The quest for a Covid-19 cure

Worldwide efforts

The quest for a Covid-19 cure and a vaccine goes on worldwide: in China, Europe (UK, Switzerland,…), USA and other. Even my University in Ghent, Belgium, is “making progress”. But it seems there is little news about the cure; most talk about a vaccine.
The outlook is difficult to evaluate. Some specialists say a vaccine will not be available before the end of this year. Others are more optimistic.

Don’t blame me! I am not a virus!

The U.S. is complaining their specialists are still waiting for the invitation from China to join the WHO team that is expected to visit China. The reasons are not clear…

Some mention progress

Inovio Pharmaceuticals (based in Pennsylvania and laboratory in San Diego) says it created a coronavirus vaccine three hours after getting access to the virus’ genetic sequence in mid-January, and now scientists are racing to get the vaccine on the market in record time.
The American company is partnering with Beijing Advaccine, a Chinese company, to work on the vaccine. Inovio also received US$9 million to work on the vaccine from the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations, which is backed by billionaire Bill Gates.
Inovio took a vaccine for Zika virus from construct design to human testing in the U.S. in less than seven months. They want to beat that record.
(Source: foxbusiness.com)

Another U.S. company, Maryland-based Novavax, is aiming to make a coronavirus vaccine in as little as three months, although such vaccines can take years to develop. The company made an Ebola vaccine in 90 days.

A team headed by Prof. Peter Hotez at the Baylor College of Medicine in Houston is cooperating with researchers from Shanghai Fudan University.
A vaccine against coronavirus, developed by the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention, the Medical School of Shanghai Tongji University and Shanghai-based biotechnology company Stemirna Therapeutics, has already been tested on mice but trials on humans will only commence in April.
The China Association for Vaccines said that as of February 6, 17 Chinese institutions and companies were developing vaccines.
(Source: FCCC Belgium)

All restaurants in Guangzhou suspend dine-In service

In Guangzhou, all districts have suspended dine-in service as of 9 pm on February 12 (with the exception of cafeterias) as reported by Zhongguo Guangzhou Fabu, a local government-run WeChat account. Elsewhere in Guangdong, Xiangzhou district in Zhuhai, Foshan and Zhongshan have also prohibited local dine-in services.
In Shenzhen, most businesses in the Futian CBD are closed. Takeout and delivery staff must have their temperature taken before picking up the food, as reported by Southern Metropolis Daily.
The government has ordered third-party delivery services to implement health management and inspection systems for delivery staff. It is also promoting “contactless distribution” during the outbreak to prevent consumers picking up meals from delivery personnel face to face.

Toothpicks?

People in China use toothpicks and lighters to avoid pressing lift buttons amid the coronavirus outbreak. Now you know why toothpicks in the elevators…

The Chinese model is questioned

Questions and uncertainties

The Covid-19 impacts many businesses, but there is more. The Chinese model is questioned. Alarm lights are flashing for the US-China phase-one trade deal. Observers look at what they call flaws in the Chinese model.

 

Beijing battles a “crisis of Chernobyl proportions’’ in coronavirus outbreak. Public fury is growing, with calls for more freedom of speech, but most observers don’t expect any dramatic changes.
We all hope for the best and support the efforts to contain the epidemic, but we also hope the Chinese government will learn some lessons.
Watch my short clip of support (need VPN):
https://www.facebook.com/lachineaupresent/videos/2634126666817695/

Oui, je reste en Chine!

La Chine vit aujourd’hui un véritable drame collectif déclenché par la propagation du coronavirus. Beaucoup de monde se sont inquiétés de la sécurité des étrangers en Chine. Pour cela, nous les avons donc contactés pour qu’ils partagent avec nous leurs expériences et leur sentiments.La porte-parole du ministère des Affaires étrangères de Chine, Mme Hua Chunying a déclaré le 6 février à la presse, que la Chine continuerait de garantir la sécurité et les soins aux étrangers en Chine ainsi que les soins aux citoyens chinois. Les mesures d’hygiène et de prévention sont traduites en quasiment toutes les langues, les étrangers en Chine peuvent rester au courant de l’évolution de l’épidémie et des règles à respecter. Mais ils ont en colère lorsqu’ils lisent ou regardent certains reportages injustes dans les médias occidentaux. La Chine a pris toute une série de mesures qui donnent maintenant de bons résultats, comme l’a confirmé l’OMS. Tout ce qu’il faut, c’est attendre car les virus obéissent à des cycles. Maintenant, tous les étrangers en Chine font confiance à la Chine. Allez la Chine! Allez Wuhan !

Posted by La Chine au Présent LCAP on Thursday, February 13, 2020

The same clip was also posted on Wechat (with no need for VPN).
Earlier they posted a text version. Some screenshots of the clip.

Uncertainty around the US-China phase-one trade deal

The deal between USA and China was signed when events in Wuhan made key terms doubtful from the start. How could China meet its additional US$200 billion purchase commitments?
And then the coronavirus epidemic made the improbable impossible.
“The coronavirus outbreak could reduce Chinese purchases of US agricultural products this year under the Phase 1 trade deal signed by the two countries”, White House national security adviser Robert O’Brien said as reported by Reuters.

The Chinese government cannot dictate consumer choices. Out of public health concerns, cinemas in China are closed. So, who will watch American films.
Chinese tourists must choose whether they travel to the U.S. or Europe. Major US airlines have stopped flying to mainland China and the US has basically barred the entry of non-American citizens. Reduced travel means also less urgency to buy Boeing jets. Tourism revenue in USA to plummet, even more than in Europe.
Some of the intended contracts need communication and meetings. Difficult now that people can’t travel anymore.
How to implement the inflated purchase promises when there is less Chinese demand and the volumes were too large to start with.

Flaws in the Chinese model

As discussed in the SCMP, the epidemic exposes fundamental flaws in China’s economic model. I have to agree with many of their views, as part of their comments.
Beijing is reluctant to fix it, as it does not want to tackle the excessive concentration of power, with information and resources now more and more in the hands of a powerful state, read, of the Party.

Beijing will continue to strengthen centralized control, and that’s is a greater threat for China’s future than the virus itself.
China can build a hospital in ten days. An overly centralized political system makes it possible for the government to place emphasis on delivering quick and impressive results but also on doing the wrong things, leading to further disaster.

The central government is increasingly reliant on state-owned enterprises and state money to maintain social stability and to deliver economic results, all while the private economy is gradually marginalized.

Many private business owners in China have noticed a change that they are not welcomed or loved in the new system.
China has suffered important capital outflows as many wealthy Chinese people, and even the urban middle class, have scrambled to move money out of the country. Private investment at home has suffered. Some of the people I know only want one thing: get their money out.

In such an increasingly centralized system, decision-making power is concentrated at the top, and information is filtered through the different levels of governments. If the top decision makers prefer stability more than anything else, the system will just automatically suppress and filter out information that can paint a different and unwelcome picture. That is the direct cause of the coronavirus outbreak, which was seriously under-reported or even covered up before January 20, see further.

Economists cited 2003 SARS as an example of how China’s economic growth can recover quickly from the coronavirus outbreak. They ignore the fact that the Chinese economy has completely changed since SARS. That time, China was integrating into the world economy and was dismantling at least in part its state sector economy.

Wuhan messed it up

source BBC: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-china-51449675

On 30 December, Dr. Li Wenliang, an ophthalmologist working in Wuhan’s Central Hospital, posted his concerns in a private medical chat group, advising colleagues to take measures to protect themselves.
A few days later, he was summoned by the police and made to sign a confession, denouncing the messages he’d posted as “illegal behavior”.
The authorities, though, were well aware of the outbreak of illness.
The day after Dr. Li posted his message, China notified the WHO, and the day after that, the suspected source – the market – was closed down.
Doctors were already setting up quarantine rooms and anticipating extra admissions when Wuhan held its important annual political gathering, the city’s People’s Congress. In their speeches, Party leaders made no mention of the virus.
The National Health Commission continued to report that the number of infections was limited and that there was no clear evidence that the disease could spread between humans.
On 18 January the Wuhan authorities allowed a massive community banquet to take place, involving more than 40,000 families. The aim was to set a record for the most dishes served at an event.
Two days later, China finally confirmed that human-to-human transmission was indeed taking place.

Caixin reported that Beijing had its first COVID-19 patient on January 12, Guangdong’s first was January 4, Shanghai’s was January 15.
Just yesterday the government changed the way counting cases of infection and deaths, to improve the former non-transparent way of counting (as mentioned in my previous post). A step forward in transparency. Hubei province reported a spike in new confirmed cases and deaths after change in diagnostic criteria. Now doctors have broader discretion to determine which patients are infected.

Economic impact of the NCP

No time to be an optimist

As I mentioned early about the economic impact of the NCP coronavirus, it could be dramatic. Despite all the positive messages from the Chinese government, in the sense that “the economy will fully bounce back when the epidemic is under control”, one has to be naive to believe it.
First of all, no reliable forecast when it WILL be under control.
Some health experts have expressed hope that the number of new coronavirus cases will peak in the coming weeks despite uncertainty over its transmissions.

The aerosol debate

One much debated issue is the possible transmission through “airborne particles and aerosols”. In Beijing, Feng Luzhao, from the Chinese Centre for Disease Control and Prevention, sought to dispel fears that aerosol transmission – the mixing of the virus with droplets in the air to form aerosols – was a way of contracting the illness. “At present, the main methods of transmission are by droplets and through contact … There is no evidence that the coronavirus can spread through aerosol transmission,” Feng said. (reported by SCMP)

See this “warning” circulating in China:
About the possibility of aerosol transmission (Expat Focus, Hangzhou)
https://mp.weixin.qq.com/s/8UMavbZeF-YFyTuqAQtiyA

My take: not convinced about the so-called danger, except in areas with lots of infected people transiting. At home I don’t want to know about it. I have no visitors, no “central air conditioning”. I just take my own precautions and occasionally clean the floors with some Dettol in the water.

It’s around the world

The economic repercussions are already felt outside of China.
Hotels in France and other locations that are normally overflowing with tourists are suddenly deserted. Sales in the duty free shops are to plummet, knowing that the Chinese buy like half of the luxury products in the world. As for now, without any forecast when that will end, all organized tourist tours from and to China are stopped.
As many as 140 million Chinese citizens travel abroad every year spending US$250 billion. Expect a huge drop.
Airlines suffer massively and fire pilots and other staff (or put on unpaid leave).
Look at all the tourist spots that will see their Chinese invasions disappear.

Worst in China

Strict quarantine measures and transport lockdowns to contain the spread have brought China’s industry to a virtual standstill.
With all the draconian measures restricting travel, even locally, tourism in China is becoming a disaster industry.

It also affects all the small shops and restaurants that are asked to close. Those people lose all their income and can’t cope with it. Many have to pay high rents and salaries. A major KTV in Beijing is firing 200 staff. Many restaurants and bars fire their staff and won’t pay salaries despite the “obligation” ordered by the authorities. Only foreign-owned enterprises will try to obey – until they go bust.

During Spring Festival many Chinese were counting on making big money, in the entertainment, food & beverage, local markets and all. They got zilch.

Restart activities?

China tries to get back to work amid coronavirus outbreak on today Monday 10 February.
Major cities across China are preparing for the return of millions of workers after an extended holiday, but as the coronavirus outbreak continues to rage, opinions are mixed on the safest approach.
Ministry of Commerce said in Beijing on Sunday that companies were “encouraged to resume business on the basis of sound preparation against the pandemic”.
Central and local governments are trying to balance the need to control the outbreak, boost supplies for frontline medics and minimize the impact on the economy.

More about the economic issues to follow.

 

Surviving virusland

The new Coronavirus

As reported earlier, Houston we have a problem. The reaction of the authorities is debatable. For sure, Wuhan government made a horrible mess. Millions of people left Wuhan to other parts of China and other countries before the government started acting instead of shutting down the news about it. The consequences could be rather disastrous for months to come. Surviving virusland will be a challenge.

The most shocking for me was the (in)famous New Year’s Eve Gala on 24 January, on all Chinese channels.

OK, my Chinese is too poor to appreciate any of this stuff but kitsch à la chinoise it is for sure. You get dizzy from all the overloaded effects and colors and whatever.
But for me it was like having a great party on a sinking ship, as nothing was wrong. Little or no mention at all about poor Wuhan. Nobody in the audience had a mask. Oh great. Al while they were placing in quarantine 20 to 30 million people, for a start. Separating families, making it impossible for people to get back home. A total disregard for the suffering of the people.

Of course the tone was, China is GREAT, everybody is HAPPY.
During the CCTV Gala the show switched to one of Wuhan’s main hospitals now to get an update from the nurses there who are spending their Chinese New Year night taking care of the many people infected with the coronavirus. According to the presenter, the switch was “very last minute.”. For the rest of the Gala, no word no indication.

Beijing restaurants and shops

Gradually Beijing restaurants and shops were closing for the Spring Festival exodus. Then it became worse with the new restrictions. Beijing is not yet isolated as Wuhan, trains and flight still operate while many people have difficulties to return to Beijing, where they live and work. One goes away for a few days, you take the minimum with you. Then you can’t go back. Where to stay, how to pay, missing your medicines, clothes, and all. Wonderful start of the New Year.

On 23 January I still had a nice lunch at LAD (Lily’s American Diner). they were to stay open.

Then I started to go to my favorite restaurants to order a lot and take home doggy bag to eat at home. Groovy Schiller’s Bar & Restaurant was one (pretty full), Legend Beer another (was very empty already, later closed). Morel’s Restaurant was closed and not sure when it will open.
Most of my usual shops were closed (but might reopen soon), such as Jenny Lou and April Gourmet. Got a lot from Jinkelong that was operating normally and was well stocked. Using my bicycle as a pick-up truck.
The pictures talk for themselves…

Home sweet home! As recommended I try to stay home as much as possible, cooking (I actually love it) and watch my old VHS and VCD movies.

Controls and masks

Some people managed to come back to Beijing by train. See the checking on arrival in Beijing West station.
Masks and alcohol (disinfectant) are all sold out. I have enough as I keep them … against pollution.
Some people invented new “masks”, see the pics. I thought it was a joke till people were spotted in Guangzhou using them. How they managed to breathe beats me.

Outlook

How long will this mess last? No idea. I personally worry, reading recent reports, that we might continue to feel the impact till early May (actually another long holiday…).
The reason for the somber outlook is the history of the facts.
See this in-depth analysis of the new virus:

https://www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140-6736(20)30183-5/fulltext

It mentions: “In December, 2019, a series of pneumonia cases of unknown cause emerged in Wuhan, Hubei, China, with clinical presentations greatly resembling viral pneumonia.” So while it started so early (first case was on 8 December 2019), authorities failed to act and the epidemic was allowed to spread for a period of more than forty days before any decisive action taken. As a result, thousands of people from Wuhan flew to Hong Kong, Thailand, Singapore and Japan before the city was locked down. Wuhan Mayor reported 5 million have left the city, many to Henan and other Chinese provinces. So, specialists think many new cases could emerge in the next weeks and months.

As the virus spreads, anger floods Chinese social media. The sheer volume of criticism of the government, and the sometimes clever ways that critics dodge censors, are testing Beijing’s ability to control the narrative.
The Chinese government will never learn its lessons from killing so-called rumors and systematic cover-ups of “problems”.
As SCMP wrote on 26 January: “What is clear is that China’s initial mishandling of the coronavirus outbreak means that thousands have been infected, over a hundred have died, and the economy, already weakened by debt and the trade war, will take another hit. But perhaps the most tragic part of this story is that there is little reason to hope that next time will be different. The survival of the one-party state depends on secrecy, media suppression and constraints on civil liberties.”

Virusland is back

The new coronavirus

There we go again, virusland is back, a repeat of SARS that brought chaos and headaches right in the middle of the preparations for the 2008 Olympics. Orders from our then big boss Wang Qishan (then Beijing mayor): “I don’t want to know about it. Do respect the deadlines for building the stadia at any cost!”. And so we did, the rest is history.

Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) was first “discovered” in Asia in February 2003. The outbreak lasted approximately six months as the disease spread to more than two dozen countries in North America, South America, Europe, and Asia before it was stopped in July 2003.More details, see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Severe_acute_respiratory_syndrome

According to Wikipedia SARS started in November 2002 and in late 2017, Chinese scientists traced the virus through the intermediary of civets to cave-dwelling horseshoe bats in Yunnan province.

Wild animals as food

Because some Chinese ignore warnings not to eat exotic wild animals (often illegal), a continent is being shut down with immense economic losses and canceling family reunions. Great. The coronavirus is paralyzing China and no one knows for how long and at what economic cost, considering the losses in tourism, hotels, F&B, Spring Festival markets, manufacturing, trade, education…

It is now pretty certain the new virus comes from a market in Wuhan where also wild animals were being traded. The Huanan Seafood Market has a thriving wildlife trade, selling animals from foxes to wolf puppies, giant salamanders to peacocks and porcupines.

Xenophobic chatter about mainland Chinese and their eating habits has spread across the world since the first cases of the novel coronavirus. From SCMP article. Pic was all over the Chinese media.

Some say “Old habits are difficult to break. Not that long ago millions starved to death in China. At that time people were grateful to have anything  to eat.”. I don’t see it this way at all. It is the belief that “special meat” can bring exceptional effects for health (often sexual power). The more exotic. the better. E.g. dog meat supposed to be good in winter, bringing “warm” to the body. Bats (fruit bats in particular) are special for blood circulation and in case of strokes; also strong aphrodisiac; snake (especially the bile) for the lungs. I do not see the connection as such with the history of famines: I would then rather look at vegetables of all kinds where everything can be used. Vietnam has similar attitudes. It is also often to show off to say “I can afford this”. Or “I dare to eat”.

This needs to change

People seem to overlook that there is a need to stop the dangerous animal trade, not even to mention the issue of eating cats and dogs.

Remember? SARS-CoV is thought to be an animal virus from an animal reservoir, as mentioned above, that spread to other animals and first infected humans in the Guangdong province in 2002. China then banned in principle the sale of civet cats and other. The government should fire the Wuhan hygiene inspection team and others who turned a blind eye to the wildlife trade and let it happen again. The customs is so rigid for the import of food (e.g. French cheese and many other) while not dealing with local illegal animal trade.

Let’s hope that the draconian measures from the authorities will avoid worse. The government has ordered now to shut down all wild animal markets and closely monitor farms where those are also bred.

See https://www.scmp.com/news/china/society/article/3047716/china-bans-wildlife-trade-killer-wuhan-coronavirus-spreads

But will those measures last? Temporary restrictions will not solve the underlying problem, animal rights activist says.

DIYmask_airport.mp4

Chinese creative mask (not recommended)(click to open the video clip)

Another article calling for action on the matter:

https://www.scmp.com/comment/opinion/article/3047495/china-coronavirus-beijing-should-close-down-live-animal-food

China coronavirus: Beijing should close down live-animal food markets to stop similar diseases emerging in future. As long as markets exist that sell exotic animals for food, the likelihood of other new diseases emerging will remain.