🦠 COVID-19 | Science/Cooperation vs Humbug/Nationalism

I am a scientist by education, banker at JPMorgan for a few years, then mature PhD student in Chemical Biology at Oxford under the supervision of Christofer Schofield (FRS) and Peter Ratcliffe (Nobel laureate in medicine in 2019). Founder and tech investor focusing on media and education. I care about science, learning and Democracy which are good bedfellows.

📊 Daily Data Brief: 

2,818,176 (+105,550cumulative cases 

Active cases: 1,841,835 (+63,898 (this is the number of currently infected patients)

Total Deaths:  196,575 (+6,369)

Serious/Critical Cases: 58,675 (+328)

Recovered:   779,766 (+35,283)

Source: Worldometers

Death curves (updated daily as ECDC releases). Major update with per country graphs now available (Link)


Within countries but also on the international scene, we are witnessing the cooperation/multilateral stance being confronted with the centralised/nationalism one. And both domestically and internationally, we are seeing the former attempting to rely on humanity and science, whereas the latter tends to rely on selfishness and humbug. It is unclear which of the two will prevail, but it is almost certain that however hard one side tries, you will not bleach the other side away.

The Corona Daily shares an insider view of Wuhan in the Financial Times during the crisis and the potential ramifications for the regime going forward. This is also discussed in a very good roundtable of the Center for Strategic and International Studies. Two very good articles on nationalistic versus coordinated/multilateral responses in Project Syndicate and Vox EU. Another article on contact-tracing app looking at the relationship between citizens and their respective governments and health authorities. The author asks whether tracing apps could help us regain our lock-downed freedom of movement against surveillance. A rather grim choice.

A cautionary tale for young and middle-aged people who seem to develop strokes post COVID19 infection. If needed, it should be a further call for inter-generational solidarity as no age group escapes the scourge of COVID19. It is also, if needed, a reminder that we continue to have important knowledge gaps on this disease.

The controversial inclusion of a Downing advisor changes the narrative of “led by science” which the UK government has been promoting publicly. It also raises again the question on how to better interface science (advice) and politics (accountability). Social unrest points its nose in France and makes us also question how much we have undervalued critical resources over the years in our obsessive efficiency drive.

A great video on RT-PCR and antibody testing if you want to learn about testing and testing.


🇨🇳Article of the day: Don Weiland writes “Inside Wuhan: China’s struggle to control the virus and the narrative” for the Financial Times. (Link)

I have not counted the number of people which Weiland writes about in this piece and who have disappeared after being critical of Xi Jinping and the regime.

A lot of people opposed to the regime will share the views of Zhou Xun (a reader in modern history at the University of Essex and a specialist on health intervention and delivery under the party):

“As Zhou points out, a key element of the party’s legitimacy is derived from its ability to provide health services to its people — an idea that was undermined by photographs showing long lines of sick patients desperate for assistance.”

A big part of the article is the recounted narrative of Hao, a resident of Wuhan. Towards the end of the article, Weiland writes:

But for people such as Hao, the outbreak has been less of a linear tale of adversity and triumph. Instead it is a reminder of the constant struggle to live outside the Communist party’s sanitised narrative.  “Some of us will disappear. This is nothing new,” he says from his seat in the park, his mask pulled down to his chin, exposing a cheerful grin. “But we will keep trying to show you what is real.”

Scott Kennedy in the article from the CSIS below disagrees with Xi Jinping being at risk. Future will tell.


Video of the day: “The science behind how Coronavirus tests work” in Scientific American. Fantastic explainer on diagnostic and serology test. (9 min 3 sec) (Link)


🦠 Ariana Eunjung Cha writes “Young and middle-aged people, barely sick with covid-19, are dying from strokes” for the Wahington Post. This is a grim and cautionary article on the risks for young and middle-aged people that were believed to be somewhat less severely affected by COVID19. Time to re-think and acknowledge that we still know little about COVID19. One also wonders whether these stroke fatalities (or others which have not been tested for COVID19) explain the unexplained death counts around the world previously reported on two occasions by the Corona Daily. (Link)

🌍 Robert Malley (former White House Coordinator for the Middle East, North Africa, and the Gulf Region under President Barack Obama) writes “The international order after COVID-19” for Project Syndicate. Malley looks what should be expected:

“At first blush, COVID-19 seems likely to corroborate the argument for a more coordinated international approach. Given that the coronavirus does not stop at national borders, it stands to reason that the response should not be constrained by them either.”

However, having been immersed in government and the White House, Malley is not naive:

“Yet the pandemic also strengthens the pull of the rival view. Crises tend to intensify and accelerate preexisting trends – and severe crises all the more so. The COVID-19 pandemic has coincided with a period of mounting populist and nativist resistance to globalism and the post-war international order, fueled by inequities both within and between countries.”

According to him, early indications are not good. An important one to follow particularly in an election year in the US. (Link)

🏛 Thorsten Beck and Wolf Wagner write“National policies in a global pandemic” for Vox EU. The paper makes the observation that initial policies have been largely made at the national level (with little international cooperation) and correlated well in their stringency and timeliness on countries’ economic structure (merchandise export and tourism reliance).

This might also explain why as noted in the Malley Op-Ed above the response and narrative have initially and predominantly been nationalistic. The paper notes that both the EU and five US states (Connecticut, Massachusetts, New York, New Jersey, Rhode Island, Delaware and Pennsylvania) have recently shown willingness and rationality in the cooperation stance which the authors rightly favour and advocate going forward. (Link)

🌍 “CSIS Press Call: Global Disruptions from Covid-19” is the transcript of an expert roundtable discussion organised by the Center for Strategic and International Studies looking at public health, economic and governance implications of the pandemic. This is a very rich session.

Steve Morrison (Director of the Global Health Policy Center at CSIS) talks about Trump decision to withhold funding for the WHO, its immediate consequences and maps a potential way forward. It asks the question about whether we can decouple the China obfuscation question from the overall relationship with the WHO including giving it more authority on countries around the world.

John Alterman (Director of the Middle East Program  at CSIS) talks about the situation in the Middle East where the plunge in oil prices appears for now to potentially have more ramifications than COVID19 as the disease appears not to have hit other countries in the region as badly as Iran and as was initially feared.

Scott Kennedy (trustee chair in China Business and Economic at CSIS) believes that the dismal economic numbers in China will not have the effect that some hope:

“This is not going to disrupt Xi Jinping’s hold on power, not going to disrupt China’s ongoing effort to expand the role of the Communist Party and its control over different parts of the economy.  So what we’re going to see instead of market liberalization in China is tripling down on state intervention, greater spending in infrastructure, greater efforts to dominate in high tech, and greater efforts to expand Chinese economic and political influence abroad.”

A really good read. (Link)

🚔 Francois Godement writes “Digital Tracing or Repetitive Lockdown: French Citizens, You'll Have to Choose” for Institut Montaigne. This is a thoughtful piece. It sketches out some of the safeguards which will need to be put in place if tracing apps are implemented. It also gives a comparison of some of the early tracing apps launched by Singapore, Taiwan, Japan, Korea and Hong Kong.

Godement frames the problem as a choice between tracing and ending the lock-down:

“a rapid identification of emerging or re-emerging chains of contamination is imperative. The problem of ending  the quarantine and resuming normal life is therefore inseparable from the issue of digital tracing.”

He also nails shortly after why the public and privacy activists are rightly scrutinising governments on the issue:

“It is regrettable, for example, that the 2015 French Law on Intelligence, adopted under pressure just after the terrorist attacks, left judicial supervision of these mechanisms aside.”

The issue is that the ‘debate’ on tracing apps is happening (or actually not happening) when citizens already feel their data rights have been baffled by both big tech and government over the years, and that like the 2015 French Law on Intelligence or the measures after 9/11 it is being considered and potentially adopted in another cycle of emergency politics.

It is imperative that governments and Big Tech do more to regain the trust of the public before launch. The worst would be to end up given up rights, without having the benefits of such apps because of low adoption. It is time to have a proper democratic debate to start with. (Link)

🇬🇧 The Guardian published “Revealed: Cummings is on secret scientific advisory group for Covid-19”. Every time one sees “revealed”, “exclusive” in an article, one should ask oneself two questions: who revealed it and what was their motives. Except for inadvertent tech leak, there is always intent somewhere, even when an investigative journalist finds the willing source of a leak.

When looking at Wikipedia, this is what it says about Cummings’ education:

“After attending state primary school, he was educated at Durham School and Exeter College, Oxford, where he studied under Norman Stone, graduating in 1994 with a First in Ancient and Modern History.”

I have never seen anybody claim in writing or verbally that “Ancient and Modern History” is a science.

Even if later on in the Wikipedia page it says that Cummings is an admirer of physicist Richard Feynman, it would be a stretch to consider this enough evidence that he has proper expertise to sit on the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE). If you go to SAGE website this is what it says on ‘Role’ and ‘Membership’:

Role
SAGE is responsible for ensuring that timely and coordinated scientific advice is made available to decision makers to support UK cross-government decisions in the Cabinet Office Briefing Room (COBR). The advice provided by SAGE does not represent official government policy.

Membership
The membership of SAGE depends on the nature of the emergency but it typically includes leading experts from within government and leading specialists from the fields of academia and industry.

The group typically is chaired by the Government Chief Scientific Adviser or a departmental Chief Scientific Adviser.”

It leaves us with the more interesting questions of who and why someone leaked it. A number of scientists were unhappy about the “following the science” or “led by science” claim from the government in an attempt to deflect accountability on its COVID-19 policy decision.

Someone must have wanted to leak that ‘Science’ in the UK meant including Cummings… (Link)

🇫🇷 David Keohane writes “Clashes break out in locked-down Paris suburbs as tensions rise” for the Financial Times. France is holding up high its “Bastille Day” spirit whenever it can and Anglo-Saxon media are always quick to report on it. I always wonder whether it is an unconscious admiration for a sense of protest they have lost in their own culture and politics, or whether it is more primitive French bashing. On this occasion the article was published on Friday for riots happening last Monday.

Social unrest is potentially just around the corner and this is a good early indicator with France playing its traditional leadership role on the matter. The more interesting passage from Keohane however is the following:

Fabien Truong, a sociologist at the University of Paris 8 in Saint-Denis, said that the lockdown had shown “that the banlieue aren’t sealed off ghettos, it’s where cashiers, bus drivers, cleaners live and if you take a train in Paris you are taking a train with them. That is going to have to be remembered.”

It is time to think about the consideration our societies have for people who have become so critical in this emergency. If the health workers are unambiguously and rightly the sung (or clapped) heroes of this pandemic, the gig workers are the unsung heroes. Our efficiency-obsessed societies have neglected both. (Link)


📊 A picture is worth a thousand words:  Global (🌎) and local (with relevant flag) visualisation and forecasting tool

  1. 🌎 The Financial Times (NEW❗️visualisation) has a data tracking page which is in front of the paywall, looking at cases and fatality curves for selective countries and metropolitan areas/region. It is not as extensive as the Madlag link below, where you can see static as well as animated images for a greater number of individual countries. (Link)

  2. 🇺🇸  The John Hopkins University resource center was the first one I used back in January they have now made available in their latest iteration a county by county dashboard in the US including information about health capacity, insurance coverage, ethnicity and age breakdown of the population (New York example below) (Link)

  1. 💊 The "Map of Hope" provides a geographical overview of planned, ongoing and completed clinical trials. It is put together with data from WHO Clinical Trials Search Portal by the Heidelberg Institute for Geoinformation technology. (Link)

  2. 🌍 MRC Centre for Global Infectious Disease Analysis started to publish weekly death estimates for countries (Link)

  3. 🇺🇸 The US Center for Disease Control and Surveillance (CDC) publishes “A Weekly Surveillance Summary of U.S. COVID-19 Activity” (Link)

  4. Google has published a new website to “See how your community is moving around differently due to COVID-19”. They have a lot of data to do so… (Link)

  5. 🇺🇸Another valuable resource by Unacast ( a data company providing human mobility insights). Their “Social distancing scoreboard looks and compares (State by State and County by County), the change in mobility to prior to COVID19 (Link)

  6. 🌎 Country by Country Curves: This is a GitHub made by my friend Francois Lagunas. He has written a script to scrape deaths and number of cases in order to visualise the rate of growth on a logarithmic scale.  Great resource (Link)

  7. CityMapper has started to produce City Mobility Index to show how much a City is moving. This is a very good indicator of how well lockdowns are respected around the world: Barcelona (4% of city moving) at one end and St Petersburg at the other end (68% of city moving) for yesterday (Link)

  8. 🌎A great resource put together by Ben Kuhn and Yuri Vishnevsky.  At a time when we need solidarity and cooperation, I prefer their subtitle “We need stronger measures, much faster” than their title. It’s a simulator on what case growth looks like depending on your community’s measures. Fantastic resource to stir communities and governments to action (Link)

  9. 🇩🇪 The COVID19 dashboard for Germany is one of the best around. (Link)

  10. 🌎A helpful guide by VOX of the “9 coronavirus pandemic charts everyone should see” (Link)

  11. 🌎Data and chart regularly updated by the  Centre for the Mathematical Modelling of Infectious Diseases at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine. It maps the effective reproduction number (also known as R0) of COVID19. You want to get it below 1 as fast as possible to contain an epidemic. (Link to see charts and more data about your country)

  12. 🌎This is a great COVID19 Dashboard prepared by Andrzej Leszkiewicz. Andrzej has also written an introductory and explanatory blog for it (“Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) fatality rate: WHO and media vs logic and mathematics”). I particularly like the country comparison tab, which allows you to track and benchmark the curve of the epidemic (number of cases and deaths) in your country with that of another. Very well done and informative. (Link)

  13. Going Critical” by Kevin Simler is a detailed interacting essay talking about complex systems, the importance of understanding networks, modelling and how this applies to: memes, infectious diseases, herd immunity, wildfire, neutrons and culture. Must read (Link


🏛  Notable tracking projects 

  1. 💊 “COVID-19 treatment and vaccine tracker”.  This tracker contains an aggregation of publicly-available information from validated sourcesby the Milken Institute (Link)

  2. 🏛Tariq Krim has started a COVID19 website tracking data about each government policy response to the pandemic (Link)

  3. 🏛Oxford COVID-19 Government Response Tracker (OxCGRT) was launched yesterday. Data is collected from public sources by a team of dozens of Oxford University students and staff from every part of the world. It also looks at stringency of the measures and plots stringency with case curves. A great initiative and resource (Link)

  4. 👩‍💻Mike Butcher (Editor at Large Techcrunch and founder of TechforUK), had refocused TechforUK on the fight against COVID19. It is a very effective hands-on team of volunteer. Do reach out to them. He has also teamed up with We are now working closely with the volunteers behind the “Coronavirus Tech Handbook”. (They are ‘cousins’ of ours who originally created the Electiontechhandbook). Volunteer collaboration at its best! (Link)


📰 Cronycle resource:

Cronycle has made available a number of open-access feeds on its website which I extensively use for the Corona Daily. The four first feeds are:

1.  COVID-19 General (Link

2.  COVID-19 x Resilience (Link)  

3.  COVID-19 x HCQ/CQ (Link)  (HydroxyChloroquine and Chloroquine)

4. Gig Economy x COVID-19 (Link) 5. Supply Chain x COVID-19 (Link)

5. Supply Chain x COVID-19 (Link)

  1. Human Rights x COVID-19 (Link)