Sea to the west, and its 11-mile border with Russia where the Tumen River flows into the Pacific.

This isn’t precisely a surprise given that long land (river) border between N Korea and the PRC and the fact that there’s a lot of illicit or semi-legal cross border activity across it. Ironically the efforts to quarantine Korea from the disease may end up stopping a bunch of the sanctions busting that has kept the regime in relatively good economic health. If these quarantine measures don’t work – and I’ll be amazed if they do – then we’ll get to see just how deadly the new virus is to a population that is chronically malnourished and hence has weakened immune systems.

North Korea is one of about three neighbouring nations that deny they have any infections according to the JHU tracker . Myanmar and Laos being the other two obvious ones (I think Bhutan is too but there’s huge mountains and glaciers on that border so not much traffic in winter). I have no idea what the Laotian border is like by both the Myanmar and NK borders are well known for the fact that people smuggle stuff across it in massive truck sized lots, in addition to lots of legitimate trade in the case of Myanmar, and both have neighbouring PRC regions with infected people. I’d bet a significant sum of money that Myanmar also has the virus but they just haven’t tested anyone in or around Muse or other border towns.

Talking of countries that haven’t reported any infections that might have been expected to, how about Ethiopia?

If travel bans to and from the infected parts of China turn out to have been justified then one country in particular may be worth watching, Ethiopia. Ethiopia’s Bole International airport is the main African gateway to and from China. On average 1500 passengers per day arrive from China every day. Ethiopia scans them all for symptoms which essentially means taking their temperature. […]

The flights from China arriving at Bole International come from Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, Chengdu and Hong Kong. Just yesterday the Chinese government added China’s 5th largest city Guangzhou to its list of locked down quarantined cities. Which strikes me as news. For Guangzhou to have been quarantined means it must already have a large number of cases. Guangzhou is not near to Wuhan, the source of the Corona virus outbreak.

The post goes on to talk about the long period with little or no symptoms and how this can spread the disease. That article doesn’t mention it but we have a UK example: someone who met some Wuhan people in Singapore, flew back to the UK, went on a ski trip to the French Alps and only after all that was found to be infected with the virus. So far as I can tell neither he nor anyone he infected seems to be seriously ill but it seems unlikely that he’s alone in this experience so the virus is probably already spreading beyond where it has been tested.

Talking of which, there’s this about the highly suspicious infection numbers. I have no idea whether the theory that the Chicoms are managing the numbers is correct but I’m sure that they are undercounting them and know they are because the quarantines seem to be excessive for the reported numbers. As of the time of writing this, the JHU tracker reports 1219 infections, 1 death and 272 revoeries in Guangdong, which includes Guangzhou mentioned above. That seems a fairly small number to drive the aforementioned quarantine.

On the other hand the Diamond Princess seems to be a perfect lab for the virus with 175 people on board now reported infected. This includes one of the Japanese testing personnel. In addition,

[t]he health ministry said this is also the first time a teenager on the ship has tested positive for the coronavirus and reported that four from the ship — three of them Japanese citizens — are in serious condition. Those four people have pre-existing conditions, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said at a daily briefing Wednesday afternoon.

The article also hints a reason why the testing numbers are limited: the lack of capacity and capability to analyze samples. If this is a problem in a rich and technologically advanced nation like Japan, how bad is it in poorer and less developed ones?

We are beginning to see more fallout from reactions to the virus. The cellphone etc. conference MWC in Barcelona is seeing a lot of companies reducing their presence or not showing up at all [Update: the show has now been cancelled, this is a huge hit to Barcelona’s entertainment sector because MWC usually causes every hotel in the city and some in neighboring cities to be fully booked. It isn’t just the hotels, who may get some of the base room rates because I bet a fair number of the rooms were booked non-refundably, but won’t get all the room service charges, laundry etc. etc., there’s also the restaurants, bars, taxi-drivers etc. who will lose out. Last year there were over 100,000 attendees and based on my experiences in tradeshows past, including MWC, I’d guess the average spend per attendee is in the thousand euro plus range, when you include all the meals, taxis, hotel nights etc. In other words the Barcelona economy is not going to get an amount of the order of €100 Million this month that it was expecting to get]. I have no doubt that other trade shows will likewise be feeling the pain in the next few months. And talking of trade shows, at the start of January there was CES in Las Vegas. Given that there were all sorts of automotive electronics stuff showed there and given that Wuhan is home to lots of automotive and electronic component makers, I wonder how many Wuhan residents were present at CES? And how many may have been infected before they left? Officially I expect the answer is zero. And given that we aren’t seeing reports of an epidemic in Nevada or amongst attendees that would seem to be accurate. But it is a tad surprising given that CES was about the same time as the Singapore event where the British man mentioned above did get infected.

Some other miscellaneous thoughts. I wonder what impact smoking has on the seriousness of infection and on its spread. First we know smoking tends to irritate the lungs and I can certainly see how that could make them more susceptible to developing pneumonia. Second it might make a difference in the spread. If you need a smoke you’ll be pulling aside your facemask etc. to get your hit.

Either way, as I wrote in the earlier post, I think we’re at the potential breakout week. If we don’t see massive infection rates in the developed world in the next few days, I suspect we won’t see any. Likewise only perhaps reversed, for the developing world.

Individually treat it like the flu or the common cold. Wash your hands, don’t shake hands, don’t lick your fingers, be careful around people couching and sneezing. You’ll probably survive, as will the global economy even if certain portions need a little R&R