The coronavirus pandemic keeps getting worse with bad news far outweighing good news. It appears that we have now entered the “bubble phase” that experts have been predicting. Hopefully, it won’t last too long. Conditions in China and South Korea seem to be improving.
The following is a summary of current developments as reported by various news agencies, including, among others, the NY Times, The LA times, USA Today and CNN.
1. In my last blog I mentioned the possibility of a worldwide depression if the economic situation continued along its present path. According to a news article published today by CNN unfortunately, as illustrated by the below developments, that possibility is becoming increasingly more real every day.
2. The number of cases and fatalities differ depending on the source, but according to Johns Hopkins University as of today total worldwide cases exceed 278,000 and fatalities exceed 11,500. By the time you read this the numbers could easily be 300,000 and 12,000, respectively.
3. Most people agree the US economy needs a boost to support workers and businesses that have been adversely impacted by the coronavirus outbreak. The House has passed such a measure, but the Senate is still negotiating its package. The amount and specifics of it seem to change every day. The latest estimate, according to the Administration’s top economic advisor, Larry Kudlow, will likely amount to around $2 billion, or roughly 10% of GDP. Why is the Senate taking so long to hammer out a document that everyone agrees is needed asap? Why is that austere body seemingly incapable of acting exigently and decisively? Good question. That’s just the way it operates. Too many rules and procedures, I suppose, which is small comfort to those in need.
4. NYC appears to have become the epicenter of the crisis in the US, with an estimated 5,700 cases and 43 deaths. Currently, it has one-third of all US cases. I’m not sure how it earned that dubious honor, but its situation is definitely critical.
5. Today, NYS Governor Cuomo disclosed the state has at least 10,300 confirmed cases. Cuomo told reporters that part of that high amount is due to increased testing Cuomo said over 45,000 individuals have been tested, and “the more test(s) you take, the more positives you find.”
6. The city and the state are in urgent need of everything from hospital beds to medical supplies, such as masks, gloves, ventilators and respirators. As a stop-gap NYS has agreed to send 1 million masks to NYC. As an example of the severity of the shortage one Brooklyn hospital has begun reusing masks. They say they are cleaning them as best they can, but still … Ugh!
7. In order to alleviate the severe shortage of hospital space Cuomo announced he is considering converting areas such as the Javits Center, the Westchester County Center and SUNY Stony Brook to treatment centers.
President Trump has declared NY a disaster area. Senator Chuck Schumer has declared ” we’re at a vital point in the battle against the disease, and we need to do everything in our power to stop it, right here, right now.”
8. NY is not alone. Various other states have instituted similarly severe measures and issued similarly ominous predictions. Almost all states have closed their schools, bars, restaurants, and other venues where people congregate. Gatherings have been restricted considerably. Governors have declared that non-essential workers should stay home. “Social distancing” has become the new “buzzword.”
9. Some states, like Minnesota, have declared workers, such as grocery store clerks, cleaning staff, and food preparation personnel, as “emergency” workers, which allows them to continue going to work and entitles them to free child care and certain other benefits.
10. The US, Canada and Mexico, acting in concert, have closed their common borders to “nonessential” travelers.
11. The financial market indexes have been dropping precipitously This past week was the worst since the financial crisis of 2008. Furthermore, there has been no indication that a bottom has been reached. In a related matter, four members of Congress who had advance information of the coronavirus have been accused of selling substantial blocks of stock just prior to the market declines. If true, this would be illegal and an unconscionable violation of public trust. Hopefully, the SEC will conduct a formal investigation and if one or more of them is guilty assess appropriate penalties. At the very least, the optics are very bad.
12. With everything that’s going on, amazingly, the Tokyo Summer Olympic Games have not been cancelled or postponed. The organizers appear to be in denial. There is no way they can go on as scheduled. Olympic officials in many countries have been calling for the IOC to cancel or postpone them. How are all the countries in lockdown supposed to hold Olympic trials to determine their teams? How are the athletes supposed to train, assuming they are even healthy enough to do so? Why would any of them want to travel to Japan at this time anyway?
13. Australia, which has been practicing “social distancing,” was forced to close the famous Bondi Beach on Saturday after huge crowds of people gathered on the beach in defiance of the order.
14. England closed all restaurants, pubs and bars. Rishi Sunak, Finance Minister, characterized the order as an “unprecedented measure for unprecedented times.” The government pledged to soften the impact on workers by paying them up to 80% of their wages. Furthermore, one London hospital declared it was running out of “critical care capacity” and was seeking to transfer some patients to other hospitals, which, of course, would put similar pressures on them.
15. Many stores in the UK are running out of supplies. Several shelves in supermarkets have been empty. The government has issued an appeal to shoppers to refrain from hoarding. George Eustice, Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, declared that “buying more than you need means that others may be left without…There is more than enough to go around.”
16. Egypt has closed all mosques for two weeks.
17. Up to now, South America has largely escaped the pandemic. But, in a sign that that is about to change Colombia, Argentina, Costa Rica and other South American countries have instituted closures, lockdowns and restrictions on travel.
18. Israel had been doing very well with only 883 cases and no fatalities out of a population of nine million. However, Friday it reported its initial death. I believe the circumstances portend an ominous situation. The victim was an 88 year-old living in a nursing home. Apparently, he had been infected by a social worker who had visited the home. Reportedly, several other residents have also been infected, so we can expect more fatalities.
19. New guidelines from the Red Cross suggest that its relief shelters may have been unwittingly spreading the virus among some residents. So, it is now requiring (1) social distancing and (2) everyone to have their temperature taken.
20. There is still the ongoing problem with cruise ships. Many of them are still stuck at sea with sick passengers and nowhere to dock. Those that have found a port, such as the Costa Luminosa and the Ruby Princess, which have docked in Savona, Italy, and Sydney, Australia, respectively, have infected passengers and have endangered the local populace.
21. Tragically, seven members of one family in NJ were stricken with the virus, and four of them have died.
22. There have been reports emanating from China, Italy and South Korea that men are more likely to die from the virus than women by a ratio of 2:1. The LA Times reported that men have accounted for 58% of the cases worldwide and 72% of the fatalities. Why? No one knows for sure, but one theory is that more men smoke than women and, perhaps, the smoking has compromised their lungs. Another theory is that estrogen is somehow acting to mitigate the effects of the virus.
Finally, some good news. We are beginning to see some instances of private industry “stepping up.” For example:
Wall Mart has announced it will pay cash bonuses to its US workers.
Darden Restaurants has declared it will pay two weeks wages to any of its 190,000 employees whose hours have been cut due to the pandemic.
Through all the bad news regarding this virus it is not easy to remain upbeat, but I urge you all to try to do so. This surge in cases and fatalities was predicted. We have beaten other pandemics in the past, and I believe that by pulling together we will beat this one too.
In the meantime, MAINTAIN YOUR “SOCIAL DISTANCE,” and WASH YOUR HANDS THOROUGHLY.