Thursday, April 30, 2020

A first and a new peak

So the really big news today, as Guatemala's new infection rate appears to plateau, is that someone actually made it out alive from the ICU. 
Not quite the roughly 60% success rate of the UK, but it's a start. 
Guatemala may turn out to be fortunate that it hasn't invested heavily in provision for the elderly. As western nations start to gather unfortunate stats from beyond the hospitals, it would appear that a third of deaths in the UK have taken place in care homes. In Sweden the proportion is closer to a half. 
The US had a new peak in overall mortality today: 2700. Yet New York City is also reporting 5302 'probables' which did not make it into the state-level reckoning, which would lift the daily tally to truly scary levels. 

Meanwhile, the White House acts as if a corner has been turned. 

Let's just pause to reflect on those numbers again: between three and eight thousand 'excess' deaths are reported today, April 29th, in the USA and it is only rather indirectly headline news. (A proportion of the deaths may be catch-up data from earlier, but still...)

Wet Bikers

We have arrived at that time of year when the novice pizza delivery outfits operating in our area may have to have to invest in yet another new piece of kit...

Wednesday, April 29, 2020

Excess Mortality

European excess mortality data from Euromomo, which is worth considering for a moment.

A day almost never goes by without someone in the UK media suggesting that a proper testing regime may well reveal that many more have become infected than we originally thought and so the overall mortality rate of this pandemic will turn out to be broadly in line with the annual experience of influenza. 

In other words, not only will testing help solve the problem, it will also reveal that the problem was probably over-hyped to begin with. 

Those peaks across the winter months in '17, '18 and '19 were forced up in part by seasonal flu. 

Now look at 2020. Those are registered deaths of all kinds. If it's not covid-19 causing the extra mortality, what might it be? 

Bear in mind that road accident fatalities and the like have dropped substantially. Flu doesn't usually empty our cities of cars and pedestrians. 

There may ultimately be an effect on cancer mortality from the pandemic and our response to it, but that would kick in later. 

And now let us remember what Robert Redfield of the CDC was trying to say about the alarming possibility of having to cope with both seasonal flu and a resurgent covid-19 come September. 

Tuesday, April 28, 2020

Under control?

After the first couple of cases were picked up in March, the Guatemalan Government acted fast and fairly decisively to enact mitigation measures. 

Nevertheless, with positive tests now at 500, there has been a suggestion that some restrictions could be loosened as early as next week.

We're entering a critical period of truth-bending by our leaders. They will struggle to explain a laxer approach without sounding callous, insincere or, as in the case of Donald Trump, just plain stupid.

Trump has made many errors over the course of the year to date, but one he may seriously regret later is buying in so enthusiastically into the notion that the economic dip has been almost entirely the result of government policy  and will be as easy to reverse.

It's almost as obviously false as his bleach cure, yet so far he's been able to push it without appearing like a total moron.

Here in Antigua Guatemala we've been discovering that our economy had some pronounced vulnerabilities to a global pandemic that many might not have given much thought to before. The biggest risks always appeared to be IN-country.

Crucially, elements of the economic impact in Guatemala were manifesting before the government did anything. So it's logical that some of the economically-depressive tendencies, here and elsewhere, could survive the political commitment to mitigation.

Hence, come November Trump could really start to look like a dunce on this issue as well, and come to rue not having nuanced his optimism a bit more at this rather critical stage.

The lesson learned from the last crash just over a decade ago is that a V-shaped recovery is possible if the turnover of most consumer-facing businesses like non-essential shops, restaurants and so on returns to at least 90% of pre-crash levels quite quickly.

You don't need a degree in economics to appreciate why that is unlikely this time around  even if the pandemic wanes significantly over the summer and there is no resurgence in the autumn. (Or indeed a vaccine is announced tomorrow.)

If we opened all the shopping centres, bars, cinemas, restaurants, nightclubs etc in Guatemala tomorrow, 90% of the good old days would still be a distant dream.

Perhaps the greater irony though is that many of the countries that were seemingly most successful in the use of policy measures to contain the spread of SARS-Cov-2 are now almost certainly going to be the ones that find it hardest to extricate themselves from quarantine.

We don't know enough about post-disease immunity to make any definitive judgments, but it's clear that the lower infection rates have been kept, the greater the chance of a sudden resurgence. We're starting to see this in the way the R number is creeping back up again in Germany.

Trump might like to think of the USA as a bigger version of a European calamity, like Italy: Gee it was tough, but now it's over. Yet he's actually in charge of a patchier pandemic experience, more akin to the EU as a whole.

Monday, April 27, 2020


I know it's rather hard to think of anyone else who might have done a worse job than the Donald since the virus broke out of China, yet at the same time it is also hard to imagine that the USA would today find itself in the same, enviable position of New Zealand had Jacinda Ardern been sitting behind that desk in the Oval Office.

All fifty states would have needed to resemble miniature Kiwi (island) redoubts, culturally and geographically able to act almost in unison to shut down quickly and decisively, possibly also closing their frontiers with each other, before throwing themselves wholeheartedly at the testing and tracking task. 

Trump or no Trump, it would never have happened. 

Being Commander-in-Chief up there is all too often more like being Catherd-in-Chief.

Rainy days ahead...

I've tended to see the debates about the lockdown and its duration in terms of the more blatant political lines being drawn: in simple terms, champagne socialists on the one side, right-wing libertarians on the other, and in the USA at least, both swayed positively or negatively by the neurotic rhetoric of a President looking to preserve some sort of position of electability come November.

Yet here in Guatemala we're not at the crux of an election cycle, and there is noticeable pressure from various sectors to re-open as quickly as possible, the motivations more nakedly economic. 

A lot of this chatter seems to focus on the fate of malls, as if whatever happens to Zara is really going to be the clincher for the Guatemalan economy.

My wife has an intriguing hypothesis about this. Consumer-facing businesses like retail probably appreciate already that there's a deep recession coming and sense one last chance for a bonanza when all those consumers and their pent-up demand are set free. 

At the very least they'll clear out existing stock. Some might even be able to do a bit of the rainy day saving (hoarding) that they hadn't thought to do before 2020. 

But if there is no noticeable gap between quarantine and depression, the opportunity may well have been squandered...they perhaps surmise. 

And perish the thought that those demob happy consumers get any kind of advance inkling of just how broke they're all soon going to be.

There are also some canny investors driving up the stock markets right now when they must know they’re bound to come down - like, a lot. 

Sunday, April 26, 2020

Looking for the EXIT

Every nation that has enacted a form of mass quarantine did so on the basis of a set of calculations, often extremely rushed, encompassing scientific, economic and political criteria.

There were some known unknowns to be anxious about at the time. A proportion of those have since morphed into known knowns, but a reservoir of unknown unknowns has been steadily replenishing the known unknown pool in the meantime. 

Some of the most important known unknowns should really have been known knowns, we just didn't know it at the time.

We still have many of the same scientific, economic and political models to guide our exit strategies, yet the truth is that the totality of both our knowledge and our ignorance has shifted significantly, compounding the prevailing effect of harder-to-budge inertia that comes with living under lockdown. 

Going into this we all had Italy with its mortifying viral and mortality load (and then its overspilling hospitals) to follow somewhat like lemmings, so I guess what we now need is a sort of anti-Italy to follow out in an equally lemming-like fashion. 

However, the path out of calamity is more complex and tailored to locations and cultures than the far simpler call to action of imminent emergency and the associated risks remain stuck in the grey zone between knowns and unknowns. 

The wider dangers of not doing this in a coordinated fashion are also all too obvious, especially with the world's largest economy and largest source of potential infection, prioritising ignorance over knowledge, and then political, economic and scientific that specific order.

Saturday, April 25, 2020


Daniel Defoe on how plague spread in the seventeenth century. 

Sounds less crazy than Trump, right?
"The calamity was spread by infection; that is to say, by some certain steams or fumes, which the physicians call effluvia, by the breath, or by the sweat, or by the stench of the sores of the sick persons, or some other way, perhaps, beyond even the reach of the physicians themselves, which effluvia affected the sound who came within certain distances of the sick, immediately penetrating the vital parts of the said sound persons, putting their blood into an immediate ferment, and agitating their spirits to that degree which it was found they were agitated; and so those newly infected persons communicated it in the same manner to others. 
"l cannot but with some wonder find some people, now the contagion is over, talk of its being an immediate stroke from Heaven, without the agency of means, having commission to strike this and that particular person, and none other—which I look upon with contempt as the effect of manifest ignorance and enthusiasm; likewise the opinion of others, who talk of infection being carried on by the air only, by carrying with it vast numbers of insects and invisible creatures, who enter into the body with the breath, or even at the pores with the air, and there generate or emit most acute poisons, or poisonous ovae or eggs, which mingle themselves with the blood, and so infect the body: a discourse full of learned simplicity, and manifested to be so by universal experience; but I shall say more to this case in its order."


I see some signs of complacency around here, along with indications that the economic affliction is starting to come to the fore. 

One neighbour, who only a couple of weeks ago didn’t seem to leave home without donning his rubber suit and WWI-style gas mask, was out washing his car yesterday in t-shirt and shorts...and sin mascarilla. 

And then, as I later waited beside the carretera for a break in the traffic (not such a rarity, not so long ago) a couple of motorcyclists pulled up alongside to offer me a ride. Another shot past shouting ‘taxi taxi’.  

These guys are out to do to Uber that which Uber didst do to the tuktuks and the which latter did to the šŸš• back in the mid-noughties. 

Meanwhile, the rate of infection hit a new peak again yesterday, thanks in no small part to one person passing the virus to 23 others. 

Quite possibly either a pizza delivery man or some twat who threw a fiesta.

Si es posible..

As noted, while many of the regional restauranteurs hoping to stay in their seats during the slow-motion šŸš‚-wreck have turned themselves into pizza-to-go operations, others have come up with some more distinctive (peculiar) propositions. 

For instance, Rodolfo Castellanos, chef-proprietor at possibly the best restaurant in central Oaxaca - Origen - has taken to vacuum-packing his cocktails. 

The end result looks a bit like something that would more typically be delivered by paramedics, and it made me ponder just how much of the cocktail-quaffing experience is location, location, location. 

Still, a quick read-through of the ingredients does perhaps suggest that the contents of this little plasma pouch might also be poured quite advantageously into one’s frijoles cocidos.

Friday, April 24, 2020

Orange Glow

A 12% rise in cases in Guatemala today; the biggest yet. I guess we can still consider ourselves lucky that the virus sleeps in its coffin during the daylight hours and that it never gets particularly warm and humid in the tropics.
Maybe I should season my tacos with Ajax scouring powder?
If anyone should volunteer to be sautĆ©'d on the inside with ultra violet rays it's the blathering orange blob. 

Thursday, April 23, 2020


This disappointed news release from Gilead on stalled hope remdesivir comes as such a big surprise. 

Meanwhile, Trump refused to admit this afternoon that he has quietly stopped pushing hydroxychloroquine after tests showed it might increase mortality.

Now Pence — with a bit of help from the Department of Homeland Security — is touting warmth, humidity and sunlight as the virus's Kryptonite. 

Remember the days when Ecuadorians were boasting how that was going to be their special protective shield? (22,000 cases and counting.) 

This jab from OU is however quite promising. It may not be THE vaccine that the world so eagerly awaits; in truth it’s as much therapy as ‘cure’, but the thinking behind it is properly cunning.

Anyone who has been paying attention recently will know that the novel coronavirus sports a protein coat covered in protuberances, from which it derives its name.

The pointy heads at Oxford have come up with a way to refashion the similar coat worn by a common cold virus from the same stable, such that the memory cells of our immune system will be able to swot up on and memorise the relevant docking system in comparatively non-hazardous conditions. An infected person who has had the vaccine would thus have a significant head start in preventing serious disease.

The methodology neatly overcomes some of the risks and ethical issues associated with trialling a vaccine on high risk groups, such as the elderly and healthcare workers.

There’s no guarantee that the vaccinated would cease to be infectious, but some sort of reduction of spread is anticipated.

Panzaverdier than thou...

One of the more bizarre side-effects of the pandemic will be the possible transformation of this town into one of the largest concentrations of pizza delivery services on the planet: La muy noble y muy leal ciudad de Santiago de los motoristas de Pizzamala. 

Los Tres Tiempos and Da Vinci are two of the latest entrants. 

Back in the days when the restaurant scene in Antigua was sane (the 90s) I have fond memories of the first few meals we had at Da Vinci. Pollo con romero etc. Locally-owned, creative yet straightforward cooking, beautiful surroundings. 

It may take a story like this (from Mexico) to put the brakes on the pizza virus. 

Those unable or unwilling to join that throng are left to encroach on DoƱa Chonita, with the likes of Chermol and Welten offering premium tamales to go. (Well, they'd have to be premium at that price.) 

In a more general sense, the local zeitgeist is precisely that, local or #yoconsumolocal. 

For many this involves a rather sudden and occasionally awkward change of marketing idiom, combined with the need to demonstrate neighbourly solidarity. 

Others are apparently also discovering, albeit belatedly, their inner patriot. 

Hoteliers are starting to demonstrate awareness that the local market might not be quite the same as the one to which they have become accustomed. (Available lockdown options: hourly, daily and monthly.)

And then there are those who appear not to have woken up to the new reality at all, publishing menus of their most high-margin products for collection — no attempt to sugar the pill with charitable intentions and no real understanding that they are thus entering the existing retail space with the most uncompetitive proposition imaginable: in effect inviting potential customers to pay for an ambience that they will never enjoy. They might just as well hang up a white rag outside their premises. 

Unquestionably, there's significant scope for schadenfreude here, as many of the characters currently falling over each other in their efforts to come across as panzaverdier than thou, are indeed the very same bunch that have actively disrespected locals and their custom for a very long time, preferring to chase after the bigger, potentially more lucrative fish of capitalinos and foreign visitors. 

Outside of the Mayan Riviera, Antigua has to be the only major urban space in the region where the majority of bars, restaurants and other retail businesses have been able to thrive without ever having to welcome a locally-born inhabitant as a customer: a sort of seaside resort without a beach. 

This has been the primary economic distortion I've witnessed over the past three decades, a result of poor planning if nothing else, and one the pandemic may end up resolving, a lo drƔstico

It's somewhat hard to sympathise with those that have consciously steered clear of the local market when they didn't have to. The virus has pulled the supports away from their artificial dollar economy, an economy that was actually damaging the comunidad antigueƱa

For a whole host of reasons, it should never have been quite so easy to make a decent living in this city without plugging into both local supply and demand ⁠— and if some are now paying for thinking they were bigger than the town they called home, then so be it. 

250+ bars and restaurants in a town of 30,000 inhabitants was always a house of cards. 

In as much as we are able to support Antigua's retail and catering economy, we are choosing to place as many orders as possible with locally-owned firms that are essentially doing today what they have always done, and done well. Companies that the estado de calamidad presents with an opportunity they might be said to deserve. 

Under Duress

The Trump Show today was extraordinary even by the standards already set.

The whole thing pivoted around an appearancee by CDC Director Robert Redfield, hauled in no doubt by the men in black suits in order to make a public recantation of remarks made to the media yesterday about the upcoming combined coronavirus/winter flu season, now looking a lot more likely than the 20/21 Premier League season.

One can infer that the MIBs had briefed him to blame the media just like their boss always does, but Redfield seemed to struggle visibly with even with the notion that he'd been misquoted.

So on came a flustered-looking Dr Birx to pour her trademark equivocation sauce over proceedings, but Trump was clearly losing it on the sidelines and soon waved her aside, before delivering a speech in which he must have hoped to come across as a bona fide scientific authority, reassuring absolutely no one that a second wave should be nothing to worry about.

As a sort of quid pro quo, the President himself must have been (cattle-) prodded to deliver a public wrist-slapping to the Governor of Atlanta, Brian Kemp, which he did in a mumbly way, out-doing even the CDC Director for faltering, pistol-in-the-small-of-the-back commitment.

Oh, and then he promised employment levels would be even better after the pandemic than they were before. 

Monday, April 20, 2020

Unexpected glitch in survivalism...

Facial condoms

In certain east Asian countries the wearing of surgical masks in public spaces has become an outward emblem of an inner sense of community responsibility.

In Guatemala you can make the wearing of mascarillas compulsory from one day to the next, but you cannot so easily change the culture overnight. Social responsibility is just not such a biggie here.

Furthermore, although I support the widespread use of masks from a culturally-neutral perspective, it is more than obvious that here they may be encouraging some complacency about social distancing — for it's hard not to conclude that some people in the larger molotera spaces around town are starting to act as if they have been vaccinated.

And the process of distribution has created artificially large crowds.

One minute past 4pm (now 6pm)

Huelgazo Mortal

It is being reported that some members of Britain's wealthy elite are doing their own household chores, many for the first time. 

From what I can tell, this sort of self-sacrifice for the common good is yet to take hold in our own neighbourhood, here in Guatemala.  

Back in seventeenth century London there were servants a-plenty, and in A Journal Of The Plague Year Daniel Defoe was quick to pinpoint their role in the spreading of the 'fatal breath'...
"The infection generally came into the houses of the citizens by the means of their servants, whom they were obliged to send up and down the streets for necessaries; that is to say, for food or physic, to bakehouses, brew-houses, shops, &c.; and who going necessarily through the streets into shops, markets, and the like, it was impossible but that they should, one way or other, meet with distempered people, who conveyed the fatal breath into them, and they brought it home to the families to which they belonged."

They were perhaps fortunate that there was no such thing as pizza delivery back then, and the servants tended to live-in. 

One of the issues around here is that the domestic helpers many seem unable to cope without, generally commute into the centre using non-personal means of transportation. 

Sunday, April 19, 2020

Self-appointed militias...

As a rule of thumb, countries which permit people like this to gather outside their elected assemblies, don't tend to cope too well with apocalyptic situations...

Death by PowerPoint

We’re at a stage in the pandemic, still early I believe, where the two main competing voices, scientists and economists, have started to wage a war* using charts and statistics. 

We should consider ourselves somewhat fortunate that here in Guatemala the fight against the virus is being led by the relatively independent and informed figure of the President, who appears on TV almost nightly to rattle off the top line stats, bless the country and periodically direct a premium rant at one particular group of compatriots whose behaviour really isn’t helping. 

In Mexico they have Dr Hugo LĆ³pez-Gatell and his hour long presentations. 

At school I recall peers whose essays were little more than an agglomeration of facts, put together with barely any argument or narrative thread. These people, I would note years later, turned to PowerPoint as their weapon of choice. Charts, charts and more charts. Mostly the sort that are difficult to provide a voiceover for without putting the audience into an induced coma. 

I would not advise you to brave the unedited version of Hugo’s presentation from the Palacio Nacional last night, but I will provide a quick prĆ©cis. 

When not dealing in death by PowerPoint, Dr Hugo was telling ‘anecdotes’. The longest of these began with a detailed description of the human respiratory system, followed by smaller accounts of how each version of the disease tends to mess with it, the overall effect being to reproduce one of those first year college lecture scenes from an American movie. 

Dr Hugo’s charts, it would be fair to say, are not just walls of data. Sometimes they are saying something quite interesting, it’s just not what he is saying a lot of the time.  

For instance, outside the valley of Mexico, two of the main covid-19 hotspots in the country are Baja California and Quintana Roo, which suggests to me at least that the policy of keeping borders and beaches open may have added to the fatalities in Mexico. (650 and counting). Many unfortunates possibly imagined that Tulum was the place to to go to get away from it all. 

From Guatemala’s perspective, there’s also cause for concern about the larger clusters of infection very close to its own frontiers, not just around Chetumal, but oddly enough also in Tabasco, such that the relatively unaffected northern area of this country is now surrounded by swathes of red on Dr Hugo’s charts.

Dr Hugo is highly personable and knowledgeable, but not a great communicator. You would not want to be downloading his TED talks. 

And he pronounces the D in covid like Hannibal Lecter.  

He seems to know that the epidemic in his country is going to last exactly another six weeks.  

* increasingly against each other as much as against the ‘real’ enemy. 

Saturday, April 18, 2020

Professor Mark

I was extraordinarily privileged in my association with each and every one of the the supervisors who taught me for a term, one on one, at Cambridge. They were knowledgeable and inspiring beyond any expectations I might have had, and I will of course add Dr Alastair Reid - my director of studies - to this personally-illustrious list. 

Three of them perhaps stand out for having not only given me a whole lot more to think about, but for having changed the way I think in general terms more permanently. 

One of them was Professor Mark Bailey, then merely a doc (yet perhaps more visibly on the wing for Cambridge and England), who taught me out of his rooms one cold winter at the Gonville & Caius annex at Harvey Court on blowy West Road. 

As a leading expert on plagues and their historical import, he finds himself in demand, and here helps initiate Dan Snow (OP)’s new streaming venture HistoryHit.TV  in the midst of lockdown. 

I’d advise interested viewers to focus on what the prof has to say about the Black Death and not so much on the slightly naff VCR handouts from YouTube, which concern themselves with a later, more limited, pandemic. 

Note how the 14th century plague was responsible for much of what now goes under the banner of liberal modernity, as well as more important stuff like girl power and the consumption of ale in England. 

Note too how the transmission of the pathogen can be traced as it wandered down the great old roads of yesteryear, demonstrating that it was us, not rodents (or indeed cats) that spread it. 

Except that US can often lead to a shedding of THEM. Here in Latin America it has become something of a given that covid-19 is a disease of the wealthy and (mostly) alien, infecting people who move faster and further than indigenes. I seem to be getting dirty looks on the streets every time I venture into town. 

In this era of hyper-accelerated globalisation we occasionally forget that the majority of our species still moves at the pace of their ancestors. 

Examine the pattern of SARS-Cov-2 infection within Guatemala and you can reach one of only two conclusions. Either the far flung departments with almost no positives are simply not in a position to test, or the pestilence is marching up and down the Panamerican Highway in a manner that historians like Professor Mark would recognise. 

En las nubes....

'Alagran, la mascarilla......puuucchica, lo tenĆ­a en el bolsillo.' 

Relegation Zone

This new league table indicates that the USA urgently needs to sack Trump and get Big Sam Allardyce in. 

The UK only recently and rather reluctantly appointed Boris once they had already come to terms with the inevitability of life back in the second tier.


The United States was always going to suffer from specific geo-political vulnerabilities to a pandemic that operates in this way. Add to these the peculiar hazards that come with the historical moment — Trump, election year etc. —  and we could be about to witness the mother of all shit shows. 

The stage was set when the President offered governors a choice of poison chalices: him in absolute charge or the illusion of autonomy spiced up with Mr President stirring things up from inside the Oval Office. 

They now know they may well be caught in the middle of a process of multiple, distributed epidemiological peaks that the White House won’t own, where the pressure from above will be compounded by pressure from around and below, with the C-in-C acting like a man who has nothing to lose, stirring up resistance to the necessary local measures, if not actual sedition, as the country as a whole plays whack-a-mole with coronavirus, the economy concertinas with the fluctuating mortality rates and the porous southern border works to periodically re-stoke the conflagration, thanks to the criminally insane policy of actively seeding a more calamitous epidemic in Mexico and Central America; countries at a natural disadvantage when it comes to controlling both payload and mode of transmission. 

No wonder the season finale of The Walking Dead has been postponed until this spin-off has run its course...

Friday, April 17, 2020

Drop the payload

One of the first things I learned about computer viruses was that they have to be understood from two separate angles: payload and mode of transmission. It’s useful to think of the coronavirus pandemic in the same way, especially as I detect efforts in the US media and government to deliberately confuse the public. 

The populist MO tends to involve floodinng the mediasphere with ersatz expertise and faux-stupidities. (My recent favourite example being Kelly Anne Conway’s ‘It’s covid-19 not covid-1 folks!’). More generally the use of covid-19 (payload) to refer to the collective response to the pandemic (mode of transmission) is holding back public understanding of how and when solutions can be applied. 

This in part explains the overnight enthusiasm on the markets (now waning a bit) for experimental drug remdesivir, which apparently shows some promise as a way of alleviating symptoms amongst the critically ill in hospital - a small proportion of the covid-19 payload. 

Yet it surely has to be obvious that this shows very little promise at all in helping us restore normality to our societies as a whole, for it is not the viral payload that is crippling our economies, it’s the mode of transmission. 

Better outcomes for the critically ill are to be welcomed with enthusiasm, but this is still a lengthy hospital treatment. SARS-Cov-2 is affecting 100% of the population in terms of basic freedoms and close to that percentage economically, while covid-19 affects to a serious degree perhaps only 20% of the comparatively small proportion of the total population that are so far infected. 

It’s worth adding that the Chicago remdesivir trial has been conducted without a control group and some of the patients have still died. An equivalent Chinese trial did utilise a control and has not yet found the drug reaches the necessary efficacy threshold vs the placebo. The leak of partial results to the media in this way reflects a pattern of information mis-use in the US.

Collectively, what we need right now is an economically-friendly ‘cure’ for the mode of transmission rather than a potential amelioration of the payload i.e. a testing and control regime and then perhaps a vaccine in due course. 

PS: In my report on ambient speciousness yesterday I neglected to mention one gem that very often appears in tandem with ‘We have no evidence that lockdowns actually work’ and which has cropped up in the recent musings of Gloria Ɓlvarez and articles by slightly more sophisticated libertarians such as Lionel Shriver —  the ‘We’re all going to get it anyway’ prognosis.

They should be careful what they wish for. My suspicion is that near universal infection would result in changes to both individual and collective (i.e. state) behaviours that are longer lasting and more ingrained and unlikely to be welcomed by the Ayn Randers. 

And projected overall mortality levels are only declining because projected infection levels have been revised downwards. 

Thursday, April 16, 2020


The two main epidemiological models available to the UK government suggest that fairly draconian restrictions will need to remain in place for at least six months. For a variety of different reasons, the governments of the larger economic blocs of the West are starting to push back against the medical advice.

Even Italy, which had defined the exit strategy as 30 days after the last new infection wants, or needs, a speedier alternative.

There is potentially a way to do this safely, and it involves testing. (One reason why Guatemala currently has little alternative to the mainstream Plan A.) Yet even the big guys are not really ready with this, so stand by for the gap to be filled with half a dozen or so specious arguments...

Specious Argument #1

Lockdowns were not such a great idea in the first place. 

This one is more likely to crop up on the libertarian fringes of the media than in elected assemblies, as politicians tend to become wedded to their strategies. 

One for the historians too perhaps, but they’ll tell you in advance that the problem is not mass quarantine per se, but rather that this measure has always worked better in certain kinds of state than others. 

Specious Argument #2

How many of these people were going to die anyway? Not really a question you'd want to be seen asking when 4/5 of the population has become infected, but one you can just about get away with right now. 

Specious Argument #3

I blame...(insert institution of choice, e.g. the WHO). All the competent authorities appear to have acted with at least a modicum of incompetence, both national and international. More political capital to be gained however from blaming the foreign bodies - specific failings, but also bigger picture stuff that’s handy to export like ‘why didn't they have a better plan to hand than economic suicide?’

Specious Argument #4

There is also death in involved in staying indoors. You know, depression, suicide, drug abuse, violence against women and so on. Poverty is also unhealthy, say the same people loudly touting a quick, V-shaped recovery. (Definitely exercise caution with those who say we can afford it and then that we cannot, in almost the same breath.) 

This as yet un-modelled non-coronavirus-related mortality will however need to be offset, not so much against the pandemic, as against all the non-coronavirus-related not-deaths simultaneously occurring: empty accident and emergency wards, the lowest levels of traffic accidents since 1910 in the UK, not to mention the reduction in mass shootings in the US. 

Specious Argument #5

We need to reopen half the country in order to guarantee food supplies to the other half. Trump has been trying this one for size. It certainly works better in the US than elsewhere.

Specious Argument #6

This is all so intolerable. Fuckit. 

Tuesday, April 14, 2020

Gran Cola

Dr Giammattei last night > ‘No se trata que los alcaldes pongan a la gente a hacer una cola grande...’

And by all accounts, worse today.

Snap Back?

The notion that the world's leading economies will quickly recover from the slump (in Britain, said to the worst since 1709*) become orthodox. 

The few dissenting voices still forecast a strong resurgent tendency once the brakes are released. 

The UK Chancellor today used the phrase 'snap back' to normal. 

Maybe it's because I live in a city which is unlikely to bounce back quite so strongly from the start of Q3, that I perhaps have a more jaundiced view on this.

Globally we've reached the concertina phase, both in terms of the disease and the downturn (the Dow too, probably), yet it seems to me that the medical experts and the economic experts are still not really communicating in a joined-up manner. 

The former have been talking about a pandemic with effects on healthcare services lasting at least 18 months, the latter of a steady return to near normality in the second half of 2020.

In particular the word 'peak' is being used rather disingenuously, as if the virus itself was approaching a point of exhaustion, when in fact what we see is the point of suppression it has been possible to achieve via lockdowns. If we were all to leave home tomorrow we'd start to see an altogether scarier sort of peak.

The parts of our local economy in Antigua which will struggle through the rest of the year at least have their equivalents elsewhere, in London for example, proportionally smaller perhaps, but with deep roots across the whole of society and thus perhaps with wider ramifications.

The OBR report in the UK today suggests a 35% GDP contraction now, easing to 13% by year end: worse than the effects of the 2008 crash and both world wars. 

Does anyone really imagine that the moment we are technically able to once again go to bars, restaurants, cinemas, stadiums, museums and on holiday, we actually will, to anything like the level seen before the pandemic? (The immediate snap back may well indeed be pronounced, but sustainable?)

There's nothing fundamentally wrong with the economy, says Sunak. Sure, a soldier on the battlefield is usually in the best condition of his life, right up until....

I detect a wilful faux-naivety about how connected the global economy has become. Nations are dealing with the virus independently, so perhaps they are also assuming the economic symptoms can be handled similarly.

And politicians the world over have a clear rationale for spinning our collective state of fuckedness positively. Negativity would have clear negative impacts. As for the US administration, dishonesty is simply the default. 

PS: Que alguien me explĆ­que....why is De Museo still open, and offering home deliveries? Josticks, samurai swords and Paolo Coelho are not essential services.

* What actually happened in 1709? The real Robinson Crusoe was rescued...but the South Sea Bubble didn't occur until 1720.