1) Four Lessons From A Century of Pandemics
WCAI Public Radio, April 2019
“Scientists can fall into the trap of thinking that once we have a certain amount of knowledge, we really understand how things work, we don’t need to question it anymore. But the lesson of these epidemics is that, as much as we’ve learned and as much as we know, there were always these unknowns out there, or these partial understandings, and we only learned what we’re missing when the next epidemic comes along.”
The Spanish flu infected an estimated 500 million people worldwide, and killed tens of millions. A century later, we have vaccines, antibiotics, advanced life support, and high-tech monitoring networks. And, yet, disease outbreaks – from Ebola, to Zika, to measles – continue to surprise even experts.
Medical historian Mark Honigsbaum has chronicled the outbreaks and epidemics of the twentieth century in his new book, The Pandemic Century: One Hundred Years of Panic, Hysteria, and Hubris.
He says there are four lessons we should have learned, but haven’t, necessarily.
Biomedical advances are only part of the story: “I don’t think we should necessarily be reassured by the fact that we have medical technologies that weren’t available in 1918 because everything that scientists have discovered about the Spanish Flu tell them this was an unusually virulent virus and we might find that it’s just as hard to contain it now as it was then.”
Think big picture: “If you narrowly focus on the pathogen or the epidemiology of the disease and don’t take sufficient time to understand the wider ecology – the interactions between people, microbes, and other animals in which those microbes might be harbored – you really miss a chance to understand the complexities of these epidemics.”
Question what’s known: “Scientists – not the scientists, anyone – can fall into the trap of thinking that once we have a certain amount of knowledge, we really understand how things work, we don’t need to question it anymore. But the lesson of these epidemics is that, as much as we’ve learned and as much as we know, there were always these unknowns out there, or these partial understandings, and we only learned what we’re missing when the next epidemic comes along.”
Keep it in perspective: “It’s too easy to just blame the media for hyping something that turns out not to be as fearful as people thought. But the reason why the media reports things that way is they pick up those messages from health professionals, from scientists, themselves. And often [that’s] because there are these gaps in our knowledge and there is often a level of uncertainty. It always comes back to this idea of how much we know and how much more there is to know.”
Listen to the interview here
2) Technology, Ingenuity And Cooperation Will Defeat The Pandemic
Chelsea Follett, Human Progress, 13 March 2020
The threat from COVID-19 should be taken seriously, but there are reasons for rational optimism even during a pandemic.
The pandemic caused by the new coronavirus (COVID-19) from Wuhan, China, is now a serious and global problem. And that problem has been made even worse by a culture of constant alarmism making it hard to distinguish real threats from exaggerated claims, as the well‐known science writer Matt Ridley has pointed out. But even when faced with the genuine threat of a pandemic, there are reasons to take heart and think that humanity will rise to the challenges ahead.
First, humanity has never been better prepared technologically to deal with a pandemic. We are fortunate to live in an age of drive‐through diagnostic test stations, advanced computer modeling that can help predict where and how fast the virus will spread, real‐time interactive online outbreak‐tracking maps, and medical supplies delivered by self‐driving cars. An AI epidemiologist sent the first warnings about the novel coronavirus. Information about the virus is able to travel faster than the virus itself, arming individuals with knowledgeabout how to slow the disease’s spread.
There is currently no vaccine and no cure for the disease. However, medical research is faster and of higher quality than at any other time in history. The amount of time that it takes to successfully create a vaccine for a disease has come down thanks to scientific advances, better communications technology, and more extensive cooperation among scientists across the globe.
Research for a vaccine to help stem the COVID-19 outbreak got underway within just hours of the virus being identified. Animal testing of the vaccine has shown promise. Human trials are now just weeks away, with a vaccine expected to be ready for public use within the next 12 to 18 months. That means that a vaccine could become available within two years of the virus’s emergence. For comparison, it took 48 years to create a successful vaccine for the polio virus.
In addition to progress toward a vaccine, several promising treatments for those who have been infected are currently being tested. Potential treatments under evaluation range from repurposed HIV‐fighting drugs, such as lopinavir and ritonavir, as well as chloroquine phosphate, which is normally used to treat malaria and certain liver infections.
Second, human beings have an incredible capacity for voluntary cooperation, particularly in times of adversity. In South Korea, the damage of the outbreak has so far been successfully minimized by widespread and mostly voluntary cooperation. The vast majority of the country’s mostly healthy people have opted to remain at home (i.e., to self‐quarantine). Moreover, the Koreans are avoiding travel and large gatherings. While those who have tested positive for COVID-19 are under mandatory quarantine, the vast majority of “social distancing” measures in the country are voluntary.
Similarly, in the United States, where the outbreak is still in an early phase, private actors are swiftly choosing to take thorough action to slow the virus’s spread. Many U.S. companies and organizations are helping to safeguard the health of their employees by intensifying office‐wide cleaning procedures, setting up hand sanitizer dispensers throughout their workspaces, and promoting social distancing by conducting meetings over the phone, canceling events and offering employees the option of working remotely when possible.
While some localities have banned large gatherings, purely voluntary social distancing measures are now widespread throughout the country. And technology is allowing society to keep running. To name just a few examples: digital technology is enabling numerous universities to switch to online classes during the pandemic, letting churches empty their pews and broadcast sermons online, giving individuals the option of video‐chatting instead of hosting family gatherings, and allowing think tanks to host online‐only events.
Speaking of the think tanks, please consider registering for HumanProgress.org’s upcoming online event to launch the 3rd annual Simon Abundance Index on April 22nd, the 50th anniversary of Earth Day.
Human beings, when left to their own devices, are not only cooperative but generous. Numerous individuals are now offering to deliver groceries for elderly or immunocompromised neighbors who are at greater risk of severe complications from the virus. Private charity is stepping up to offer COVID-19 testing kits. That’s all the more important considering that the U.S. Center for Disease Control (CDC) has come up short by refusing to test many potential cases and only recently lifting a ban on allowing private labs to test for the virus despite the severe shortage in the government’s own testing capacity.
3) Too Good To Be True? Australian Researchers Claim They Have Found Cure For Covid-19
News.com.au, 16 March 2020
A team of Australian researchers say they’ve found a cure for the novel coronavirus and hope to have patients enrolled in a nationwide trial by the end of the month.
University of Queensland Centre for Clinical Research director Professor David Paterson told news.com.au today they have seen two drugs used to treat other conditions wipe out the virus in test tubes.
He said one of the medications, given to some of the first people to test positive for COVID-19 in Australia, had already resulted in “disappearance of the virus” and complete recovery from the infection.
Prof Paterson, who is also an infectious disease physician at the Royal Brisbane and Women’s Hospital, said it wasn’t a stretch to label the drugs “a treatment or a cure”.
“It’s a potentially effective treatment,” he said.
“Patients would end up with no viable coronavirus in their system at all after the end of therapy.”
The drugs are both already registered and available in Australia.
“What we want to do at the moment is a large clinical trial across Australia, looking at 50 hospitals, and what we’re going to compare is one drug, versus another drug, versus the combination of the two drugs,” Prof Paterson said.
Given their history, researchers have a “long experience of them being very well tolerated” and there are no unexpected side effects.
“We’re not on a flat foot, we can sort of move ahead very rapidly with enrolling Australians in this trial,” Prof Paterson said.
“It’s the question we all have – we know it’s coming now, what is the best way to treat it?”
Prof Paterson said positive experiences in the fight against coronavirus have already been recorded overseas, citing China and Singapore. His research team are confident they can start getting the drugs to patients in a very safe way on home soil.
“We want to give Australians the absolute best treatment rather than just someone’s guesses or someone’s anecdotal experiences from a few people,” Prof Paterson told news.com.au.
He said they hope to be enrolling patients by the end of March.
4) Climate Communists XR Hijack Covid-19
Gaia Fawkes, 16 March 2020
This morning photographers arrived at No. 10 to capture footage of a new group, ‘Pause the System‘, turning up in hazmat outfits to demand the Government do more to fight Coronavirus.
The group’s demands include ‘pausing the system’ to respond to the ‘health emergency’, as well as demanding the Government “provide universal basic income and full statutory sick pay for all people, pause all mortgages and rents”. Isn’t it a coincidence that every time there’s a ‘crisis’ the only solution is Marxism?
The group’s third demand – “prevent future pandemics” gives the game away:
“Both the climate emergency and the factory farming and trade of animals bring strong threats of future pandemics. The government must act to reduce emissions to net zero, halt biodiversity loss, as well as ban factory farming and the trade of animals.”
There is little information about who is behind the shady group given, however the two press officer names – Steph Zupan and Dan Kidby – are, not to Guido’s surprise, Extinction Rebellion organisers and spokespeople.
Steph organised Animal Rebellion’s ‘Veggie Swarm Action’ last October, calling on the need “to engage in strategic direct action”. She also wrote that “scientists have warned us for decades now about our fate if we don’t make serious changes”. She doesn’t seem so keen on scientific advice these days…
Dan Kidby is also a spokesman for Animal Rebellion, who wrote “Animal Rebellion is a movement of people from all walks of life who have come together because the evidence is clear: a transition to a plant-based food system is critical to avert climate breakdown and mass extinction” helping to organise last year’s shut down of Smithfield Market. The climate communists will hijack any cause to push their absurd agenda…
5) New Carbon Tax Will Cost Local Councils And House Buyers £1.6 Billion
Global Warming Policy Forum, 16 March 2020
London, 16 March: Local councils and house buyers have been warned that they are the first to feel the £1.6 billion cost of the Chancellor’s new carbon tax which was buried in the small print of his Budget.
According to a cost analysis by the Global Warming Policy Forum (GWPF), the Budget shows clear signs that the UK government is now moving towards general carbon taxation.
As a taste of things to come, government is increasing fuel tax on diesel to the parts of the construction industry, amongst others, by 400%, from the currently discounted level of 11.14 pence per litre to the standard 57.95 pence per litre, resulting in an increase in annual fuel costs to the UK of about £1.6 billion per year.
Much of this burden will fall on the construction industry, and particularly on Local Authorities through the costs of road maintenance contractors, and also the cost of running gritters and snow clearers, formerly exempted but now required to pay full fuel duty.
Housebuyers will also be affected. The construction industry is reported as estimating that the new carbon tax will increase the cost of house building by £5000 per house.
Further impacts on the costs of national infrastructure projects, such as HS2, are inevitable.
Dr Benny Peiser, director of the GWPF said:
“Increasing tax on diesel fuel used by the construction sector, and others, has far-reaching consequences for Local Authorities, the cost of national infrastructure projects such as HS2 and for house buyers. But that’s carbon taxation for you.”
“Carbon taxes reveal the true and rising cost of climate policies, making everything more expensive and will become politically toxic.”
6) The UK’s March 2020 Budget: Red Diesel and the Dawn of Carbon Taxation
Dr John Constable, GWPF Energy Editor, 16 March 2020
The Chancellor’s Budget shows clear signs that the UK government is now moving towards general carbon taxation.
As a taste of things to come, government is increase fuel tax on diesel for parts of the construction industry, amongst others, by 400%, from the currently discounted level of 11.14 pence per litre to the standard 57.95 pence per litre, resulting in an increase in annual fuel costs to the UK of about £1.6 billion per year. Much of this burden will fall on local authorities and taxpayers through the costs of road maintenance Framework contractors with the construction industry. It is inevitable that there will be further impacts on the costs of national infrastructure projects such as HS2.
It is almost impossible for a modern Chancellor to approach the despatch box with a Budget that is anything other than ostensibly committed to the mitigation of climate change, and in spite of the extraordinary measures announced to buffer the economy against the effects of Covid-19, Rishi Sunak’s debut is no exception, the first page of his Budget telling us that
“In the year that the UK hosts the COP26 UN climate summit, the Budget takes steps to decarbonise the economy and protect the UK’s natural habitats, ensuring that every part of the UK economy is ready for the challenges of decarbonisation, and ready to capitalise on the opportunities to become leaders in the green markets of the future.” (Budget, p. 1)
So far so anodyne. But that doesn’t mean that the document is empty, and that the reader can safely ignore it. Green lobbyists may be just a little disappointed, but overall they will be satisfied that the ratchet has been turned a few clicks further on, in spite of the almost overwhelming distractions of a genuine crisis in public health.
Not only are the gestures green, but the few bigger ticket items in climate policy that are actually costed are indicative of the direction of travel, which is towards general carbon taxation. This has long been the preferred instrument of the Treasury, and they are now reaffirming extant promises and beginning to provide details. The Budget informs us that:
“The UK will continue to apply an ambitious carbon price from 1 January 2021 to support progress towards reaching net zero. The government will legislate at Finance Bill 2020 to prepare for a UK Emissions Trading System (ETS), which could be linked to the EU ETS. The government will also legislate for a carbon emissions tax as an alternative carbon pricing policy and consult on the design of a tax in spring 2020.” (para 2.219)
The possibility of synchronisation with the EU ETS will presumably be used as a bargaining chip in negotiations, but since this would put the UK behind the EU’s emerging carbon tariff barrier, a Customs Union in all but name, it seems unlikely that the UK will agree to it. The Chancellor’s decision to freeze Carbon Price Support at £18/tCO2e (para 2.218) is not only an entirely understandable relief for businesses when facing severe economic difficulties as the result of Covid-19, but a fairly clear hint that the UK is willing to dispense with emissions trading, whether synchronised with the EU or not, on the 1st of January 2021.
7) And Finally: What Pepys’s Plague Diaries Can Teach Us About Coronavirus
Gavin Mortimer, The Spectator, 16 March 2020
I’ve been writing a diary for 26 years and 2020 is shaping up to be a vintage one. I thought 2019 would be hard to beat, what with Brexit, Greta and Labour’s implosion, but this year I’ve been feeling like Samuel Pepys as the 21st century answer to the bubonic plague sweeps the world.
The virus first came to my attention on January 24, when I mentioned in passing ‘the spread in China of something called “coronavirus”.’ But it wasn’t until February 9 that I informed my diary that the arrival in Britain of Storm Clara has ‘given the media something else to panic about other than coronavirus. Seven people now infected in the UK and 800 deaths in China.’
At 32, Pepys was younger than me when the plague ravaged London in 1665, which may have been a factor in saving him from becoming one of the estimated 100,000 fatalities (around 20 per cent of London’s population) of the disease, which was transmitted by fleas that lived on rats. Once infected, the chances of surviving the plague were terrifyingly slim; most people, as Daniel Defoe recorded ‘were immediately overwhelmed with it, and it came to violent fevers, vomitings, insufferable headaches, pains in the back, and so up to ravings and ragings with those pains.’
Of more significance, however, was that Pepys was not poor and didn’t live in the squalor that passed for housing where the plague flourished. In terms of lethality coronavirus bears no comparison with the more deadly bubonic plague, but re-reading Pepys’ diary it is fascinating to see the parallels between 1665 and 2020. The first handful of recorded Plague deaths in London were in March but of more interest to Pepys that spring was England’s fight with her European neighbours (specifically, in this instance, the Dutch) for control of the seas and trade routes. Pepys mentioned the plague in a line at the end of April and then on May 24 wrote: ‘To the coffee-house, where all the news is of the Dutch being gone out, and the plague growing upon us in this town; and some of the remedies against it: some saying one thing and some another.’
Despite the continued presence of the plague, Pepys remained unconcerned, dining out most evenings and, as he noted on 1 June, trying on his new camelott (camel or goat hair) suit, ‘the best that ever I wore in my life’.
Six days later Pepys saw for himself for the first time the effects of the plague while strolling through Drury Lane, writing in his diary that evening ‘two or three houses marked with a red cross upon the doors, and “Lord have mercy upon us!” writ there; which was a sad sight to me’.
The melancholy was gone within a day as news reached London of victory over the Dutch in an engagement off Lowestoft. Pepys’ heart ‘was full of joy’ at the news.
Pepys continued his ‘business as normal’ approach, even in August, when the Bills of Mortality were recording more than 6,000 burials each week (a figure that rose to 8,000 the following month). In fact Pepys worked so hard, he complained to his diary on 9 August, that he went to bed early because he was ‘disturbed with over-much business today’.
While Pepys chronicled the contagion, many of his peers sought the safety of the countryside. ‘Those who could, including most doctors, lawyers and merchants, fled the city,’ records the National Archives. ‘Charles II and his courtiers left in July for Hampton Court and then Oxford. Parliament was postponed and had to sit in October.’
Theatres and courts were closed, all sport shut down and trade with other cities at home and abroad was suspended. The Council of Scotland closed its border with England and, according to the Museum of London, ‘people’s lives and businesses suffered terribly because so many were shut in their homes [and] many were forced to beg or steal food and money because the plague had such a bad effect on trade.’
‘Lord!’ wrote Pepys on August 16. ‘How sad a sight it is to see the streets so empty of people.’
But again the dejection was brief. The next day Pepys went boating on the Thames with four friends, dropping anchor near Gravesend, ‘to supper mighty merry’.
The ability to carry on regardless was a defining characteristic of Pepys, according to his biographer, Claire Tomalin. Physical pain of some sort or another had been his constant companion since childhood, imbuing in him a stoicism and a determination to make the most of life. ‘You see it again, later, in his elated response to the plague year, when,’ wrote Tomalin, ‘with death all around, he grabbed at whatever there was to enjoy’.
Pepys wasn’t blasé about the plague. He was afraid to wear a new wig in case it became infected but he understood that life had to go on. I am not for a moment being flippant or diminishing what is a global tragedy but it will be far better for our morale to read Pepys than it will today’s newspapers, which seem hell-bent on panicking people with their alarmist and speculative headlines.