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covid19 – the European CDC shows the way

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poverty and crowding in Peru – BBC picture

Canto: The US response to the pandemic continues to be massively hampered by political muzzling of and interference with the science, especially at the federal level, but the Medcram updates continue to inform us, and to be, or pretend to be, indifferent to this political interference.

Jacinta: Yes, and update 109 has introduced us to the European CDC’s website, which provides us with a wealth of information, on the progress of the pandemic itself in European countries, but also in the political response to it, and how those two things interact. 

Canto: The country overview page, and it’s currently updated to week 39 of the pandemic, is as data-rich as anyone can imagine, a statistician’s wet dream, but interpretation of the data needs to be handled carefully. 

Jacinta: Dr Seheult does some interpretation of some of the data in his medcram update 109, but there’s so much more in there, and so much more to say. So let’s take a European country at random – Denmark – and look closely at the stats.  

Canto: But before that, let’s look at some general European trends they report. It’s fascinating:

  • By the end of week 39 (27 September 2020), the 14-day case notification rate for the EU/EEA and the UK, based on data collected by ECDC from official national sources, was 113.6 (country range: 9.9–319.9) per 100 000 population. The rate has been increasing for 70 days.

So the EU is the European Union and the EEA is the European Economic Area. I’m not sure what is meant by ’14-day’ but I presume the case notification rate is simply the case rate, as far as they can ascertain from the data supplied to them – the cases they’ve been notified about. It’s good that they make that distinction, shifting the onus on the notifiers. So it’s 113.6 cases per 100,000 population over the whole region, and has been rising for over two months – a second wave. 

Jacinta: I think ’14 day’ just means the rate over the previous 14 days. They report every seven days for the previous 14 days, so there’s a 7-day overlap. That data is not only dependent on the reliability of particular reporting countries, it’s also dependent on testing levels, obviously. So in the general trends they tell us which countries are doing the most testing. Highest is Denmark, followed by Luxembourg, Iceland, Malta and Cyprus. Small countries, unsurprisingly. 

Canto: With all this, it’s interesting from Dr Seheult’s analysis of the data that the death rate isn’t mapping with  the case rate, thankfully, and that the age of people contracting the virus in the second wave is much lower, which seems weird.

Jacinta: Probably explained by an increase in testing since the early days. Now they’re catching milder and asymptomatic cases. It suggests, of course, that the case rate was much higher during the first wave, when the testing regime was still being put together. So let’s look at Denmark, and now we have data for week 40. There are four graphs, and in the first we see the case notification rate experiencing a big bump peaking in April with the death notification rate mapping pretty closely with that bump. Then there’s a gradual falling away in both figures, until August when the case rate starts to rise again, but not the death rate. Then in September that case rate rises very sharply, rising well above the April bump, though in the last week it seems to have leveled off at this high level. But the death rate has stayed pretty well level and quite low. Now that raises questions that the other graphs might help to answer. The second graph looks at the testing rate – tests per 100,000. The testing rate was pretty flat and low from February into April, but after the April rise in cases the testing began to rise from late April into May. It flattened and even dipped a bit into June. It stayed fairly steady through the northern winter, but of course at a high level compared to the earliest period, then it started to rise in August, presumably in anticipation of a rise in cases as the colder weather arrived. That rise in testing peaked at a very high level in late September, but has dropped quite sharply in the the last week or so. 

Canto: Interesting, so that does strongly suggest a sharp rise in mild cases being ‘caught’, and presumably dealt with, as the death rate hasn’t spiked at all. 

Jacinta: Yes, though we don’t know how well those cases have been dealt with – people are talking about ‘long covid’, people possibly having long-term issues. The two graphs don’t really give us granular detail – hospitalisation rates for example. So the third graph breaks the notified case numbers into age groups, and the results are fascinating. The first wave bump shows that most of the cases recorded were in the older age groups, particular those at 80 or over. There were cases in all age groups, but very few under 15. However, in the second wave, the cases found were predominantly in the young. In fact the 15-24 age group was way out in front, followed by the 25-49 group. Even the under 15s were well above the oldest age groups. So what does this mean? It seems to suggest that the older, and perhaps wiser, are recognising the dangers, especially to their age group, and taking fewer risks, and that the younger are still not very sick but can be carriers of the virus and more than ever a danger to the older generation. 

Canto: I wonder is Denmark ‘typical’ in this regard?

Jacinta: There are variations of course, but the general trend is much the same. The fourth graph shows test positivity – the percentage of people who tested positive. There was a massive spike in positive test results in March, up to around 16 -17%, but this dropped as sharply at it rose, due presumably to the rapid rise in testing from that period. By May it was around 1% and it has remained much the same since, as the number of tests administered has never been higher, in spite of the recent drop I mentioned. It’s still much higher than it was pre-September. 

Canto: But there are more than four graphs as we’ve found. We’ve looked at the data for notification rates and testing, there are other graphs which look at ICU and hospitalisation rates, public health response measures, and which break the nation down into specific regions. 

Jacinta: Yes, it’s particularly important to look at public health measures – restrictions on mass gatherings, closures or partial closures of public spaces, workplaces and schools, the mandating or recommendations around face masks, and map them against notification rates, hospitalisations and so forth. The picture that emerges is generally pretty clear, though sadly some countries, such as the USA and Brazil, aren’t paying heed to the fact that public health measures save lives as well as a lot of suffering. 

Canto: Well we should be talking about the governments rather than the countries, when we’re talking about public health measures. So I’ve assumed that the CDC in the USA has been hobbled by the Trump debacle, so I’ve gone to the Johns Hopkins site to see what detailed info they provide. Indeed they do have a lot of useful data both for the USA and other countries, though little on the effect of public health measures. An interesting graph they present on mortality shows that, in terms of deaths per 100,000 persons – and they show only the top 20 nations – Peru is on top, followed by Brazil, Ecuador, Spain, Mexico, the USA and the UK, in that order. 

Jacinta: Well we know about the macho governments of Brazil, the UK and the USA – not that government is always entirely to blame, but it’s a key indicator – so what about the national governments of those other countries? 

Canto: Well other key indicators would be the country’s wealth, or lack thereof, and its healthcare infrastructure, but as to government, Peru had a federal election in January this year – it’s a multi-multi-multi-party system with the most popular party getting only 10% of the vote. The result was that Martin Vizcarra retained the presidency. He appears to be a genuine reformist who has tried to implement stay-at-home orders, but widespread poverty and overcrowding are major problems there. Brazil we already know about. Ecuador’s current President is Lenin Moreno, a right-wing figure who has slashed government funding and seems obsessed with destroying political opponents. He has a popularity rating of 8%, according to an article in Open Democracy, and his mishandling of the pandemic has been extreme. Spain is a ‘parliamentary monarchy’, and its current Prime Minister is Pedro Sanchez, leader of a leftist coalition. Currently there’s a battle with right-wing local authorities, especially in Madrid, to enforce lockdowns as a second wave hits the country. So it’s the usual problem there of non-compliance, it seems. And Mexico is, as is I think well known, a country with a lot of poverty and a lot of problems. Its governmental system has long been a minefield – in fact I’d love to learn more about its chequered history. Currently the President is Andrés Manuel López Obrador, a veteran politician who has been a member of various parties and is essentially a political centrist. So again it’s about lack of political control, poverty, lack of services, overcrowding and so forth. As to the UK, years of conservative government have gutted the NIH, there has been a ton of mixed messaging from the top… I’m getting sick of all this. I want to go to Taiwan.

Jacinta: Hmm. How’s your Chinese? Things are pretty covid-safe here in South Australia. Here’s hoping a safe and effective vaccine is ready by next year, and some big improvements are made in certain countries, with a return to justice and human decency…


Coronavirus Pandemic Update 109: New Data From Europe As COVID 19 Infections Rise







Written by stewart henderson

October 11, 2020 at 1:50 pm

What Stephen Fry made me do: more on the Assange drama

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Equador’s foreign minister, Ricardo Patino

I signed up to Twitter three and a half years ago, tweeted something into the nethersphere, and haven’t been back until today. Since all the advice I read and hear is to network, network, network, linking blog to podcast to facebook to twitter etc etc, I decided to resurrect my Twitter account, and since I have no friends I thought I’d give Stephen Fry a go as I’ve heard he’s a big tweeter and would probably benefit from my friendship. Anyway, amongst the great morass of subjects he manages to tweet about daily, he tweeted this link, a rather defensive piece by a Swedish law professor complaining about how the Swedish justice system has been impugned on the international stage by the Assange case.

The professor got me offside with his opening line, ‘Julian Assange’s bizarre bid for political asylum in Ecuador’s embassy in London has claimed headlines everywhere…’ I know enough of history, and of the crushing ruthlessness of major military and economic powers throughout history when they feel that power is under the slightest threat, to find Assange’s bid for asylum, in Equador or anywhere else, to be anything but bizarre. He then went on to make rather bland and general assurances about the normality, openness and complete lack of corruption of Swedish justice. He went as far as to say that it’s more than likely that, after questioning, Assange will be released without charge. He finishes off the piece with this assurance:

Finally, no, the Swedish police will not place Assange on a CIA-chartered plane as soon as he arrives at Stockholm airport. They, like all other Swedish authorities, will discharge their duties according to the law.

Okay, no wucken furries then.

I don’t know if I need to say more, but I will. Assange would have to be fucking insane to allow himself to be hauled off to Sweden, for what clearly wasn’t a major legal infringement, if it was an infringement at all. I would urge everyone who hasn’t seen it to view the recent 4 corners program on this.

And of course the point is most definitely not about the Swedish legal system. It is about the USA. It has always been all about the USA. We’re told that, since Assange hasn’t actually been charged with anything, he’s only wanted for questioning. If that were true, then Swedish authorities should be permitted to come to Britain and question him there. That seems an obvious solution, at least a temporary one. If the Swedish authorities then feel that they have enough evidence  to charge him, then yes we have another crisis. And this is what would make me feel suspicious if I were Assange – in fact I might feel a lot more than just suspicious, because Assange probably knows more about the USA’s involvement in the case than we know that he knows. Even if he doesn’t know anything specific, he’s been working on the USA’s foreign policy bullyings for years. He’s anything but naive about that particular beast.

Even what we know about the behaviour of the Swedish authorities would make us alarmed. They just want to question him but they won’t go over to the UK to do it. This would surely suggest that they have more than questioning in mind. The way the case has been handled so far would give cause for concern. It was virtually dropped before suddenly being taken up again, and at least one of the women appears to be quite upset and angry at this. Newspapers often make claims about rape charges, but there was no rape in the case of these two women, neither of whom withheld consent, and neither of whom were assaulted. The issue seems to have been about the use or non-use of a condom. People may argue about whether this is a serious matter, but I can’t see how questioning Assange would help them arrive at a decision as to whether he was wearing a condom on both or either occasion. And if it did help them, why wouldn’t they go over to London to question him? It just seems as if they’re doing everything they can to entice him to Sweden.

Why? Well, both the UK and Sweden have extradition treaties with the USA, but the treaty with the UK has been a cause of conflict for both countries for years, whereas, the Swedish arrangement appears to be much cosier….

there is a bilateral treaty between the US and Sweden that allows for extradition without consent from the UK or minimum tests. This is the temporary surrender/conditional release regime – automatic extradition on a loan basis. It is highly likely that the United States will soon request Julian Assange’s extradition from Sweden and this mechanism will be used while Julian Assange is in Swedish custody.

This admittedly comes from a pro-Assange site, but I for one would be advising Assange to be staying exactly where he is, and I commend the Equadorian government for its actions. As Greg Barns points out in a piece written just the other day, the USA’s heavy-handed and occasionally stomach-churning interference in the internal affairs of many Latin American countries makes Equador’s actions less surprising, but perhaps all the more admirable.

Written by stewart henderson

August 19, 2012 at 1:14 am