|Friday 20th of March 2020
A pestilence isn't a thing made to man's measure; therefore we tell ourselves that pestilence is a mere bogy of the mind, a bad dream that will pass away. Albert Camus, The Plague
“In this respect, our townsfolk were like everybody else, wrapped up
in themselves; in other words, they were humanists: they disbelieved
A pestilence isn't a thing made to man's measure; therefore we tell
ourselves that pestilence is a mere bogy of the mind, a bad dream that
will pass away.
But it doesn't always pass away and, from one bad dream to another, it
is men who pass away, and the humanists first of all, because they
have taken no precautions.”
"For a long while God gazed down on this town wth eyes of compassion;
but He grew weary of waiting, His eternal hope was too long deferred,
& now He has turned His face away from us. & so, God's light
withdrawn, we walk in darkness, in the thick darkness of this plague."
A shortage of coffins as providers struggle to keep up with demand and funeral workers becoming infected with the virus are also hampering preparations.
In Bergamo, a province of 1.2 million people in the Lombardy region,
where 1,640 of the total deaths in the country have taken place, 3,993
people had contracted the virus by Tuesday.
The death toll across the province is unclear, but CFB, the area’s
largest funeral director, has carried out almost 600 burials or
cremations since 1 March.
“In a normal month we would do about 120,” said Antonio Ricciardi, the
president of CFB. “A generation has died in just over two weeks. We’ve
never seen anything like this and it just makes you cry.”
There are about 80 funeral companies across Bergamo, each receiving
dozens of calls an hour. A shortage of coffins as providers struggle
to keep up with demand and funeral workers becoming infected with the
virus are also hampering preparations.
Coronavirus: Italian army called in to carry away corpses as city's crematorium is overwhelmed @SkyNews
The Italian city of Bergamo, one of the worst-hit by the coronavirus
outbreak, is having to transport its dead out of the city as its
crematorium is struggling to cope.
Army vehicles have been brought in to move dozens of coffins from
Bergamo to other regions, according to Ansa news agency.
"The crematorium of Bergamo, working at full capacity, 24 hours a day,
can cremate 25 dead", said a spokesperson for the local authority.
"It is clear that it could not stand up to the numbers of the past few days."
Coffins are now being taken to crematoriums in Modena, Acqui Terme,
Domodossola, Parma, Piacenza and several other cities.
Taiwan says @WHO failed to act on #coronavirus transmission warning @FT
Law & Politics
Taiwan has accused the World Health Organization of failing to
communicate an early warning about transmission of the coronavirus
between humans, slowing the global response to the pandemic.
Health officials in Taipei said they alerted the WHO at the end of
December about the risk of human-to-human transmission of the new
virus but said its concerns were not passed on to other countries.
Taiwan is excluded from the WHO because China, which claims it as part
of its territory, demands that third countries and international
bodies do not treat it in any way that resembles how independent
states are treated.
The WHO’s relationship with China has been criticised in the past,
with some accusing the organisation of overly praising Beijing’s
handling of the coronavirus outbreak despite allegations local
officials had initially covered it up.
Taiwan said its doctors had heard from mainland colleagues that
medical staff were getting ill — a sign of human-to-human
Taipei officials said they reported this to both International Health
Regulations (IHR), a WHO framework for exchange of epidemic prevention
and response data between 196 countries, and Chinese health
authorities on December 31.
Taiwanese government officials told the Financial Times the warning
was not shared with other countries.
“While the IHR’s internal website provides a platform for all
countries to share information on the epidemic and their response,
none of the information shared by our country’s [Centers for Disease
Control] is being put up there,” said Chen Chien-jen, Taiwan’s
“The WHO could not obtain first-hand information to study and judge
whether there was human-to-human transmission of Covid-19. This led it
to announce human-to-human transmission with a delay, and an
opportunity to raise the alert level both in China and the wider world
was lost,” said Mr Chen, an epidemiologist by training who was health
minister at the time of the Sars outbreak.
China’s health ministry only confirmed human-to-human transmission on
January 20, after the WHO said in mid-January there might be “limited”
human-to-human transmission but stepped back from this view on the
Asked about the comments, the WHO said under its mandate it needed
trust to “hold frank and open discussions on sometimes sensitive
issues” and to enable this level of candour “requires that we respect
the confidentiality of such communications”.
Western countries have since been accused of failing to act even when
they were warned about human-to-human transmission.
The WHO has had to strike a delicate balance with China throughout the
outbreak, with some accusing the organisation of being too pliant
while medical experts said it had coped admirably.
The challenge of managing the relationship extended to negotiations
over the wording of a report following a joint mission to China last
The nine-day trip comprised 12 WHO experts and 13 Chinese officials
and was focused on the country’s response to the outbreak. Three of
the WHO officials also visited Wuhan, the centre of the outbreak, as
part of the mission.
The WHO’s Bruce Aylward, the Canadian epidemiologist who led the team,
described the process as “fantastic”.
But he told the FT there was “huge back and forth” with Chinese
officials about what went into the report.
Dr Aylward said Chinese health officials did not want to refer to the
pathogen as “dangerous” as they regarded such terminology as reserved
for diseases with higher mortality rates.
Chinese health officials also refused to include any reference to
avoiding a “second wave” of coronavirus in the report, he said, so
they compromised on “a surge” or “resurgence”.
Dale Fisher, an infectious disease specialist at the National
University of Singapore, said the team’s Chinese counterparts
requested the report not make reference to a “dangerous pathogen”
because they said it had a “bioterrorism type suggestion”, so they
found a replacement.
Clifford Lane, clinical director of America’s National Institute of
Allergy and Infectious Diseases who was one of two US officials on the
mission, said the WHO team’s Chinese members had “a great desire to be
He said the debates over wording did not amount to censorship but
represented a “bit of spin”.
China’s ministry of health did not respond to requests for comment.
Despite the criticism, the WHO has impressed many medical
professionals and public health experts with its speed and
“The WHO has filled its leadership role admirably,” said Mark
Woolhouse, professor of infectious disease epidemiology at Edinburgh
University. “Though you could quibble a bit about timings, they have
done all the right things so far.”
Identifying and Interrupting Superspreading Events-Implications for Control of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus 2 #COVID19 @CDCgov
Law & Politics
Severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2)
continues to spread (1). Although we still have limited information on
the epidemiology of 2019 novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19), there
have been multiple reports of superspreading events (SSEs) (2–4).
During recent severe outbreaks of SARS, Middle East respiratory
syndrome (MERS), and Ebola virus disease, SSEs were associated with
explosive growth early in an outbreak and sustained transmission in
later stages (5–7). Here, we review the factors that contribute to
SSEs and implications for control of SARS-CoV-2.
SSEs are not limited to emerging infectious diseases. In the early
20th century, Mary Mallon (Typhoid Mary), an asymptomatic typhoid
carrier who worked as a cook, infected >50 persons (8–10). An
ingenious and elegant but little-known study of tuberculosis
demonstrated that many patients, even those with smear-positive,
cavitary tuberculosis, were not highly infectious but that 3 of 77
patients accounted for 73% of the infectious burden (11). In 1997,
Woolhouse et al. observed that 20% of the population contributed to
>80% of transmission and suggested targeting interventions to the core
20% (12). SSEs have also caused explosive outbreaks of measles,
including among vaccinated persons (13).
During the 2003 SARS epidemic in Beijing, China, 1 hospitalized index
patient was the source of 4 generations of transmission to 76
patients, visitors, and healthcare workers (14). During the MERS
outbreak in South Korea, 166 (89%) of 186 confirmed primary cases did
not further transmit the disease, but 5 patients led to 154 secondary
cases (15). The index patient transmitted MERS to 28 other persons,
and 3 of these secondary cases infected 84, 23, and 7 persons. During
Ebola, SSEs played a key role sustaining the epidemic: 3% of cases
were estimated to be responsible for 61% of infections (6).
SSEs highlight a major limitation of the concept of R0. The basic
reproductive number R0, when presented as a mean or median value, does
not capture the heterogeneity of transmission among infected persons
(16); 2 pathogens with identical R0 estimates may have markedly
different patterns of transmission. Furthermore, the goal of a public
health response is to drive the reproductive number to a value <1,
something that might not be possible in some situations without better
prevention, recognition, and response to SSEs. A meta-analysis
estimated that the initial median R0 for COVID-19 is 2.79 (meaning
that 1 infected person will on average infect 2.79 others), although
current estimates might be biased because of insufficient data (17).
Countermeasures can substantially reduce the reproductive number; on
the Diamond Princess cruise ship, an initial estimated R0 of 14.8 (≈4
times higher than the R0 in the epicenter of the outbreak in Wuhan,
China) was reduced to an estimated effective reproductive number of
1.78 after on-board isolation and quarantine measures were implemented
(18). In Wuhan, aggressive implementation of nonpharmaceutical
interventions (NPIs) in the community, including a cordon sanitaire of
the city; suspension of public transport, school, and most work; and
cancellation of all public events reduced the reproductive number from
3.86 to 0.32 over a 5-week period (C. Wang et al., unpub. data,
https://doi.org/10.1101/2020.03.03.20030593External Link). However,
these interventions might not be sustainable.
Drivers of SSEs
Although SSEs appear to be difficult to predict and therefore
difficult to prevent, understanding the pathogen, host, environmental,
and behavioral drivers of SSEs can inform strategies for SSE
prevention and control (19,20) (Table). The potential impact of these
factors has been analyzed (5). We summarize the evidence for multiple
pathogens to facilitate a more generalized approach that can be
applied to the current COVID-19 pandemic.
Pathogen-specific factors include binding sites (29), environmental
persistence, virulence, and infectious dose. Strains of some organisms
might be more readily transmissible than other strains of the same
species (21,22). Mutation can potentially lead to increased
infectivity (6); one preliminary report suggested that SARS-CoV-2
might have 2 distinct genetic subtypes, with the less lethal form
becoming more dominant as a result of treating and isolating infected
persons (30). Monitoring for genetic adaptation, both by whole-genome
sequencing and epidemiologic investigation, will determine whether
transmissibility of SARS-CoV-2 is evolving and whether variants of the
virus are more readily transmitted.
Host factors include duration of infection (prolonged carriage),
location and burden of infection (e.g., laryngeal or cavitary
tuberculosis), and symptomatology (e.g., transmission of influenza
during the prodromal phase) (22). All SARS superspreaders were
symptomatic. The potential for and extent of transmission of COVID-19
from asymptomatic infected persons has not yet been fully
characterized, although probable asymptomatic transmission has been
documented in at least 1 family cluster (31). Epidemiologic analysis
is required to understand the proportion of COVID-19 transmission
which occurs before symptom onset, whether children are effective
transmitters, and to identify host factors that might be associated
with increased infectivity (32).
Environmental factors include population density and the availability
and use of infection prevention and control measures in healthcare
facilities. SARS and MERS had relatively low rates of person-to-person
transmission but caused explosive outbreaks in healthcare settings
(28). Rapid person-to-person transmission of COVID-19 appears likely
to have occurred in healthcare settings, on a cruise ship, and in a
church (3). In a study of 110 case-patients from 11 clusters in Japan,
all clusters were associated with closed environments, including
fitness centers, shared eating environments, and hospitals, the odds
for transmission from a primary case-patient were 18.7 times higher
than in open-air environments (H. Nishiura et al., unpub. data,
https://doi.org/10.1101/2020.02.28.20029272External Link). SARS-CoV-2
is present in stool (33); ensuring cleanliness of toilets and other
potentially contaminated surfaces is needed, and measures to prevent
aerosolization from plumbing, as might have occurred in the Amoy
Garden outbreak of SARS (24), might need to be implemented. Evidence
of environmental contamination by SARS-CoV-2 through respiratory
droplets and fecal shedding highlights the need for effective
decontamination efforts and strict adherence to environmental hygiene,
which are pertinent to prevention and control of transmission,
including SSEs (34).
Behavioral factors include cough hygiene, social customs,
health-seeking behavior, and adherence to public health guidance. The
risk for SSEs varies widely on the basis of cultural and socioeconomic
context. In Sierra Leone, 1 traditional funeral was associated with 28
laboratory-confirmed cases of Ebola (26,35). Perceptions of risk can
influence behavior and the likelihood of SSEs. Underestimation of risk
in healthcare facilities resulted in transmission that prolonged the
Ebola outbreak in Guinea (27). During the MERS outbreak in South
Korea, doctor shopping (visiting multiple healthcare facilities after
symptoms developed) was associated with SSEs (36). For control of
COVID-19, behavioral recommendations for the general population to
wash hands, cover coughs, and minimize exposing others, as well as
rigorous infection control for healthcare workers, are needed.
Response factors include the timely and effective implementation of
prevention and control measures within the community and in healthcare
settings. These factors can reduce outbreak duration and decrease the
reproductive number, thereby reducing the number of persons infected.
Because delay of diagnosis is the most common cause of SSEs (16),
timeliness is critical to prevent or limit their extent (20). Rapid
identification and isolation of cases will reduce transmission; where
necessary, large-scale NPIs should also be implemented in affected
areas within 1 week (37). Effective case isolation and contact tracing
might be sufficient to control a cluster of COVID-19, but the
probability of control will decrease with delays in patient isolation
from symptom onset (38).
SSEs also occur in settings other than healthcare settings (45). The
SARS outbreak in Hong Kong was characterized by 2 SSEs responsible for
>400 infections (46); 1 guest at the Metropole Hotel was the index
case for 4 national and international clusters (47). Community-wide
NPIs, including risk communication to the public on social distancing,
hand and respiratory hygiene, and criteria for either self-isolation
or safer presentation to the hospital, can limit community
transmission. During the SARS outbreak, effective communication
appears to have reduced time from symptom onset to hospital admission
and decreased the number of persons with whom patients had contact
before isolation (25). The combination of facility-based and
population-based interventions ended SARS transmission (19,48).
A study modeling the impact of interventions in Wuhan found that,
although early identification and isolation reduced the number of
infections somewhat, integrated implementation of NPIs decreased the
number of cases rapidly and substantially and drove the reproductive
number to <1 (C. Wang et al., unpub. data,
https://doi.org/10.1101/2020.03.03.20030593External Link). If NPIs had
been implemented 2 weeks earlier, an estimated 86% of cases might have
been prevented (49). For COVID-19, broad infection prevention and
control measures include cough and hand hygiene, self-isolation by
staying home if sick, and avoiding infection during care-seeking and
@instagram may offer clues about the spread of the new coronavirus @TheEconomist
Law & Politics
INSTAGRAM IS KNOWN mainly for stylish selfies and FOMO-inducing travel
Could the photo-sharing service also be used to track the spread of a pandemic?
As governments and health-care providers around the world seek out
suspected carriers of the new coronavirus, the popular social
network—which people use to share pictures and videos of places they
visit, and more generally to socialise—could prove valuable for
tracing the path of the virus.
The social-media platform may seem an odd tool for studying the
coronavirus outbreak. It is older people, after all, who are most
vulnerable to the virus; most Instagram users are under 35 years old.
But young people can be powerful carriers of the illness. Because they
often experience mild symptoms, infected youngsters may not know they
If they are gregarious and eager to travel, as Instagram users often
are, they are even more likely to spread the disease.
Even if globe-trotting Instagram influencers self-quarantine after
learning of their illness, their travels from a virus hot-spot may
have infected people along the way.
How the Coronavirus Could Take Over Your Body (Before You Ever Feel It) @intelligencer
Law & Politics
You call a friend and arrange to meet for lunch. It’s unseasonably
springlike, so you choose a place with outdoor seating, which seems
like it should be safer. As usual, you take all reasonable
You use hand sanitizer, sit a good distance from other customers, and
try to avoid touching your face, though that last part is hard. A part
of you suspects that this whole thing might be overblown.
What you don’t know is that ten days ago, your friend’s father was a
guest of his business partner at the University Club, where he caught
the novel coronavirus from the wife of a cryptocurrency speculator.
Three days after that, he coughed into his hand before opening the
door of his apartment to welcome his son home.
The saliva of COVID-19 patients can harbor half a trillion virus
particles per teaspoon, and a cough aerosolizes it into a diffuse
As your friend walked through the door he took a breath and 32,456
virus particles settled onto the lining of his mouth and throat.
Viruses have been multiplying inside his body ever since. And as he
talks, the passage of his breath over the moist lining of his upper
throat creates tiny droplets of virus-laden mucus that waft invisibly
into the air over your table.
Some settle on the as-yet-uneaten food on your plate, some drift onto
your fingers, others are drawn into your nasal sinus or settle into
your throat. By the time you extend your hand to shake good-bye, your
body is carrying 43,654 virus particles. By the time you’re done
shaking hands, that number is up to 312,405.
One of the droplets gets drawn into the branching passages of your
lungs and settles on the warm, wet surface, depositing virus particles
into the mucus coating the tissue. Each particle is round and very
small; if you magnified a human hair so that it was as wide as a
football field, the virus particle would be four inches across.
The outer membrane of the virus consists of an oily layer embedded
with jagged protein molecules called spike proteins. These stick out
like the protrusions on a knobby ball chew toy. In the middle of the
virus particle is a coiled strand of RNA, the virus’s genetic
material. The payload.
As the virus drifts through the lung’s mucus, it bumps into one of the
cells that line the surface. The cell is considerably larger than the
virus; on the football-field scale, it’s 26 feet across.
A billion years of evolution have equipped it to resist attackers. But
it also has a vulnerability — a backdoor. Protruding from its surface
is a chunk of protein called angiotensin converting enzyme 2, or ACE2
Normally, this molecule plays a role in modulating hormone activity
within the body. Today, it’s going to serve as an anchor for the
As the spike protein bumps up against the surface of the lung cell,
its shape matches that of the ACE2 so closely that it sticks to it
The membrane of the virus then fuses with the membrane of the cell,
spilling the RNA contents into the interior of the lung cell. The
virus is in.
The viral RNA gets busy. The cell has its own genetic material, DNA,
that produces copied fragments of itself in RNA form. These are
continuously copied and sent into the main body of the cell, where
they provide instructions for how to make the proteins that carry out
all the functions of the cell.
It’s like Santa’s workshop, where the elves, dutifully hammering out
the toys on Santa’s instructions, are complexes of RNA and protein
As soon as the viral RNA encounters a ribosome, that ribosome begins
reading it and building viral proteins. These proteins then help the
viral RNA to copy itself, and these copies then hijack more of the
Other viral proteins block the cell from fighting back. Soon the
cell’s normal business is completely overwhelmed by the demands of the
viral RNA, as its energy and machinery are occupied with building the
components of countless replica viruses.
As they are churned out, these components are transferred on a kind of
cellular conveyor belt toward the surface of the cell. The virus
membrane and spike proteins wrap around RNA strands, and a new
particle is ready.
These collect in internal bubbles, called vesicles, that move to the
surface, burst open, and release new virus particles into your body by
the tens and hundreds of thousands.
Meanwhile, spike proteins that haven’t been incorporated into new
viruses embed themselves directly into the host cell’s membrane so
that it latches onto the surface of an adjacent cell, like a pirate
ship lashing itself to a helpless merchantman.
The two cells then fuse, and a whole host of viral RNA swarms over
into the new host cell.
All up and down your lungs, throat, and mouth, the scene is repeated
over and over as cell after cell is penetrated and hijacked.
Assuming the virus behaves like its relative, SARS, each generation of
infection takes about a day and can multiply the virus a millionfold.
The replicated viruses spill out into the mucus, invade the
bloodstream, and pour through the digestive system.
You don’t feel any of this. In fact, you still feel totally fine. If
you have any complaint at all, it’s boredom. You’ve been a dutiful
citizen, staying at home to practice social distancing, and after two
day of bingeing on the Fast & Furious franchise, you decide that your
mental health is at risk if you don’t get outside.
You call up an ex, and she agrees to meet you for a walk along the
river. You’re hoping that the end-of-the-world zeitgeist might kindle
some afternoon recklessness, but the face mask she’s wearing kills the
Also she tells you that she’s decided to move in with a guy she met at
Landmark. You didn’t even know she was into Landmark. She gives you a
warm hug as you say good-bye, and you tell her it was great to see
her, but you leave feeling deflated.
What she doesn’t know is that an hour before, you went to the bathroom
and neglected to wash your hands afterward. The invisible fecal smear
you leave on the arm of her jacket contains 893,405 virus particles.
Forty-seven seconds after she gets home, she’ll hang up her coat and
then scratch an itch at the base of her nose just before she washes
her hands. In that moment, 9,404 viral particles will transfer to her
face. In five days, an ambulance will take her to Mount Sinai.
Like a retail chain gobbled up by private equity, stripped for parts,
and left to die, your infected cells spew out virus particles until
they burn themselves out and expire.
As fragments of disintegrated cells spread through your bloodstream,
your immune system finally senses that something is wrong. White blood
cells detect the fragments of dead cells and release chemicals called
cytokines that serve as an alarm signal, activating other parts of the
immune system to swing into action.
When responding immune cells identify a cell that has become infected,
they attack and destroy it. Within your body, a microscopic Battle of
the Somme is raging with your immune system leveling its Big Berthas
on both the enemy trenches and its own troops.
As the carnage mounts, the body’s temperature rises and the infected
area becomes inflamed.
Two days later, sitting down to lunch, you realize that the thought of
eating makes you feel nauseated. You lie down and sleep for a few
hours. When you wake up, you realize that you’ve only gotten worse.
Your chest feels tight, and you’ve got a dry cough that just won’t
quit. You wonder: Is this what it feels like? You rummage through your
medicine cabinet in vain and ultimately find a thermometer in the back
of your linen closet.
You hold it under your tongue for a minute and then read the result:
102. Fuck, you think, and crawl back into bed. You tell yourself that
it might just be the regular flu, and even if worse comes to worst,
you’re young(-ish) and otherwise healthy. You’re not in the high-risk
You’re right, of course, in a sense. For most people infected with the
coronavirus, that’s as far as it goes. With bed rest, they get better.
But for reasons scientists don’t understand, about 20 percent of
people get severely ill. Despite your relative youth, you’re one of
After four days of raging fever and feeling sore all over, you realize
that you’re sicker than you’ve ever been in your life. You’ve got a
dry cough that shakes you so hard that your back hurts.
Fighting for breath, you order an Uber and head to the nearest
emergency room. (You leave 376,345,090 virus particles smeared on
various surfaces of the car and another 323,443,865 floating in
aerosols in the air.)
At the ER, you’re examined and sent to an isolation ward. As doctors
wait for the results of a test for the coronavirus, they administer a
CT scan of your lungs, which reveals tell-tale “ground-glass
opacities,” fuzzy spots caused by fluid accumulating where the
immune-system battle is the most intense.
Not only have you got COVID-19, but it’s led to a kind of intense and
dangerous pneumonia called acute-respiratory-distress syndrome, or
With all the regular beds already occupied by the many COVID-19
sufferers, you’re given a cot in a room alongside five other patients.
Doctors put you on an intravenous drip to supply your body with
nutrients and fluids as well as antiviral medicine.
Within a day of your arrival, your condition deteriorates. You throw
up for several days and start to hallucinate. Your heart rate slows to
50 beats a minute. When a patient in the next room dies, doctors take
the ventilator he was using and put you on it.
By the time the nurse threads the endotracheal tube down your throat,
you’re only half-conscious of the sensation of it snaking deeper and
deeper toward your lungs. You just lie there as she places tape over
your mouth to keep the tube in place.
You’re crashing. Your immune system has flung itself into a “cytokine
storm” — an overdrive of such intensity that it is no longer fighting
just the viral infection but the body’s own cells as well.
White blood cells storm your lungs, destroying tissue. Fluid fills the
tiny alveolar sacs that normally let the blood absorb oxygen.
Effectively, you’re drowning, even with the ventilator pumping
oxygen-enriched air into your lungs.
That’s not the worst of it. The intensity of the immune response is
such that under its onslaught, organs throughout the body are shutting
down, a process known as multiple-organ-dysfunction syndrome, or MODS.
When your liver fails, it is unable to process toxins out of your
blood, so your doctors rush to hook you up to a round-the-clock
dialysis machine. Starved of oxygen, your brain cells begin to expire.
You’re fluttering on the edge between life and death. Now that you’ve
slipped into MODS, your odds are 50-50 or worse. Owing to the fact
that the pandemic has stretched the hospital’s resources past the
breaking point, your outlook is even bleaker.
Lying on your cot, you half-hear as the doctors hook you up to an
extracorporeal-membrane-oxygenation (ECMO) machine. This will take
over the work of your heart and lungs and hopefully keep you alive
until your body can find its way back to equilibrium.
And then, you are flooded with an overwhelming sense of calm. You
sense that you have reached the nadir of your struggle. The worst of
the danger is over. With the viral attack beaten, your body’s immune
system will pull back, and you’ll begin the slow, painstaking journey
to full recovery.
Some weeks from now, the doctors will remove the tube from your throat
and wheel away the ventilator. Your appetite will come back, and the
color will return to your cheeks, and on a summer morning you’ll step
out into the fresh air and hail a cab for home.
And later still, you’ll meet the girl who will become your wife, and
you’ll have three children, two of whom will have children of their
own, who will visit you in your nursing home outside Tampa.
That’s what your mind is telling itself, anyway, as the last cells of
your cerebral cortex burst in starburst waves, like the glowing algae
in a midnight lagoon.
In the isolation ward, your EKG goes to a steady tone. The doctors
take away the ventilator and give it to a patient who arrived this
morning. In the official records of the COVID-19 pandemic, you’ll be
recorded as victim No. 592.
$100 Billion of Debt From Emerging-Market Nations Is Now Distressed @markets
The bonds of emerging-market nations are entering distressed territory
at an alarming rate as the soaring dollar raises the prospect of
Fifteen nations with more than $100 billion of Eurobonds outstanding
now have average spreads of at least 1,000 basis points over U.S.
Treasuries, which many investors consider to be the threshold for debt
to be classed as distressed.
And that doesn’t even include Lebanon, which defaulted this month, and
Argentina, which has begun restructuring talks with bondholders.
At the beginning of the year, only Lebanon, Argentina, Zambia and
Suriname had spreads of 1,000 basis points. But that was before fears
over the coronavirus and the crash in oil prices roiled global
markets, sending the dollar into orbit.
Ecuador and Zambia are the countries investors appear most concerned
about. The former, whose Eurobonds due in March 2022 yield more than
70%, was hit by popular protests last year.
The decline in crude prices and delays to International Monetary Fund
disbursements from a $4.2 billion loan have only added to the worry.
Zambia has been battered by weakening copper prices and drought, which
has led to power cuts caused by low water levels at its hydroelectric
Many investors have said it could default without an IMF program,
though the government has shown little willingness over the past year
to negotiate one.
Yields on its $750 million of notes due in September 2022 rose above
50% for the first time this week.
The list includes several other African countries, such as Angola,
Gabon, Nigeria and Cameroon. Iraq is the only Middle East nation in
the distressed zone, though Oman’s spreads are nearing 1,000 basis
points too. Asian nations barely feature.
Given the collapse in U.S. Treasury yields this year as investors pile
into havens, a dollar spread of 1,000 basis points more or less
equates to a yield of 10%.
5-FEB-2018 :: [The End of] Halcyon Days These became known as the "halcyon days," when storms do not occur.
Wikipedia has an article on: halcyon days and it reads thus,
From Latin Alcyone, daughter of Aeolus and wife of Ceyx. When her
husband died in a shipwreck, Alcyone threw herself into the sea
whereupon the gods transformed them both into halcyon birds
(kingfishers). When Alcyone made her nest on the beach, waves
threatened to destroy it. Aeolus restrained his winds and kept them
calm during seven days in each year, so she could lay her eggs. These
became known as the “halcyon days,” when storms do not occur. Today,
the term is used to denote a past period that is being remembered for
being happy and/or successfuL
02-MAR-2020 :: The #COVID19 and SSA
The First Issue is whether The #CoronaVirus will infect the Continent
We Know that the #Coronavirus is exponential, non linear and
multiplicative.what exponential disease propagation looks like in the
Real world exponential growth looks like nothing, nothing, nothing ...
then cluster, cluster, cluster ... then BOOM!
02-MAR-2020 :: The #COVID19 and SSA and the R Word
The First Issue is whether The #CoronaVirus will infect the Continent
We Know that the #Coronavirus is exponential, non linear and multiplicative.
what exponential disease propagation looks like in the real world.
Real world exponential growth looks like nothing, nothing, nothing ...
then cluster, cluster, cluster ... then BOOM!
Debt, virus and locusts create a perfect storm for Africa @TheAfricaReport
The year began with promise for sub-Saharan Africa.
All the major institutions tracking African growth said so:
The African Development Bank pronounced in its Economic Outlook that
Africa’s economic outlook continues to brighten. Its real GDP growth,
estimated at 3.4% for 2019, is projected to accelerate to 3.9% in 2020
and to 4.1% in 2021.
The IMF said in its World Economic Outlook sub-Saharan Africa growth
is expected to strengthen to 3.5% in 2020–21 (from 3.3% in 2019).
The World Bank predicted ”Regional growth is expected to pick up to
2.9% in 2020”
Interestingly the World Bank added a caveat which was prescient:
A sharper-than-expected deceleration in major trading partners such as
China, the Euro Area, or the United States, would substantially lower
export revenues and investment.
A faster-than-expected slowdown in China would cause a sharp fall in
commodity prices and, given Sub-Saharan Africa’s heavy reliance on
extractive sectors for export and fiscal revenues, weigh heavily on
Those forecasts are now defunct and it’s only March.
The Coronavirus has to date barely made landfall on the African
continent with only 5 countries reporting infections but a Virus is in
its essence non-linear, exponential and multiplicative and it would be
a Shakespeare-level moment of hubris if policy makers were to pat
themselves on the back.
Diagnostic kits were only recently availed and if South Korea had
tested the same number of People as the entire African Continent, they
too would be reporting single digit cases.
We all know now ”what exponential disease propagation looks like in
the real world. Real world exponential growth looks like nothing,
nothing, nothing … then cluster, cluster, cluster … then BOOM!” and
therefore we will know soon whether we really have dodged the
#Coronavirus Infection Bullet.
The issue at hand now is around the violence of the blowback from the
China #Coronavirus feedback loop phenomenon.
The virus is not correlated to endogenous market dynamics but is an an
exogenous uncertainty that remains unresolved and therefore, it is a
Fantasy predictions of a V shaped recovery in China have been dashed.
In fact China cannot just crank up the ‘Factory’ because that will
risk a second round effect of infections.
Therefore, I expect negative GDP Growth through H1 2020 in China as my
Standard Bank’s Chief Economist has calculated that a one percentage
point decrease in China’s domestic investment growth is associated
with an average 0.6 percentage point decrease in Africa’s exports.
Those countries heavily dependent on China being the main taker of
their commodities are at the bleeding edge of this now negative
feedback loop phenomenon. Commodity prices [Crude Oil, Copper, Coal]
have crashed more than 20% since the start of the year.
You don’t have to be a rocket scientist or an Economist to calculate
which countries in are directly in the line of fire. Angola, Congo
Brazzavile, DRC, Equatorial Guinea, Zambia, Nigeria and South Africa
spring immediately to mind.
Notwithstanding comments by the always upbeat and bright-eyed
President Adesina of the African Development Bank that Africa is not
facing a debt crisis.
He told Bloomberg, “Debt is not a problem, it’s very bad debt that’s a
The point is this.
SSA Countries with no exception that I can think off have gorged on
borrowing and balance sheets are maxed out.
Africa’s sovereign issuance in the Eurobond markets totaled $53bn in
2018 and 2019 and total outstanding debt topped $100bn last year.
Debt burdens have increased and affordability has weakened across most
of Sub-Saharan Africa, while a shift in debt structures has left some
countries more exposed to a financial shock, said Moodys in November
Very few of the investments made are within spitting distance of
providing an ROI [Return on Investment].
Rising debt service ratios are best exemplified by Nigeria where the
Government is spending more than half of its revenue servicing its
More than 50% of SSA GDP is produced by South Africa, Nigeria and Angola.
South Africa reported that GDP in Q4 2019 shrank by a massive 1.4%.
Annual growth at 0.2% is the lowest yearly growth since 2009 and the
tape is back at GFC times.
The rand which has been in free fall has a lot further to fall in 2020.
And this is before the viral infection.
Nigeria’s oil revenue is cratering and there is $16bn of ”hot money”
parked in short term certificates which is all headed for the Exit as
we speak. A Currency Devaluation is now predicted and predictable.
South Africa, Nigeria and Angola are poised to dive into deep recession.
East Africa which was a bright spot is facing down a locust invasion
which according to the FAO could turn 500x by June.
It is practically biblical.
“If I shut up heaven that there be no rain, or if I command the
locusts to devour the land, or if I send pestilence among my people;”
– 2 Chronicles 7:13-14
This is a perfect storm. Buckle up, and let’s stop popping the Quaaludes.
Nigeria Says Virus May Trigger Foreign-Exchange Realignment @markets
The Nigerian government warned the coronavirus pandemic could set off
an exchange rate “realignment,” in a rare acknowledgment by an
administration that has made a stable currency a key economic pillar.
After meeting with his new Economic Advisory Council, President
Muhammadu Buhari said the country needed to prepare to take “tough
A global recession “could slow down Nigeria’s fragile growth and
trigger exchange rate re-alignment,” the presidency said in a
statement summarizing discussions.
“These lines make me hopeful that they are coming around to
considering a devaluation in the near term, instead of prevaricating,”
said Yvonne Mhango, a sub-Saharan Africa economist at Renaissance
Unsubstantiated rumours suggest the president @MBuhari told the economic advisory council that he doesn't even want to hear anything about the exchange rate. @nonso2
And so.. oil prices have collapsed again and essentially we are back
to the 2014-2016 problem. The exchange rate or the economy. Before the
crash the imbalances were already building up.
So what options do we have now that the crash has happened? The
difference this time around is that we already have many of those
choosing-the-exchange rate policies in place.
We already have a 41 items restriction list (or is it 42?). We already
have the borders closed. We already have a high debt build up.
We have already borrowed foreign reserves from FPIs. We have already
squeezed banks. We have already sold FX futures.
The fundamental choice is back again: exchange rate or economy? So far
it looks like we will be choosing the exchange rate again.
Unsubstantiated rumours suggest the president told the economic
advisory council that he doesn’t even want to hear anything about the
The CBN is already releasing press statements on how the exchange rate
is appropriately priced and threatening fire and brimstone on currency
EFCC is already attacking BDCs. All signs point to a repeat of
2014-2016 where we did all we could to choose the exchange rate until
the economy fell into recession.
Markets are also already responding. The stock exchange has lost all
its gains this year and is 24 percent down since its peak in
The black market is flashing signals with rumours of exchange rates as
high as 400 naira per dollar. Nigeria’s Eurobond rates have increased
from 7 to over 10 percent.
How far will it go? The damning thing is no one knows. It all depends
on how a couple of people feel when they wake up in the morning.
And that part is largely unpredictable. But if we repeat the policy
choices we made in 2014 to 2016 then the outcomes will be worse.
Because we have much less room to maneuver this time around. And there
is much less optimism. Hold on to your hats, its bound to be a bumpy
Angola, Unfazed by Market Havoc, Plans $3 Billion Eurobond @business
Angola, whose dollar bonds are trading at distressed levels following
the global risk sell-off, said it’s planning to raise as much as $3
billion in a Eurobond sale to help finance a budget deficit expected
to widen as the plunge in oil prices cuts government revenue.
A presidential decree dated March 18 authorizes Finance Minister Vera
Daves de Sousa to appoint banks to manage the sale, without giving
details on the timing.
The country’s existing $8 billion of dollar debt is held mostly by
European and U.S. investors, with Alliance Bernstein LP, BlackRock
Inc. and Aviva Plc among the biggest holders, according to data
compiled by Bloomberg.
A sale in the immediate future is unlikely to be successful in the
current market environment, according to investors including Aberdeen
Standard Investments and Federated Hermes.
Yields on 2025 Eurobonds of Africa’s second-biggest oil producer
soared 1,649 basis points since the beginning of March to 23.52% amid
plunging crude prices and the spread of the coronavirus.
The average spread of Angola’s dollar bonds over U.S. Treasuries is
1,645 basis points, well above the 1,000 that many investors consider
to be the threshold for debt to be classed as distressed.
“It’s not credible, full stop,” said Kevin Daly, a London-based money
manager at Aberdeen, which holds Angola bonds.
“What Angola should be talking about is tapping the International
Monetary Fund emergency funding vehicle and speaking with China in
order to close what will be a much larger-than-expected financing gap
given the collapse in oil prices.”
Angola, which depends on oil for more than 90% of export revenue, is
set to revise its economic forecasts for this year because of the
crisis, Lourenco said in a speech to his party on March 13.
The country on Wednesday announced it was closing its land, air and
sea links from Friday for two weeks because of the pandemic.
The restrictions don’t apply to the transport of goods and essential services.
The southwest African nation’s economy is expected to grow 1.8% in
2020 after shrinking for four straight years, according to the
country’s unrevised budget, which is based on an average oil price of
$55 per barrel. Brent, a benchmark for Angola’s crude, traded at
$25.72 a barrel as of 4:35 p.m. in London, recovering from a near
17-year low of $24.52 on Wednesday.
“It’s highly unlikely they can come to market,” said Mohammed Elmi, a
London-based money manager at Federated Hermes, which has $575 billion
under management. “The credit story is leveraged to oil and with no
respite in oil price declines, it just puts more pressure on them.”
Kenya Destroys Fresh Roses as Virus Crashes Demand in Europe @business
Kenya’s flower industry, the largest exporter of blooms to Europe, is
staring at a “disaster” if disruptions caused by the coronavirus
pandemic continue for just two months.
Farms are exporting only 20% of the 60 tons of cut flowers that they
would normally send daily to markets including the U.K., the
Netherlands and Germany, according to Kenya Flower Council Chief
Executive Officer Clement Tulezi.
The rest are “being destroyed,” Tulezi said in an interview on
Thursday in the capital, Nairobi.
Europe, seeing more Covid-19 infections and deaths than China where
first cases were reported, has become the epicenter of the virus with
countries ordering lockdowns and closing borders.
This has hit supply chains for trading partners including Kenya, whose
roses are popular at events including royal parties in the U.K.
“There is no demand in Europe,” Tulezi said. “Almost the entire market
has collapsed. Technically, our industry is on lockdown.”
If the situation continues, Kenya’s flower export earnings could drop
by about half to 60 billion shillings ($571 million) or lower this
year, according to the flower lobby.
Less inflows from one of Kenya’s top foreign-currency earners doesn’t
bode well with government plans to boost reserves and meet dollar-debt
obligations without putting too much pressure on the shilling.
The flower industry could be forced to cut wages and trim its
workforce of more than 150,000 people.
Most of the farms, now operating at 20% capacity and with just half of
the workers, are dreading the pandemic that has disrupted everything
from flights to schools and social life.
“Eight weeks would be a bit too much for us,” Tulezi said. “If it gets
there, it’s total disaster.”
The time is a countdown to Mother’s Day in May in the U.S., when
flower growers hope the coronavirus will have come under control and
potentially help bump shipments.
That’s after poor sales on Valentines’ day and expectedly muted demand
on Mother’s Day in the U.K., events that normally accounts for about
half of the year’s exports.
In the meantime, the lobby has asked the government to quickly process
valued-added-tax refunds that total 9 billion shillings to help
companies stay afloat, according to Tulezi. It has also asked the
government to consider providing tax relief.
Kenya has confirmed seven cases of the coronavirus and restricted
foreign travel and suspended school in a bid to reduce the risk of
contagion within the East African country.
Diamond Trust Bank reports FY 2019 EPS +1.506% Earnings
Par Value: 4/-
Closing Price: 92.25
Total Shares Issued: 279602220.00
Market Capitalization: 25,793,304,795
Diamond Trust Bank Kenya Limited FY 2019 results through 31st December
2019 vs. 31st December 2018
FY Kenya government securities – held to maturity 97.564656b vs.
FY Loans and advances to customers (net) 199.089371b vs. 193.074357b +3.115%
FY Total assets 386.230186b vs. 377.719314b +2.253%
FY Customer deposits 280.186953b vs. 282.860003b -0.945%
FY Total shareholders’ equity 58.850841b vs. 53.657050b +9.680%
FY Loans and advances interest income 19.953866b vs. 21.956985b -9.123%
FY Government securities interest income 12.498862b vs. 13.010069b -3.929%
FY Total interest income 32.851113b vs. 35.268503b -6.854%
FY Customer deposits expense [12.136834b] vs. [13.463538b] -9.854%
FY Net interest income 18.710971b vs. 20.021514b -6.546%
FY Fees and commissions on loans and advances 1.339301b vs. 1.284128b +4.297%
FY Other fees and commissions income 2.208611b vs. 2.157644b +2.362%
FY Total non-interest income 5.770297b vs. 5.434635b +6.176%
FY Total operating income 24.481268b vs. 25.456149b -3.830%
FY Loan loss provision [1.323010b] vs. [2.982261b] -55.637%
FY Total operating expenses [13.224884b] vs. [14.485360b] -8.702%
FY Profit before tax and exceptional items 11.256384b vs. 10.970789b +2.603%
FY Profit after tax and exceptional items 7.268592b vs. 7.082115b +2.633%
EPS 24.27 vs. 23.91 +1.506%
Dividend per share 2.70 vs. 2.60 +3.846%
Net NPL and advances 9.087308b vs. 6.724012b +35.147%
Group Cash and Cash Equivalents at end of Year [-1.921b]
The PE Ratio is 3.8018!