Sunday 15 March 2020


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.

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