|Thursday 13th of January 2022
From conspiracy theory to successful paranoia FABIO VIGHI
Law & Politics
The rhetoric of exclusion that animates the public discourse on Covid can be described through what Lacan, borrowing from Freud, named “successful paranoia”, which “might just as well seem to constitute the closure of science.”[iii]
Essentially, “closure” refers to the positivistic belief in scientific objectivity, which is built on the rejection (foreclosure) of the ‘subject of the unconscious’ as source of questioning, doubt, and error.
In the context of Lacan’s discourse theory, successful paranoia aligns with a hyper-efficient belief-system secured by the “curious copulation between capitalism and science”.[iv]
The power of what today is unilaterally promoted as ‘real science’ (so real that it bans doubt, prohibits debate, and promotes censorship) is akin to the power of a new religion, as Lacan cautioned in 1974:
“Science is in the process of substituting itself for religion, and it is even more despotic, obtuse and obscurantist”.[v] And capitalism banks on science & technology just as it capitalizes on health, one of the most profitable businesses in the world.
The ‘science’ we are ordered to follow is hijacked by the financial elites and their political cronies, thus working as a barrier against the awareness that ‘our world’ is crumbling.
Real science, which continues to operate behind the thick curtain of censorship, would never impose dictatorial mandates like those still in place in democratic countries around the world.
Blind faith in ‘Covid science’, then, betrays a desperate desire to hang on to capitalist power, inclusive of its authoritarian mutation.
Yet the history of scientific progress shows that science is, fundamentally, a discourse emphatically centred on what it lacks.
All major scientific advances are based on a principle of insufficiency: the awareness that truth as cause of knowledge is ontologically lacking.
Or, to quote Lacan: “Il n’y a de cause que de ce qui cloche” (“There is cause only in what doesn’t work”).[vi] This is the science worth fighting for.
Scientists believed Covid leaked from Wuhan lab - but feared debate could hurt ‘international harmony’ @Telegraph
Law & Politics
Leading British and US scientists thought it was likely that Covid accidentally leaked from a laboratory but were concerned that further debate would harm science in China, emails show.
An email from Sir Jeremy Farrar, director of the Wellcome Trust, on February 2 2020 said that “a likely explanation” was that Covid had rapidly evolved from a Sars-like virus inside human tissue in a low-security lab.
The email, to Dr Anthony Fauci and Dr Francis Collins of the US National Institutes of Health, went on to say that such evolution may have “accidentally created a virus primed for rapid transmission between humans”.
But a leading scientist told Sir Jeremy that “further debate would do unnecessary harm to science in general and science in China in particular”.
Dr Collins, the former director of the US National Institutes of Health, warned it could damage “international harmony”.
Viscount Ridley, co-author of Viral: the search for the origin of Covid, said: “These emails show a lamentable lack of openness and transparency among Western scientists who appear to have been more interested in shutting down a hypothesis they thought was very plausible, for political reasons.”
In the emails, Sir Jeremy said that other scientists also believed the virus could not have evolved naturally.
One such scientist was Professor Mike Farzan, of Scripps Research, the expert who discovered how the original Sars virus binds to human cells.
Scientists were particularly concerned by a part of Covid-19 called the furin cleavage site, a section of the spike protein which helps it enter cells and makes it so infectious to humans.
Summarising Professor Farzan’s concerns in an email, Sir Jeremy said: “He is bothered by the furin site and has a hard time (to) explain that as an event outside the lab, though there are possible ways in nature but highly unlikely.
The emails also show that Bob Garry, of the University of Texas, was unconvinced that Covid-19 emerged naturally.
“I just can’t figure out how this gets accomplished in nature,” he said.
Professor Andrew Rambaut, from the University of Edinburgh, also said that furin cleavage site “strikes me as unusual”.
RED PILL OR BLUE PILL? VARIANTS, INFLATION, AND THE CONTROLLED DEMOLITION OF SOCIETY BY FABIO VIGHI
Unsurprisingly, Santa brought us yet another Covid Christmas, replete with the usual set of presents: facemasks, quarantines, social distancing, coercive inoculations, vaccine passports, non-stop media fearmongering, and lockdowns.
Two years down the line, after billions of injections with multiple and diversified experimental vaccines, the mighty pandemic is still with us.
This time, however, it comes with the bonus of soaring inflation, which by devaluing money pushes more and more people into debt and poverty.
And to add insult to injury, the ‘experts’ are now warning about “inflation inequality”. As my daughters would say (via Homer Simpson): duh!?
Perhaps, while we wait to hear what we must do to ‘save Easter,’ it is time to take the red pill and face reality: since the start of 2020, a macroeconomic virus disguised as a pandemic virus has taken possession of our lives, causing widespread depression and consigning entire populations to often extreme forms of legalized discrimination.
Monetary Injections and Other Inoculations
The deep function of a ‘health emergency’ legitimised by perpetual programs of mandatory vaccine inoculations can only be grasped if placed in the relevant macro context, namely the terminal crisis of our mode of production.
The causal sequence to bear in mind is: economic implosion – pandemic simulation – authoritarian offensive.
Should it come to fruition, this paradigm shift would culminate in a totalitarian model of implosive capitalism, perhaps still thinly disguised as democracy but legitimized by the despotic management of global emergencies that are grotesquely disproportionate to any actual threat.
As shown by the ‘Covid vaccine’ indoctrination campaigns, with attendant ‘anti-vax’ scapegoating, the totalitarian potential of mass propaganda is virtually limitless.
For the first time in history, the blame for a treatment that does not work (at least not in the way we were promised) has been placed on those who do not use it.
Yet we must be mindful that today’s ideological violence comes as a reaction to a looming socioeconomic collapse whose magnitude has never been experienced before.
The first shock was the 2007 credit crunch and following global recession.
At that time, the bailing out of the financial sector led to the European debt crisis (2010-11), which turned Quantitative Easing (central bank programs of financial asset purchase) into the mother of all monetary policies.
Since 2008, regular central bank distortion through QE injections has spawned an ultra-financialised regime of capitalist accumulation contingent on the creation of asset bubbles whose volatility resurfaced in mid-September 2019, with the liquidity trap in the Wall Street repo (repurchase agreement) loan market.
This, in turn, cleared the way for Virus and the perverse logic of ‘pandemic capitalism,’ which allowed the top 1% to increase their wealth at record speed, while the middle classes are going missing.
As recently detailed by Pam and Russ Martens, on September 17, 2019 the Federal Reserve started an extraordinary program of repo loans to its so-called ‘primary dealers’ on Wall Street (including JP Morgan, Goldman Sachs, Barclays, BNP Paribas, Nomura, Deutsche Bank, Bank of America, Citibank, etc.) – these were overnight loans as well as 14-day and even longer term loans.
On July 2, 2020 (the last date currently available from the Fed’s database) the cumulative value of these loans, whose collateral consisted mostly of US Treasuries and Mortgage-Backed Securities, totalled $11.23 trillion.
Because of the fragmented way in which the Fed releases its data, it is impossible to establish exactly which loans are or were outstanding, and by how much.
Nevertheless, what matters is their astonishing size, which confirms that Wall Street’s trading houses were on the verge a catastrophic meltdown before the arrival of Virus.
Further evidence of the loan market’s persistent fragility came on July 28, 2021, when the Fed announced the creation of a ‘Standing Repo Facility’, consisting of $500 billion backstop credit each week for the Fed’s 24 primary dealers and additional counterparties.
As I argued in a recent piece, the countermoves to an impending meltdown were planned months in advance.
Official documents indicate that our financial lords knew all too well that the post-2008 artificial expansion of the money supply was becoming unmanageable, not least because accompanied by a global economic contraction that, in 2019, had pushed Germany, Italy and Japan to the verge of recession, while Britain, China, and other economies were spluttering ominously.
It is therefore reasonable to surmise that, rather than risk a sudden and catastrophic collapse, the elites opted to control the accident while, as it were, calling the ambulance in advance.
As we have seen, when the Wall Street repo market froze up in mid-September 2019, the Fed swiftly prescribed a higher dose of the same medicine, that is to say an unprecedented expansion of monetary stimulus in repo loans.
But this time, crucially, under protection of the pandemic shield. If we fast forward to January 2022, the same logic applies: the ‘Covid emergency’ continues to work like a huge Linus blanket for a global economy that is sinking under mountains of unsustainable deficits and unserviceable debts.
It is important to be clear about the magnitude of the monetary expansion under consideration.
In August 2019, a white paper issued by BlackRock (the all-powerful investment fund already known as the “fourth branch of government”) had shown the Federal Reserve the way out of the coming “dramatic downturn,” urging the US Central Bank to implement an “unprecedented” monetary policy whereby large masses of money created out of thin air were to be delivered “directly into the hands of public and private spenders.”
This “going direct” scheme, which according to BlackRock had to be made “permanent,” was promptly inaugurated a month later in response to the repo market crisis.
Since then, and especially after the arrival of Virus, the Fed’s balance sheet has grown by nearly 5 trillion dollars, an absolutely extraordinary expansion even when compared with the QE bailouts started at the end of 2008.
And to get an idea of the global dimension of this expansion, we need to add the trillions created by other central banks around the world, as well as programs of fiscal stimulus such as ‘helicopter money.’
As explained by John Titus, what matters is not merely the quantitative but especially the qualitative character of the Fed’s monetary manoeuvre.
In the entire history of the Fed (founded in 1913), there had never been a direct correlation between central bank reserve creation and monetary supply in the retail banking circuit.
However, since September 2019 the new reserves created by the Fed started being replicated dollar for dollar as deposits within the existing 4,336 US commercial banks.
In other words, the expansion of the Fed’s balance sheet came to correspond directly with the overall money supply in the economy: exactly the monetary medicine ordered by BlackRock, which became a matter of force majeure a few months later thanks to a ‘global health emergency’ that still continues to work like a life insurance policy for the financial markets.
Ultimately, the extent to which the “going direct” strategy and the massive program of roll-over repo loans overlap is of little importance.
What needs to be emphasised is that the financial house of cards was on the verge of collapse already in 2019, and that Virus arrived at the right time to enable and justify the monetary deluge with related paradigm change.
RED PILL OR BLUE PILL? VARIANTS, INFLATION, AND THE CONTROLLED DEMOLITION OF SOCIETY BY FABIO VIGHI [continued]
Regardless of which pill we decide to take, there are three immediate and irreversible social consequences to this process of monetary centralization orchestrated by the world’s most powerful central bank in collusion with the world’s most powerful asset manager: 1) inflation, 2) further debt, and 3) a totalitarian model of emergency-driven capitalism.
Wall Street Virologists
What does our macroeconomic environment look like? Its basic features are summarised below:
– Global debt of $300 trillion, growing exponentially
– Rapidly increasing deficits in most advanced and developing economies
– Colossal bubbles in the stock, bond (debt), and real estate markets
– Astronomical bubble in the derivatives market
– Surging inflation with potential for hyperinflation.
Within this explosive context, Virus and variants work as cynical cover stories whose aim is to expedite the authoritarian management of the implosive trajectory of contemporary capitalism, which cannot be contained through economic policy alone.
The unrelenting manufacturing of ‘pandemic emergency’ is both a defensive strategy against collapse, and an aggressive attack on what is left of the ‘work society,’ for it allows the elites to use inflation as a means to impoverishment and domination.
It seems to me that the overarching objective is the controlled demolition of the productive economy and its liberal-democratic infrastructure, which among other things allows more capital to be siphoned off from the real economy and channelled into the financial markets.
While the speculative sector is consecrated as the absolute centre of value production (with new record highs for the S&P 500, Nasdaq, and Dow Jones indices at the end of 2021) the work-based society winds up indebted and immiserated.
The disproportion between the financial sector’s euphoria and the freefall of the real economy suggests that steering the course of depression through a grotesquely overblown ‘health crisis’ is much more convenient, for the elites, than having to account for a socioeconomic downfall of biblical proportions.
In short, the global dominance of Virus over the last two years is telling us that capitalism is ready to do “whatever it takes” (as Mario Draghi put it back in 2012) to postpone its redde rationem.
It is therefore delusional to think that governments, health authorities, and the media act independently.
Rather, what speaks through them is always economic-financial Power, the very Thing that they want us to believe only exists for conspiracy theorists; as if it had suddenly died out like the dinosaurs, or mutated into philanthropy.
If we want to know how ‘killer variants’ are born, we should ask the markets. The best virologists operate on Wall Street.
They are those traders who, a month prior to the appearance of Omicron already knew that the Covid horror-show would be broadcast again, given the pricing of stocks in the so-called Stay-at-Home basket.
Even more blatantly than its predecessors, Omicron has nothing pandemic about it.
In fact, as claimed by Geert Vanden Bossche, by working as a “live attenuated vaccine” it most probably constitutes a “unique opportunity to start building herd immunity” – a natural opportunity that is likely to be frustrated by yet another mass-vaccination campaign.
Whatever the case, the grotesque discrepancy between the variant’s impact and the repressive measures taken on its behalf can only be explained in economic terms: Omicron is yet another instrument of financial leverage.
By this I mean that its immediate role is to control the inflationary spike in the short term, since the renewed fear campaigns sap spending and consumption, preventing the huge money supply pumped into the financial sector from circulating as real demand in the economy.
This allows central banks to continue to pursue the by now metaphysical goal of money printing through their proverbial bazookas, whose purpose is to sustain financial markets packed with toxic assets (from MBS to complex derivatives), zombie companies, and monstrous holdings of public debt.
Differently stated, central banks flood the financial system with digital money in order to ward off substantial interest rate hikes.
This is because the mere thought of seriously raising rates would set off various time bombs in these markets, where everything revolves around the availability of cheap cash.
In conditions of minimally functional capitalism, inflation is fought precisely by raising the cost of money.
But in a fragile and hyper-indebted context this cannot happen, because markets kept in a perpetual excitement by easy money would suffer devastating consequences.
An increase in interest rates would trigger chain reactions within a global system driven more by leveraged speculation than by GDP.
On the one hand, then, the money printer must remain turned on to inflate the financial markets; on the other hand, the resulting price inflation in the real world must be ‘managed with care’ to avoid social chaos.
Let us recap: Omicron-type variants are, in essence, deflationary measures designed to perpetuate central banks’ loose monetary policies and prevent interest rate hikes, which would nuke the balance sheets of most financial firms while also compromising public debts and their financing.
Government debt and speculative money capital are, of course, closely intertwined.
A dramatic devaluation of the financial superstructure would undermine the state’s ability to finance its operations.
This is particularly self-evident with countries like Italy and Greece, who have promptly adopted the most draconian measures with respect to Omicron in order to plead for further monetary support: from the extension of state aid and PEPP (the ECB’s Pandemic Emergency Purchase Programme), to the revision of the European Stability and Growth Pact.
But since there are no free meals in capitalism, this insane flight forward of debt necessarily means more poverty and regimentation for (almost) everyone, with the middle classes indebting themselves to their teeth in a desperate bid to retain their status. It is in this sense that variants are deployed to manage an epochal shift to what looks increasingly like a neo-feudal type of senescent capitalism ruled by monetary seigniorage, whose longevity may well exceed any optimistic expectation for radical transformation.
Inflation: Private Vices and Public Virtues
I have argued that the latest episode in the Covid saga originates in a concerted attempt to contain inflation, which is now so real that even Chairman Powell, Head of the Fed, was recently forced to deny his own mythological narrative of its transitory character.
In the US, inflation is now up 6.8% on an annual basis, the highest since 1982. And if we add house prices, we easily go into double digits. The solution? At present, a deflationary variant (also deployed, of course, as a weapon of mass distraction) with the addition of cheap wizardries like calculating CPI (consumer price inflation) on data from 2019-2020, so as to keep it down artificially.
The current surge in inflation is at record high not only in the US, but also in Great Britain (+5.1% in November), and is the fastest in the history of the Euro.
The latter is causing headaches to ECB boss Christine Lagarde, who in mid-December decided against rate hikes while interrupting PEPP (with a pledge to reinstate if the ‘pandemic’ should continue to bite) only to ramp up traditional QE.
Essentially, yet another case of plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.
Insofar as central banks are snookered regarding monetary policy, the controlled management of inflation would seem to be an essential driver of the pandemic narrative, as it is functional to the gradual weakening and takeover of the real economy.
Currency depreciation appears to be a feature, not a bug, of central banking.
Remember the World Economic Forum’s slogan? You will own nothing, and you will be happy! In short, it is not happening by accident but by design.
In other words, inflation is useful to manage the authoritarian transition toward a two-tier global society where very few hold control of the monetary supply while most are subjugated through poverty, control, and fear.
This is, in a nutshell, the criminal trajectory of contemporary capitalism.
And inflation is also handy against public debt, since the mass of inflationary liquidity thrown into the markets suppresses both interest rates and bond yields.
Should the Fed’s taper become reality, bonds could quickly rise. However, let us repeat the key point: a meaningful taper would be catastrophic for almost all asset classes, and therefore would be short lived.
Which is why today we are sold a fake taper, as the Fed’s balance sheet has in fact increased since Jerome Powell announced pulling back on pandemic aid in November 2021.
This shows that the only viable way forward for the elites involves pretending to fight inflation in public while continuing to feed it in private.
After two years of relentless assaults on our intelligence, even the most faithful champions of the official narrative should find the courage to admit it: COVID-19 is the name of the coordinated response to an increasingly unmanageable systemic implosion.
The surreal prolongation of the pandemic tells us that entire societies are hostage to the reproduction of fictitious value in the financial sector, where, it seems, the sky is the limit.
But the cost of perpetually bullish markets are endless variants, quarterly vaccination programmes, wave after wave of media terror, and a whole panoply of Kafkaesque emergency regulations aimed at
1) keeping the money printer running while depressing the real economy;
2) getting us used to subjugation vis-à-vis alleged force majeure; and
3) distracting us from what takes place in the financial Olympus, where the real game that decides our destinies is played out.
Like all wars, the ‘war on Covid’ justifies money printing and low rates, which in turn causes inflation. But this logic, today, can only resolve itself in the centralization of the monetary flow.
In capitalist terms, there is no other way out. This is because today’s inflationary pressure, which means money devaluation and erosion of purchasing power, is not a simple consequence of supply chain crisis, as we have been told.
Rather, it is the inevitable result of the over-supply of fictitious money, which is now coming down on the ground with the destructive force of an avalanche.
But aside from their deflationary function, variants also play an ideologically aggressive role: they create the ideal humus for further social tightening.
If everything goes as planned, most of humanity might soon be reduced to monetary slavery, which our benefactors will introduce as the only solution to a Great Devaluation that they will no longer be able to camouflage.
That is why they must train us to live in fear, forcing us to internalize the new normality as a condition of total precariousness, mass anxiety, and chaos. In the current phase, there must be no discussion of economic causes.
RED PILL OR BLUE PILL? VARIANTS, INFLATION, AND THE CONTROLLED DEMOLITION OF SOCIETY BY FABIO VIGHI [further]
Managing the Unmanageable
Let us be clear on the big picture: the economy will never be able to return to the growth levels necessary for social reproduction – unless this reproduction is reduced to minimum terms through the controlled dismantling of the work society.
For years now we have nourished a false economy rooted in government spending backed by central bank’s asset purchasing and low interest rates. This has nothing to do with real growth.
We should therefore forget the past: the belle époque of social-democratic capitalism is definitely over.
In a liberal context, there can no longer be sufficient real growth for the capitalist reproduction of our world.
This is due to an immanent and objective reason, which becomes clear only if we look at the historical evolution of our mode of production: since the 1970s, value-productive work has been gradually crushed by capital itself through its holy alliance with science and technology, dictated by competition – a self-inflicted impairment that the functionaries of ‘emergency capitalism’ doggedly refuse to confront.
Because of what Keynes had already termed the era of ‘technological unemployment,’ (which includes underemployment and all types of wage dumping) capital with increasingly higher organic composition is unable to squeeze sufficient surplus-value (both relative and absolute) out of wage labour, which is why it throws itself headlong into the magical world of finance, where money itself is put to work.
As is well known, Marx had anticipated this condition with his theory of the ‘tendency of the rate of profit to fall,’ set out in the third volume of Capital.
However, he could not foresee the implosive effects of the exponential increase in automation, which today manifest themselves in the pathological addiction of economies, states and therefore entire societies to mountains of fictitious money destined to ruinous devaluation.
Financial collapse is likely to happen as a meltdown of the debt market (the driver of the entire system), which would cause an uncontrollable spike in interest rates as well as the evaporation of the dollar and other fiat currencies around the world.
For the time being, this outcome is postponed by authoritarian means. As we have seen, the acceleration in monetary control since September 2019 was enabled by the freezing of the real economy through pandemic simulation.
By hypnotising the masses with relentless doses of Virus-phobia, and by putting them under house arrest while waiting for the miracle serum (which, as easily predictable, turned out to be miraculous mainly for Big Pharma), our political rulers, directed by the financial elites, allowed central banks to replenish the financial sector while managing the inflationary monster.
After the failures of neo-Keynesian (public spending) and neo-liberal (austerity and market deregulation) policies, we have now reached the phase of ‘pandemic capitalism,’ soon to be followed by other tyrannical attempts to manage the unmanageable.
In capitalist terms, financial arrogance is the inevitable consequence of capital’s ever-increasing inability to create new surplus value – a symptom of such traumatic consequence that we do anything to avoid facing it.
But the prolongation of the state of emergency will not save us from the crash, which will probably hit us as an accident controlled from above.
The elites know that a sudden hyperinflationary overheating of the economy would lead to uncontainable waves of social unrest.
But they also know that they can seek to manage the economic downturn through emergency narratives and the gradual enslavement of the terrified multitudes.
We should therefore prepare ourselves. For instance, by building autonomous networks and communities that are not dependent on a disintegrating – and for this reason increasingly violent – model of social reproduction.
Politics, as we see it every day, is now completely subjugated to the economic dogma, and therefore deprived of any emancipatory drive.
The political left has opted to take the blue pill, and, as summarized by Franco Berardi (Bifo), it can only offer false perspectives: “There is no political way out of the apocalypse.
For thirty years the left has been the main political instrument of the ultra-capitalist offensive, and whoever invests their hopes in the left is an imbecile who deserves to be betrayed, since betraying is the only activity that the left is capable of performing competently.”
If we want to protect what remains of our critical independence and human dignity, and especially the hope in a better future for our children, we must free ourselves, at least mentally, from this shackling subjection to a pseudo-pandemic supported by a corporate-owned type of scientism that has now risen to global religion.
This is the first and fundamental step toward emancipation from the current deadlock.
At the same time, we must rehabilitate a political critique of capitalism intended as a Weltanschauung, that is to say a worldview embodied in the dialectical relationship between money and work aimed at the creation of surplus-value, commodities, and profit.
Like it or not, in the age of accelerated technological automation this world is a dead man walking, which can only keep itself alive by turning totalitarian.
If we want to avoid the coming tsunami of social barbarism we will need, at some point soon, to redefine the relationship between work, community and social wealth beyond its capitalist meaning.
To do this we will need to take a third pill, which however will only become available after we organise meaningful popular resistance against socioeconomic tyranny legitimised by ‘emergency capitalism.’
@WHO Weekly epidemiological update on COVID-19 - 11 January 2022
Globally, the number of new cases increased markedly in the past week (3-9 January 2022), while the number of new deaths remained similar to that of the previous week.
Across the six regions, over 15 million new cases were reported this past week, a 55% increase as compared to the previous week and over 43 000 new deaths were reported.
As of 9 January, over 304 million confirmed cases and over 5.4 million deaths have been reported.
All regions reported an increase in the incidence of weekly cases with the exception of the African Region, which reported an 11% decrease.
The South-East Asia region reported the largest increase in new cases last week (418%), followed by the Western Pacific Region (122%), the Eastern Mediterranean Region (86%), the Region of the Americas (78%) and the European Region (31%).
New weekly deaths increased in the African Region (84%) and Region of the Americas (26%).
The number of new deaths remained similar to that of the previous week in the Western Pacific Region, while a decrease was reported in the Eastern Mediterranean Region (11%), the European Region (10%) and in the South-East Asia Region (6%).
The regions reporting the highest weekly case incidence per 100 000 population continue to be
the European Region (765.8 new cases per 100 000 population)
Region of the Americas (597.9 new cases per 100 000 population).
Both regions also reported the highest weekly incidence in deaths of 2.2 and 1.4 per 100 000 population, respectively, while <1 new death per 100 000 was reported in all other regions.
The highest numbers of new cases were reported from the
United States of America (4 610 359 new cases; a 73% increase)
France (1 597 203 new cases; a 46% increase)
United Kingdom (1 217 258 new cases; a 10% increase)
Italy (1 014 358 new cases; a 57% increase)
India (638 872 new cases; a 524% increase)
29-NOV-2021 :: Regime Change
The Invisible Microbe has metastasized into Omicron and what we know is that COVID-19 far from becoming less virulent has become more virulent.
The transmissibility of #Omicron is not in question, it clearly has a spectacular advantage.
The Open Question is whether it is more virulent. If it is less virulent then #Omicron is breaking the Trend of increasing virulence.
@WHO African Region Weekly epidemiological update on COVID-19 - Epidemiological week 3 – 9 January 2021
After showing a continuous increase in weekly cases for six weeks, the African Region reported an 11% decrease in weekly cases as compared to the previous week, with over 260 000 new cases reported this week.
This decrease was mainly driven by decreases in new weekly cases reported by Mozambique (17 667 vs 26, 860 new cases) and South Africa (53 433 vs 60 142 new cases).
However, one- third of countries (16/49), still reported increases of over 50%.
The highest numbers of new cases were reported from
South Africa (53 433 new cases; 90.1 new cases per 100 000 population; an 11% decrease)
Zambia (23 628 new cases; 128.5 new cases per 100 000; a 10% decrease)
Ethiopia (18 999 new cases; 16.5 new cases per 100 000; a 34% decrease).
The number of new weekly deaths continues to increase in the Region, with over 2100 new deaths reported this week, an 84% increase as compared to the previous week.
This increase is largely due to retrospective reporting of 500 deaths on 6 January, resulting in an increase in weekly deaths of 176%.
The highest numbers of new deaths were reported from
South Africa (1173 new deaths; two new deaths per 100 000 population; a 176% increase)
Zimbabwe (131 new deaths; <1 new death per 100 000; a 1% decrease)
Madagascar (90 new deaths; <1 new death per 100 000; a 190% increase).
Seroprevalence study of COVID antibodies in some parts of several African countries and Yemen by @Epicentre_MSF shows that number of people infected is/was significantly higher than reported in official figures (sometimes several hundred times higher): @j
Between September 2020 and November 2021, Epicentre conducted seroprevalence surveys in Cameroon, Côte d'Ivoire, DRC, Mali, Sudan, Kenya, Niger and Yemen across multiple target populations.
These surveys sought to answer several questions, as Salha Issoufou, Medical and Operations Director of MSF WACa, noted in this webinar’s introduction.
Due to a lack of diagnostic testing, fears of a silent epidemic that has nevertheless caused undetected damage remain.
The main objectives of the surveys were to assess viral transmission in these populations through seroprevalence testing and to estimate the pandemic’s impact by estimating the excess mortality directly and indirectly related to the virus.
For MSF, these seroprevalence surveys should allow operations to make adjustments based on actual risk, to better allocate resources between COVID-19 and high-risk diseases such as malaria or measles, and to identify groups to be targeted in subsequent COVID-19 waves.
Because these surveys were conducted in MSF intervention settings and among data-poor populations, they also provide information on the use of rapid diagnostic tests (RDTs), which offer hope for improved diagnosis in hard-to-reach populations.
For health care workers, who are particularly at risk, the presence of past and current infection was investigated by antigenic and serological tests, as well as by identifying COVID-associated symptoms.
In the Maradi region of Niger, where a survey was conducted from March to April 2021, the estimated seroprevalence was 42% by RDT and 85% by ELISA laboratory testing. Even though this country had reported very few cases of COVID-19.
In the MSF trauma center in Aden, Yemen where a study was conducted from September 2020 to January 2021, 19% of staff were positive by RDT.
Additional subsample screening with an ECLIA laboratory test revealed a much higher seroprevalence of 59%, while RDT seroprevalence had decreased to 8% suggesting a loss of sensitivity over time for RDTs.
For the general population, seroprevalence surveys were nested within retrospective and cross-sectional mortality surveys with cluster sampling.
Nearly 15,000 people were tested by RDT. Whenever possible, ELISA/ECLIA tests were also performed. Seroprevalence estimates were:
5.8% by RDT in Dagahaley refugee camp in Kenya (between February and March 2021, using a slightly different protocol for security reasons).
The number of people infected appears 67 times higher than the number of reported cases. (For more information on the results of the Dagahaley camp, see the publication)
34.3% by RDT and 54.6% by ELISA or ECLIA, in Omdurman, Sudan (study conducted from March to April 2021 (for more information: read the preprint)
15.7% by RDT and 43.5% by ELISA or ECLIA in Lubumbashi, Democratic Republic of Congo (study conducted April-May 2021),
9.6% by RDT in the entire population of Cameroon (study conducted in August 2021), with a high degree of heterogeneity ranging from 4.5% to 17.6% depending on the region,
The results of studies conducted in two communes of Abidjan in Côte d'Ivoire between July and November 2021 are currently being analyzed.
Notably, findings from a survey conducted by IRD and supported by the African Centers for Disease Control (presented by Antoine Nkuba during the webinar) are consistent with these results, reporting a seroprevalence in Kinshasa (16.6%) higher than the attack rate.
This survey was conducted between November 24 and 28, at the beginning of the 2nd wave, using a Luminex technology that allows the detection of antibodies against two antigens (against both the N and S proteins), allowing for estimates of a minimal seroprevalence.
Other notable findings were that seroprevalence increased with age, and that the presence of a COVID positive person in a household was a very important risk factor, with high transmission within households.
Across populations, laboratory test results were significantly higher than those obtained with RDTs. However, the risk associated with age, health care work, and household contacts persisted regardless of the type of test used.
“All of the surveys showed infection levels from several dozen to even several hundred times higher than the attack rates of confirmed cases in these countries," says Etienne Gignoux, epidemiologist at Epicentre and coordinator of the surveys.
“COVID-positive individuals were also more likely to report having had at least one symptom associated with COVID-19 than COVID-negative people."
In all surveys, an increase in mortality during the pandemic was observed, particularly among people over 50 years old.
Although the population involved is younger, COVID-positive individuals report experiencing symptoms.
This cluster of indicators suggests a high level of under-detection and under-reporting of cases.
UNDERESTIMATING THE PANDEMIC AND BETTER ORGANIZE FUTURE RESPONSE
These surveys found no evidence that the African continent has been spared any greater impact than any other, especially since these surveys were conducted before the waves of delta and Omicron variants. Health care workers and the elderly seem to have been particularly affected.
“The pandemic has had an impact on access to care," says Etienne Gignoux. “The increase in mortality during the pandemic could be the result of a combination of deaths directly and indirectly related to the disease."
All surveys noted an increase in death at home. In Dagahaley camp, for example, a reduction of almost a third was seen in consultations and hospital admissions.
29-NOV-2021 :: Regime Change
The Invisible Microbe has metastasized into Omicron and what we know is that COVID-19 far from becoming less virulent has become more virulent.
The transmissibility of #Omicron is not in question, it clearly has a spectacular advantage.
The Open Question is whether it is more virulent. If it is less virulent then #Omicron is breaking the Trend of increasing virulence.
19-JUL-2021 Many Folks seem to feel we are in the final Act of the COVID-19 Play. I would be limit short that particular narrative.https://bit.ly/3Bk45Gj
China applies brakes to Africa lending @FT
October 28 was a bad day for Ugandan finance minister Matia Kasaija.
Hauled into parliament and grilled over the terms of a $200m Chinese loan for the expansion of Entebbe airport, which serves the capital Kampala, he apologised to the assembled lawmakers.
“We shouldn’t have accepted some of the clauses,” he said. “But they told you . . . either you take it or leave it.”
At issue was a contract signed six years earlier with China Eximbank, one that some Ugandan lawmakers, officials and lawyers say undermines national sovereignty.
A report by Ugandan newspaper Daily Monitor even suggested that Beijing could seize Entebbe airport, the country’s main international gateway — a claim that echoed accusations of Chinese “debt traps” and one forcefully denied by both governments.
The controversy highlights the challenges that African governments and Chinese banks face following a 20-year lending spree that has made Beijing the continent’s largest source of development finance.
From almost nothing, Chinese banks now make up about one-fifth of all lending to Africa, concentrated in a few strategic or resource-rich countries including Angola, Djibouti, Ethiopia, Kenya and Zambia.
Annual lending peaked at a whopping $29.5bn in 2016, according to figures from the China-Africa Research Initiative at Johns Hopkins University, though it fell back in 2019 to a more modest, if still substantial, $7.6bn.
Having dived headlong into the world’s poorest continent, Chinese lenders have grown more cautious as some nations have reached the limit of their borrowing capacity and the prospect of default looms.
The IMF lists more than 20 African countries as being in, or at high risk of, debt distress.
In response, lenders, including China Eximbank and China Development Bank, the country’s two main policy banks, have adopted increasingly hardline lending terms.
Those conditions, some of which differ markedly from other official creditors, are starting to be tested as pandemic-related economic hardship puts a strain on more indebted African countries.
Xi Jinping reinforced that caution in a video speech to the triennial Forum of China-Africa Cooperation held in Senegal in November 2021.
Over the next three years, China’s president said, the country would cut the headline amount of money it supplies to Africa by a third to $40bn and, he implied, redirect lending away from large infrastructure towards a new emphasis on SMEs, green projects and private investment flows.
“China is moving away from this high-volume, high-risk paradigm into one where deals are struck on their own merit, at a smaller and more manageable scale than before,” a forthcoming analysis of China’s lending to Africa by Chatham House, a UK think-tank, will say.
Despite such signs of caution from Beijing, the controversy over the Entebbe airport loan reflects a growing conviction in much of the west and among some academics and campaigners in Africa that Chinese lending is essentially predatory.
They point to Chinese control of Sri Lanka’s Hambantota deepwater port through a 99-year lease as evidence of Beijing’s presumed designs on strategic assets in Africa.
They also suggest that Chinese lending, including to prestige projects such as the $4bn railway linking Kenya’s port of Mombasa with Nairobi, benefit corrupt elites more than citizens.
“The volume of credit that some [African governments] have binged on makes them dependent beyond any sensible notion of sovereignty,” says Chidi Odinkalu of the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University, expressing common misgivings about the sheer volume of Chinese lending and the implied quid pro quos.“You can’t blame China for looking to secure repayments from dissolute regimes who think money can be free,” he adds.
“Africans are running from western conditionality. Now they are locked in a manner of speaking in a Chinese ‘financing wall’.”
‘Toxic’ contract clauses
At the heart of the Entebbe airport controversy are what have been called, by some analysts, “toxic clauses” in the loan contract that require Uganda’s Civil Aviation Authority to channel all revenues into special escrow accounts and submit budgets to China Eximbank for approval — arrangements that are meant to secure the loan.
The entire contract is governed by Chinese law and disputes, if they arise, must be settled by arbitration in Beijing.
A detailed waiver of sovereign immunity led some commentators to worry that China could seize the airport if Uganda were to default on the loan.
Those concerns echo similar controversies in Kenya and Zambia.
Although Chinese loan critics have raised the prospect of strategic assets being seized due to default, in no case has this happened.
Still, writing about the Entebbe airport agreement on Facebook on November 30, Joel Ssenyonyi, head of Uganda’s parliamentary public accounts committee, said:
“Given the experience of Zambia with their airport and national broadcaster after a Chinese loan, and recently Kenya with their port, it’s no wonder that Ugandans are concerned.”
Those comments reflect sentiment in much of the continent that China will eventually exert a price for what has, until now at least, been seen as easy lending.
The $200m Entebbe airport loan, which carries just a 2 per cent interest rate repayable over 27 years, is cheap by most standards.
Some draw a parallel with western financial institutions, including the IMF and World Bank, which lent generously to African governments in the post-independence period only to impose harsh structural adjustment programmes on them from the 1980s after governments struggled to repay.
“The Chinese will dispense loans fairly quickly and will not ask pesky questions if you mow down protesters in the street, but they need to make sure you pay back their money,” says Daniel Kalinaki, Uganda’s head of editorial at the Nation Media Group, whose Daily Monitor newspaper first revealed the details of the Entebbe contract.
Kalinaki says the “problematic clauses” in the Entebbe contract allow China Eximbank in effect to put the airport under administration, though he also criticises western lenders for what he sees as equally dubious practices including funnelling loans back to their own companies and consultancies.
“Africa is being caught in the middle,” he adds, “it has to decide which is the least worst path to take.”
Experts say that some of the concerns over clauses in Chinese contracts are overblown.
An immunity waiver, for example, is a standard component of comparable loans made by western governments and agencies.
Most experts also dismiss as a myth accusations about China’s supposed intention to entrap borrowers in order to gain control of ports or airports.
“We did not find much evidence of physical infrastructure assets being put up as collateral,” says Bradley Parks, executive director of AidData, a research unit at William & Mary University and co-author of two recent studies on Chinese lending.
However, some of the other legal conditions that rang alarm bells in Kampala — trademark clauses employed by Chinese lenders — may be cause for legitimate concern, experts say.
A study published last year found that Chinese state-owned banks use liens, escrow and special accounts to collect revenue from the borrower as a repayment security far more extensively than their international counterparts.
While almost 30 per cent of the 100 Chinese loan contracts examined by the study featured such clauses, only 7 per cent of bilateral creditors from OECD countries in a comparison sample employed them.
Moreover, nearly three-quarters of Chinese loan contracts that use special accounts require the borrower to deposit all revenues from the associated project, a particularly draconian requirement.
Although details of the Entebbe airport contract have not been made public, two other China Eximbank loan agreements for infrastructure projects signed with the Ugandan government just months before the airport deal contained escrow account provisions.
In both cases, all project revenue was to be funnelled into a debt repayment reserve account, in effect giving Chinese lenders first dibs on revenue if a borrower becomes distressed.
‘The Chinese go straight to the president’
As well as escrow accounts, Chinese lenders often include clauses that explicitly exclude the debt owed to them from being included in restructuring arrangements by officials in the Paris Club of bilateral creditors.
Not everyone agrees that escrow accounts and greater monitoring are a bad thing.
Chinese banks used to be criticised for lending too easily to governments, allowing them to divert a portion of loans to election campaign coffers or to personal accounts.
Viewed through this lens, management scrutiny and the use of escrow accounts in the Entebbe airport contract could be regarded as positive.
“Some African governments feel it is quite useful,” says Hannah Ryder, chief executive of Development Reimagined, an Africa-focused consultancy with its headquarters in China. “It creates some accountability.”
However, lawyers familiar with China Eximbank and China Development Bank say such oversight can be taken too far.
“When the amounts to be held in these [escrow] accounts are on the high side, the borrower is right to be complaining,” says one lawyer who has advised China Eximbank on loan documentation.
“The same applies when the contract gives the bank wide-ranging powers.”
Legal experts also caution that the use of Chinese law to govern cross-border loans could become a problem if disputes arise.
“The absence of case precedent in Chinese law means there would be a wide degree of discretion for courts to rule in a dispute,” says a lawyer with extensive experience of working with the country’s policy banks.
“You also have to consider that English law, New York law or even Hong Kong law, which are more commonly used in cross-border finance, [have been] developed in jurisdictions that are international financial hubs, Chinese law lacks that.”
Chinese lenders have occasionally shown flexibility on loan terms for projects seen as politically important for Beijing, including loans to Djibouti, a small but highly strategic nation on the Red Sea coast that has borrowed heavily from Chinese banks.
But most African governments have been given little leeway to alter terms.
Tom Ogwang, a researcher at Mbarara University of Science & Technology who has written about Chinese-financed infrastructure projects in Uganda, says that the technocrats negotiating loans are often not empowered to push back against onerous clauses.
“Technically, we have very good people who have the knowledge. The challenge is there’s a lot of politics in all these agreements,” he says.
“The Chinese go straight to the president. What they discuss there we don’t know.”
Although Uganda’s parliament has to sign off on loans, Ogwang says, lawmakers are often shown only a preliminary agreement.
“Some clauses will be smuggled in by the Chinese, and then, once the loan approaches the repayment schedule, officials want to renegotiate.”
Rising African debt That is what happened with the Entebbe loan, he says.
In March 2019, the Ugandan government sent a delegation to Beijing to renegotiate terms it deemed “very unsuitable”, according to a letter, written by Kasaija, the finance minister and seen by the Financial Times.
China Eximbank had already suspended loan disbursements after Kampala failed to implement parts of the contract — delaying construction for a year.
Although China Eximbank refused to amend the agreement, it did try to assuage the concerns of the Ugandan delegation.
The bank promised to “make flexible” the condition that all airport revenues be deposited into the escrow account and resumed disbursements after the borrower proved that the repayment reserve account had the required minimum balance.
It further “clarified” that its demand to see Ugandan Civil Aviation Authority budgets was for the purpose of review rather than approval, according to the Kasaija letter.
China Eximbank did not respond to a request for comment. Analysts say the Chinese response reflects a focus on relationships rather than the letter of the contract.
“What gets put on paper and what happens in practice can be very different,” says Yunnan Chen, an expert on Chinese overseas development finance at ODI, a UK-based think-tank.
“It is a very bad thing to default on a Chinese lender, but it lies in the nature of Chinese finance to help the borrower to not default,” she says.
Such debt service reserve accounts, known as DSRAs, are not unusual, bankers and legal experts say.
“We do DSRAs all the time,” says a senior official at a European development finance agency. However, while such arrangements are common in limited-recourse project finance, where the lender has only a partial claim on the underlying asset, they are very rare in agreements such as a state-owned international airport, where the borrower is backed by a sovereign state.
Chinese banks have learnt many lessons over two decades of lending to African governments.
In the 2000s, they experimented with financing infrastructure in resource-rich countries, such as Angola and Republic of the Congo, by securing loans against oil or mineral shipments or future resource-derived revenues.
Chinese policy banks’ penchant for revenue collection accounts is a version of the same model in countries such as Uganda, Kenya and Ethiopia that do not have the natural resources to back loan repayments, experts say.
For Tang Xiaoyang, a professor at Tsinghua University in Beijing, the distinct lending models of Chinese banks are related to the country’s specific circumstances.
“Western lenders can get profits from elsewhere, but for Chinese lenders to compete in advanced economies is difficult. So they have to establish new, riskier markets,” he says.
“They also see more similarities with China itself in African countries,” Tang says.
“China grew out of poverty very quickly in the last 40 years, and infrastructure played a key role. We combined infrastructure with industrialisation, urbanisation and general growth, so we have experience and confidence in commercialising infrastructure.”
Rising African debt and the economic fallout from the pandemic may force China’s banks to adjust their lending practices yet again.
Bankers and lawyers caution that a systemic crisis could overwhelm Chinese banks’ attempts to protect their interests through escrow accounts and exemption from global debt restructuring deals.
“China’s practice of collateralising their loans to sovereigns makes sense if you are thinking in terms of maximising your repayment prospects,” says Parks of AidData. But if debt stress deepens, he adds, this may not be enough.
After issuing 15- to 20-year loans with seven-year grace periods, it is only now that many loans are approaching their critical phase and borrowers are being put to the test.
“They have dealt with problems with individual borrowers, but they haven’t undergone a global sovereign debt crisis,” says Parks. “So they will learn; they will adapt again.”
Angola has received the most finance from China China loans to Africa, 2000-2019 ($bn) @FT
19 APR 20 :: The End of Vanity China Africa Win Win
To quote a Chinese saying, "The ocean is vast because it rejects no rivers."
Interestingly, At that 2018 FOCAC Meeting Xi Jinping also delivered a thinly veiled warning
China's Xi says funds for Africa not for 'vanity projects' Reuters #FOCAC2018
Our African Leaders did not take notes and that Warning was missed.
“Let the people of the country see what the terms of the debt are as their government makes commitments,” Malpass said.
The Terms of these debts are hidden precisely because they are so egregious.