Monday, March 30, 2020

COVID-19: Update for March 30, 2020

There have been many developments in the coronavirus pandemic over the past few days.  I'll try to summarize them in point form, with links to supporting articles.  They range from local, to national, to international politics, health care and geopolitical implications.

1.  US business and politics.

(a)  Food production is becoming affected by the pandemic.  Bloomberg reports:

To be clear, the food from a plant where infection pops up doesn’t pose health concerns because by all accounts Covid-19 isn’t a food-borne illness. Supplies from a farm or a production plant with a confirmed case can still be sent out for distribution.

And it’s important to note that so far there’s been no major interruptions to food supplies. Inventories are still ample, and major bottlenecks have not yet developed in the supply chains, which tend to react quickly to changing situations.

Still, there is a risk to continued production. When a worker gets sick, the employee and every person they’ve come into contact with has to be quarantined. That could mean limited impact in some cases, like at the Sanderson factory, where the infected individual’s work was contained to one small processing table. But the more employee mingling there is, the bigger the threat to production.

This will bear watching.  I hope it will mean that jobs will open up for many of those recently laid off from other companies and industries;  but that will depend on whether they're conveniently located to take advantage of the openings.

(b)  The importation of foreign workers under special worker visa programs is continuing, and may be accelerated.  This is going to generate more and more bad feeling towards the foreign workers themselves, and the companies that hire them.  If there are so many American workers unemployed, why make it more difficult for them to find work by importing foreigners?  President Trump may have to give special attention to this.

(c)  Certain economic sectors have been much harder hit than others.  The Wall Street Journal reports:

More than 90% of the announced U.S. job cuts tied to the coronavirus were at restaurants and other entertainment and leisure businesses ... For many who retain their jobs, tips and commissions have evaporated. Working at home isn’t an option, nor is sick pay ... There are more than 34 million people in this pool of the most vulnerable workers, or about a quarter of the private workforce.

The big - and so far unanswerable - question is whether many of these jobs will return in the short to medium term.  Nobody knows as yet, but prospects don't look good.  The automotive industry is a good example.

As a result of the coronavirus lockdown and beginning on March 6, [a major dealership owner] said that overall U.S. vehicle sales volumes began to significantly decrease, and are currently down 50-70 percent from normal expected March volumes. Additionally, the company said that based on discussions with its OEM partners, this sales decline is consistent with that experienced by other dealers ... And like many other companies, they are being forced to take drastic steps to try and shore up their business during this difficult time. Among other things, the company has been forced to furlough 3,000 U.S. operating and staff employees for a 30-day period with an option for a second 30-day period...

The entire US auto industry has been built around a dealership model, with a sales outlet supporting its own service and repair facilities.  If some - perhaps many - dealerships have to close their doors, what will that mean for the manufacturers?  Might this herald a change in the sales model, moving from dealers to a direct consumer relationship, as Tesla is trying to do?  And what will that do to those employed in or by the present system?  How will we get our vehicles serviced in future if there are fewer brand-specific dealers?  Will there be enough independent service facilities to take up the slack?

The news media are also hard hit.  Buzzfeed notes that "The Coronavirus Is A Media Extinction Event", while the New York Post observes, "$349B stimulus comes too late to save many newspapers".  Personally, I'm not sure that many US news media are worth saving, given their ever-increasing and more strident bias;  but many still rely on them as their primary source of news and information about day-to-day events.  Local news sources, for sure, are going to be very heavily impacted, because they can't draw on a regional or national advertising base to keep them afloat.

Let's not ignore the fact that US news media are being deliberately deceptive and manipulative about the coronavirus pandemic.  Some are presenting information in ways seemingly designed to portray the Trump administration as negatively as possible.  PJ Media had a very eye-opening article about how this is being done, and how facts are being misrepresented and statistics misused.  It's worth reading, to understand the contempt in which the news media hold you, their consumer.  It should make you very angry.  It certainly does me.  As the Last Refuge opines:

The “Blue Plague” is an intentional effort by various interests to create fear-porn amid the American population by intentionally hyping a mass hysteria about the coronavirus.  In many ways the Blue Plague is exponentially more dangerous than COVID-19 itself.

Yes, it is that dangerous.  When you can't trust the information you're being given, how can you make rational, informed decisions?  The New Neo calls it "distortion and fear".  That's a pretty accurate description of what the mainstream media are doing, IMHO.

2.  International relations and geopolitics.

China's economy was the first to feel the impact of this pandemic.  It's now into what Bloomberg calls the "Second Virus Shockwave".

As the virus ravages [in Europe] from Spain to Italy, the shutdowns there are cutting off orders to Chinese factories just as they were beginning to get back on their feet. It’s a story playing out across the country.

“It’s a complete, dramatic turnaround,” lamented Gao, estimating sales in April to May will plunge as much as 40% from last year. “Last month, it was our customers who chased after us checking if we could still deliver goods as planned. Now it’s become us chasing after them asking if we should still deliver products as they ordered.”

This emerging pattern poses a grave risk to the chances the world’s second-largest economy can repair the damage from the closures in February to curb the virus ... “It is definitely the second shock-wave for the Chinese economy,” said Xing Zhaopeng, an economist at Australia & New Zealand Banking Group. The global spread of the virus “will affect China manufacturing through two channels: disrupted supply chains and declining external demand.”

Mish Shedlock goes so far as to predict, "China has Suffered Permanent Damage. The chinese economic miracle is done. Those who thought China would surpass the US are mistaken."  I'm not sure I'd go that far, but there are some who think as he does.  I guess we'll have to wait and see.

Western companies who "bet the farm" on moving their manufacturing to China are now feeling the burn of the economic disruption there.  Adding to their woes are pressures to bring manufacturing back onshore, and reduce national and international dependence on China as a supplier.  The Last Refuge offers its usual piercing analysis of the situation.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce is the biggest stakeholder of U.S. multinational companies doing business in China. The Trump administration has been warning them for years to put America First in their business plans; and now with the Chinese Pandemic showing just how dangerous it is for critical manufacturing to be made in the U.S.A, chamber President Tom Donohue is pleading to keep the U.S. dependent on China.

. . .

The CoC were the primary architects of Clinton, Bush and Obama trade agreements including the insufferable TPP.   All three previous administrations sub-contracted the writing of trade agreements to Donohue and his corrupt Wall Street corporate cronies.

The CoC is by far the largest lobbying group in Washington DC and they spend tens of millions trying to retain their Chinese investments.

President Trump is issuing "Buy American" orders for efforts to counter the pandemic;  but suppliers who've become dependent on China, and who don't want to invest in local production, are resisting his efforts.  The pharmaceutical industry is a prime example.

White House trade adviser Peter Navarro is hitting back at a group of Big Pharma lobbyists, medical organizations, and free trade groups for opposing President Trump’s proposed ‘Buy American’ executive order reshoring the medical supply chain.

Navarro [said] that Big Pharma’s opposition to the executive order, which would require government agencies to purchase pharmaceutical products made in the US, because it wants to ‘preserve its offshore oligopoly’.

. . .

Navarro continued ... ‘Even if Big Pharma’s offshore operations want to send America what we urgently need, the foreign governments of the countries where their supply chains and plants are located are already forbidding the export of critically needed items. Ten of the top 20 countries exporting medicines to the US, including four of the top five, have already imposed some form of restrictions.’

A report from the Associated Press traced major supply shortages of personal protective equipment (PPE) back to China. The Chinese government initially shut down pharmaceutical manufacturers after the coronavirus outbreak, and when those plants reopened, China strictly limited exports to save supplies for its own medical providers.

After what this pandemic has revealed, I certainly wouldn't trust China to be the sole supplier of anything critical that we might need.

On the other hand, China is doubling down.

Chinese dictator Xi Jinping told fellow G20 leaders in a teleconferenced speech on Thursday that China intends to increase its manufacturing of pharmaceuticals and medical supplies to “keep global financial markets stable.”

Xi demanded that the rest of the world help keep the world’s markets — currently monopolized by the Chinese Communist Party — “stable” amid growing demands that countries reconsider having nearly all their necessary goods sourced from the communist regime.

. . .

Xi’s statement ... focused greatly on “cooperation” among member nations to contain the pandemic while emphasizing that China must lead all joint actions.

“We need to better coordinate financial regulation to keep global financial markets stable. We need to jointly keep the global industrial and supply chains stable,” Xi said. “What China will do in this regard is to increase its supply of active pharmaceutical ingredients, daily necessities, and anti-epidemic and other supplies to the international market.”

. . .

To benefit what Xi depicted as charitable actions by China, he demanded that “all G20 members take collective actions” that would benefit the Chinese Communist Party’s economy, such as “cutting tariffs, removing barriers, and facilitating the unfettered flow of trade.”

Xi also proposed a “global network of control and treatment,” also led by him, that would grant China full access to all medical data, presumably also including intellectual property related to the manufacture and development of medical technology.

The way I read Xi's statement is that China is going to offer more and more pharmaceuticals at rock-bottom prices, to make it unaffordable in economic terms for countries to re-establish their own manufacturing facilities for such products.  Nevertheless, from a national security point of view, such local manufacturing of essential supplies has been revealed as an absolutely critical need.  Therefore, if local industries can't compete on price with cheap Chinese products flooding the market, governments may have to subsidize them and/or restrict the flow of such imports.  Free trade, long a "sacred cow" of international commerce and industry, is likely to take a knock in the process.

Unfortunately, a growing body of evidence suggests that China not only deliberately suppressed information about the coronavirus pandemic in its early stages, but has continued to lie about its impact on the country.  The latest information suggests that the death toll may be many times higher than officially admitted.

According to official Chinese government data, 50,006 people were infected with the Covid-19 virus in Wuhan with 2,535 dying from the disease.

However, Chinese investigative outlet Caixin reports that ... the number of urns on hand at [one] mortuary looks to be more than double Wuhan’s death toll.

Urns are reportedly being distributed at a rate of 500 a day at the mortuary until the Tomb Sweeping Day holiday, which falls on April 4 this year.

Wuhan has seven other mortuaries. If they are all sticking to the same schedule, this adds up to more than 40,000 urns being distributed in the city over the next 10 days.

3.  Impact on US health care system.

The pandemic has led to many articles about how we can improve our own sanitation and hygiene practices.  NewsMax has a helpful list of "The Top 12 Most Dangerous Corona-Spreading Surfaces".  It's worth reading.

There's been a lot of discussion about the impact of the pandemic on hospitals.  I think the best resource for that remains Aesop, who's an ER nurse and on the front lines of the fight.  He's in California, but references other states as well in his frequent articles and updates.  Some of his recent posts (all must-reads, IMHO) are:
You'll find many more on his blog, Raconteur Report.  Read his archives over the past couple of months to learn more about how this thing has progressed.

There's a growing concensus, despite official disapproval, that wearing masks is a viable and potentially important method to reduce the infection rate.  Here are some of the articles I've found informative:
After reading those articles, I've decided that from now on, I'm going to wear a surgical mask and nitrile gloves when I go to supermarkets and other crowded places.  (I'm pleased to see that supplies of both are now more freely available, at least online - follow the links for more information.)  I think those are worthwhile precautions that may preserve me from infection (and, equally important, help me to avoid infecting others, if I'm carrying the coronavirus without being aware of it).  I recommend the same step to my readers.  (I'm fortunate that I routinely kept surgical masks in my emergency supplies, along with other needs.  When this pandemic erupted and one suddenly couldn't buy them for love or money, I already had what I needed.  That was a big comfort!  I've been able to share some of my supply with friends who needed them.)

That's all for now.  I'm preparing an in-depth article on how the pandemic is affecting the security and stability of our social structures.  That looks pretty scary to me.  More later.



urbane legend said...

I have told friends for years that the refusal of people here in the United States to wear masks during cold and flu season, as the Japanese have no peoblem doing, is silly at least to possibly stupid. Why don't we do that? To save face? :-) Even if all the mask does is keep you from touching your face that's worth something. If it helps in any way I am willing to wear one. Same with the gloves.

In addititon, the practice of shaking hands needs to change. There are always people who still sneeze into their hand, don't wash their hands leaving the bathroom, and pick their nose. I have decided to stop shaking hands. I will greet you with a friendly smile and a polite nod to you, but I will not shake your hand. Offended? That's your problem.

AndrewC said...

The big thing to keep in mind with gloves is their utility comes from changing them. While I was shopping a few days ago, I saw plenty of people wearing gloves. Then they'd pick up produce, reach in their pocket for their phone, scratch their face, etc. All while wearing the same pair of gloves. If your goal wearing gloves is to protect yourself from environmental contaminants, you need to remove the gloves prior to touching anything on your person.

For the vast majority of people, they're better off skipping the false security of gloves and instead practicing regular hand washing or sanitizing.

I see utility in masks mostly in preventing the spread of disease to others. If mask wearing were commonplace here, the spread from asymptomatic people to anyone other than close family and friends would have been negligible.

BadFrog said...

Point 1b, the importation of foreign workers is interesting. Here in the UK, we have a new Chancellor of the Exchequer, Rishi Sunak, who has excluded contractors from any government assistance.
The significant of this is that his father-in-law is the co-founder of Infosys, a major Indian outsourcing company and has been lobbying for Britain to relax its visa requirements and the requirements that any imported contractors must be paid a living wage in the UK. I foresee interesting times ahead on this one.

Anonymous said...

I suspect there's a 3rd Virus Shockwave coming for China. It won't happen for a while, but when the internal US wrangling is done, after all the leftist whiners get their headlines, US governments, led by the feds and driven by fed "money with strings attached" at the state level, institute "buy American" as a national policy I'd expect volumes in anything China sells to the US to fall by at least 50%.

It'll be a long - and difficult - process to bring back everything we've allowed to go overseas, but a necessary one. And, ues, costs to consumers will go up, but which is worse: paying 10-15% more for a widget that's US-made, or not having a job for 1-3 months - or longer - while we deal with the next biological screw-up from China?

All of which assumes this doesn't push us into civil war within the year.

Rob said...

The US media (the free press) is owned/controlled by a small handful of people and these days it's product is entertainment & propaganda.

Life is hard when there is no news you can trust...

Cj said...

Why are we still calling it COVID-19, instead of The Wuhan Virus? All other diseases are associated with where they come from, unless it’s china!

Let’s start calling it what it is, and remind people who our enemy is! They’ve messed up plenty in the past, but this time lots of people are dying... I don’t care about their pride, just like they don’t care that I missed my grandmas funeral because they are too proud to admit they created a new monster...

Will said...


it appears that China is pushing hard to get the virus publicly re-labeled around the world, and especially here in the US, to lessen the blowback they are already encountering. Due to their typical Communist mindset, they screwed up in the early stages of the situation, when it might have been contained.

And yes, those communists are the enemy of the USA. I've been amazed that so many people here have spent decades ignoring that fact, and doing their best to help China ruin us. It was pretty clear that there was a faction in our government (State Dept, and others) that was cheerleading China's elevation to be a direct competitor. I observed how they enabled the communists to buy the equipment to make computer chips, said equipment that could be easily upgraded to what was current in the latest production. They had the option of restricting them to the one brand of machine that could NOT be upgraded, but they ignored that. This was ~circa 1985. When that happened, it was clear the fix was in.

Will said...

found this at the home of Boomershoot:

How to clean a N95 mask for reuse:

Ray - SoCal said...

The problem foreign governments have, including the Chinese, is they they read / listen to the major media on Trump, and believe them. They don’t understand how discredited the major media is.

The Chinese see a history of the US bending over backwards to favor Chinese interests. Of short sighted, corrupt us elites that favor China, and seem to hate the US. Of with the us cultural, educational, business, and politicians of money talks, and ideals such as favoring American interests walk.

I see China as battening down the hatches, as they prepare for major internal unrest.

The chutzpah of the Chinese blaming the US for the Wuhan Coronavirus is amazing, but they have a history of their propaganda working and being accepted.

Will said...

Regarding the number of Wuhan deaths, they had reports from one of the mortuaries that were running at maximum 24/7, which is 600 bodies. There are 8 original facilities there. That was not sufficient, so they built more of them, that were reported to be capable of multi-thousand bodies/day each.

So, 4800/day wasn't making a dent in the piles of bodies to start with. How many multiples of that, and how long were they running like that? Normally deaths were stated as ~125/day, but I'm unsure if that was per facility (8), or total.

The communists are lying, but that is like saying the sun rises in the east, a simple statement of fact.

PresbyPoet said...

There are at least 4 reasons to wear a mask.
One, it keeps you from touching your mouth and nose.
Two,it reduces the chance something gets in.
Three, if you are infected, it reduces the chance you kill someone you love.
Four, it reminds everyone you come near: Stay away from you.
Clearly wearing a mask reduces RO.

I wear one glove to make them last longer. I use the glove on any touch surface,then discard as I leave. I bring my own disposable bags. I have many plastic bags I collected for years prior to California going to the "reusable" bads. I still have about a two year supply, although some have turned out to be bags that intentionally degrade.

The only reason to not wear masks is to reward CDC liars for the excuse "masks are not useful". This excuse excuses the criminal CDC. Rather, everyone who failed to reload the store of masks in 2009 should be fired on. As long as they can sell the lie, "masks are not needed", they do not need to account for their deadly incompetence, otherwise known as manslaughter.

Replacing the 100 million drawn-down would not have kept everyone safe, but it would have reduced the slaughter. I keep trying to not think that some people are trying to make this plague worse, in order to win an election, but evidence keeps piling up from Nevada to Michigan and beyond. I keep seeing clerks at Safeway, exposed to hundreds of people, not wearing a mask. I wonder how many of them the CDC will kill?

tweell said...

The US government as set up by the Constitution was funded by tariffs on imports. We should go back to the wisdom of the Founders, and protect our industries.

C. S. P. Schofield said...

"China has Suffered Permanent Damage. The chinese economic miracle is done. Those who thought China would surpass the US are mistaken."

Ok, explain to me, in small words, why anyone ever trusted one word of any economic report coming out of China? Never mind the Communism angle; Chinese governments have been lying about the economic state of Chine to make themselves look god for thousands of years.