Possible benefits but risks promoting unproven coronavirus treatments

Normally drugs are trialed and tests are peer reviewed before allowing use by the public. There’s a good reason for this. While drugs can be relieving and life saving, they can also cause major problems with unexpected side effects, and some drugs can make some illnesses worse.

We are not in normal times as the Covid-19 virus sweeps around the world and, so far, 68,000 people have died and many more have sustained lung damage and other adverse effects.

The speed with which the virus has spread around the world – it has been out of China not much more than three months – has had scientists and laboratories  racing to develop treatments and vaccines (vaccines usually take 1-2 years to develop and test before going public).

People will inevitably self-medicate, either as a hoped for prevention, treatment or cure. But what if a very prominent person promotes an unproven drug? Do the circumstances justify ignoring well established test and certification procedures? What about for future outbreaks? Just try anything that sounds like it may help?

Tricky territory.

Donald Trump publivly promoted a drug that may or may not help treat Covid-19, and may or may not make Covid worse.

Reuters exclusive: Pressed by Trump, U.S. pushed unproven coronavirus treatment guidance

In mid-March, President Donald Trump personally pressed federal health officials to make malaria drugs available to treat the novel coronavirus, though they had been untested for COVID-19, two sources told Reuters.

Shortly afterward, the federal government published highly unusual guidance informing doctors they had the option to prescribe the drugs, with key dosing information based on unattributed anecdotes rather than peer-reviewed science.

While Trump, in a series of tweets and press comments, had made his opinions on the drugs, chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine, well known, the nature of his behind-the-scenes intervention has not been previously reported. The guidance, published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, has received scant notice outside medical circles.

The episode reveals how the president’s efforts could change the nature of drug oversight, a field long governed by strict rules of science and testing. Rarely, if ever, has a U.S. president lobbied regulators and health officials to focus their efforts on specific unproven drugs.

“The president is short-circuiting the process with his gut feelings,” said Jeffrey Flier, a former dean of Harvard Medical School. “We are in an emergency and we need to rely on our government to ensure that all these potential therapies are tested in the most effective and objective way.”

I normally avoid taking any drugs – or supplements or artificial vitamins – as much as possible. When I had bad toothache (an abscess) recently I had to search the house for painkillers and took some that were past their use by date by a couple of years. When my dentist prescribed antibiotics I took the full course, but I can go for a year or two without using any pills.

If I caught some new virus or disease and there were no proven treatments, I don’t know what I would do if drugs used for other things may or may not help. I would be reluctant, because I think it would be quite a risk. Self treatment based on tweets or other online advice should be viewed with a lot of suspicion. But what if a president promotes it?

In a statement to Reuters, the White House said the president had not launched a “pressure campaign” but was taking appropriate action.

“The President’s top priority is the health and safety of the American people which is why he has brought together the federal government and private sector, including doctors, scientists, and medical researchers, for an unprecedented collaboration to expedite vaccine development,” said the statement, which did not address Reuters questions about the CDC guidance.

In the past a top priority in ensuring health and safety has been extensive testing, both for effectiveness and for side effects and adverse effects.

Online anecdotes are something I would be very cautious about using to inform my treatment.

Administration supporters say the CDC document, highlighting options, makes sense at a time of medical calamity with no proven treatment. And, they note, chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine have been prescribed for years with known risks. Any potential risk to coronavirus patients, some argue, is worth taking given the health crisis.

“In a perfect situation you would never do this,” said a public health specialist who recently left government. “But if you know what the safety downside is, and the patient is ready to try it, it’s worth a try.”

Maybe, but is it really worth the risk if you have no idea if it will work?

Apart from the possibility of adverse side effects or it being detrimental to treatment of the condition it is being used to try to treat, or the risk of addiction (there’s a good reason morphine isn’t promoted for all sorts of conditions) there’s another potential problem.

Some people may choose to self-treat with the unproven drug and think that’s all they need to do. If the drug is ineffective that may delay getting treatment that will help.

And if it’s a contagious diseases like a virus, they could spread it around while they think they are treating themselves.

In a series of conversations last month, President Trump personally instructed top officials at the Centers for Disease Control, the Food and Drug Administration and the National Institutes of Health to focus on the two drugs as potential therapies, said two sources familiar with the president’s efforts.

In seeking a medical breakthrough to the global crisis, Trump had contacted Dr. Stephen Hahn, the FDA administrator, and other top health officials, questioning whether they were moving rapidly enough to make the drugs more widely available, one source said. “He was not happy because of the bureaucracy.”

There’s another potential problem. If what Trump was pushing for does turn out to be a useful treatment, what then? What if Trump decides then to reduce the bureaucracy generally for drug testing? What if Trump promotes other drugs for other illnesses?

What if he starts to tweet about quack remedies, cancer cures, dementia preventers, skin tone improvers?

There are lot of risks with Covid-19. There are a lot more risks in making drug recommendations and availability for Covid and for other conditions unrestricted open slather. Drug companies have been found in the past to cheat normal tests to make money by getting their drugs to market.

Desperate ill and dying people can do desperate things, and can be more gullible to Internet promoted remedies.

There are a lot of risks.

Trump did not raise his voice or express anger, but did emphasize the “urgency” of fast-tracking access to the drugs, the other source said. A cascade of federal action soon followed to make the drugs more available, including the federal government’s grant of emergency authorization to supply them nationwide.

Drug authorisation by President is a dodgy development, especially drug promotion by Trump, who has a history of putting business before health of the environment (and people).

An FDA spokesperson declined to discuss any push by the president or address the CDC-issued guidance. The agency, in a statement to Reuters, said it acted appropriately when, later in March, it issued an emergency order allowing the drugs to be prescribed and distributed.

“It was determined, based on the scientific evidence available, that it is reasonable to believe that the specific drugs may be effective in treating COVID-19, and that, given there are no adequate, approved, or available alternative treatments, the known and potential benefits to treat this serious or life-threatening virus outweigh the known and potential risks,” the FDA statement said.

So will the FDA use this as a precedent and fast track more drugs and treatments? “It is reasonable to believe that the specific drugs may be effective” is a major shift from normal approval practices.

In this case what they ‘believed’ may prove to be correct and the drug may turn out to be a successful treatment.

But if bypassing normal checks and balances becomes common practice, it’s probably just a matter of time we get another thalidomide, or some adverse effect that could be worse than the benefits.

Especially if drug companies learn how to speed up their profits at the cost of safety checks.


Trump warns of “a very painful two week period” but…

Donald Trump’s ‘beautiful Easter Sunday’ aspiration seems a long time ago (it was last week).

Yesterday White House predicts 100,000 to 240,000 will die in US from coronavirus

President Donald Trump prepared Americans for a coming surge in coronavirus cases, calling COVID-19 a plague and saying the U.S. is facing a “very, very painful two weeks.”

“This could be a hell of a bad two weeks. This is going to be a very bad two, and maybe three weeks. This is going to be three weeks like we’ve never seen before,” Trump said at a White House press conference Tuesday. White House officials are projecting between 100,000 and 240,000 deaths in the U.S. with coronavirus fatalities peaking over the next two weeks. “When you look at night, the kind of death that has been caused by this invisible enemy, it’s incredible.”

He has been more on message with his health experts, but he is still saying some strange things.

President Trump Warns Of Coronavirus Apex: “This Is Going To Be A Very Painful Two Week Period”

“As a nation, we face a difficult two weeks as we approach that really important day when we’re going to see things get better, all of a sudden,” he said. “And it is going to be like a burst of light, I think, or I hope.”

It seems unlikely things will suddenly get better in two weeks. Italy and Spain are still struggling with high daily death rates and deaths are surging round Europe.

The US has  a huge problem looming in some states, in particular New York, but the virus has spread around the country at different rates, so it is likely to peak at different times.

It’s more likely to be a very painful month or two in the US at least.

Total cases in the US are now over 200,000, jumping by 24,742 yesterday (GMT) – that’s a third of the recorded world wide rise (73,770).

Deaths jumped to 912 for a total of 4,053 yesterday afternoon (now 4,528). That’s an alarming rise rate.

Source of stats https://www.worldometers.info/coronavirus/#countries



USA: ‘Best case scenario’ projects 100,000-200,000 deaths

A lot of big numbers have been thrown around regarding Covid-19 casualties, but projections continue to paint grim picture even if things go as well as hoped.

Currently there are about 37,000 recorded Covid deaths around the world, with the US total at 2,864. But the huge jump in cases to over 170,000 suggests things are getting significantly worse, and predictions look bad.

NBC: Dr. Birx predicts up to 200,000 U.S. coronavirus deaths ‘if we do things almost perfectly’

The White House coronavirus response coordinator said Monday that she is “very worried about every city in the United States” and projects 100,000 to 200,000 American deaths as a best case scenario.

In an interview on “TODAY,” Dr. Deborah Birx painted a grim message about the expected fatalities, echoing that they could hit more than 2 million without any measures, as coronavirus cases continue to climb throughout the country.

“I think in some of the metro areas we were late in getting people to follow the 15-day guidelines,” she added.

Birx said the projections by Dr. Anthony Fauci that U.S. deaths could range from 1.6 million to 2.2 million is a worst case scenario if the country did “nothing” to contain the outbreak, but said even “if we do things almost perfectly,” she still predicts up to 200,000 U.S. deaths.

Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, reiterated Monday on CNN that “I don’t want to see it, I’d like to avoid it, but I wouldn’t be surprised if we saw 100,000 deaths.”

Birx and Fauci seem to have convinced President trump of the possible seriousness of the situation in the US.

Fox News: Trump says coronavirus to peak ‘around Easter…’

President Trump, in an extensive interview Monday with “Fox & Friends,” predicted coronavirus cases in the U.S. will likely peak “around Easter” as he defended his administration’s decision to extend strict social distancing guidelines through the end of April – suggesting millions of lives could be saved by the measures.

“We’re doing a lot of things and we don’t want to [ease restrictions] too soon,” Trump said. “Around Easter, that’s going to be the highest point, we think.”

Trump added: “We think April 30 is a day where we can see some real progress. And we expect to see that, short of June 1, we think the death, it’s a terrible thing to say, will be brought to a very low number.”

“If we didn’t do anything, 2.2 million people could have died”

“The worst thing we can do is declare victory … and then not have victory. We’re at war, this is war.”

It’s hard to know what he means by the April 30 and June 1 dates but it suggests he accepts that the virus will be a major problem for some time.  There are no longer suggestions of “One day it’s like a miracle – it will disappear” or of “a beautiful time, a beautiful timeline” referring to Easter Sunday.


“President Trump is a ratings hit” says President Trump

There were four tweets in all:

President Trump is a ratings hit. Since reviving the daily White House briefing Mr. Trump and his coronavirus updates have attracted an average audience of 8.5 million on cable news, roughly the viewership of the season finale of ‘The Bachelor.’ Numbers are continuing to ris.

On Monday, nearly 12.2 million people watched Mr. Trump’s briefing on CNN, Fox News and MSNBC, according to Nielsen — ‘Monday Night Football’ numbers. Millions more are watching on ABC, CBS, NBC and online streaming sites, and the audience is expanding. On Monday, Fox News alone attracted 6.2 million viewers for the president’s briefing — an astounding number for a 6 p.m. cable broadcast, more akin to the viewership for a popular prime-time sitcom.

The CBS News poll said 13 percent of Republicans trusted the news media for information about the virus.” Michael M. Grynbaum @NYTimes

This would be unbelievable if any other world leader was so openly obsessed with his own popularity. But this is not surprising from Trump, he has long bulldozed over the ability to shock.

911 had huge ratings but that wasn’t because of popularity, it was due to horror. The Global Financial Crisis had huge ratings but that wasn’t due to popularity either.


Trump considers quarantine as Covid-19 keeps climbing in US and world

|Earlier this week President Donald Trump said he wanted business and congregations back to normal by Easter Sunday, but with Covid-19 cases and deaths climbing in the US he is now considering imposing quarantines in some areas. However the horse may have already bolted, with a lot of people movement around the country over the last couple of weeks, and new cases and deaths surging.

Cases in the US currently are 105,573 (UPDATE half an hour later 112,468), with deaths now at 1,841 and climbing by hundreds each day.

NHS medical director: if the UK were to keep the number of deaths from coronavirus below 20,000, “we will have done very well”.

On Tuesday Trump’s Easter goal in war on virus a nod to faith, business

President Donald Trump’s “beautiful” idea to reopen the U.S. economy by Easter Sunday and pack church pews that day was dreamed up during a conference call among business leaders desperate to get the country back up and running.

But his target date for easing coronavirus restrictions is another outstretched hand to a group he has long courted: evangelical Christians.

Cooped up at the White House and watching the stock market tumble, Trump had already been eager to ease federal guidelines aimed at halting the spread of a virus that had infected more than 55,000 Americans when about a dozen business leaders convened a conference call on Sunday.

His rush to get back to business as usual was questioned – Trump’s plan to reopen the economy by Easter could cause more damage in the long run, according to LinkedIn’s top US economist

However, framing America’s response as a direct trade-off between the health of its people and the health of its economy could ultimately harm both, according to LinkedIn principal economist Guy Berger.

“There’s no economy without people, so getting them healthy is the way to get the economy off the ground,” Berger told Business Insider.

“That’s why the public health measures are so important and why they’re essential, even though they’re hard in the short run, that’s the only way to really end up rebooting the economy,” he said.

Easing lockdowns and social distancing measures too early, while the virus is still spreading rapidly, could ultimately cause more people to get sick, forcing them out of the workforce and causing an even more negative impact on the economy.

The message must have got through to Trump about the risk – to health, lives and to business – of rushing back to no restrictions.

Fox News: Trump mulls coronavirus quarantine on New York, New Jersey, Connecticut

“Some people would like to see New York quarantined because it’s a hotspot — New York, New Jersey, maybe one or two other places, certain parts of Connecticut quarantined,” he said outside the White House.

“I’m thinking about that right now. We might not have to do it but there’s a possibility that sometime today we’ll do a quarantine — short term, two weeks for New York, probably New Jersey and certain parts of Connecticut.”

He said that if such a move happened, it would be primarily a restriction on residents of those states traveling to other parts of the country.

“This will be an enforceable quarantine, but hopefully we won’t need it,” he said.

The move would be a dramatic escalation of the efforts to stop the spread of the coronavirus, and comes on the back of those states essentially shuttering daily life — closing schools, businesses, leisure activities and urging residents to stay at home.

But this could be too late. Movement of people has been a problem elsewhere in the country for weeks.

Fox News: Frightening cellphone ‘heat map’ shows coronavirus’ potential spread as spring break revelers went home

Heat maps that show cellphone location data in the U.S. paint a disturbing picture of the potential spread of coronavirus as the country grapples with lockdown meaures and tries to stem the virus’ tide.

Tectonix, geospatial data visualization platform, working in partnership with location company X-Mode Social, created an alarming map that shows the impact of ignoring social distancing restrictions.

Focusing on just one group of spring break revelers on part of one beach in mid-March when they left Fort Lauderdale, Fla., it quickly becomes obvious that the thousands of people who were at the beach ended up all over the country — in the Midwest, the Northeast and other parts of the South.

That’s just one example. Contract tracing must be a nightmare.

Reuters: U.S. coronavirus cases surpass 100,000

The sum of known coronavirus U.S. cases soared well past 100,000, with more than 1,600 dead, as weary doctors and nurses coping with shortages resorted to extremes ranging from hiding scarce medical supplies to buying them on the black market.

Reuters: As virus threatens, U.S. embraces big government, for now

Whatever the motivation, in the scope of two frantic weeks, U.S. elected officials and central bankers have engineered an economic intervention unparalleled outside of wartime.

All in it would supplant perhaps 30% of gross domestic product with government spending and loans, drive the federal deficit as high as needed to make that happen, and broaden U.S. social spending in ways that just a few weeks ago Republicans and President Donald Trump were branding as “socialist.”

In the time taken to put this post together (so far) US cases jumped to 112,468 – that’s how rapidly Covid-19 is growing in the US.

BBC: Number of UK deaths rises above 1,000

The number of people to have died with the coronavirus in the UK has reached 1,019.

The latest government figures on Saturday showed there were another 260 deaths in the UK in a day, up from 759 on Friday.

There are now 17,089 confirmed cases in the UK.

The jump in deaths is the biggest day-on-day increase the UK since the outbreak began. The number of deaths is 34% higher than Friday’s figure.

NHS England Prof Stephen Powis said if the UK were to keep the number of deaths from coronavirus below 20,000, “we will have done very well”.

BBC: More than 900 deaths in a day in Italy

Italy has recorded 919 new coronavirus deaths, its highest daily figure in the outbreak so far.

It means 9,134 people have now died from the virus in the country.

Earlier World Health Organization chief Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said a “chronic global shortage” of protective equipment was one of the “most urgent threats” to the ability to save lives.

Italy is the worst-affected in Europe. Almost everything has been closed and people told to stay at home.

Earlier on Friday, authorities warned that restrictions were likely to be extended beyond 3 April.

That seems inevitable.

Deaths now recorded on JHU&M CRC are at 10,023, cases have jumped to 92,472 (they were 80,589 this time yesterday) so the problem is far from over in Italy.

Spain’s coronavirus death toll rose by 832 in 24 hours, bringing it to 5,690. However, the number of people recovering is also increasing, with a total of 12,285 out of over 72,000 cases

French PM: ‘Fight is just beginning’

The first 15 days in April will be “even more difficult than the 15 we have just left”, French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe has warned.

France has recorded 1,998 deaths and has been in lockdown for 10 days, a period which has now been extended until 15 April.

“I want to speak clearly to the French,” said Mr Phil

Total confirmed coronavirus cases in Africa: 3,926

South Africa has 1,170 but it is spreading across the continent.

There are improvements in places that first has major problems,

The Chinese city of Wuhan, where the virus first emerged, has partially reopened after more than two months in isolation

South Korea says it has more people who have recovered from the virus than infected.

Brazil’s Bolsonaro questions coronavirus deaths, says ‘sorry, some will die’

Following the advice of public health experts, the vast majority of the country’s 26 governors have banned non-essential commercial activities and public services to contain the outbreak in their states.

“I’m sorry, some people will die, they will die, that’s life,” Bolsonaro said in a television interview on Friday night. “You can’t stop a car factory because of traffic deaths.”

Bolsonaro said that in the state of Sao Paulo, Brazil’s economic powerhouse, the death toll seemed “too large.” Sao Paulo has the most cases and deaths so far of coronavirus in Brazil, at 1,223 cases and 68 deaths.

“We need to look at what is happening there, this cannot be a numbers game to favor political interests,” Bolsonaro said.

Earlier on Friday, Sao Paulo Governor Joao Doria, a former Bolsonaro ally who many expect to be a rival in the 2022 presidential election, accused Bolsonaro of promoting “disinformation” by launching a TV ad campaign criticizing the restrictions, featuring the slogan “#BrazilCannotStop.”

The slogan is similar to a campaign in Milan before deaths in Italy soared.

Currently 3,477 cases in Brazil with 93 deaths.


Trump declares US ‘national emergency’, ramps up Covid-19 tests

President Donald Trump has just had a media conference in which he declared a ‘national emergency’ due to the Covid-19 coronavirus pandemic. there are rep[oets he is also invoking the Stafford Act.

  • The national emergency gives access to expanded authorities for the executive branch.
  • The Stafford Act is what frees up the extra federal funding and allows access to the funds.

Trump said this would “open up access to up to $50 billion,” which was “a large amount of money for states and territories and localities in our shared fight against this disease.”

Trump also urged states to set up emergency operation centres immediately.

Many states have already declared emergencies and taken significant steps to try to contain the spread of the virus.

After recently claiming virus tests in the US were ‘the best’ (and was contradicted by a top health official) Trump also announced a major increase in screening tests around the US – up to 5 million tests a month.

This is a major shift for Trump – but the media conference seemed heavy on PR in reaction to strong and widespread criticism of Trump and the US response.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases:

“We still have a long way to go. There will be many more cases. But we’ll take care of that and ultimately, as the President said, this will end.

But what’s going on here today is going to help it to end sooner than it would have.”

Trump: “We don’t want everybody taking this test. It’s totally unnecessary”.

CNN: President Trump continues to shake hands with corporate chiefs in the Rose Garden, even as health experts warn against the practice in a bid to prevent community spread.

“I’ve waived interest on all student loans held by federal government agencies, and that will be until further notice”.

He said he also directed the Secretary of Energy “to purchase large quantities of crude oil for the US strategic reserves.”

Vice-President Pence is talking a load of PR bull, praising Trump for everything he has done.

Meanwhile the US sharemarket has partially bounced back, recovering (currently 4.8% on the Dow Jones) from yesterdays 10% slump (it hasn’t reacted noticeably to the announcement yet). I expect the timing of the announcement had the close of the US markets in mind. Update – a late jump almost regained all of yesterday’s loss, closing up 9.36% (yesterday was down 9.99%), although it is still down nearly 3000 points over the week.

In response to media questions he criticises the Democrats, and slams the Obama for what he claims were failures over an epidemic, but when called on his claims by a reporter he shut them down.

Australian Minister Dutton joins list of prominent people with Covid-19

Australian Minister of Home Affairs Peter Dutton has been hospitalised with Covid-19, joining a growing list of prominent people confirmed to have the coronavirus.

Dutton was recently in Washington where New Zealand minister Tracey Martin sat beside him for 90 minutes but that is thought to be long enough go to be safe for her.

Despite this I think it would be prudent of Martin to avoid any chance of spreading the virus through the New Zealand Government and Parliament (unless it’s too late).

Ivanka Trump also met with Dutton.

Sophie Grégoire Trudeau has tested positive for Covid-19, with both her and her Prime Minister husband going into isolation for 14 days. There are now 160 presumed or confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Canada – but the number of prominent people catching the virus makes me wonder whether confirmed cases are the tip of the virus iceberg.

CBC: No need for Trudeau to be tested, despite wife’s COVID-19 diagnosis, experts say

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau doesn’t need to be tested for COVID-19 — even though his wife, Sophie Grégoire Trudeau, was diagnosed with the disease — if he isn’t showing any symptoms, experts say.

“Certainly for people asymptomatic, we do not recommend testing,” said Colin Lee, a specialist in public health and infectious disease. “But I could certainly see that people in position of power may want testing. And that might happen. But it’s certainly not the medical and public health recommendation.”

Seems odd not to take the precaution – and to test whether people without symptoms could be carrying the virus. At least PM Trudeau is taking precautions by going into isolation.

Al Jazeera: Bolsonaro aide who met Trump tests positive for coronavirus

A Brazilian government official who attended an official meeting at Donald Trump’s resort in Florida on Saturday and posted a photo of himself standing next to the United States president has tested positive for coronavirus, Brazilian officials said on Thursday.

In the photo posted on his Instagram account, Fabio Wajngarten, the communication secretary of Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, is standing next to Trump wearing a “Make Brazil great again” cap. Vice President Mike Pence was next to Trump.

“Let’s put it this way: I’m not concerned,” Trump told reporters while meeting with Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar in the Oval Office.

He said he had heard about the aide’s exposure but that “we did nothing very unusual”.

Trump may not have the virus, but this shows how easily it could spread around world leaders. The US hasn’t closed their borders to Brazil.

I expect health experts will be looking at where these people caught the virus from, and how it is being spread.

Hello Magazine: Celebrities affected by coronavirus: from Tom Hanks to Robbie Williams

Hollywood couple Tom Hanks and Rita Wilson shared the news on Thursday that they had both tested positive for coronavirus. Taking to Instagram, Tom shared a photo of himself and Rita together in Australia, where they are currently in self-isolation, writing: “Hello folks. @ritawilson and I want to thank everyone here Down Under who are taking such good care of us. We have COVID-19 and are in isolation so we do not spread it to anyone else.”

Robbie Williams is also in Australia at the moment, where he was due to perform a one-off show. However, the Angels singer has been forced to cancel his gig after the Australian government announced that all gatherings of more than 500 people should not go ahead.

Production of hit Netflix show Riverdale has shut down after a member of the team was exposed to COVID-19. The decision was made after a crew member came into contact with someone who had tested positive for co

On Friday, the number of confirmed cases of Covid-19 in New Zealand remained at five. It seems inevitable this number will increase.

Many events have been affected. The New Zealand versus Australia one day cricket match in Sydney last night was played in an empty stadium. The Highlanders rugby team will be playing in an empty stadium in Buenos Aires. The Pasfika event scheduled for Auckland this weekend was cancelled.

Surprisingly the mosque attack anniversary event scheduled for Christchurch seems to be still going ahead, but scaled down:

This may change before tomorrow.

The cancellation list is growing around the world. RNZ – Covid-19: Cancelled, crowdless and closed

Cancelled/postponed in New Zealand

  • Auckland’s Pasifika Festival has been cancelled amid concerns about the risk of the virus being transmitted to the Pacific Islands by festival attendees
  • One of the biggest surf events seen in New Zealand, the Corona Piha Pro, has been postponed, with The World Surf League deciding to postpone all events in March.
  • Two rock bands have postponed concerts in Auckland – Deftones were set to perform at Trusts Arena on Sunday and My Chemical Romance at Western Springs later this month.

Cancelled/postponed/closed around the world

These include:

  • The Formula 1 Australian Grand Prix has been cancelled after a McLaren Racing Team has tested positive for coronavirus.
  • Basketball and hockey fans in North America will miss out on games, with both the NBA and the NHL suspending their seasons.
  • The US PGA Tour has cancelled The Players Championship and all tour events for the next few weeks.
  • The massive E3 video game conference in Los Angeles has been canned, and American music festival South by Southwest has also been cancelled. The Coachella Festival, due to be held next month, has been put off until October.
  • There will be no Broadway shows in New York for the rest of the month, while Disney has closed its Disneyland and Disneyworld theme parks in California and Florida, as well as several others around the globe.
  • The ATP has suspended its professional men’s tennis tour for six weeks, and the world figure skating championships have been cancelled.
  • Several blockbuster movies have had their release dates pushed back as filmgoers stay away from the cinema, including the latest Fast and Furious instalment – pushed back by 11 months – and new James Bond movie No Time To Die, which has been delayed until November.
  • The Van Gogh museum and the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam are closed until end of March, while New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art is temporarily closing all three of its locations in the city. All Smithsonian museums in Washington DC and New York City will close from Saturday.
  • Qatar has announced the closure of all cinemas, theatres, gyms, play areas and museums.

Still going ahead (so far)

  • The WOMAD music festival is going ahead at Brooklands Park in New Plymouth this weekend, although organisers are asking people who feel unwell to stay home as part of their plans to mitigate the effects of the virus.
  • The St Patrick’s Parade on Queen Street in central Auckland is set to start at midday tomorrow, while the Irish Music and Dance Festival will be held outside Auckland Town Hall, from 12:30pm – 3:30pm.
  • Despite organisers admitting a delay of one or two years would be the “most feasible” option if the Tokyo Olympics can’t be held this year, the games are still set to take place.
  • Commemorations to make the 15 March mosque terror attacks are still set to take place in Christchurch on Sunday.
  • While Pasifika has been cancelled, the Auckland secondary schools’ dance festival Polyfest starts next week, running from from Wednesday to Saturday.

The situation is changing daily, with increasing numbers of cancellations and restrictions.

Back to the beginning First Covid-19 case happened in November, China government records show

The first case of someone suffering from Covid-19 can be traced back to 17 November, according to media reports on unpublished Chinese government data.

The report, in the South China Morning Post, said Chinese authorities had identified at least 266 people who contracted the virus last year and who came under medical surveillance, and the earliest case was 17 November – weeks before authorities announced the emergence of the new virus.

The data obtained by the Post, which the Guardian has not been able to verify, said a 55-year-old from Hubei province could have been the first person to contract Covid-19. For about one month after that date there were one to five new cases reported each day, the report said, and by 20 December there were 60 confirmed cases.

RNZ – Covid-19: how to protect yourself and others:

The Ministry of Health says the WHO pandemic declaration does not change anything for New Zealand which is already following a pandemic plan. The ministry’s key message is to stay home if you are ill.

“The most fundamental thing that every New Zealand citizen and other person in this country can do is to make sure that if they are unwell they do not go out and they do not put others at risk, Director-General of Health Ashley Bloomfield said on 12 March.

Doctors and the ministry are telling people who have symptoms not to just turn up at the GP or hospital emergency department, but to phone ahead or ring Healthline on 0800 358 5453 (or for international SIMs +64 9 358 5453).

What are the symptoms?

Symptoms of Covid-19:

  • a cough
  • a high temperature (at least 38°C)
  • shortness of breath.
  • tiredness

Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing are a sign of possible pneumonia and require immediate medical attention.

Other symptoms may also be present:

  • Aches and pains
  • Nasal congestion and/or runny nose
  • Sore throat
  • Diarrhoea

Having symptoms doesn’t necessarily mean you have Covid-19 as some are similar to a cold or flu. It’s not certain how long symptoms take to appear after a person has been infected, but WHO assessments suggest it is 2-10 days.

The World Health Organisation’s reports have shown 80 percent of those infected only a mild illness, 14 percent experience more severe disease, and 5 percent become critically ill.

How is coronavirus spread?

Coronavirus can spread from person to person, by personal contact when droplets from someone who is infected coughs and sneezes.

Droplets containing the virus also settle on surrounding surfaces. Studies suggest they may survive on surfaces for a few hours or up to several days, the WHO says. You can catch the disease by contact with a surface that has the viral particles on it and then touching your mouth, nose or eyes.

WHO expert Dr Bruce Aylward said 10 percent of people who come in contact with an infected person contract the virus. An early WHO report analysing about 50,000 cases from China suggested the virus was unlikely to spread from people who are not showing symptoms.

How to avoid catching and spreading Covid-19

Good hygiene, regularly washing and thoroughly drying your hands, and other simple steps can help stop the spread, the Ministry of Health says.

To reduce your chance of being infected or spreading the virus:

  • Cough or sneeze into your elbow or by covering your mouth and nose with tissues.
  • Put used tissues in the bin or a bag immediately.
  • Wash your hands with soap and water often (for at least 20 seconds).
  • Try to avoid close contact with people who are unwell.
  • Stay at least 1 metre away from someone who is coughing or sneezing,
  • Don’t touch your eyes, nose or mouth if your hands are not clean.
  • Avoid personal contact, such as kissing, sharing cups or food with sick people.
  • Clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces and objects, such as doorknobs.
  • Stay home if you feel unwell.

– Sources: MoH and WHO

What to do if you may have been exposed

People have been advised NOT to turn up to a doctor’s office or hospital if they are showing symptoms, but to instead call Healthline 0800 358 5453 (or for international SIMs +64 9 358 5453).

If you may have been exposed to Covid-19 you should isolate yourself for 14 days.

If you have returned from countries subject to New Zealand travel restrictions you should to isolate yourself for 14 days. Read more from the Ministry of Health on which countries have restrictions and what type of restrictions they are.


Divided responses to Trumps address and travel ban

One address was never going to suddenly change the division over Donald Trump’s performance as president and on his handling of the Covid-19 coronavirus. Not long ago Trump was claiming the virus was a hoax and he has blamed a variety of countries and people, especially the media (that criticises him) and the Democrats.

Financial Times Donald Trump’s troubling coronavirus address

Perhaps the biggest fallout of Mr Trump’s address was what he did not say. His most glaring omission was any plan to increase America’s capacity to test for infections.

Epidemiologists say accurate testing is the single most effective method to counter the disease’s spread. It allows the authorities to isolate clusters, trace the movement of the virus and make critical decisions on where the biggest risks lie. That is what places such as Taiwan, Singapore and South Korea have done so effectively without resorting to the draconian measures taken in China.

Trump claimed “Our team is the best anywhere in the world”, but a key member of his team things differently – US admits ‘failing’ on testing, says Fauci top US health official Dr Anthony Fauci:

“The system is not really geared to what we need right now… that is a failing, let’s admit it. The idea of anybody getting it easily the way people in other countries are doing it, we’re not set up for that. Do I think we should be. Yes. But we’re not.” –

In his address Trump praised himself and the US, as he frequently does, and blamed others in the world.

This is the most aggressive and comprehensive effort to confront a foreign virus in modern history.

Viruses are ‘foreign’ to nearly every country, but the source of new strains is largely irrelevant.

China efforts were probably more aggressive and comprehensive, as were South Korea and Japan and recently in particular, Italy, who have just about locked the whole country down.

Until yesterday US states were acting on their own. The worst affected area, Washington State (at least 29 deaths), declared a state of emergency last month, and many other states have done likewise.

At the very start of the outbreak, we instituted sweeping travel restrictions on China.

The European Union failed to take the same precautions and restrict travel from China and other hotspots. As a result, a large number of new clusters in the United States were seeded by travelers from Europe.

No evidence of this claim.

Italy tried travel bans as early as January from China (before the US did), unsuccessfully.

Bizarrely Trump excluded the UK from his travel ban, saying that was because they had done “a good job” on the outbreak and “They don’t have very much infection at this point and hopefully they’ll keep it that way.”

ITV: Up to 10,000 people in UK could have coronavirus, chief scientific adviser warns

Up to 10,000 people in the UK could already be infected with coronavirus, the government’s chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance has warned.

Speaking at a press conference alongside the prime minister, it was announced the UK would now be moving from the “contain” to “delay” phase in a bid to slow down the spread of Covid-19.

That presumably includes trying to slow down the spread from the UK to the US.

Under the new measures, the Government is recommending foreign trips be cancelled and says even those with mild symptoms should self-isolate for seven days whether they have travelled to virus-hit countries or not.

So the UK is recommending against travel to the US.

Trump closed his address with:

Our future remains brighter than anyone can imagine. Acting with compassion and love, we will heal the sick, care for those in need, help our fellow citizens, and emerge from this challenge stronger and more unified than ever before.

Unifying is not something Trump is known for. After his address he continued his partisan attacking:

As usual, opinions are divided:

However the world financial markets are not divided. They have all reacted in unison – downwards.

Financial Times Donald Trump’s troubling coronavirus address

On Wednesday night the global pandemic met US nationalism. It will not take long to see which comes off best. As Donald Trump was speaking, the Dow futures market nosedived. His Europe travel ban came just a few hours after the US stock market entered bear territory — a fall of 20 per cent or more — for the first time since the global financial crisis. It also followed the World Health Organization’s declaration of a global pandemic. Mr Trump’s address was meant to calm the waters. By the time he finished they were considerably rougher.

Reuters: Markets tumble again as global coronavirus alarm spreads

Trump restricted certain travel from Europe to the United States in a televised address about the health crisis on Wednesday, shocking investors and travelers.

Major European bourses fell by double-digit percentages, with Italian stocks .FTMIB plunging 17% for their worst single-day loss ever, as stimulus efforts from the European Central Bank did little to calm nerves.

BBC: UK shares suffer worst day since 1987

Shares around the world have plunged as investors fear the spread of the coronavirus will destroy economic growth with government action unable to arrest the decline.

The main UK index dropped more than 10% in its worst day since 1987.

Losses on European indexes accelerated after the European Central Bank (ECB) failed to cut interest rates, although it did pledge fresh stimulus measures.

Earlier, stocks in Asia also saw big falls, with Japan’s benchmark Nikkei 225 index closing 4.4% lower.

“We can call this a market crash – particularly given speed and sharpness, as well as the size of the declines,” said Supriya Menon, senior multi-asset strategist at Pictet Asset Management. The “question is whether this will cause a recession”.

The French and German markets dropped more than 12%

Spain’s main index was down 14%, it’s biggest drop ever.

Wall Street opened after the address down about 7% (Dow Jones) and has mostly stayed down at that level (currently 2 pm so another 2 hours trading to go Thursday there).

NPR: The Fed Steps In, But Stock Market Meltdown Continues

Stocks recovered some of their losses after the Federal Reserve moved aggressively Thursday to try to calm investors rattled by the global coronavirus pandemic, but then the market slide continued. The New York Fed said it would pump $1.5 trillion into short-term funding markets over the next two days.

Stocks fell so fast Thursday morning that it triggered a 15-minute halt in trading for the second time this week.

Those indexes are now down at least 24% from record highs set just last month. At 22,074.10 in early afternoon trading, the Dow was down more than 7,400 points from its peak Feb. 12.

Trump has responded to this crash assuring that the markets will be “just fine” and they will bounce back ‘when the time is right”.

NPR: Trump Defends Travel Ban, Says Stock Market Will Bounce Back

President Trump on Thursday defended new restrictions on travelers from most parts of Europe, a decision that angered allies and trading partners, was questioned by some public health experts, and sent stock markets reeling.

Trump told reporters that he viewed the ban as one way to protect Americans from the virus spreading, and he predicted the stock market would eventually bounce back. “It’s not important compared to life and death,” Trump said in the Oval Office.

Breaking news: The number of confirmed cases of coronavirus in Italy has risen to 15,113 from 12,462 on Wednesday, officials say.

Trump’s speech on significant US action on Covid-19

President Donald Trump gave an address on fairly drastic action to try to stop the spread of the Covid-19 coronavirus, but after clarifications it isn’t as drastic as it first sounded.

Travel from non-American citizens and residents from Europe (excluding the UK) to USA is banned for 30 days.

To keep new cases from entering our shores, we will be suspending all travel from Europe to the United States for the next 30 days. The new rules will go into effect Friday at midnight. These restrictions will be adjusted subject to conditions on the ground.There will be exemptions for Americans who have undergone appropriate screenings, and these prohibitions will not only apply to the tremendous amount of trade and cargo, but various other things as we get approval. Anything coming from Europe to the United States is what we are discussing. These restrictions will also not apply to the United Kingdom.

Contrary to impressions from the speech freight from Europe is not banned.

Major sports reactions to with the all US NBA basketball games suspended until further notice.

President Donald Trump’s speech to the nation on the coronavirus:

My fellow Americans: Tonight, I want to speak with you about our nation’s unprecedented response to the coronavirus outbreak that started in China and is now spreading throughout the world.

Today, the World Health Organization officially announced that this is a global pandemic.

We have been in frequent contact with our allies, and we are marshalling the full power of the federal government and the private sector to protect the American people.

This is the most aggressive and comprehensive effort to confront a foreign virus in modern history. I am confident that by counting and continuing to take these tough measures, we will significantly reduce the threat to our citizens, and we will ultimately and expeditiously defeat this virus.

From the beginning of time, nations and people have faced unforeseen challenges, including large-scale and very dangerous health threats. This is the way it always was and always will be. It only matters how you respond, and we are responding with great speed and professionalism.

Our team is the best anywhere in the world. At the very start of the outbreak, we instituted sweeping travel restrictions on China and put in place the first federally mandated quarantine in over 50 years. We declared a public health emergency and issued the highest level of travel warning on other countries as the virus spread its horrible infection.

And taking early intense action, we have seen dramatically fewer cases of the virus in the United States than are now present in Europe.

The European Union failed to take the same precautions and restrict travel from China and other hotspots. As a result, a large number of new clusters in the United States were seeded by travelers from Europe.

After consulting with our top government health professionals, I have decided to take several strong but necessary actions to protect the health and wellbeing of all Americans.

To keep new cases from entering our shores, we will be suspending all travel from Europe to the United States for the next 30 days. The new rules will go into effect Friday at midnight. These restrictions will be adjusted subject to conditions on the ground.

There will be exemptions for Americans who have undergone appropriate screenings, and these prohibitions will not only apply to the tremendous amount of trade and cargo, but various other things as we get approval. Anything coming from Europe to the United States is what we are discussing. These restrictions will also not apply to the United Kingdom.

At the same time, we are monitoring the situation in China and in South Korea. And, as their situation improves, we will reevaluate the restrictions and warnings that are currently in place for a possible early opening.

Earlier this week, I met with the leaders of health insurance industry who have agreed to waive all copayments for coronavirus treatments, extend insurance coverage to these treatments, and to prevent surprise medical billing.

We are cutting massive amounts of red tape to make antiviral therapies available in record time. These treatments will significantly reduce the impact and reach of the virus.

Additionally, last week, I signed into law an $8.3 billion funding bill to help CDC and other government agencies fight the virus and support vaccines, treatments, and distribution of medical supplies. Testing and testing capabilities are expanding rapidly, day by day. We are moving very quickly.

The vast majority of Americans: The risk is very, very low. Young and healthy people can expect to recover fully and quickly if they should get the virus. The highest risk is for elderly population with underlying health conditions. The elderly population must be very, very careful.

In particular, we are strongly advising that nursing homes for the elderly suspend all medically unnecessary visits. In general, older Americans should also avoid nonessential travel in crowded areas.

My administration is coordinating directly with communities with the largest outbreaks, and we have issued guidance on school closures, social distancing, and reducing large gatherings.

Smart action today will prevent the spread of the virus tomorrow.

Every community faces different risks and it is critical for you to follow the guidelines of your local officials who are working closely with our federal health experts — and they are the best.

For all Americans, it is essential that everyone take extra precautions and practice good hygiene. Each of us has a role to play in defeating this virus. Wash your hands, clean often-used surfaces, cover your face and mouth if you sneeze or cough, and most of all, if you are sick or not feeling well, stay home.

To ensure that working Americans impacted by the virus can stay home without fear of financial hardship, I will soon be taking emergency action, which is unprecedented, to provide financial relief. This will be targeted for workers who are ill, quarantined, or caring for others due to coronavirus.

I will be asking Congress to take legislative action to extend this relief.

Because of the economic policies that we have put into place over the last three years, we have the greatest economy anywhere in the world, by far.

Our banks and financial institutions are fully capitalized and incredibly strong. Our unemployment is at a historic low. This vast economic prosperity gives us flexibility, reserves, and resources to handle any threat that comes our way.

This is not a financial crisis, this is just a temporary moment of time that we will overcome together as a nation and as a world.

However, to provide extra support for American workers, families, and businesses, tonight I am announcing the following additional actions: I am instructing the Small Business Administration to exercise available authority to provide capital and liquidity to firms affected by the coronavirus.

Effective immediately, the SBA will begin providing economic loans in affected states and territories. These low-interest loans will help small businesses overcome temporary economic disruptions caused by the virus. To this end, I am asking Congress to increase funding for this program by an additional $50 billion.

Using emergency authority, I will be instructing the Treasury Department to defer tax payments, without interest or penalties, for certain individuals and businesses negatively impacted. This action will provide more than $200 billion of additional liquidity to the economy.

Finally, I am calling on Congress to provide Americans with immediate payroll tax relief. Hopefully they will consider this very strongly.

We are at a critical time in the fight against the virus. We made a life-saving move with early action on China. Now we must take the same action with Europe. We will not delay. I will never hesitate to take any necessary steps to protect the lives, health, and safety of the American people. I will always put the wellbeing of America first.

If we are vigilant — and we can reduce the chance of infection, which we will — we will significantly impede the transmission of the virus. The virus will not have a chance against us.

No nation is more prepared or more resilient than the United States. We have the best economy, the most advanced healthcare, and the most talented doctors, scientists, and researchers anywhere in the world.

We are all in this together. We must put politics aside, stop the partisanship, and unify together as one nation and one family.

As history has proven time and time again, Americans always rise to the challenge and overcome adversity.

Our future remains brighter than anyone can imagine. Acting with compassion and love, we will heal the sick, care for those in need, help our fellow citizens, and emerge from this challenge stronger and more unified than ever before.
God bless you, and God bless America. Thank you.

Claim that Taliban don’t intend honouring peace deal with US

NBC news report: “U.S. government has collected persuasive intelligence that the Taliban do not intend to honor the promises they have made in the recently signed deal with the United States

A week ago Afghanistan’s Taliban, US sign agreement aimed at ending war

US officials and Taliban representatives have signed an agreement after months of negotiations in Qatar’s capital that is aimed at ending the United States’s longest war, fought in Afghanistan since 2001.

Saturday’s agreement, signed in Doha in the presence of leaders from Pakistan, Qatar, Turkey, India, Indonesia, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan, will pave the way for the US to gradually withdraw its troops.

In a statement, the Taliban said it had reached an agreement “about the termination of occupation of Afghanistan”.

“The accord about the complete withdrawal of all foreign forces from Afghanistan and never intervening in its affairs in the future is undoubtedly a great achievement,” it added.

Earlier on Saturday, the Taliban ordered all its fighters to halt fighting and “refrain from attacks”.

For his part, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo called on the Taliban to honour its commitments.

“I know there will be a temptation to declare victory, but victory for Afghans will only be achieved when they can live in peace and prosper,” he said at the Doha ceremony.

Minutes before the agreement was signed, a joint statement released by the US and the Afghan government said the US and NATO troops would withdraw from Afghanistan within 14 months.

About 14,000 US troops and approximately 17,000 troops from 39 NATO allies and partner countries are stationed in Afghanistan in a non-combatant role.

“The United States will reduce the number of US military forces in Afghanistan to 8,600 and implement other commitments in the US-Taliban agreement within 135 days of the announcement of this joint declaration and the US-Taliban agreement,” the joint statement said.

Abut the following day Afghan Government Objects to Elements of US-Taliban Peace

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, speaking at a news conference less than 24 hours after the agreement was signed, questioned several elements of the deal, including the timeline for a controversial prisoner exchange and the conditions surrounding the start of talks between the Taliban and his government.

Yesterday Afghans Wonder: Is the Peace Deal Just for Americans?

The Taliban, for their part, are now saying more clearly than ever that the peace deal signed Feb. 29 in Doha, Qatar, after 18 months of negotiations applies only to a truce with U.S. forces, not to the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces. “We signed an agreement with the Americans. But our jihad is not over,” Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid told Foreign Policy this week. “The stooges who supported the invaders during the last two decades are our enemies. This might change after additional talks but at the moment, we are still at war.”

So it looks like it isn’t a peace deal, but rather a way of getting the US out of Afghanistan.

Today U.S. has persuasive intel Taliban do not intend to abide by terms of peace deal, officials say

The U.S. government has collected persuasive intelligence that the Taliban do not intend to honor the promises they have made in the recently signed deal with the United States, three American officials tell NBC News, undercutting what has been days of hopeful talk by President Donald Trump and his top aides.

“They have no intention of abiding by their agreement,” said one official briefed on the intelligence, which two others described as explicit evidence shedding light on the Taliban’s intentions.

Trump himself acknowledged that reality in extraordinary comments Friday, saying the Taliban could “possibly” overrun the Afghan government after U.S. troops withdraw.

“Countries have to take care of themselves,” Trump told reporters at the White House. “You can only hold someone’s hand for so long.” Asked if the Taliban could eventually seize power, Trump said it’s “not supposed to happen that way, but it possibly will.”

After the publication of this article, Taliban spokesman Suhail Shaheen tweeted, “We categorically reject allegations by U.S. intel officials to NBC News that the (Taliban) has no intention of abiding by the agreement. The…implementation process is going good so far and such comments by U.S. officials cannot be justified.

It was never going to be easy to end fighting in Afghanistan.

This cartoon is from twenty years ago when the US military went in to Afghanistan.