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The Corona Files: Don’t trust the statistics!

After 79 days of Corona cases, China announced on 19 March that they had NO more new cases. (www.theguardian.com/world/2020/mar/19/china-reports-no-domestic-cases-of-coronavirus-for-first-time-since-outbreak-began)

Not just a a lot less than before! No, NONE! Not a SINGLE one! Fishy? Dodgy? Untrustworthy? You bet! But it seems that many did believe (or wanted to believe) that a totalitarian government, that is dead set on totally controlling its citizens and that didn’t have much regard for the truth in the past, would suddenly be totally trustworthy. It seems even some governments were mislead (or just not so smart!?) and might have based some of their strategies on the most likely fake numbers from China. (www.businessinsider.com/coronavirus-boris-johnsons-government-reportedly-furious-with-china-2020-3)

Now it even emerged that the CIA is doing whatever possible to find out accurate numbers. (www.nytimes.com/2020/04/02/us/politics/cia-coronavirus-china.html) There are reports that the number of deaths in connection with the Coronavirus in China is not 3,326 but possibly well over 40,000. :-O

With all that attention on the Chinese numbers and with daily announcements from all other affected countries about how many new infected cases were detected and also how many people died, some have become a bit obsessed with the Covide-19 stats. If you check the numbers every day or if you frequently check the updates from the Johns Hopkins University on the site www.domo.com/coronavirus-tracking or even worse on the 24×7 Coronavirus Pandemic Livestream (www.youtube.com/watch?v=qgylp3Td1Bw), you could really despair.

But how much can we trust all these numbers? Actually, we can’t trust their accuracy at all and there are lots of reasons for it, which I will try to explain as much as possible.

Wait! Are you saying all numbers are wrong?

Yes, it does look like that! The number of infected cases, the number of deaths and the number of recovered patients all do not reflect the correct situation.

Are not even the number of deaths correct?

Many countries have different methods of counting the people that have died in connection with Covid-19. Some countries surpress some numbers and others might overexaggerate them.
In China it seems that the numbers are seriously below the real situation. In Italy, only the people that die in hospital are considered in the Covid-19 statistic, not the people that die at home. This could also apply to other countries and would result in a much too low number.
But there is a flip side! In most countries a detected infection means that the patient is added to the Covid-19 statistic even if the cause of death was a different one. Somebody put it like this: Imagine someone falls of the 10th storey of a building and after he crashes on the street a tank drives over him. If he miraculously survives this and is brought to a hospital where a Coronavirus infection is detected, his subsequent death will be added to the Covid-19 statistic. But then some countries don’t do that, but have separate stats for patients that die of pneumonia, independent from an infection.
You can already see that it is a mess that nobody can really fully understand. But the bottom line is that the figures are NOT consistent and therefore not correct.

And what about the figures of infected people?

You can only detect infections if you test. In some countries a LOT of tests are carried out. But it is still FAR away from mass tests and since 80% of the people show only very mild symptoms, there are probably a LOT more people infected even in the countries were many tests are carried out.

Germany has a quite low number of deaths and the – to me – odd explanation for this is “because Germany tests a LOT”. The fact that they test a lot, might mean that the number of infections is closer to the truth than in other countries, but how does knowing if someone is infected influence the number of people that die? Strange!

In Ireland, on the other hand, the tests were stopped a number of times due to a shortage of test kits and now the shortage of some substances in the labs. In addition the one-symptom indicator that would get you a test place was changed to a two-symptom requirement to keep people away from the test centres. So there MIGHT be a situation where a LOT more people have or had a mild infection than we will ever know.

Bottom line: Only people that have been tested can be negative or positive. And if you don’t test many, you will not find many infected people.

Does that mean someone is intentionally lying to us?

In China, many think that this is really the case. In other countries, it is probably not an intentional lie, but it is a misguided trust in statistics that is unjustifiable. But you can be certain that you are not hearing the truth and nothing but the trust!

When, for example, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said that “in two weeks, we could have 15,000 infected patients”. He was describing what one scenario (possibly a worst case scenario) said to frighten people, so that we would be more willing to follow the social distancing and lockdown measures. This is much more effective than if he had said, “well experts are not too sure, but it could be between 2,000 and 15,000 infected”.

So propaganda is always part of it!

And then there is sensationalism! We know that in the times of 24×7 news channels, the TV and radio stations that constantly report about the news in this world (CNN, Sky News, etc) will jump on the smallest bit of information and will make the biggest story out of it if they can.

What do all these wrong numbers mean?

It really means that we have not the slightest clue internationally where we are. Nationally, the growth rates are an indicator how things are developing in every country, but comparisons are a dangerous thing!

And if we don’t know where we stand, it is possible that the Coronavirus is not at all deadlier than the “normal” influenza virus!! :-O We currently assume that the death rate is around 2-4% for Corona and only around 0.1-0.5% for the influenza, but if only SOME of the infected people are counted, then that obviously will make the virus look a LOT more dangerous. If 100,000 infections are found then 1,000 deaths sound completely different than if 1,000,000 infections are found of which 900,000 were just not detected.

Will we ever find out what the correct numbers are?

No! Actually, we will find out what the number of deaths were and we can compare this number with the number of ALL deaths in a country in previous years. But we will never find out what the total number of infected people was. It is VERY unlikely that mass antibody tests will be carried out.

And the number of recovered people is also wrong?

Sure! If you don’t know how many have been infected, you can’t know either how many have recovered. In addition, not every country does carry out another test AFTER the symptoms are gone (why would you!), so then there is never the formal test-based confirmation that the patient now has no more Coronavirus in him or her.

But the number of deaths are horrendously high, how can you say the virus is possibly not a killer virus?

Yes, the numbers look huge if you don’t compare them. At the time of writing this 14,681 people died in Italy, that is as much as around 73 plane crashes of Ryanair-sized planes. That is a HUGE number. Imagine how shocked we would be if there was only ONE plane crash! 73 is crazy!

But then we need to look at other years and we will find that, for example, in the flu season 2016/2017 more than 24,000 people died of the flu in Italy. So only in a few months we will know if the Covid-19 death rate will really be significantly above the 2016/2017 numbers.

Oh and in 2016/2017 there was no lockdown, no panic, no new laws and countries didn’t build mass morgues in city centres. I don’t want to minimise or banalise the death of people and I also want to stress that the social distancing and lockdown regulations were probably the correct measures to contain the problem.

The virus IS different than the influenza virus and because we have not even a partial immunity from previous infections, it is running rampant, Also the health systems in most countries can’t keep up because the infection for a small number of cases is a LOT more severe than any influenza infection in recent years has been.

Also the numbers will grow further, so we could have well over 30,000 deaths from the Coronavirus in Italy alone and that would be well over the 2016/2017 numbers. Every single death means a family will lose a mother, a father, a grandfather or a grandmother or an uncle or aunt. That is sad and very painful and for everyone affected, the statistics are totally irrelevant. But we need to try to lock at the human pain and sorrow separately from the situational assessment that is based on statistics to be able to consider what are the right steps forward.

So after reading all this, what is the advise?

Don’t trust the numbers and don’t let the numbers make you anxious! also be prepared to question the information that is put in front of you by media and politicians!

Accuracy, truthfulness and reliability are minimum requirements to consider what the right next steps are!

The Corona Files: Do we really need a Lockdown?

The numbers are still growing like crazy and the situation keeps being very very difficult:

There are now nearly 600,000 confirmed infections and 27,358 people have died as a result of a Covid-19 infection. More than 900 deaths happened in Italy alone and the peak has not yet been reached. The USA and Italy have well surpassed the infection numbers of China, but the apparent total halt of new infections in China raises a lot of doubts over the accuracy of the reporting from there.

And last night (Fri 27 March 2020), Taoiseach Leo Varadkar announced the Lockdown for Ireland (www.rte.ie/news/2020/0327/1126904-taoiseach-announces-restrictions/). A Lockdown that many expected, but nobody wants!

Until Easter Sunday (12 April 2020) we are now not allowed to leave our homes unless leaving the home is for one of a few specifically defined reasons.

These specific reasons are: for work (if the work is essential and cannot be done from home); to buy food and household goods;  to go to a doctor or buy medical/health products; to care for others (elderly & vulnerable) or for animals AND also for brief physical exercise, but only within 2km of your home. And there should be no travel outside of 2km from your own home unless for any of the above reasons.

ALL Private gatherings with people outside of your own home are prohibited and cocooning of everybody over 70 years of age will be introduced.

This is drastic stuff and you have to wonder if it is justified or necessary. Other countries in Europe already have implemented comparable restrictions and in Italy, for example, the fines are up to EUR 3,000 if you break the rules. In Germany the fines (at least theoretically) go even up to EUR 25,000. :-O

I have to admit that when governments force restrictions like that upon their people, I am very VERY skeptical. In “normal” times, I would be outraged, but these are NOT normal times.

So does it make sense to restrict our freedom in such a way? Let’s look at the reasons and let’s search for possibly doubtful claims in the announcement:

Firstly, the idea of Social Distancing and of the partial closing down of our lives was to reduce dramatically the spread of the virus. Because it remains hidden for 5-14 days where the carrier can infect others but doesn’t show any symptoms yet, it is a high risk if virus carriers can keep moving around and continuously infect others. So the cycle has to be broken. It seems that Social Distancing, the closure of schools and work places has had a positive effect, but the National Public Health Emergency Team (NPHET) considered the further increase of infections and deaths and therefore didn’t want to wait any longer with the Lockdown.

This makes some sense: If a Lockdown was considered at all, then now is a better time than in 1 or 2 weeks.

Dr. Tony Holohan, the Government’s Chief Medical Officer, explained that it was found that infections were especially increasing in some clusters (he mentioned 10 nursing homes and other residential facilities). This is not overly surprising because people live together in a close space. But it is mentioned as one of the reasons for the Lockdown measures.

This does NOT make much sense: Because NONE of the Lockdown measures will affect or help these clusters. People in nursing homes, residential units or prisons don’t usually go to work or travel far or go to shops. So telling the rest of the population to stay within 2km of their home doesn’t seem to improve their situation.

The “cocooning”, however, makes a LOT of sense. Since it has been found that older age groups and people with health issues are severely endangered by the virus, it is the best idea for them to stay out of harms way and to wait until the virus has disappeared. Will two weeks be enough for that? I have some doubts. So the cocooning (which should have possibly happened even earlier) might have to last longer than 2 weeks, but it definitely makes sense.

We have to ask, who will be really affected by this Lockdown? Because the majority of people that I encountered on my very rare trips outside my home last week (one for food shopping and two for a walk) did very much adhere to Social Distancing. Based on the relatively few people I met and the very light traffic, I also think that the majority of us did already stay inside and away from others.

However, it seems to have been seen as a problem that people did go out for walks and cycles etc over the weekend and this also explains why the measures were announced on a Friday evening and why An Garda Síochána has announced that they have begun a “major nationwide policing operation” to enforce the new rules, which will (only!!) run until 07:00 on Monday morning.

There is not much wrong with reducing the Sunday good-weather trips for three weekends, if it will safe lives. But you could get the feeling that Leo Varadkar and Dr. Tony Holohan could have been more open (or honest) about the real reasons?

Some with some omissions in the provided information, with some claims that might not hold up and with some sense in the whole approach, what is the overall verdict about this Lockdown?

All things considered, I think the Lockdown is a measured and justifiable step to stop the spread of infections, but I really hope that the goal is not anymore to just “flatten the curve” (of new infections), but to eradicate the Coronavirus. I thought this might not be possible, but after thinking it through, I wonder if there is actually a way to eradicate it. After all SARS-1 doesn’t exist anymore! Could we stop travel and shut down life (as we know it) until the new Coronavirus has been eradicated?

By the way, the absolutely outstanding work effort combined with HUGE personal sacrifices of our healthcare workers alone requires us to think further than just looking to “flatten the curve”. And their dedication and trojan effort to fight against this virus is part of the reason why I think a bit of a Lockdown is a small price to pay if we we can help them fight the infections and deaths.

Let’s do this together and stick to the rules as much as possible!


Before the end of this post, I need to appeal to everyone to support the efforts through Social Distancing, but at the same time, not to go crazy over it! It is relevant and it helps, but it can be overdone:

I have seen posts on Facebook where three guys performed some songs together and a range of people had nothing better to do than to complain “loudly” that the three don’t adhere to Social Distancing rules! These three guys live in the same apartment! Seeing three people closer than 2m together doesn’t mean that they are selfish a**holes.

And Leo Varadkar said in his announcement last night that it is allowed to go for
“brief individual physical exercise, within 2km of your own home, which may include children from your own household, AS LONG AS YOU ADHERE TO 2m PHYSICAL DISTANCING”.
This was written down on his manuscript and I really hope that it was an oversight that this is total nonsense: If you go for a walk ONLY with people from your own household, the 2m distancing does NOT make sense. How come nobody realised that?

 

 

The Corona Files: An explainer

After the Coronavirus reached Italy and created havoc there, it was only a matter of time when it would arrive in Ireland and so it happened and – through visitors in Italy – the virus made it to our little island.

And like in most European countries the confusion was huge at first, the demands on politicians were massive and finally the Taoiseach had not other option but to also declare the closure of schools and universities and cultural institutions.

This is a completely unprecedented situation that nobody in this whole world has any experience with, so there is no real right or wrong yet and I think our politicians have done the best they could.

You might be very worried about this virus, so let me explain what one of the most eminent SARS experts in Germany, Virologist Prof. Dr. Christian Drosten, says about the Corona Virus /Covid-19, which has a lot of similarities to the SARS virus.

He explains that it is expected that nearly every one will get infected at some stage over the next few months. For kids, there seems to be an indication that they are only carriers and will not experience severe symptoms. Then there is the age 12-65 where the symptoms will be a general weakness, a persistent cough and – in most cases – a raised temperature. But after about 2 weeks all is over and they will recover. And then there is the groups of elderly people from 65 years of age. In this group it is expected that unfortunately up to 20 or 25% of infected people will die. The virus itself doesn’t kill, but the body (especially the circulatory system) will be so challenged after around 5 days with symptoms, that it will not be able to continue to work in weaker people or people with an pre-existing heart problem and a few other issues. They and younger people with other underlying health problems will be the people that need to be looked after in a hospital.

After the first phase, the Containment Phase, didn’t succeed and the virus could not be contained. We entered the Delay phase. In this phase the focus is on delaying the spread of the virus (not stopping it!). There is no way to stop it, but if all people that could get infected would get infected around the same time, the health system would collapse. (I saw a calculation that described that the UK, for example, would need over 1 million hospital bed if the spread couldn’t be delayed, but they only have 140,000 beds.) So currently they are ONLY trying to delay the infection.

The experts are expecting that the infections will continue until September or even longer. :-O And that nearly all of us will get infected at some time over this time. So all the current limitations, including school, university closures and closures of all cultural institutions will unlikely end on 29 March.

Most flu viruses don’t like the warmer weather, but it seems the Corona virus can handle it, so there is a high probability that the virus will not “disappear” over the summer and then come back in autumn/winter, but that it will stay with us.

In that case – and if it ha immunisation as a result – it would be positive for the healthy among us to get it early on, but the problem is that for a period of 2 weeks BEFORE you show any symptoms, you can already infect people. So this is the dangerous period during which you should stay away from all weak and elderly people.

No vaccines will be available until probably next year, so we can’t hope for that to sort the situation.

In general, try to stay upbeat and try not to panic. Prepare yourself mentally that this virus will be with us for quite some time (And we thought Brexit was an endless story!?) and that the current or some other social distancing rules will either stay in place or will come back again in a few weeks. Oh and stay healthy as much as possible so that you will get over it fast when the virus hits you.


And here is some advise on how to behave in the next few weeks or months:

1. An infected person would have to cough, sneeze or – and we all do that – spit while talking. The droplets fly through the air and would have to land on your face to infect you directly. If you keep a distance from the people you talk to, there is a good chance that the droplets fall on the ground and will be harmless for you.

2. If an infected person coughs into their hands and then touches a doorknob/tap/fridge door/steering wheel/shopping cart, they will leave the droplets there. The droplets are relatively sticky and can survive for up to 3 days and some surfaces and only approximately 3 hours on others. If you then touch that surface AND transfer the droplets to your eyes, nose or mouth you can also get infected. So, don’t touch your face and you are most likely fine.

3. An infected person doesn’t show symptoms for up to 14 days, but can pass on the virus already. So we should be vigilant with regards to all people, not just obviously ill people. You will not get sick just by being in the same room with someone who is infected.

Adhere to this protocol:

◦ Don’t touch your face

◦ Wash hands surgeon style for at least 30 seconds after potential exposure to surfaces that others may have touched. You may think you know how to wash your hands, but you should STILL watch a video and get it right.

◦ Social distancing will decrease the risk of getting infected. Cancel unnecessary meetings, but confidently go to necessary engagements and then use the protocol above.

◦ Carry a large handkerchief at all times, even when you are not sick. Cough into it or at least cough into your elbow. Do not cough without covering your mouth.

◦ Wipe your phone down (at same time as washing hands)

◦ Wipe fridge door, taps, light switches, remote controls, keyboards etc

◦ Use a paper towel to open the door on the way out of a public toilet.

◦ Washing your hands with soap and water is sufficient. Anti-bacterial soap is NOT required. Hand sanitizer is NOT as efficient as soap, but can be used when no soap and water is available. Make sure that the hand sanitizer has 60+% of alcohol in it.

◦ Remember you have an immune system too. Even if the droplets manage to reach you, the virus still has to get past your immune system. So keep that healthy! Look after yourself and don’t run yourself down.

◦ Take care of your emotional self – fear, worry and anxiety wear you down

◦ If you do feel sick, immediately self-isolate, get tested and take directions from your health care provider.

Help! Elections in Ireland – Who should I vote for?

In the past it was simple: Either you were the type who would vote every time (even if it is your first opportunity) or you are a non-voter. And if you are the voting type, then you probably had a good idea who you would vote for.

But after years of “same old, same old” even if the government was provided by different parties and coalitions, people are quite confused this time. Politicians promise the “sun, moon and stars” before an election and afterwards…they totally disappoint. And the shocking thing is that even the ones that we had put our hopes in will disappoint.

If they all disappoint should I even vote or just forget about it?

Yes you should definitely vote, because the people in government will – without a shadow of a doubt – influence your future quite significantly. And if you are not part of choosing them, then maybe your dim neighbour from down the road or the obnoxious guy in your company might have more control over your future than you do. Not good!

Yes, but if I decide to vote, WHO will I vote for?

Ideally you should compare your opinions with the opinions of the candidates in your constituency to know who to vote for. And there is a website that can help you (and it won’t take long). Go to whichcandidate.ie and answer the few questions about your opinions and then the system will compare it with the answers from candidates. The result will not be a perfect guideline, but might help you to find the right direction.

Can you tell me in general something about the parties?

Sure, the biggest problem in Irish politics is that there is too much of the same. So for eternity Fine Gael (FG) and Fianna Fail (FF) were the only two big parties and they were just alternating in government. FF was in government when the economic crisis happened and a lot of people swore that they will never forget that and will NEVER again vote for FF. But surprisingly (or maybe not), a few years of Fine Gael government (with FF’s full endorsement – they called it a “Confidence and Supply” agreement), now suddenly people will consider voting FF again just to get rid of FG.
Another unexpected thing happened with the emergence of Sinn Fein (SF). Sinn Fein has as bad bad past, considering their direct involvement in the Northern Ireland conflict and the ongoing criminality through their IRA links. But people are so disillusioned by FF and FG that they seemingly are prepared to gamble the house on Sinn Fein.
SF will definitely change things more significantly than any continuation of the FF/FG governments will, but the big question is if that change is not too risky.
“Protest Voting” (to punish a former government) is always a dangerous move, because the party you voted for could win the majority and consequently be in power for the next 4 years.

What about the other parties?

Labour and Greens were part of previous governments and didn’t necessarily impress back then. The Social Democrats and People Before Profit were not yet involved in governments before. All four will never become strong enough to lead the government, so yes, you can vote for some of their candidates, because a coalition will probably be a good thing for the country.

So if one of the parties are not so great, should I vote for an Independent candidate?

No, no, no, no!!! Do not vote for ANY independent candidate. IT is very odd that 20% of the people in Ireland are prepared to give independent candidates their vote because the Independents either achieve nothing or they will or they will sell their soul to the highest bidder of the other parties, which will totally compromise them. Independent candidates are MAYBE good for the constituency, but because they are only interested in getting re-elected, they have NO interest in national politics outside their constituency.

Shane Ross, an independent who helped the previous government, achieved great things for his constituency, but was the worst Minister for Transport.
Michael Lowry, who was once a minister and was kicked out of FG, has been described as “profoundly corrupt”. The Healy-Rae Candidates from Kerry are only interested in Kerry gaining from whatever they do. They couldn’t care less about the rest of Ireland.
So Independent Candidates are unreliable, change their opinion depending on who offers them most and would definitely run the country into the ground…as long as their own voters get an advantage.
Do NOT vote for Independents!!! NEVER! ;-)

Thanks for the advice, but I still am not sure who I should vote for!

I know, it is REALLY difficult this time. I could tell you who I would vote for, but you are not me and your opinions might be different than mine, so even telling you won’t help you much.
So, let me just remind you again of my main recommendations: NEVER vote for Independents. Always vote for the party (or parties) you want to see in government, never vote out of protest for a party that you don’t necessarily want to have running the country. Don’t just vote for a specific party because lots of other people say so! Make your own decision! Be aware that all three main parties (FG, FF, and SF) have a bad historical record and then decide whoever’s bad record you can live better with. Is it ruining the country in 2008 (Fianna Fail) or not making anything better in the last 8 years (Fine Gael) or is it the involvement in the killings in Northern Ireland (Sinn Fein)? You need to decide! On the positive side: Maybe Fianna Fail have learned how to do it better after 8 years in the opposition? Or Fine Gael needs more time to fix things better? Or Sinn Fein is a changed party since the Good Friday agreement?


Disclaimer: As you probably know, I am a foreigner and therefore I have no clue anyway (according to some commentators on public news forums), so because of that, feel free to discard my opinions completely. ;-)

Something seriously wrong here! EU Leaders Salaries

During the week I found a list of EU Salaries that was posted on Facebook and if you look through that list you realise that something is SERIOUSLY wrong in Ireland!

Formatting of tables with lots of numbers doesn’t work so well here, but I hope you will see the blatant discrepancy between the salaries and the size of the countries. And I don’t care who is the head of our little country (or its government) and also is it irrelevant that some salary cuts have already been “endured” by the Taoiseach.

EU Leaders’ Gross Salary per year:

+ Slovakia —— Population: 5.4 mio ——–Leader’s salary: EUR 45.127
+ Portugal——-Population: 10.46 mio ——Leader’s salary: EUR 68,670
+ Hungary——-Population: 10 mio ———Leader’s salary: EUR 72,000
+ Spain———-Population: 46.77 mio——Leader’s salary: EUR 78,000
+ Greece———Population: 11.03 mio——Leader’s salary: EUR 85,479
+ Lithuania——Population: 10.46mio——-Leader’s salary: EUR 90,361
+ Italy———–Population: 58.83 mio——-Leader’s salary: EUR 115,000

+ IRELAND——Population: 4.7 mio———-Leader’s salary: EUR 185,000

Is that mad or what? The Taoiseach earns more than the leader of the government in Italy or Spain or all these other countries?

Note; I didn’t check all these numbers in detail and instead took it from a post that is signed with “unitedpeople.ie”. United People seems to be a new party in Ireland. I don’t know much about this party and in no way support or endorse it. A brief “Fact check” on a Wikipedia Page here did indicate that the numbers in general seem to be at least in the right region.

 
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