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Satchu's Rich Wrap-Up
Monday 04th of January 2021

Entire sectors had to be subtracted from the economy: “It was more arithmetic than econometrics.” @NewYorker
World Of Finance

This situation was different. “It wasn’t the case that people didn’t have the money to go to restaurants—they couldn’t go to restaurants.” Airlines stopped flying. Car production ceased. Entire sectors had to be subtracted from the economy: “It was more arithmetic than econometrics.”

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Few lines in French literature are as famous as the opening of Albert Camus’s “L’Étranger”: “Aujourd’hui, maman est morte.” @NewYorker

Within the novel’s first sentence, two subtle and seemingly minor translation decisions have the power to change the way we read everything that follows. 

What makes these particular choices prickly is that they poke at a long-standing debate among the literary community: whether it is necessary for a translator to have some sort of special affinity with a work’s author in order to produce the best possible text.

Arthur Goldhammer, translator of a volume of Camus’s Combat editorials, calls it “nonsense” to believe that “good translation requires some sort of mystical sympathy between author and translator.” 

While “mystical” may indeed be a bit of a stretch, it’s hard to look at Camus’s famous first sentence—whether translated by Stuart Gilbert, Joseph Laredo, Kate Griffith, or even, to a lesser degree, Matthew Ward—without thinking that a little more understanding between author and translator may have prevented the text from being colored in ways that Camus never intended.

Stuart Gilbert, a British scholar and a friend of James Joyce, was the first person to attempt Camus’s “L’Étranger” in English. 

In 1946, Gilbert translated the book’s title as “The Outsider” and rendered the first line as “Mother died today.” Simple, succinct, and incorrect.

In 1982, both Joseph Laredo and Kate Griffith produced new translations of “L’Étranger,” each opting for Gilbert’s revised title, “The Stranger,” but preserving his first line. “Mother died today” remained, and it wasn’t until 1988 that the line saw a single word changed. 

It was then that American translator and poet Matthew Ward reverted “Mother” back to Maman. One word? What’s the big deal? 

A large part of how we view and—alongside the novel’s court—ultimately judge Meursault lies in our perception of his relationship with his mother. 

We condemn or set him free based not on the crime he commits but on our assessment of him as a person. 

Does he love his mother? Or is he cold toward her, uncaring, even?

First impressions matter, and, for forty-two years, the way that American readers were introduced to Meursault was through the detached formality of his statement: “Mother died today.” 

There is little warmth, little bond or closeness or love in “Mother,” which is a static, archetypal term, not the sort of thing we use for a living, breathing being with whom we have close relations. 

To do so would be like calling the family dog “Dog” or a husband “Husband.” 

The word forces us to see Meursault as distant from the woman who bore him.

What if the opening line had read, “Mommy died today”? 

How would we have seen Meursault then? Likely, our first impression would have been of a child speaking. Rather than being put off, we would have felt pity or sympathy. 

But this, too, would have presented an inaccurate view of Meursault. 

The truth is that neither of these translations—“Mother” or “Mommy”—ring true to the original. 

The French word maman hangs somewhere between the two extremes: it’s neither the cold and distant “mother” nor the overly childlike “mommy.” 

In English, “mom” might seem the closest fit for Camus’s sentence, but there’s still something off-putting and abrupt about the single-syllable word; the two-syllable maman has a touch of softness and warmth that is lost with “mom.”

So how is the English-language translator to avoid unnecessarily influencing the reader? 

It seems that Matthew Ward, the novel’s most recent translator, did the only logical thing: nothing. 

He left Camus’s word untouched, rendering the famous first line, “Maman died today.” 

It could be said that Ward introduces a new problem: now, right from the start, the American reader is faced with a foreign term, with a confusion not previously present. 

Ward’s translation is clever, though, and three reasons demonstrate why his is the best solution.

First, the French word maman is familiar enough for an English-language reader to parse. 

Around the globe, as children learn to form words by babbling, they begin with the simplest sounds. 

In many languages, bilabials such as “m,” “p,” and “b,” as well as the low vowel “a,” are among the easiest to produce. 

As a result, in English, we find that children initially refer to the female parent as “mama.” 

Even in a language as seemingly different as Mandarin Chinese, we find māma; in the languages of Southern India we get amma, and in Norwegian, Italian, Swedish, and Icelandic, as well as many other languages, the word used is “mamma.” 

The French maman is so similar that the English-language reader will effortlessly understand it.

As the years pass, new generations of American readers, who often first encounter Camus’s book in high school, grow more and more removed from the novel’s historical context. 

Utilizing the original French word in the first sentence rather than any of the English options also serves to remind readers that they are in fact entering a world different from their own. 

While this hint may not be enough to inform the younger reader that, for example, the likelihood of a Frenchman in colonial Algeria getting the death penalty for killing an armed Arab was slim to nonexistent, at least it provides an initial allusion to these extra-textual facts.

Finally, and perhaps most important, the American reader will harbor no preconceived notions of the word maman. 

We will understand it with ease, but it will carry no baggage, it will plant no unintended seeds in our head. 

The word will neither sway us to see Meursault as overly cold and heartless nor as overly warm and loving. 

And while some of the word’s precision is indeed lost for the English-language reader, maman still gives us a more neutral-to-familiar tone than “mother,” one that hews closer to Camus’s original.

So if Matthew Ward finally corrected the mother problem, what exactly has he, and the other translators, gotten wrong? Writing of “The Stranger” ’s first line in the Guardian, Guy Dammann says, 

“Some openers are so prescient that they seem to burn a hole through the rest of the book, the semantic resonance recurring with the persistence of the first theme in Beethoven’s fifth symphony.”

The linguistic fluency of any good translator tells them that, syntactically, “Aujourd’hui, maman est morte,” is not the most fluid English sentence. 

So rather than the more literal translation, “Today, Mother has died,” we get, “Mother died today,” which is the smoother, more natural rendering. 

But the question is: In changing the sentence’s syntax, are we also changing its logic, its “mystical” deeper meaning?

The answer is a resounding oui!

Rendering the line as “Mother died today” completely neglects a specific ordering of ideas that offer insight into Meursault’s inner psyche. 

Throughout the course of the novel, the reader comes to see that Meursault is a character who, first and foremost, lives for the moment. 

He does not consciously dwell on the past; he does not worry about the future. What matters is today. The single most important factor of his being is right now.

Not far behind, though, is Maman. Reflective of Camus’s life, Meursault shares a unique relationship with his mother, due in part to her inability to communicate (Camus’s own mother was illiterate, partially deaf, and had trouble speaking). 

Both Camus and Meursault yearn for Maman, for her happiness and love, but find the expression of these emotions difficult. 

Rather than distancing mother from son, though, this tension puts Maman at the center of her son’s life. 

As the book opens, the loss of Maman places her between Meursault’s ability to live for today and his recognition of a time when there will no longer be a today.

This loss drives the action of the novel, leading inexorably to the end, the final period, the thing that hangs over all else: death. 

Early in the book, Camus links the death of Meursault’s mother with the oppressive, ever-present sun, so that when we get to the climactic beach scene, we see the symbolism: sun equals loss of mother, sun causes Meursault to pull the trigger. 

In case we don’t get it, though, Camus makes the connection explicit, writing, “It was the same sun as on the day I buried Maman and, like then, my forehead especially was hurting me, all of the veins pulsating together beneath the skin.” 

As the trigger gives way, so, too, does today, the beginning—through the loss of Maman—succumb to death, the end.

The ordering of words in Camus’s first sentence is no accident: today is interrupted by Maman’s death. 

The sentence, the one we have yet to see correctly rendered in an English translation of “L’Étranger,” should read: “Today, Maman died.”

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[I have been reading a little over the holidays] The House of the Spirits (Spanish: La casa de los espíritus, 1982) is the debut novel of Isabel Allende.

“Clara lived in a universe of her own invention, protected from life’s inclement weather, where the prosaic truth of material objects mingled with the tumultuous reality of dreams and the laws of physics and logic did not always apply.” ― Isabel Allende, The House of the Spirits

“Outside, the fields were shaking off their sleep and the first rays of sunlight were cutting the peaks of the cordillera like the thrusts of a saber, warming up the earth and evaporating the dew into a fine white foam that blurred the edges of things and turned the landscape into an enchanted dream. Blanca set off in the direction of the river. Everything was still quiet. Her footsteps crushed the fallen leaves and the dry branches, producing a light crunching sound, the only noise in that vast sleeping space. She felt that the shaggy meadows, the golden wheatfields, and the far-off purple mountains disappearing in the clear morning sky were part of some ancient memory, something she had seen before exactly like this, as if she had already lived this moment in some previous life. The delicate rain of the night had soaked the earth and trees, and her clothing felt slightly damp, her shoes cold. She inhaled the perfume of the drenched earth, the rotten leaves, and the humus, which awakened an unknown pleasure in all her senses.” 

― Isabel Allende, The House of the Spirits

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US 20,128,693 total #COVID19 cases most in the world and averaging almost 200k per day. @jmlukens

COVID-19 cases/day

#US: 194.7k

#UK: 46.0k

#Brazil: 36.0k

#Russia: 27.2k

#Germany: 18.6k

#India: 16.8k

#Turkey: 14.7k

#Italy: 14.4k

#France: 13.2k

#SouthAfrica: 12.9k

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The Mutated Virus Is a Ticking Time Bomb @TheAtlantic @zeynep

A more transmissible variant of COVID-19 is a potential catastrophe in and of itself. 

If anything, given the stage in the pandemic we are at, a more transmissible variant is in some ways much more dangerous than a more severe variant. 

That’s because higher transmissibility subjects us to a more contagious virus spreading with exponential growth, whereas the risk from increased severity would have increased in a linear manner, affecting only those infected.

To understand the difference between exponential and linear risks, consider an example put forth by Adam Kucharski, a professor at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine who focuses on mathematical analyses of infectious-disease outbreaks. 

Kucharski compares a 50 percent increase in virus lethality to a 50 percent increase in virus transmissibility. 

Take a virus reproduction rate of about 1.1 and an infection fatality risk of 0.8 percent and imagine 10,000 active infections—a plausible scenario for many European cities, as Kucharski notes. 

As things stand, with those numbers, we’d expect 129 deaths in a month. If the fatality rate increased by 50 percent, that would lead to 193 deaths. 

In contrast, a 50 percent increase in transmissibility would lead to a whopping 978 deaths in just one month—assuming, in both scenarios, a six-day infection-generation time.

Transmissibility increases can quickly—very quickly—expand the baseline: Each new infected person potentially infects many more people. Severity increases affect only the infected person. 

That infection is certainly tragic, and this new variant’s lack of increase in severity or lethality thankfully means that the variant is not a bigger threat to the individual who may get infected. 

It is, however, a bigger threat to society because it can dramatically change the number of infected people. 

To put it another way, a small percentage of a very big number can easily be much, much bigger than a big percentage of a small number.

So how much more transmissible? We aren’t completely sure yet, but the initial estimates from the data suggest that this variant could be about 50 to 70 percent more transmissible than regular COVID-19. 

To make matters thornier, we aren’t yet exactly sure why it’s more transmissible, though reasonable theories are already being tested. 

This variant, now called B.1.1.7, has “an unusually large number of genetic changes, particularly in the spike protein,” which is how the virus gains entry into our cells.

“Exponentials are so cruel that nobody wants to look them in the eye,” Morris told me. 

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Transmission of SARS-CoV-2 Lineage B.1.1.7 in England @imperialcollege @MRC_Outbreak

There is a consensus among all analyses that the VOC has a substantial transmission advantage, with the estimated difference in reproduction numbers between VOC and non-VOC ranging between 0.4 and 0.7, and the ratio of reproduction numbers varying between 1.4 and 1.8. 

We note that these estimates of transmission advantage apply to a period where high levels of social distancing were in place in England; extrapolation to other transmission contexts therefore requires caution.

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Assuming R of 1.7 for the VOC and 1 for the standard strain, the variant would be expected to rise to >70% frequency within a month. This would mean an increase in R to 1.5 in this period from 1.1. @dgurdasani1

Assuming R of 1.7 for the VOC and 1 for the standard strain, the variant would be expected to rise to >70% frequency within a month. This would mean an increase in R to 1.5 in this period from 1.1. In terms of case numbers it would be devastating.

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The Plague Year The mistakes and the struggles behind America’s coronavirus tragedy. @NewYorker

1. “An Evolving Situation”

There are three moments in the yearlong catastrophe of the covid-19 pandemic when events might have turned out differently. The first occurred on January 3, 2020, when Robert Redfield, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, spoke with George Fu Gao, the head of the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention, which was modelled on the American institution. Redfield had just received a report about an unexplained respiratory virus emerging in the city of Wuhan.

The field of public health had long been haunted by the prospect of a widespread respiratory-illness outbreak like the 1918 influenza pandemic, so Redfield was concerned. Gao, when pressed, assured him that there was no evidence of human-to-human transmission. At the time, the theory was that each case had arisen from animals in a “wet” market where exotic game was sold. When Redfield learned that, among twenty-seven reported cases, there were several family clusters, he observed that it was unlikely that each person had been infected, simultaneously, by a caged civet cat or a raccoon dog. He offered to send a C.D.C. team to Wuhan to investigate, but Gao said that he wasn’t authorized to accept such assistance. Redfield made a formal request to the Chinese government and assembled two dozen specialists, but no invitation arrived. A few days later, in another conversation with Redfield, Gao started to cry and said, “I think we’re too late.”

Perhaps Gao had just been made aware that the virus had been circulating in China at least since November. Certainly, Redfield didn’t know that the virus was already present in California, Oregon, and Washington, and would be spreading in Massachusetts, Wisconsin, Iowa, Connecticut, Michigan, and Rhode Island within the next two weeks—well before America’s first official case was detected.

Redfield is convinced that, had C.D.C. specialists visited China in early January, they would have learned exactly what the world was facing. The new pathogen was a coronavirus, and as such it was thought to be only modestly contagious, like its cousin the sars virus. This assumption was wrong. The virus in Wuhan turned out to be far more infectious, and it spread largely by asymptomatic transmission. “That whole idea that you were going to diagnose cases based on symptoms, isolate them, and contact-trace around them was not going to work,” Redfield told me recently. “You’re going to be missing fifty per cent of the cases. We didn’t appreciate that until late February.” The first mistake had been made, and the second was soon to happen.

Matthew Pottinger was getting nervous. He is one of the few survivors of Donald Trump’s White House, perhaps because he is hard to categorize. Fluent in Mandarin, he spent seven years in China, reporting for Reuters and the Wall Street Journal. He left journalism at the age of thirty-two and joined the Marines, a decision that confounded everyone who knew him. In Afghanistan, he co-wrote an influential paper with Lieutenant General Michael Flynn on improving military intelligence. When Trump named Flynn his national-security adviser, Flynn chose Pottinger as the Asia director. Scandal removed Flynn from his job almost overnight, but Pottinger stayed, serving five subsequent national-security chiefs. In September, 2019, Trump appointed him deputy national-security adviser. In a very noisy Administration, he had quietly become one of the most influential people shaping American foreign policy.

At the Journal, Pottinger had covered the 2003 sars outbreak. The Chinese hid the news, and, when rumors arose, authorities minimized the severity of the disease, though the fatality rate was approximately ten per cent. Authorities at the World Health Organization were eventually allowed to visit Beijing hospitals, but infected patients were reportedly loaded into ambulances or checked into hotels until the inspectors left the country. By then, sars was spreading to Hong Kong, Hanoi, Singapore, Taiwan, Manila, Ulaanbaatar, Toronto, and San Francisco. It ultimately reached some thirty countries. Because of heroic efforts on the part of public-health officials—and because sars spread slowly—it was contained eight months after it emerged.

The National Security Council addresses global developments and offers the President options for responding. Last winter, Pottinger was struck by the disparity between official accounts of the novel coronavirus in China, which scarcely mentioned the disease, and Chinese social media, which was aflame with rumors and anecdotes. Someone posted a photograph of a sign outside a Wuhan hospital saying that the E.R. was closed, because staff were infected. Another report said that crematoriums were overwhelmed.

On January 14th, the N.S.C. convened an interagency meeting to discuss the virus. Early that morning, the W.H.O.—relying on China’s assurances—tweeted that there was no evidence of human-to-human transmission. The N.S.C. recommended that screeners take the temperatures of any passengers arriving from Wuhan.

The next day, President Trump signed the first phase of a U.S.-China trade deal, declaring, “Together, we are righting the wrongs of the past and delivering a future of economic justice and security for American workers, farmers, and families.” He called China’s President, Xi Jinping, “a very, very good friend.

On January 20th, the first case was identified in the U.S. On a Voice of America broadcast, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said, “This is a thirty-five-year-old young man who works here in the United States, who visited Wuhan.” Trump, who was at the World Economic Forum, in Davos, Switzerland, dismissed the threat, saying, “It’s one person coming in from China. It’s going to be just fine.”

On January 23, 2020, all the members of the U.S. Senate gathered for the second day of opening arguments in President Trump’s impeachment trial. It was an empty exercise with a foreordained result. Mitch McConnell, the Majority Leader, had already said that he would steamroll Democratic attempts to introduce witnesses or new evidence. “We have the votes,” he decreed.

The trial posed difficulties for the four Democratic senators still running for President. As soon as the proceedings recessed, on Friday evenings, the candidates raced off to campaign for the weekend. One of them, Amy Klobuchar, of Minnesota, recalled, “I was doing planetariums in small towns at midnight.” Then it was back to Washington, to listen to an argument that one side would clearly win. In the midst of this deadened theatre, McConnell announced, “In the morning, there will be a coronavirus briefing for all members at ten-thirty.” This was the first mention of covid in Congress.

The briefing took place on January 24th, in the hearing room of the Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee, which Lamar Alexander, Republican of Tennessee, chaired. Patty Murray is the ranking Democratic member. A former preschool teacher, she has been a senator for twenty-seven years. Her father managed a five-and-dime until he developed multiple sclerosis and was unable to work. Murray was fifteen. The family went on welfare. She knows how illness can upend people economically, and how government can help.

A few days earlier, she had heard about the first confirmed covid case in the U.S.—the man had travelled from Wuhan to Washington, her state. Murray contacted local public-health officials, who seemed to be doing everything right: the man was hospitalized, and health officials were tracing a few possible contacts. Suddenly, they were tracking dozens of people. Murray said to herself, “Wow, this is kinda scary. And this is in my back yard.”

But in the outbreak’s early days, when decisiveness mattered most, few other politicians were paying attention. It had been a century since the previous great pandemic, which found its way from the trenches of the First World War to tropical jungles and Eskimo villages. Back then, scientists scarcely knew what a virus was. In the twenty-first century, infectious disease seemed like a nuisance, not like a mortal threat. This lack of concern was reflected in the diminished budgets given to institutions that once had led the world in countering disease and keeping Americans healthy. Hospitals closed; stockpiles of emergency equipment weren’t replenished. The spectre of an unknown virus arising in China gave certain public-health officials nightmares, but it wasn’t on the agenda of most American policymakers.

About twenty senators showed up to hear Anthony Fauci and Robert Redfield speak at an hour-long briefing. The health authorities were reassuring. Redfield said, “We are prepared for this.”

That day, Pottinger convened forty-two people, including N.S.C. staffers and Cabinet-level officials, for a meeting. China had just announced a lockdown of Wuhan, a city of eleven million, which could mean only that sustained human-to-human transmission was occurring. Indeed, Pottinger’s staff reported that another city, Huanggang, was also locked down. The previous day, the State Department had heightened its travel advisory for passengers to the Wuhan region, and the meeting’s attendees debated how to implement another precaution: sending all passengers coming from Wuhan to five U.S. airports, where they could be given a health screening before entry.

The next day, Pottinger attended a Chinese New Year party on Capitol Hill. Old diplomatic hands, émigrés, and Chinese dissidents relayed stories about the outbreak from friends and family members. People were frightened. It sounded like sars all over again.

Pottinger went home and dug up files from his reporting days, looking for phone numbers of former sources, including Chinese doctors. He then called his brother, Paul, an infectious-disease doctor in Seattle. Paul had been reading about the new virus on Listservs, but had assumed that, like sars, it would be “a flash in the pan.”

If flights from China were halted, Matt asked, could America have more time to prepare?

Paul was hesitant. Like most public-health practitioners, he held that travel bans often have unintended consequences. They stigmatize countries contending with contagion. Doctors and medical equipment must be able to move around. And, by the time restrictions are put in place, the disease has usually infiltrated the border anyway, making the whole exercise pointless. But Matt spoke with resolve. Little was known about the virus except for the fact that it was spreading like wildfire, embers flying from city to city.

Paul told Matt to do whatever he could to slow the virus’s advance, giving the U.S. a chance to establish testing and contact-tracing protocols, which could keep the outbreak under control. Otherwise, the year ahead might be calamitous.

No one realized how widely the disease had already seeded itself. Fauci told a radio interviewer that covid wasn’t something Americans needed to “be worried or frightened by,” but he added that it was “an evolving situation.”

2. The Trickster

In October, 2019, the first Global Health Security Index appeared, a sober report of a world largely unprepared to deal with a pandemic. “Unfortunately, political will for accelerating health security is caught in a perpetual cycle of panic and neglect,” the authors observed. “No country is fully prepared.” Yet one country stood above all others in terms of readiness: the United States.

During the transition to the Trump Administration, the Obama White House handed off a sixty-nine-page document called the Playbook for Early Response to High-Consequence Emerging Infectious Disease Threats and Biological Incidents. A meticulous guide for combatting a “pathogen of pandemic potential,” it contains a directory of government resources to consult the moment things start going haywire.

Among the most dangerous pathogens are the respiratory viruses, including orthopoxviruses (such as smallpox), novel influenzas, and coronaviruses. With domestic outbreaks, the playbook specifies that, “while States hold significant power and responsibility related to public-health response outside of a declared Public Health Emergency, the American public will look to the U.S. Government for action.” The playbook outlines the conditions under which various federal agencies should become involved. Questions about the severity and the contagiousness of a disease should be directed to the Department of Health and Human Services, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, and the Environmental Protection Agency. How robust is contact tracing? Is clinical care in the region scalable if cases explode? There are many such questions, with decisions proposed and agencies assigned. Appendices describe such entities as the Pentagon’s Military Aeromedical Evacuation team, which can be assembled to transport patients. Health and Human Services can call upon a Disaster Mortuary Operational Response Team, which includes medical examiners, pathologists, and dental assistants.

The Trump Administration jettisoned the Obama playbook. In 2019, H.H.S. conducted Crimson Contagion, a simulation examining the government’s ability to contain a pandemic. Among the participants were the Pentagon, the N.S.C., hospitals, local and regional health-care departments, the American Red Cross, and twelve state governments. The scenario envisioned an international group of tourists visiting China who become infected with a novel influenza and spread it worldwide. There’s no vaccine; antiviral drugs are ineffective.

The Crimson Contagion exercise inspired little confidence that the government was prepared to handle such a crisis. Federal agencies couldn’t tell who was in charge; states grew frustrated in their attempts to secure enough resources. During the simulation, some cities defied a C.D.C. recommendation to close schools. Government policies, the report concluded, were inadequate and “often in conflict.” The Public Health Emergency Fund and the Strategic National Stockpile were dangerously depleted; N95 masks and other medical essentials were in short supply, and domestic manufacturing capacity was insufficient. Congress was briefed on the findings but they were never made public. By the time covid arrived, no meaningful changes had been made to address these shortcomings.

“I just love infectious diseases,” John Brooks, the chief medical officer of the covid response team at the C.D.C., admitted to me. “I know diseases are terrible—they kill people. But something about them just grabs me.”

Each generation has its own struggle with disease. In 1939, Brooks’s mother, Joan Bertrand Brooks, developed polio. Her legs were covered with surgical scars, and her right leg was noticeably shorter than her left. “She spoke about that experience often—how she was teased, stigmatized, or blatantly discriminated against,” Brooks recalled.

For Brooks, who is gay, the disease of his generation was H.I.V./aids. He grew up near the Dupont Circle neighborhood of Washington, D.C., which had a large gay population, and watched men he knew disappear: “Guys would get thin and develop lesions and then be gone. It was scary.” Science offered no solution, and that was on Brooks’s mind when he decided to become a doctor. The day he was accepted at Harvard Medical School, he and his mother went to lunch to celebrate. “Afterward, we dropped into a ten-dollar palm reader, who said she saw me marrying a tall Swedish woman and owning a jet with which I flew around the world with our three children,” he told me. “We had a good laugh. I should have asked for a refund.”

In 2015, Brooks became the chief medical officer of the H.I.V./aids division at the C.D.C. Every H.I.V. researcher has been humbled by the various manifestations of this disease. “At every turn, there was something different,” Brooks said. “All these opportunistic infections show up. What in the world is this all about? Very cool.” The experience of studying H.I.V. helped prepare him for the myriad tricks that covid would present.

The C.D.C. was founded in 1946, as the Communicable Disease Center. Atlanta was chosen as its home because the city was in the heart of what was called “the malaria zone.” Five years later, America was declared malaria-free. The C.D.C.’s mission expanded to attack other diseases: typhus, polio, rabies. In 1981, the organization, by then renamed the Centers for Disease Control, reported the first known cases of aids, in Los Angeles. Until this year, the C.D.C. maintained a reputation as the gold standard for public health, operating above politics and proving repeatedly the value of enlightened government and the necessity of science for the furthering of civilization. During the twentieth century, the life span of Americans increased by thirty years, largely because of advances in public health, especially vaccination.

The C.D.C. campus now resembles a midsize college, with more buildings under construction, including a high-containment facility for the world’s most dangerous diseases. Lab animals—mice, ferrets, monkeys—inhabit cages inside Biosafety Level 4 chambers. Humans move around them like deep-sea divers in inflated suits, tethered to an overhead airflow system.

The Emergency Operations Center is a large, bright room, with serried rows of wooden desks facing a wall of video screens. The place exudes a mixture of urgency and professional calm. On one side of the room, operators triage incoming phone calls. In 2014, during the Ebola crisis, Brooks received a call from Clay Jenkins, a county judge in Dallas. A Liberian citizen visiting the city, Thomas Eric Duncan, had contracted the disease. Jenkins wanted advice about how to safely approach Duncan’s fiancée and her family members. On a monitor, Brooks could see the fiancée’s apartment complex, shot from above by cameras on helicopters. Brooks told Jenkins that he could safely enter the apartment as long as the family had no symptoms: it would be an important public gesture for him to choose compassion over fear. Brooks watched footage of Jenkins escorting the family out of the complex. (Thomas Duncan eventually died; two nurses who had cared for him were infected but survived.)

Brooks was working on the covid response team with Greg Armstrong, a fellow-epidemiologist. Armstrong oversaw the Advanced Molecular Detection program, which is part of the C.D.C.’s center for emerging and zoonotic infectious diseases. (Zoonotic diseases come from animals, as coronaviruses typically do.) Humanity’s encroachment into formerly wild regions, coupled with climate change, which has forced animals out of traditional habitats, has engendered many new diseases in humans, including Ebola and Zika. At first, sars-CoV-2—as the new virus was being called—presented itself as a less mortal coronavirus, like the common cold, spreading rapidly and sometimes asymptomatically. In fact, sars-CoV-2 was more like polio. Most polio infections are asymptomatic or very mild—fever and headaches. But some are deadly. The polio cases that doctors actually see are about one in every two hundred infections. Stealth transmission is why polio has been so hard to eradicate.

Armstrong was in Salt Lake City, conducting a training session, when he noticed an article on the Web site of The New England Journal of Medicine: “Early Transmission Dynamics in Wuhan, China, of Novel Coronavirus-Infected Pneumonia.” The article was one of the first to describe the virus’s spread among humans, a development that didn’t surprise Armstrong: “Anybody with any epidemiology experience could tell you it was human-to-human transmission.” Then he noticed Table 1, “Characteristics of Patients,” which noted the original source of their infection. Of the Chinese known to have contracted the virus before January 1st, twenty-six per cent had no exposure either to the Wuhan wet market or to people with apparent respiratory symptoms. In subsequent weeks, the number of people with no obvious source of infection surpassed seventy per cent. Armstrong realized that, unlike with sars or mers—other coronavirus diseases—many infections of sars-CoV-2 were probably asymptomatic or mild. Contact tracing, isolation, and quarantine would likely not be enough. These details were buried in Table 1.

Other reports began to emerge about possible asymptomatic spread. Although sars-CoV-2 was genetically related to the sars and mers viruses, it was apparently unlike them in two key ways: people could be contagious before developing symptoms, and some infected people would never manifest illness. In late February, University of Texas scientists, led by Lauren Ancel Meyers, reported that it could have a “negative serial interval,” meaning that some infected people showed symptoms before the person who had given it to them.

The C.D.C.’s early guidance documents didn’t mention that possibility, because the evidence of asymptomatic spread was deemed insufficient. “In the beginning, for every mathematical analysis that indicated a shorter serial interval than incubation period, others reported no difference,” Brooks said. “When the science changed, we changed. And our recommendations changed, too.” But, by that time, the C.D.C. had been muzzled by the Trump Administration.

“There are three things this virus is doing that blow me away,” Brooks told me. “The first is that it directly infects the endothelial cells that line our blood vessels. I’m not aware of any other human respiratory viruses that do this. This causes a lot of havoc.” Endothelial cells normally help protect the body from infection. When sars-CoV-2 invades them, their powerful chemical contents get dumped into the bloodstream, resulting in inflammation elsewhere in the body. The rupture of individual endothelial cells coarsens the lining in the blood vessels, creating breaks and rough spots that cause turbulent blood flow.

The second surprise was hypercoagulability—patients had a pronounced tendency to develop blood clots. This reminded Brooks of Michael Crichton’s 1969 novel, “The Andromeda Strain,” in which a pathogen causes instant clotting, striking down victims in mid-stride. “This is different,” Brooks said. “You’re getting these things called pulmonary embolisms, which are nasty. A clot forms—it travels to the lung, damaging the tissues, blocking blood flow, and creating pressures that can lead to heart problems.” More puzzling was evidence that clots sometimes formed in the lungs, leading to acute respiratory distress. Brooks referred to an early report documenting autopsies of victims. Nearly all had pulmonary thromboses; until the autopsy, nobody had suspected that the clots were even present, let alone the probable cause of death.

“The last one is this hyperimmune response,” Brooks said. Most infectious diseases kill people by triggering an excessive immune-system response; covid, like pneumonia, can unleash white blood cells that flood the lungs with fluid, putting the patient at risk of drowning. But covid is unusual in the variety of ways that it causes the body to malfunction. Some patients require kidney dialysis or suffer liver damage. The disease can affect the brain and other parts of the nervous system, causing delirium, strokes, and lasting nerve damage. covid could also do strange things to the heart. Hospitals began admitting patients with signs of cardiac arrest—chest pains, trouble breathing—and preparing emergency coronary catheterizations. “But their coronary vessels are clean,” Brooks said. “There’s no blockage.” Instead, an immune reaction had inflamed the heart muscle, a condition called myocarditis. “There’s not a lot you can do but hope they get through it.” A German study of a hundred recovered covid patients with the average age of forty-nine found that twenty-two had lasting cardiac problems, including scarring of the heart muscle.

Even after Brooks thought that covid had no more tricks to play, another aftereffect confounded him: “You get over the illness, you’re feeling better, and it comes back to bite you again.” In adults, it might just be a rash. But some children develop a multi-organ inflammatory syndrome. Brooks said, “They have conjunctivitis, their eyes get real red, they have abdominal pain, and then they can go on to experience cardiovascular collapse.”

The Plague Year The mistakes and the struggles behind America’s coronavirus tragedy. @NewYorker [continued]

3. Spike

When I was around six, I woke up one morning and couldn’t get out of bed: I was paralyzed from the waist down. It was during the polio era, in the early fifties, before there was a cure. I remember the alarm in my mother’s eyes. Our family doctor made a house call. He sat on the edge of the bed, and took my temperature and pulse; there was little else he could do. The terror of polio haunted children and parents everywhere.

I was lucky. After a day or so, I could move my legs again. I was never certain what had caused my brief paralysis, but the memory was searing. Soon after the polio vaccine, invented by Jonas Salk, became available, in 1955, I was inoculated, along with millions of other children.

So I had a personal interest when I entered Building 40 of the main campus of the National Institutes of Health, in Bethesda, Maryland, which houses the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. Dr. Barney S. Graham, the deputy director of the Vaccine Research Center and the chief of the Viral Pathogenesis Laboratory and Translational Science Core, works on the second floor. He studies how viruses cause disease, and he designs vaccines.

The first thing you notice about Graham is that there’s a lot of him: he’s six feet five, with a gray goatee and a laconic manner. Graham’s boss at niaid, Anthony Fauci, told me, “He understands vaccinology better than anybody I know.”

Bookshelves in Graham’s office hold colorful 3-D printouts of viruses that he has worked with, including Ebola, Zika, and influenza. While I was researching “The End of October,” a novel that I published earlier this year, about a deadly pandemic, Graham helped me design a fictional virus, and then concocted a vaccine for it. As we collaborated, I came to understand that researchers like Graham are essentially puzzle solvers. This past year, he solved one of the most consequential puzzles in modern science. He is the chief architect of the first covid vaccines authorized for emergency use. Manufactured by Moderna and Pfizer, they differ only in their delivery systems.

On Graham’s wall is a map of Kansas, where he grew up. His father was a dentist and his mother was a teacher. For part of his childhood, they lived on a hog farm. Barney and his brother did much of the farming. Working with the animals, he learned a lot about veterinary medicine. At Rice University, he majored in biology. He earned a medical degree at the University of Kansas, where he met his wife, Cynthia Turner-Graham, a psychiatrist. In 1978, on an infectious-disease rotation in medical school, he spent time at the N.I.H., where he first encountered Fauci. “Cynthia noticed when I came back how excited I was,” Graham recalled. “People were willing to battle each other’s ideas. She thought I would end up here.”

First, he and Cynthia had to complete residencies. They wanted to be in the same town, a problem many professional couples face, but additionally complicated in their case because Cynthia is Black. She suggested Nashville: he could apply to Vanderbilt School of Medicine and she to Meharry Medical College, a historically Black institution. Tennessee had only recently repealed a ban on interracial marriage.

Driving back to Kansas from Maryland on Christmas Eve, Graham stopped in at Vanderbilt. To his surprise, the director of the residency program, Thomas Brittingham, was in his office and willing to meet with him immediately. When the interview was over, Graham told Brittingham, “I know this is the South. I’m going to marry a Black woman, and if that makes a difference I can’t come here.” Brittingham said, “Close the door.” He welcomed Graham on the spot. Cynthia was accepted at Meharry, and so they moved to Nashville.

By 1982, Graham had become the chief resident at Nashville General Hospital. That year, he saw a patient suffering from five simultaneous infections, including cryptococcal meningitis and herpes simplex. It was a mystery: most infections are solitary events. The medical staff was terrified. Graham realized that he was treating Tennessee’s first aids patient. “We kept him alive for three weeks,” he said.

Millions of lives would be changed, and so many ended, by this remorseless, elusive disease. Immunology, then a fledgling field, was transformed by the battle. “It took us a couple years just to figure out that H.I.V. was a virus,” Graham said. He started running vaccine trials. “It was not till the mid-nineties that we had decent treatments. There were some really hard years. Almost everyone died.”

In 2000, the N.I.H. recruited Graham to create a vaccine-evaluation clinic. He insisted on keeping a research lab. With space for two dozen scientists, his lab focusses on vaccines for three categories of respiratory viruses: influenza, coronaviruses, and a highly contagious virus called respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), which ended up playing a key role in the development of a covid vaccine.

RSV causes wheezing pneumonia in children, and sends more kids under five years old to the hospital than any other disease. One of the last childhood infectious diseases without a vaccine, RSV also kills about as many of the elderly as seasonal influenza. It’s wildly infectious. In order to stop its spread in a hospital pediatric ward, staff must wear gloves, masks, and goggles; if any of these items is omitted, RSV will surge. Like covid, it is dispersed through particle droplets and contaminated surfaces. In the nineteen-sixties, a clinical trial of a potential RSV vaccine made children sicker and led to two deaths—a syndrome called vaccine-enhanced disease. Graham spent much of two decades trying to solve the riddle of what causes RSV, but the technology he needed was still being developed.

In 2008, he had a stroke of luck. Jason McLellan, a postdoc studying H.I.V., had been squeezed out of a structural-biology lab upstairs. H.I.V. has proved invulnerable to a vaccine solution, despite extraordinary technological advances and elegant new theories for designing one. “I thought, Let’s try things out on a more tractable virus,” McLellan recalled. “Barney thought RSV would be perfect for a structure-based vaccine.”

A vaccine trains the immune system to recognize a virus in order to counter it. Using imaging technology, structural biologists can intuit the contours of a virus and its proteins, then reproduce those structures to make more effective vaccines. McLellan said of his field, “From the structure, we can determine function—it’s similar to how seeing a car, with four wheels and doors, implies something about its function to transport people.”

The surface of an RSV particle features a protein, designated F. On the top of the protein, a spot called an epitope serves as a landing pad for antibodies, allowing the virus to be neutralized. But something extraordinary happens when the virus invades a cell. The F protein swells like an erection, burying the epitope and effectively hiding it from antibodies. Somehow, McLellan had to keep the F protein from getting an erection.

Until recently, one of the main imaging tools used by vaccinologists, the cryogenic electron microscope, wasn’t powerful enough to visualize viral proteins, which are incredibly tiny. “The whole field was referred to as blobology,” McLellan said. As a work-around, he developed expertise in X-ray crystallography. With this method, a virus, or even just a protein on a virus, is crystallized, then hit with an X-ray beam that creates a scatter pattern, like a shotgun blast; the structure of the crystallized object can be determined from the distribution of electrons. McLellan showed me an “atomistic interpretation” of the F protein on the RSV virus—the visualization looked like a pile of Cheetos. It required a leap of imagination, but inside that murky world Graham and McLellan and their team manipulated the F protein, essentially by cloning it and inserting mutations that kept it strapped down. McLellan said, “There’s a lot of art to it.”

In 2013, Graham and McLellan published “Structure-Based Design of a Fusion Glycoprotein Vaccine for Respiratory Syncytial Virus,” in Science, demonstrating how they had stabilized the F protein in order to use it as an antigen—the part of a vaccine that sparks an immune response. Antibodies could now attack the F protein, vanquishing the virus. Graham and McLellan calculated that their vaccine could be given to a pregnant woman and provide enough antibodies to her baby to last for its first six months—the critical period. The paper opened a new front in the war against infectious disease. In a subsequent paper in Science, the team declared that it had established “clinical proof of concept for structure-based vaccine design,” portending “an era of precision vaccinology.” The RSV vaccine is now in Phase III human trials.

In 2012, the mers coronavirus emerged in Saudi Arabia. It was extremely dangerous to work with: a third of infected people died. Ominously, it was the second novel coronavirus in ten years. Coronaviruses have been infecting humans for as long as eight centuries, but before sars and mers they caused only the common cold. It’s possible that, in the distant past, cold viruses were as deadly as covid, and that humans developed resistance over time.

Like RSV, coronaviruses have a protein that elongates when invading a cell. “It looks like a spike, so we just call it Spike,” Graham said. Spike was large, flexible, and encased in sugars, which made it difficult to crystallize, so X-ray crystallography wasn’t an option. Fortunately, around 2013, what McLellan calls a “resolution revolution” in cryogenic electron microscopy allowed scientists to visualize microbes down to one ten-billionth of a metre. Finally, vaccinologists could truly see what they were doing.

Using these high-powered lenses, Graham and McLellan modified the mers spike protein, creating a vaccine. It worked well in mice. They were on the way to making a version for humans, but, after mers had killed hundreds of people, it petered out as an immediate threat to humans—and the research funding petered out, too. Graham was dismayed, realizing that such a reaction was shortsighted, but he knew that his energies hadn’t been wasted. About two dozen virus families are known to infect humans, and the weapon that Graham’s lab had developed to conquer RSV and mers might be transferrable to many of them.

What was the best way to deliver a modified protein? Graham knew that Moderna, a biotech startup in Cambridge, Massachusetts, had encoded a modified protein on strips of genetic material known as messenger RNA. The company had never brought a vaccine to market, concentrating instead on providing treatments for rare disorders that aren’t profitable enough to interest Big Pharma. But Moderna’s messenger-RNA platform was potent.

In mice, Graham had proved the effectiveness of a structure-based vaccine for mers and also for Nipah, a particularly fatal virus. In 2017, Graham arranged a demonstration project for pandemic preparedness, with mers and Nipah serving as prototypes for a human vaccine using Moderna’s messenger-RNA platform. Almost three years later, as he was preparing to begin human trials for the Nipah vaccine, he heard the news from Wuhan.

Graham called McLellan, who happened to be in Park City, Utah, getting snowboard boots heat-molded to his feet. McLellan had become a star in structural biology, and was recruited to the University of Texas at Austin, where he had access to cryogenic electron microscopes. It took someone who knew Graham well to detect the urgency in his voice. He suspected that China’s cases of atypical pneumonia were caused by a new coronavirus, and he was trying to obtain the genomic sequence. It was a chance to test their concept in a real-world situation. Would McLellan and his team like to get “back in the saddle” and help him create a vaccine?

“Of course,” McLellan said.

“We got the sequences Friday night, the tenth of January,” Graham told me. They had been posted online by the Chinese. “We woke up on the eleventh and started designing proteins.”

Nine days later, the coronavirus officially arrived in America.

Within a day after Graham and McLellan downloaded the sequence for sars-CoV-2, they had designed the modified proteins. The key accelerating factor was that they already knew how to alter the spike proteins of other coronaviruses. On January 13th, they turned their scheme over to Moderna, for manufacturing. Six weeks later, Moderna began shipping vials of vaccine for clinical trials. The development process was “an all-time record,” Graham told me. Typically, it takes years, if not decades, to go from formulating a vaccine to making a product ready to be tested: the process privileges safety and cost over speed.

Graham had to make several crucial decisions while designing the vaccine, including where to start encoding the spike-protein sequence on the messenger RNA. Making bad choices could render the vaccine less effective—or worthless. He solicited advice from colleagues. Everyone said that the final decisions were up to him—nobody had more experience in designing vaccines. He made his choices. Then, after Moderna had already begun the manufacturing process, the company sent back some preliminary data that made him fear he’d botched the job.

Graham panicked. Given his usual composure, Cynthia, his wife, was alarmed. “It was a crisis of confidence that I just never see in him,” she said. So much depended on the prompt development of a safe and effective vaccine. Graham’s lab was off to a fast start. If his vaccine worked, millions of lives might be spared. If it failed or was delayed, it would be Graham’s fault.

After the vaccine was tested in animals, it became clear that Graham’s design choices had been sound. The first human trial began on March 16th. A week later, Moderna began scaling up production to a million doses per month.

The Plague Year The mistakes and the struggles behind America’s coronavirus tragedy. @NewYorker [continued]

4. “It’s more like 1918”

Since 2016, Dr. Rick Bright has run the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority. A division of H.H.S., the authority is responsible for medical countermeasures in the event of bioterrorism or a pandemic. According to a whistle-blower complaint, on January 22nd Bright received an e-mail from Mike Bowen, an executive at the Texas-based firm Prestige Ameritech, the country’s largest maker of surgical masks. Bowen wrote that he had four “like new” N95 manufacturing lines, which weren’t in use. He added, “Reactivating these machines would be very difficult and very expensive but could be achieved in a dire situation and with government help.” In another message, Bowen wrote, “We are the last major domestic mask company. . . . My phones are ringing now, so I don’t ‘need’ government business. I’m just letting you know that I can help you preserve our infrastructure if things ever get really bad. I’m a patriot first, businessman second.”

Bright had already been worried about the likely shortage of personal protective equipment in the Strategic National Stockpile. He also felt that not enough was being done to develop diagnostics for the virus from Wuhan. On January 23rd, at an H.H.S. leadership meeting with Secretary Alex Azar, he warned that the “virus might already be here—we just don’t have the tests to know.” Many Trump Administration officials seemed determined to ignore scientists who shared bad news.

On January 25th, Bowen wrote Bright again, saying that his company was getting “lots of requests from China and Hong Kong” for masks—a stunning piece of intelligence. About half the masks used in the U.S. come from China; if that supply stopped, Bowen said, American hospitals would run out. Bright continued pushing for immediate action on masks, but he found H.H.S. to be unresponsive. On January 27th, Bowen wrote, “I think we’re in deep shit. The world.”

The same day, at the White House, Matt Pottinger convened an interagency meeting of Cabinet officers and deputies. Attendees fell into four camps. There was the public-health establishment—Redfield, Fauci, Azar—data-driven people who, at the moment, had no data. Another group—the acting White House chief of staff, Mick Mulvaney, along with officials from the Office of Management and Budget and the Transportation Department—was preoccupied with the economic damage that would result if drastic steps were taken. A State Department faction was concerned mainly with logistical issues, such as extracting Americans from Wuhan. Finally, there was Pottinger, who saw the virus not just as a medical and economic challenge but also as a national-security threat. He wanted dramatic action now.

For three weeks, the U.S. had been trying unsuccessfully to send medical experts to China. The public-health contingent didn’t want to make decisions about quarantines or travel bans without definitive intelligence, but the Chinese wouldn’t supply it. When Pottinger presented a proposal to curtail travel from China, the economic advisers derided it as overkill. Travel bans upended trade—a serious consideration with China, which, in addition to P.P.E., manufactured much of the vital medicine that the U.S. relied on. Predictably, the public-health representatives were resistant, too: travel bans slowed down emergency assistance, and viruses found ways to propagate no matter what. Moreover, at least fourteen thousand passengers from China were arriving in the U.S. every day: there was no way to quarantine them all. These arguments would join other public-health verities that were eventually overturned by the pandemic. Countries that imposed travel bans with strict quarantines, such as Vietnam and New Zealand, kept the contagion at a manageable level.

The State Department’s evacuation of Americans, particularly diplomatic staff in Wuhan, outraged the Chinese; Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the director-general of the W.H.O., said that the U.S. was overreacting. In part to placate the Chinese, the 747s that were sent to collect Americans were filled with eighteen tons of P.P.E., including masks, gowns, and gauze. It was a decision that many came to regret—especially when inferior substitutes were later sold back to the U.S., at colossal markups.

The morning after the meeting, Pottinger spoke to a doctor in China who was treating patients. People were getting infected and there was no way to know how and where it happened—a stage of contagion called community spread.

Pottinger asked, “Is this going to be as bad as sars?”

“Don’t think 2003—it’s more like 1918,” the doctor said. That flu lasted two years, and killed between forty and a hundred million people.

On January 28th, the national-security adviser, Robert O’Brien, brought Pottinger into the Oval Office, where the President was getting his daily intelligence briefing. According to contemporaneous notes from someone present at this meeting, the briefer mentioned the virus, but didn’t present it as the top threat. O’Brien warned the President, “This will be the biggest national-security threat you will face.” Trump asked if the outbreak posed as big a danger as sars, and the briefer responded that it wasn’t clear yet.

Pottinger leaped to his feet and recounted what he’d heard from his sources—most shockingly, that more than half the disease’s spread was attributed to asymptomatic carriers. Yet, every day, thousands of people were flying from China to the U.S.

“Should we shut down travel?” Trump asked.

“Yes,” Pottinger advised.

Pottinger left the Oval Office and walked to the Situation Room, where a newly formed Coronavirus Task Force was meeting. People were annoyed with him. “It would be unusual for an asymptomatic person to drive the epidemic in a respiratory disorder,” Fauci said. That certainly had been true of sars. He still wanted U.S. scientists to report from China, in order to get more data. Redfield, of the C.D.C., considered it too early for disruptive actions. He said that there were only a handful of cases outside China, and that in the U.S. the pathogen wasn’t moving that fast. The public-health contingent was united. “Let the data guide us,” they advised.

Pottinger pointed out that the Chinese continued to block such efforts: “We’re not getting data that’s dependable!”

The economic advisers, meanwhile, were frantic—a travel ban would kill the airline industry and shut down the global supply chain. Larry Kudlow, the President’s chief economic adviser, had been questioning the seriousness of the situation. He couldn’t square the apocalyptic forecasts with the stock market. “Is all the money dumb?” he wondered. “Everyone’s asleep at the switch? I just have a hard time believing that.” (Kudlow doesn’t recall making this statement.)

Pottinger, sensing that he’d need backup, had brought along Peter Navarro, an abrasive economic adviser who had been part of the trade negotiations with China. Many White House officials considered Navarro to be a crackpot, but he was known to be one of the President’s favorites because he advocated tariff wars and other nationalist measures. Navarro warned the group, “We have got to seal the borders now. This is a black-swan event, and you’re rolling the dice with your gradualist approach.”

Within minutes, Navarro was at odds with everyone in the room. He pointed out that the new virus was spreading faster than the seasonal flu or sars. The possible economic costs and loss of life were staggering. Azar argued that a travel ban would be an overreaction. No progress was made in that meeting, but Navarro was so strident that Mulvaney barred him from future sessions.

Then data surfaced that shifted the argument. In mid-January, a Chicago woman returned from a trip to China. Within a week, she was hospitalized with covid. On January 30th, her husband, who hadn’t been to China, tested positive. Fauci, Redfield, and others in the public-health contingent changed their minds: human-to-human transmission was clearly happening in America.

Trump was told the news. The timing couldn’t have been worse for him. The bitter trade war he had initiated with China had reached a tentative pause. Since then, he had been praising Xi Jinping’s handling of the contagion, despite evidence of a coverup. A travel ban would reopen wounds. Nevertheless, Trump agreed to announce one the next day.

It was a bold gesture, but incomplete. The Administration blocked non-Americans coming from China, but U.S. citizens, residents, and their family members were free to enter. A two-week quarantine was imposed on travellers coming from the Wuhan region, but, unlike Taiwan, Australia, Hong Kong, and New Zealand, which rigidly enforced quarantines, the U.S. did little to enforce its rules, and the leaks soon became apparent.

5. Flattening the Curve

In 1989, Dr. Howard Markel was in graduate school at Johns Hopkins, specializing in both pediatrics and the history of medicine. He had just lost his wife to cancer, a month after their first anniversary. Markel began volunteering at a local aids clinic. He found that helping men his own age who were facing their mortality, or their partner’s, was immensely consoling—“the most spiritually uplifting work I did in my entire clinical career.”

Markel’s patients often asked him, “Doc, do you think I’ll be quarantined because I have H.I.V.?” He’d reply that it wasn’t appropriate for the disease. But, realizing that these men feared being shut away, like victims of leprosy, he began studying “the uses and misuses of quarantine.” His first book was about two epidemics in New York City in 1892, one of typhus and one of cholera, in which Jewish immigrants were blamed for the outbreak and many were sent to quarantine islands.

In the early two-thousands, Markel studied “escape” communities that had essentially closed their doors during the 1918 flu pandemic—among them Gunnison, Colorado, and a school for the blind in Pittsburgh. All had survived the contagion virtually unscathed. In 2006, Markel continued his work on the 1918 flu with Martin Cetron, who now directs the Division of Global Migration and Quarantine, at the C.D.C. For an initiative undertaken by the George W. Bush Administration, Cetron and Markel were asked to help identify the best way to manage the early waves of a pandemic that had no vaccine or treatments. They considered school closures, public-gathering bans, business shutdowns—traditional tools of public health. Markel assembled a dozen researchers—“the Manhattan Project for historians,” he jokes—who combed through more than a hundred archives.

In 1918, Americans faced the same confounding choices as today. Twenty-five cities closed their schools once; fourteen did so twice, and Kansas City three times. More than half the cities were “double-humped”—suffering two waves of the flu. “They raised the bar too early because the natives got restless,” Markel, who is now a professor at the University of Michigan, told me. “They each acted as their own control group. When the


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Trump went from insouciance to idiocy to malevolence: deliberately making matters worse. I defy anyone to read this piece and not be disgusted by his pathologically solipsistic conduct. @nfergus
Law & Politics

But in the end one is left with a feeling of revulsion at the way Trump went from insouciance to idiocy to malevolence: deliberately making matters worse. I defy anyone to read this piece and not be disgusted by his pathologically solipsistic conduct.

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Ibn Khaldun sought to explain the intrinsic relationship between political leadership and the management of pandemics in the pre-colonial period in his book Muqaddimah
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Historically, such pandemics had the capacity to overtake “the dynasties at the time of their senility, when they had reached the limit of their duration” and, in the process, challenged their “power and curtailed their [rulers’] influence...”

Rulers who are only concerned with the well-being of their “inner circle and their parties” are an incurable “disease”.

States with such rulers can get “seized by senility and the chronic disease from which [they] can hardly ever rid [themselves], for which [they] can find no cure”

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The Trümperdämmerung Is a Fitting End to 2020
Law & Politics

As the awful year of 2020 and the awful tenure of Donald Trump both come to an end, the President has partied with the unmasked in Palm Beach and taken credit for a vaccine against a virus that he once counselled could be beaten with bleach. He has pardoned mercenary child-killers and Paul Manafort. He has golfed. He has raged. He has vetoed the annual defense bill and threatened to shut down the government over the holidays. He has turned against even some of his most loyal henchmen, and some, in turn, have finally flipped on him. “Mr. President . . . STOP THE INSANITY,” the New York Post blared on Monday, after four years of relentless cheerleading.

But, of course, the President did not, and he will not. He continues to refuse to accept his defeat in the election, and just the other day he retweeted a claim that “treason” kept him from winning. Injecting still more political drama into the most ministerial of constitutional processes, Trump and his most fanatical supporters now want Congress to refuse to confirm Joe Biden’s Electoral College win on January 6th—which is both pointless, in that it will not happen, and incredibly destructive. Meanwhile, more than a hundred thousand Americans have died of the coronavirus just since the election, and only two million Americans—not the hundred million he once promised—have so far received the vaccine.

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Lab leak is the 'most credible' source of the coronavirus outbreak, says top US government official, amid bombshell claims Wuhan scientist has turned whistleblower @MailOnline
Law & Politics

Matthew Pottinger, who is President Donald Trump's respected Deputy National Security Adviser, told politicians from around the world that even China's leaders now openly admit their previous claims that the virus originated in a Wuhan market are false.

Mr Pottinger said that the latest intelligence points to the virus leaking from the top-secret Wuhan Institute of Virology, 11 miles from the market, saying: 'There is a growing body of evidence that the lab is likely the most credible source of the virus.'

'MPs around the world have a moral role to play in exposing the WHO investigation as a Potemkin exercise,' Mr Pottinger told the parliamentarians, in reference to the fake villages created in the Crimea in the 18th Century, intended to convince the visiting Russian Empress Catherine the Great that the region was in good health.

Little wonder a prominent vaccine scientist told me: 'This is about as close to a smoking gun as exists.'

Intriguingly, a second thesis three years later also highlighted these cases. 

It was written by a student of Oxford-trained virologist Professor George Gao Fu, who is now head of China's Centre for Disease Control and Prevention, which is leading their response to the pandemic.

The institute has carried out experiments on bat coronaviruses since 2015 – including research that can increase their virulence by combining snippets from different strains. 

Some viruses were injected into special 'humanised' mice that had been created for use in labs with human genes, cells or tissues in their bodies.

These controversial experiments artificially force the evolution of viruses so as to boost our understanding of diseases and their transmissibility. 

They help researchers develop new drugs and vaccines.

The Wuhan scientists were working with prominent Western experts and supported financially by the National Institutes of Health, the most important US funding body – although this relationship was ended on safety grounds after being revealed by The Mail on Sunday.

Some scientists argue this type of pathogen research is too risky since it could trigger a pandemic from a new disease. 

As a result, there was a moratorium on such work by the US for four years under the Obama administration.

Other critics have warned that the Wuhan Institute was constructing 'chimeric' coronaviruses – new hybrid micro-organisms that show no sign of human manipulation.

Now the big question is whether they took samples from the coronavirus that killed the Yunnan miners and, back in their laboratory more than 1,000 miles away, created a new virus that somehow leaked out into their own city.

So the Chinese authorities must have known about the dead miners. 

This is 'the furin cleavage site', a mutation not found on similar types of coronavirus that allows its spike protein to bind so effectively to many human cells.

'This perplexing story does not add up – the possibility of a lab accident cannot be discounted,' he said.

There have also been questions over the apparent disappearance of a young woman researcher who worked in the laboratory. 

It has been suggested she might have been patient zero of this pandemic, although this has been denied by the Chinese authorities.

It sounds like the plot from a science-fiction film: an engineered virus leaking from a high-tech lab to cause global chaos. 

Yet there are plenty of precedents, including two researchers infected with Sars in a Beijing virology lab in 2004.

Studies also show accidents with deadly pathogens are common in labs where people are working with microscopic viruses.

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“If they can get you asking the wrong questions, they don't have to worry about answers.” ― Origin of the #CoronaVirus #COVID19
Law & Politics

“There's always more to it. This is what history consists of. It is the sum total of the things they aren't telling us.”“A paranoid is someone who knows a little of what's going on. ”

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‘’Zoonotic’’ origin was one that was accelerated in the Laboratory.
Law & Politics

There is also a non negligible possibility that #COVID19 was deliberately released

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Drinking The Kool Aid
World Of Finance

“Everybody, everybody everywhere, has his own movie going, his own scenario, and everybody is acting his movie out like mad, only most people don’t know that is what they’re trapped by, their little script.” ― Tom Wolfe, The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test

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Currency Markets at a Glance WSJ
World Currencies

Euro 1.2252

Dollar Index 89.674

Japan Yen 102.95

Swiss Franc 0.88367

Pound 1.3694

Aussie 0.7717

India Rupee 72.8725

South Korea Won 1080.44

Brazil Real 5.2017

Egypt Pound 15.7535

South Africa Rand 14.6044

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27-JAN-2020 :: “But it is a curve each of them feels, unmistakably. It is the parabola.''
World Of Finance

“But it is a curve each of them feels, unmistakably. It is the parabola. They must have guessed, once or twice -guessed and refused to believe -that everything, always, collectively, had been moving toward that purified shape latent in the sky, that shape of no surprise, no second chance, no return.’’

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XRP's market cap has fallen by 93% from $137B to under $10B. That makes the value of the XRP collapse bigger than Enron and Worldcom. @Joshua_Frank_
World Currencies

While not a bankruptcy, XRP is effectively the third largest collapse of all time behind Lehman Brothers and Washington Mutual.

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Weekly epidemiological update - 29 December 2020 Situation @WHOAFRO

In the past week, over 114 000 new cases were reported in the African Region, a 20% increase compared to the previous week, and over 2500 deaths, a 37% increase over the previous week.

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CoViD19-ΛFЯICΛ: Confirmed: 2 785 802 (+ 27705) Actives: 401 438 (+ 11420) @NCoVAfrica

Confirmed: 2 785 802 (+ 27705)

Actives: 401 438 (+ 11420)

Deaths: 66 129 (+ 661)

Recoveries: 2 316 480 (+ 15624)


Active Cases at all time high & Daily Cases +35.119% above July high 

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South Africa 17,710 #COVID19 cases yesterday above 12,129/day 1wk avg and accelerating. @jmlukens

COVID-19 avg cases/day

#SouthAfrica: 12,129

#Morocco: 2,017

#Tunisia: 1,745

#Nigeria: 808

#Libya: 513

#Namibia: 478

#Ethiopia: 410

#Algeria: 395

#Uganda: 325

#Zambia: 191

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Next Africa: Crossroads, Cocoa and Law and Order @business

Africa has so far been spared the full brunt of the coronavirus pandemic, at least as far as confirmed infections and deaths are concerned. 

Its economies suffered like global partners, though, and added to already stifling debt burdens.
The rollout of vaccines, the pace of economic recovery and how they manage their debt loads — and relief — will be common themes for the nations of sub-Saharan Africa. 

In this edition of Next Africa, we ask the bureau chiefs in West Africa, Nigeria, East Africa and South Africa to look ahead and highlight what else investors should be watching for in the next 12 months.  

East Africa: A nation at crossroads

Ethiopia will continue to be one of Africa’s most-watched countries in 2021 as it aligns its efforts on nation-building and economic transformation. Opportunities — and risks — abound in what could be a continent success story.
Skirmishes throughout the year were topped by Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s assault on the dissident Tigray region in November. 

Partly motivated by the clamor for more regional autonomy, the war has resulted in heavy casualties and forced tens of thousands to flee their homes. 

Eritrea, which signed a peace pact for which Abiy won the Nobel Prize in 2019, will have a role in Ethiopia’s future, given its interest in securing the border with Tigray.

The Horn of Africa nation is yet to resolve an impasse with Egypt and Sudan over the filling of its Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam that could have wider ramifications. 

President Donald Trump said the dispute risked military confrontation if Ethiopia unilaterally decided to fill the reservoir.

Ethiopia’s election in June, the first since Abiy took office in 2018, will be crucial. Voters will decide whether to back the prime minister’s pledge for a united and prosperous democracy in Africa's second-most populous country. 

Abiy could use a popular mandate to advance his nation-building agenda and boost confidence among investors eager to be part of Ethiopian ventures from telecommunication to energy and finance.

But first, he has to win what may be a tight election and a battle with the Tigrayans that may not be over yet.

— By David Malingha

Ghana and Ivory Coast: Cocoa Poverty

Next year may see the end game of an increasingly bitter dispute between the world’s biggest chocolate makers and the two African countries that produce most of the world's cocoa beans.

The battle revolves around payments to farmers in Ivory Coast and Ghana, which are responsible for 70% of global production of the chocolate ingredient. 

African regulators say some firms — which include Western giants such as Hershey and Nestle — are resisting paying an agreed $400 premium on every ton of cocoa so growers can earn a living wage.

An obstacle is that the two West African countries process very little of their beans into chocolate. 

That gives the companies more influence on the distribution of income, while limiting governments’ ability to convert the vast resource into African wealth and jobs.

A new generation of ethically minded chocolate lovers is calling on industry players to act responsibly. 

The firms say they are committed to farmers’ wellbeing, even as demand for confectionery slows amid the Covid-19 pandemic.

While the dispute rages, the poverty besetting growers has in turn spurred the use of child labor on African farms, staining a global industry worth more than $100 billion.

— By Yinka Ibukun

South Africa: Graft trials and debt

South Africa heads into 2021 facing the risk of a sovereign-debt crisis.

Averting it will require President Cyril Ramaphosa to bring a resurgent coronavirus pandemic under control, stand firm on an undertaking to contain the state wage bill in the face of opposition from his labor union allies and fulfill plans to attract billions of dollars in new investment.

Ramaphosa’s tenuous control of the ruling African National Congress has limited his scope to effect reforms and tackle corruption since he took office almost three years ago, but two pending lawsuits could bolster his clout.

His predecessor Jacob Zuma and the party’s Secretary-General Ace Magashule, who have both repeatedly undermined his authority, are due to appear in court in February to face graft charges, and could be politically sidelined if convicted.

The ANC’s standing among the electorate will be put to the test in municipal elections that will take place around mid-year.

The party, which has ruled nationally since it took power in the country’s first multiracial elections in 1994, is looking to regain control of several of the main towns that it lost to the opposition in 2016 — a backlash against Zuma’s scandal-marred rule.

— By Amogelang Mbatha

Nigeria: Buhari to Step Up Law and Order

Pressure is mounting on Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari to end nationwide insecurity that’s worsened the outlook of Africa’s biggest economy — already reeling from lower oil prices and the pandemic.

With critics doubting the former military ruler’s ability to end recurring kidnappings, farmland killings and crime in oil-producing states, Buhari will likely assert law and order in the new year.

In December, more than 300 boys were freed after gunmen took them from their school in the northwest for almost a week. 

Some 276 schoolgirls were kidnapped in a similar attack in 2014 and at least 110 girls were taken in another incident, in 2018.

Insecurity has exacerbated the fragility of Nigeria’s economy, which the International Monetary Fund forecast will contract 4.3% this year. 

Islamist insurgents’ attacks on farming villages in the northeast last month left at least 110 people dead. Inflation quickened to an almost three-year high because of the food-supply disruptions.

Containing insecurity has never been more urgent. 

For now, Buhari has deployed the military in most of the nation’s 36 states, with orders to put an end to the abductions and banditry. 

They also have to protect oil assets from vandalism, which has hit national output and curbed government revenue in the past. 

There is much upside if he gets it right. Nigeria is Africa's biggest crude producer and its population of about 200 million offers not only a market but also a pool for rapid development. 

A massive oil refinery being built by Aliko Dangote, the continent's richest person, could transform the economy, while currency reform may lure more investment. 

— By Anthony Osae-Brown

Coming up

The following elections are due to take place in sub-Saharan Africa by the month provided (official dates are still to be confirmed). 

January - Uganda presidential & parliamentary

February - Djibouti presidential 

February - Somalia presidential

March - Cape Verde presidential & parliamentary

March - Republic of Congo presidential

March - Ivory Coast parliamentary

April - Benin presidential 

April - Chad presidential 

June - Ethiopia parliamentary

July - Sao Tome & Principe presidential

August - Zambia presidential & parliamentary 

August - South Africa local government

August - South Sudan presidential & parliamentary

December - Gambia presidential 

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The war will drag on, possibly for years, if not a political settlement is reached. @KjetilTronvoll

The only thing we can surely say about the #war on #Tigray in #Ethiopia, is that the country will not return back to a “normality” as seen before the outbreak of hostilities. The war will drag on, possibly for years, if not a political settlement is reached.

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@PMEthiopia has launched an unwinnable War on Tigray Province.

Ethiopia which was once the Poster child of the African Renaissance now has a Nobel Prize Winner whom I am reliably informed

PM Abiy His inner war cabinet includes Evangelicals who are counseling him he is "doing Christ's work"; that his faith is being "tested". @RAbdiAnalyst

@PMEthiopia has launched an unwinnable War on Tigray Province.

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Ethiopia The top 15 countries that buy Ethiopia's products | @michaeltanchum

Sudan, with whom Ethiopia is fighting, is #1 

1.Sudan $877 million (not billion)

2.United States 319

3.China 295

4.Switzerland 191

5.Saudi Arabia 170

6.United Kingdom 155

7.Israel  114

8.Japan  114

9. India  112

10.Germany 96

11.United Arab Emirates 88

12.Italy  83

13.Indonesia 81

14.Djibouti 73

15.Turkey 55

Turning to Africa The Spinning Top

Democracy from Tanzania to Zimbabwe to Cameroon has been shredded.

We are getting closer and closer to the Virilian Tipping Point

“The revolutionary contingent attains its ideal form not in the place of production, but in the street''

Political leadership in most cases completely gerontocratic will use violence to cling onto Power but any Early Warning System would be warning a Tsunami is coming

10 NOV 14 : African youth demographic {many characterise this as a 'demographic dividend"} - which for Beautiful Blaise turned into a demographic terminator

Martin Aglo, a law student from Benin, told Reuters: “After the Arab Spring, this is the Black Spring”.We need to ask ourselves; how many people can incumbent shoot stone cold dead in such a situation – 100, 1,000, 10,000?

This is another point: there is a threshold beyond which the incumbent can’t go. Where that threshold lies will be discovered in the throes of the event.

The Event is no longer over the Horizon.

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Nigeria Stocks Index Ends Year as World-Best With 50% Gain @markets

Nigerian benchmark stock index rose 1.9% at close on Thursday, moving the year-to-date gain to the most in 17 years.

The Lagos bourse closed with 50% gain at 40,270.7 points, most since December 2007. 

The equity index is the world leader among the 93 stock indexes tracked by Bloomberg.

Some of the companies that posted the most positive return for the year include Equity Assurance Plc at 400%, Neimeth International Pharmaceuticals 260% and FTN Cocoa Processors, which climbed 230%.

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Take note of the introduced miminum tax that seeks to tax 1% turnover of businesses whether they make profits or losses. @KellyGitahi

At a time when firms are struggling to stay afloat because of Covid-19, this is surely a final nail in the coffin. Firms will close down quickly.

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by Aly Khan Satchu (www.rich.co.ke)
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January 2021

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