COVID-19 lessons

Updated: Oct 13, 2020

Most of us have now spent several weeks of so called "confinement", in some places very strict and much cooler in other places.

For the ones following me on Facebook, you know I have been publishing regular statistics and analysis on the evolution of the epidemics in each region of the world. One of the impressing fact when looking at stats all across the world is the differences in the level of impact of the virus depending of the region and continent.

Only two regions show a very fast growing number of cases AND dead: Western Europe and North America. All other regions are much less impacted, and should end-up with a number of dead per million lower than the usual flu, while Europe is already at 5 times that level and the US 2.5 times.

Many questions shall need to be studied and answered after the end of the pandemics, and the statistics we have today are not enough to get a clear idea about why Corona killed much more in Western Europe than in Eastern Europe, more in the US than in Canada, or why it killed much more in Spain than in Portugal.

Many opinions are shared, for example that the north of Italy was hit such hard because the population counted many elderly people. But Germany managed quite better, with also a large amount of elderly people. Similarly, France has a lot of elderly people in the south, but the north was the center of the epidemics. All countries went into a high level of isolation, except Sweden, that now has a lot of dead, but less than France, Italy or Belgium.

For sure a lot of work shall be needed in order to understand in full the action of that virus and the reasons why populations respond to it in different ways.

My call today is not to discuss how the virus is working or how to cure it. This is in no way my area of competence.

What I wish to discuss in this letter is the way various world governments and societies responded to the virus and try to draw conclusions. Again, nothing related to the best way to handle the disease, but rather to the way it acted as a social, political and economical catalyst, revealing to the ones who keep their eyes open the real nature of the leaders and the state of advanced of putrefaction of society, especially in the so call Western World.

Of course each country has a different and own Corona history, even if the story is not yet behind us. Definitely I do not pretend to know in details what happened in each single country. Most of my intelligence data is about France, Russia and some key Asian countries. I also received interesting information from connections in various countries like the US, Portugal or Iran, and your comments shall be welcome if you have new things to communicate.

But based on comments from many people, and on my observation of what has been said and decided in many countries, the name I shall use to describe the actions and their results is mostly FAILURE. Lets go into more details.

Technical failure

The strategy to fight the virus was in many countries, especially in Western Europe, the strategy of strict confinement. This was for example the case in Italy, Spain, France and to some extend Germany. However most Asian countries used a different approach, based on a fast testing, identification of the infected and their strict isolation for 14 days, protection of elderly, while most other people could move around. Of course mass meetings indoor were forbidden, and masks/distances had to be respected, although restaurants were still open, with a few limitations.

The respective results are clear. Countries with strict confinement show a number of dead far above countries with a more liberal approach and less disasters in intensive care departments. One can argue that confinement was "invented" by China in Wuhan. It is true that China started an extremely strict confinement in Wuhan, but we need to understand that they were surprised by the development of Corona, and a probable period of denial by local authorities did not help. As a matter of fact, they had to do something fast, and confinement was the only option in Wuhan. Because the confinement was total, it brought results and the final dead count in Hubei is less than that usual flu. In the rest of China, a milder version of confinement was implemented, with even better results, as China as a whole counts less than 5000 dead only, for a population of 1.4 billion.

Several Asian countries implemented a different strategy, as stated above. For that, they had a month to get prepared and organize the testing/curing/isolating protocols. South Korea was the first to be hit by the epidemics (see chart bellow) then Malaysia, Taiwan and Thailand. Japan crisis indeed early, and showed an extremely slow development of the virus, with an increase begin of April. I must say it took me time to understand their strategy, but the results are there now, with a peak reached end of April, and a total number of dead per million of 5 today (100 times less than Western Europe) and that should end-up below 6 or 7.

Western Europe and the US had indeed much more time to get ready, as the virus started to develop a few weeks later than in Asia. They also got a warning early March with the start of the pandemics in Iran. But nothing was done in most countries, for example in terms of organizing additional resources in hospitals and ICUs (Intensive Care Units). Nothing was done to prepare the medical staff, provision proper equipment for their personal protection. Nothing was done to organize a proper (and human) protection of the elderly at home or in Retirement Houses.

The results is that Western countries were caught with their pants down, quite like the Chinese in January and were left with the only possible decision: try to contain the tsunami by locking everything down.

It is also interesting to add that most Western countries even failed to stop major events, that took place in March and played a crucial role in spreading the virus, like football matches in Italy (19th February) and France (the last one took place on closed doors on March 11th, but 5000 fans grouped outside), the Venice carnival, the Fashion Fair in Milan or local carnivals in Germany. Of course authorities could not imagine the outcome of such events, but warnings were already there, and the initial denial of the Chinese was well answered by similar denial in the West. In other cases like in France, the authorities decided to even take additional risk, for example when Macron decided (as it seems against the recommendation of his counselors) to maintain the elections on March 16th.

One country in Europe decided to practically do nothing - Sweden. Some opponents to confinement claim this is a full success, as the number of dead is "only" 300 per million. But this 300 is still bleak compared to 5 in Japan. Sweden on the other side avoided a strict lockdown with its psychological and economical consequences, and may benefit from that in the future, as discussed later in this paper.

Ethical failure

In many countries, the role of authorities to protect the elderly and the weakest part of the population has not been fulfilled. In France for example, retirement houses (the EHPAD, privatized years ago) have in many cases been turned into COVID clusters and have seen thousands of elderly people die of COVID or simply of despair to be left alone in their room, without contacts with family and with reduced nursing services due to many ill in the personal.

No preparation or anticipation was done in February or March to avoid such a dramatic situation. Similar information is coming from the US, where retirement houses and veteran houses have been used to host COVID patients to unload the (private) hospitals. As a results, elderly and veteran houses are now clusters of COVID infection, and many residents die in silence.

Another type of ethical failure is the repetitive amount of lies that we have heard and read. Again in France, the initial position of the Minister of Health Care was: chances for the Chinese virus to reach us is minimal. Then the position on masks was: it is useless. At that time, their were no masks available in the country, pharmacies did not have the right to sell masks, and the police was ordered not to wear them. Now, at time of end of confinement, French authorities made the mask mandatory in public transportation, and masks are available from supermarkets at 3 or 5 euros a piece... Follow the money.

Finally, and again in France, a local top specialist in virology recommended a simple cheap drug called Chloroquine, and I am sure all of you heard about it. All was done, and is still done to stop and forbid the use and sale of that drug in France, while many countries use it, the French Army bought large quantities of it, and many famous French artists, politics and other elite members that were infected explain to the media that they have been treated with Chloroquine.

Psychological failure

Although unpopular decisions have to be taken during a crisis like this, I believe a major issue in many countries, but especially in France is the way communication was done around the epidemics and the measures taken to fight it. Authorities had a clear tendency to use the following tricks in their communication:

- considering people as kids, unable to understand basic things and unable to use common sense. I only saw a few leaders explaining the introduction of movement restrictions, but rarely saw leaders really talking to adults, perhaps at the exception of Angela Merkel, who made a quite reasonable initial speech. Vladimir Putin also was measured and reasonable, while Moscow Maire Sobyanin sounded more like many Western leaders: spreading fear and predicting disaster.

- the terms used in English and French speaking countries are also spreading fear, anxiety and distrust. Confinement is only carrying negative and oppressive feelings. You are confined - like an industrial chicken a confined in its battery. Alone in a crowd of anxious chickens, hopeless and terrified. At least some other countries used other terms, like "Beschraenkung" in German, meaning "limitation", a more neutral and less emotional word, or "samaisolatsia" in Russia, or "self isolation", where people have a feeling (even if not true) to be involved in the decision to isolate themselves.

- feeling of punishment. Looking at the rules imposed in many countries, it is amazing to realize that things like biking alone in the hills, walking alone on the beach, walking your dog more than 100 meters from your home are forbidden, and is to be fined (in France from 135 euros). On the other side, buying products in the supermarket, going to work in public transports, sending small kids to school (this week allowed in France) are OK. In short, if you work or spend money, you are allow to do it, but if you simply enjoy nature, you are punished. Again the reduction of the people to small children, to whom authorities dictate what is good and what is bad, as they cannot think on their own. And please do not come back to me with the necessity to impose discipline in order to save lives. The ones who anyway want to party, do not respect distance and more, shall do it anyway, fines or not.

Historical failure

I strongly believe that the main reason why Western countries are hit much harder by the virus is to be found in the way health care was managed in those countries over the past 30 or 40 years. The countries that get the worst situation due to COVID infections are the ones that have used a privatized approach to medicine over the past decades:

. privatization of hospitals, like in the US and many Western countries. Sometimes privatization is only in preparation, but damages have been already done with years of budget decrease, reduction of beds in hospitals, management rules applied to reduce costs and improve profitability, in view of a privatization.

. privatization of large parts of the medical research segment, largely taken over by Big Pharma

. policy influenced by various lobbying groups, from Big Pharma, reducing the part of preventive medicine (except profitable vaccines), favoring the use of medicament to fix the problems when they are already there. As profits are the key reason for any action or non action, the interest of Big Pharma is not to avoid diseases, but to let them develop and then come up with medicament (under their own patents) to cure the disease, generating billions of profit for them. This also lead western people to consume a large amount of antibiotics and other drugs over the past decades. Doctors have also been "influenced" with numerous legal bribes like seminars in nice places, sponsorship and the like, giving the incentives to make medicine a business, miles away from the Hippocratic Oath.

Economic failure

Although all countries in the world are entering an economical crisis, the effect of full lockdown and confinement are obviously devastating for the economies of the countries that implemented such measures. Many opponents of the confinement strategy explain that the economy has to be saved first, raising critics, and accused of putting big business before the health of the population. I think we should be careful about that discussion. I do not believe that big business shall be the prime victim of the confinement policy. It was demonstrated already with some measures taken by authorities to support large companies like airlines, that big business, as always, have means to influence the leaders and shall manage to get the support needed to avoid default and bankruptcy (the Too Big to Fail syndrome). In fact the major economical risk is for:

- the SMB (Small and Medium Businesses) starting from individual entrepreneurs, to hotels, restaurants, and up to mid size companies (a few 100 or 1000 employees) that do not have any leverage on the authorities like big business. For many countries, especially in Western Europe, those players are really the core of the economy and ensure the well-being of a very large part of the population, especially outside of the very big cities. Those are also the most fragile players, often hostages of banks because of contracted loans, and without the complicated financial risk-avoiding tools and structures of big business. For them, closing down the business is a few weeks or months away from the start of confinement. Many of those players already suffered a lot over the past years because of policies favoring big business. This was clear over the past years in France, with more and more pressure by big business on their subcontractors for example.

Authorities played a lot of PR at the beginning of the crisis, about financial help to SMBs, but most of those measures are delaying tax payments for example, not canceling them. It may work if the exit of crisis is rapid, but we can have doubts about that.

- the second category of main victims of lockdowns are the households with existing money issues, and their number has only increased a lot over the past years. Those people may lose revenues very fast, have no savings (rather debts) and charges to pay like home rental. Millions are in such situation, especially in Western countries. The result of lockdowns for those people can easily mean homelessness, starvation, degrading mental stability and the like, all leading to a social breakdown over the next month, unless the state offers a serious support, and not in credits but in cash.

The impact of the lockdowm shall not be understood before a few months, but the economical impact shall be serious. The psychological impact is yet another point.

What did we learn from that crisis?

The first lesson I believe is about that system of imposed and strict confinement. Purely looking at statistics, the result of such measures look very questionable. Indeed, the confinement solution is the only way to avoid a complete disaster, and was understandable in Wuhan, as authorities were caught by surprise. In Western Europe and the US, there is no such excuse. Both regions had 1 to 1.5 month to get ready, but they did not do much and had to confine to limit the size of the disaster. Looking at the economical and psychological consequences of the confinement, this shall be a major failure.

War situations are always times where people demonstrate their deep sense of humanity and goodness, or their hidden dark side. Without the Nazi Party and WW2, Josef Mengele would have spent his life as a brilliant researcher in a Frankfurt medical university and Oskar Schindler would not be remembered today. The COVID crisis makes it clear that current leaders, especially in the western world are no leaders, but only implementers of policies defined by big business.

If you look carefully at most measures implemented in your country, the picture is clear. Populations are considered in one simple way: first as workers that are necessary to get the production of products and services going-on, second as consumers that buy those products and services. All the rest is irrelevant. Elderly and veterans are useless.

If confinement is imposed or deconfinement is decided, all activities that are allowed first are the ones related to CONSUMING. Consuming of medicine (vaccines), fast-food, cloths, etc. But spending time on the beach or in a forest is criminal. More than that, the message from Authorities, like in France, is: you shall need to work more to recover the growth we missed, forget about holidays, forget about workers' rights.

The reality of the present system has been revealed to everyone by Corona, and in a way this is a blessing.