Monday, 15 March 2021

A year went by

It’s been exactly a year ago that I’ve posted about the pandemic for the first time. In retrospect, the numbers that were frightening then look positively optimistic. In many countries, the first peak - the Spring 2020 one - does not even register when looking at a full year history. The third peak has started in full swing in multiple places, and it might be worse than the second one. Poland is well on the way to topping the infection numbers from November 2020, though we’re not hitting comparable daily death counts yet. Potentially the vaccination campaign has at least managed to remove the most vulnerable from the pool.

Poland now has 4.5 million people vaccinated, versus 1.9 million who’ve contracted the disease. Worldwide, it’s 355 million vaccinated versus 120 million recorded cases. Certain threshold has been reached, but it will be the end of 2021 before wealthy countries are done with the vaccination drive, and potentially even 2023 until the whole world has achieved a reasonable level of immunity. Global deaths are estimated at 2.65 million, but likely to be severely underreported.

In terms of global impact, this definitely is a generation-defining event, as was predicted a year ago. In local terms, I see people I know dealing in very different ways. Burn out and anxiety are through the roof, as the unending unpredictability of the circumstances takes a toll. Statistically, I’m aware that birth rates have taken a heavy hit, but among my close family, this seems to have been the year to have offspring in multitudes.

Personally, I’ve tried to leave most social media and newspapers behind, as news was causing me a significant amount of stress I could not resolve in any way. Winter darkness has also taken its usual toll. We have hardly met with any friends or family the past year. At times I question the sanity of my own choice, when I hear about elder relatives entertaining 10+ guests, indoors. Only weeks away from being vaccinated, this feels like a particularly unreasonable behaviour. Though we have discussed this so many times that I have no hope left of getting through to them.

Wednesday, 25 November 2020

Death

Globally, at least 59 million have been infected. At least 1.4 million have died. In Europe, almost 17 million infected, 383 thousand dead. In Poland, 876 thousand infected, 13 thousand dead. I find it difficult to believe the Polish figures, though, as positive test ratio in Poland has been well above 30% for the last two months. Some days, over 60%. Some districts, over 100% for up to a week. WHO recommends aiming for positive test ratio under 3% to maintain an overview of the situation. Any time discrepancy is found in Polish official data, it is resolved by no longer reporting unconsolidated data points. In September and October, only patients exhibiting 4 symptoms of COVID-19 simultaneously (high fever, difficulty breathing, cough, loss of taste and smell) were being tested. Asymptomatic patients, or patients with mild symptoms, are not being tested at all. Wait time for test results stands currently at 3.5 days on average. As a matter of policy, patients not diagnosed before death are not being tested. Tests made commercially are not included in public statistics. Officially, Poland is through the peak of the second wave, but this does feel like artificially generated optimism, created by severely limiting the number of tests being conducted. Excess mortality metric keeps rising fast, currently highest in Europe, at 86%.

COVID-19 mortality, across the whole world population: 0.02%. Mortality across the population of Europe: 0.05%. Mortality of confirmed COVID-19 cases aged under 40: under 0.5%. Mortality of confirmed cases, across various pre-existing health conditions: under 10%. The probability wave collapses when observing a singular point.

You develop fever, 39 °C, and shortness of breath. A day later, your partner loses the sense of smell (WHO reports: loss of smell is correlated with a milder form of the disease). Your partner tries to get a phone consultation with your registered family doctor, but it is difficult over the weekend, and neither of you manifests the full set of symptoms required to qualify for COVID-19 test. Friends hunt for available pulse oximeters online, two get delivered on Monday. At no point do they show blood oxygenation over 90%. Rescue services visit several times per day over the course of the week, suggesting auxiliary oxygen treatment at home. There are no available places at the city hospital. Someone delivers compressed oxygen canisters, someone else orders an oxygen concentrator device. Oxygen prices, both online and in pharmacies, are now at plainly absurd levels. Around mid-week, you finally get tested. 7 days from developing symptoms, SpO2 barely hovers over 80%. Oxygen inhalations provide a brief respite. On the 8th day, test results confirm COVID-19. During the night, you get admitted to A&E. Your child bursts into tears in the morning, as they did not get to say goodbye when you were taken in. Someone perished at the hospital that night, so on Saturday you get moved to the freed place in the isolation ward.

10 days from the infection is considered a threshold date - mild cases ten to recover by then. Prognosis worsens for those who don't. Your partner is still in quarantine, but feeling much better by now. You aren't.

16 days after symptoms started, you get a call from health services - they are interested in conducting a tracing interview. You tell them you are in the isolation ward, find it hard to talk, can't really talk in multiple sentences. Ask them to call when you can. Your blood oxygen saturation struggles to climb over 80% while breathing concentrated oxygen. Mortality of cases with SpO2 still under 90%, after 10 days on oxygen: 40%.

20 days since the symptoms started, SpO2 67% in the morning. You get moved to the intensive care unit. High-pressure oxygen administered.

21 days. SpO2 again critically low. Intubation. Attached to the ventilator ("respirator"). Mortality of cases on forced ventilation, best case scenario: over 90%.

When faced with a problem, I tend to look at the world through numbers. It helps me put things into perspective, develop plans, propose actions. I know the numbers. I have read the WHO reports, the relevant medical studies. There is nothing I can do. I do not tell the numbers to anyone.

My friend died from pulmonary embolism last week, shortly after intubation. The city of Zielona Góra reported no COVID-19 deaths for the whole 7 day period.

Tuesday, 29 September 2020

One million

Total deaths worldwide have crossed over one million, half a year (and a few days) after Europe had the emergency lockdown. 20% of those deaths have been in the USA. Total infected, while much harder to estimate, stands at around 33 million, with about 10 million of them currently sick.

It's really hard to comment on those numbers.

Locally, Poland crossed one thousand diagnosed per day a week ago and hasn't dropped below that daily threshold since. There's fewer deaths than in the first peak, but not by much.

A lot of the initial epidemiologists’ predictions are still holding: September - October is on track to be a second peak in infections; there’s multiple vaccines in trials, near the end of 2020, but none of them are likely to be globally distributed before the end of 2021. No real return to work from the office for those who can afford remote work. What crowds have been calling “expert scaremongering” turned out to be just expert knowledge.

Wednesday, 17 June 2020

#BLM

Looks like some countries decided to pretend the pandemic is over, and all is going peachy, time to reopen. UK and USA being the main developed examples - still riding strong on the first wave. Poland is, in an odd way, in this camp as well - roughly constant number of infections daily (well within health service capacities), but not managing to get a drop - and deciding to open up anyway. People got to earn money somehow, the saying goes.

And in terms of people earning money, the US statistics/predictions are that 30% of the companies that closed down will not, in any shape, recover. What's more, about a third of people who lost jobs because of coronavirus layoffs, are not going to be re-employed in the same jobs, ever - those positions will be lost, or automated. Which is in line with what was seen after 2007/2008 - still, it's grim news for those affected. The initial wave of stimulus money runs out soon, what happens next?

Three weeks ago we saw how most serious protests and revolutions start. It's not enough to be oppressed, people put up with a lot. Get used to it. And - in words of Black celebrities - the racism in the USA isn't getting worse, it's just that it gets documented more. Still, this wasn't enough to blow the fuse. What ignited the truly massive protests was being scared, on the basic level, about putting food on the table. About meeting your very basic needs. Those conditions had pushed thousands of revolutionary movements before, they've also pushed BLM this time, for the people in USA (and some other countries) to take to the streets in hundreds of thousands.

Will things change? The administration is even more openly aligning itself with KKK; the dog whistles are more like fog horns now. Though it's worth to remember, that by demographics numbers, the previous presidential elections were already ones where GOP would not have won in a democratic country with proportional representation, those numbers have moved even more in the four years of Trump's first term. Various methods of voter suppression can only go so far - at some stage, GOP would lose the presidency - will Trump actually leave the White House?

Wednesday, 6 May 2020

Month and a half

Current death count stands at about quarter of a million.

The first peak seems to be over in Europe, countries are heading towards easing up the restrictions - with an eye towards a second (hopefully less tragic) peak in summer. The outliers, who tried out unorthodox strategies - UK, Sweden, USA. Well, UK now has the most deaths of all EU countries. Sweden has four times the mortality ratio of Norway or Finland. USA...

USA is still before the peak. There's now talk about "stabilising" at 3000 deaths per day. Which is about the total world death count at the moment. States are already opening up, with protesters demanding end to social distancing measures.

The "month and a half" seems to be the point where most "stable" companies are running out of liquid cash. Mass layoffs are likely to happen at the May/June boundary, unless there's either a heavy government intervention or business can start again.

I'm starting my third week of the unplanned holiday leave. My bread baking is getting much better (all the supply shortages seem to be over, confirming that they were mostly due to panic buying in March) - even though the last loaf was a real "dwarven bread" offensive weapon grade one. But I do know why it came out like this, and can improve. There's some gardening work, some house improvements, a bit of open source. In general, time is passing slowly. If this was a normal situation, it'd be a rather pleasant spring.

Monday, 30 March 2020

Exponential

In the last 7 days, number of diagnosed cases went from roughly 350k world-wide to over 700k. A lot of people are going to learn what "exponential growth" means.

The tourism/travel business not so much crashed as completely disappeared in the 4 working days after I wrote the previous post. Numerous corporate groups simply terminated all contractors in that week, my contract included.

Several countries are using "temporary" epidemic regulations to permanently erode civil liberties (UK, Hungary, Poland are the ones I'm following) - nothing like panic and emergency to get things rushed through.

It's not looking good.

Sunday, 15 March 2020

Pandemic

I've been told recently that the best time to keep a journal is when things change rapidly. To be able to inspect one's views and perceptions, as they change. Thus, this post.

A week ago on Saturday, Italy has just quarantined the northern regions. It seemed extreme, but on Monday already they've extended the quarantine to the whole country. Today, Sunday again, one week later, most European countries have followed. UK and Sweden were two notable outliers, until UK decided to (mostly) also accept WHO guidelines. Poland shut down international trains and flights, severely limit personal cross-border transit. USA looks extreme in their lack of response.

We've started cancelling our holiday plans as Italy announced Lombardy quarantine. Almost everything is refunded by now, except Ryanair obviously sees no reason at all to issue refunds or cancel flights. During the week, we've also decided - together with my siblings - to not travel to my Mother's birthday. She was, in the end, celebrating with my Dad and my brother who still lives with them, without any of the other planned guests. This seemed extreme by the beginning of the week, but as Saturday came, was just "new normal". We're video-calling again, daily - something I haven't done (for non-work reasons) since my early days in London in 2013.

Gyms, bars, restaurants, offices, cinemas, everything shut. Preemptively, so far. There's no confidence yet if this will slow down the growth enough to be meaningful, or will it only shift the peak without flattening it. UK was trying to bet on "herd immunity", but there's no consensus yet - and even some counterexamples - to whether COVID-19 can or can not re-infect.

I'm lucky enough to be working from home, most of the time. But my business travel took me to Germany a week ago - and while right after returning, I've laughed at the suggestion of self-quarantine, by the end of the week, it was - again - normal. Random cough was inspected extremely suspiciously - is it my normal allergies, just sped up by a month? Spring has come extremely early this year, after a mild and wet winter; we've had Wild Garlic at the beginning of February, usually it would start growing at the end of March.

Few weeks ago, SETI@Home announced shutting down their compute clients. Its "offspring", Folding@Home, is now donating most of its compute power to projects related to the ncov-19 virus analysis and vaccine work. They've just announced that with the signup spike they've experienced, they've assigned all currently available work units. Sitting at home, at least this feels like doing something to contribute. It's also heating the room up noticeably, especially when both CPU and GPU were running on full power. The electricity from solar panels is coming in handy.

Economic impact? Well it's officially a recession now. Probably the fastest one in history, with information (and panic) flowing faster than ever, plus with zero-fees brokers that have sprouted last year. There's definitely going to be a big global impact. Travel industry got hit immediately, with Flybe going bankrupt (they were really just dangling on a lifeline before); LOT is looking how to get out of promised purchase of Condor; Norwegian airlines are down 80% at the stock market, even BA is struggling. There's public calls from the airlines to postpone or scrap planned emission taxes, as they would start from the very low current baseline of extremely limited air travel. Lot of bankruptcies and takeovers are definitely on the horizon.

This brings me to the main point, what are likely to be the long term effects? The emission drop we're seeing is strictly temporary, and limited in time to quarantine (even though e.g. airlines are using it to retire old fleet), and is unlikely to last. Remote work and shopping and e-government (e.g. Polish government offices right now are not open to citizens in person, but are all still working) will likely stay afterwards at significantly higher levels, as the crisis is forcing them to happen - and thus showing where it is possible to continue "work as usual" without the commute. US is possibly looking at the most redefining experience of all Western countries - whereas in most, a health system reform afterwards is likely - in US it's either going to be a full scale "European style social support net" (which has been voted down by GOP this week already) or massive fatalities on the scale of several millions. This is not something - this would be comparable to fallout from their involvement in WW2. And disproportionately impacting the lower income part of the population, as the wealthy, the office workers, are the ones where it's easiest to self-quarantine and work from home. Even if controlled, if COVID-19 spreads through European population with "low" (under 1%) death rates as it has so far in South Korea, where (currently) it seems to be controlled - this still leads to an unprecedented numbers of deaths among the elderly, in turn leading to an unprecedented wealth transfer to the younger generation.

Even the most optimistic predictions are suggesting this to be a defining moment for future decades.