How the ‘Second Wave’ Turns Into a Tsunami
In just a month, Singapore has dropped from the second-most coronavirus cases in the world down to No. 43. Today, it has just 683 cases – and only two people have died from the virus.
Singapore is the “model to emulate,” said the New York Times. “We are very impressed with the efforts [Singapore is] making” to fight COVID-19, the head of the World Health Organization said last month. A Harvard University study called Singapore’s approach for detecting the virus the “gold standard.”
But over the past week, the number of cases of COVID-19 in Singapore has more than doubled. And the government is clamping down again.
This is the “second ripple.” It’s too small to be a wave yet.
But in many countries that haven’t been as proactive as Singapore in containing the coronavirus, it could become a tsunami…
It has helped that Singapore – a tiny, rich country with a strong health care system – is custom-made to fight a global pandemic. Singapore’s uniquely strong sense of national purpose, liberally peppered with paranoia, means that most residents rapidly and willingly do what the authoritarian government says.
As a result, Singapore got past the panic-buying-and-hand-sanitizer shortages phase of the pandemic in early February.
Today, “hygiene porn” is readily available all over the island… below is a shot of my local supermarket’s sanitizer section…
Unlike much of the rest of the world, people in Singapore have been going to malls, riding the metro, and attending school. Aside from having your temperature taken whenever you turn around, life has been almost normal.
But in recent weeks, as infected Singaporeans have returned from abroad, the coronavirus has continued to spread in what’s one of the world’s most densely populated countries.
Wary of a second “wave” of infections, the government has been tightening the noose. Visitors can’t even pass through the country. Singapore Airlines is grounding 96% of its fleet. Singapore residents coming home have to submit to a two-week stay-at-home quarantine.
The government also recently announced that bars, movie theaters, and other entertainment venues would again close as of last night. Ripping a page from the playbook of American college kids celebrating spring break on packed beaches in Florida, some nightclubs in Singapore announced “farewell party” promotions before the ban kicked in… where social distancing will certainly not be practiced.
But most people are taking the government’s edicts seriously. On Wednesday when I went to my local mall and hawker center – an Asian-style food court – employees were busy decorating tables with bright red tape to encourage social distancing.
The Singaporean government recently rolled out an app called TraceTogether that uses Bluetooth technology to track down people who come into contact with someone who has been infected by the virus. Nearly one-tenth of the country’s population downloaded the app in the first three days after its launch.
Many of Singapore’s efforts wouldn’t work in countries where people don’t trust their government… and where similar invasions of privacy would spark riots of ACLU lawyers.
That doesn’t matter in Singapore. The country wants to keep its coronavirus accolades coming.
And in the meantime, people are getting anxious about a second wave of infections…
The lines at the high-end grocery store I went to yesterday were longer than I’d ever seen. People are anticipated a lockdown. The government felt obliged to send a text warning people to not “rush to supermarkets and malls, especially during peak hours.”
And I know that right now it’s worse almost everywhere else in the world…
‘Shoot Violators on Sight’
Last week, I said that COVID-19 was just getting started in India. Later that day, prime minister Narendra Modi told hundreds of millions of Indians to stay home. Even the Taj Mahal was shut down. And on Tuesday, Modi ordered a three-week lockdown for all 1.3 billion Indians.
I checked in again with my friend and fellow investment research publisher Rahul, who lives in Mumbai (formerly Bombay). “The fear is still there, but people understand that it’s essential, and are happy that Modi has a firm grip on the situation,” he told me. “All this planning is unprecedented in India.”
However, in a scenario reminiscent of cities in China and Italy after a lockdown was announced – but before it was implemented – many Indians quickly bolted from the big cities, potentially spreading the virus throughout the country. As the Financial Times explained…
“Tens of thousands of people who normally drive taxis, run food stalls, and work in other small businesses fled for their homes in rural India. Even the suspension of all inter-city train services and public buses failed to stop people streaming out of India’s cities, making long journeys home on foot as a sudden curfew brought most activities to a halt…
Many experts fear that migrant workers may have already unwittingly carried coronavirus into India’s rural hinterland, where the fragile health infrastructure is woefully unprepared to cope with a surge of critically ill patients.”
India has just half a hospital bed per 1,000 inhabitants, which is a way to measure the availability of health care. That’s by far the lowest of any country in the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), an economic club of 36 countries. It’s half of the second-least prepared country, Indonesia. The U.S. has 2.8 hospital beds per 1,000 people. Japan has the most, with 13.1 beds.
And some officials in India are getting serious about locking things down. The chief minister of the state of Telangana – home to 39 million people (nearly as many as California) in south-central India, where the city of Hyderabad is situated – warned that if residents didn’t adhere to the lockdown, he would tell police to shoot violators on sight.
Hillbilly Protection Equipment
Another bad place to be? On the medical front line in the U.S. – where medical professionals are going into battle with the equivalent of pop guns and water pistols.
That’s what my little brother, an emergency-room doctor in New Mexico, will be doing this weekend.
Over the past few weeks, he has been catching up on paperwork and wine in quarantine after he treated a patient who turned out to be infected with COVID-19.
My brother says that he feels fine. But there aren’t enough testing kits to go around, so he doesn’t know if he’s infected. “It takes more than a week to get test results back now,” he told me. (In Japan, researchers are testing a kit that can deliver results within 10 minutes.)
“You’re going to be out for two weeks – because that’s how long you can be a carrier without showing symptoms, right?” I said when I spoke with him a few days ago.
“No, I can’t do two weeks,” he told me. “I can’t get that much time off.”
I was confused. I figured that a doctor – who’d risked his own health to aid a patient – wouldn’t be expected to use his vacation time for quarantine. Right?
He sighed. “Yeah, tell me about it. There’s no protocol about this. There’s no guidance from anywhere. We’re all flying blind. And there’s not enough of us.”
“But at any rate, you’ll probably be issued a heavy-duty, walking-in-radioactive-sewage hazmat outfit when you’re back, right?” I said. (Like that one that Vladimir Putin wore to visit COVID-19 patients, I thought.)
He laughed. “No, there aren’t enough facemasks, gloves, and other personal protective equipment to go around. Those hazmat outfits aren’t in the same universe as us. Some people are so desperate that they’re making facemasks out of bandanas,” he told me.
Sending doctors in to battle against COVID-19 without even the most basic protective gear is disgraceful. And it’s happening in hospitals all over the U.S. But maybe the worst thing is, the U.S. government has done this sort of thing before.
Back in 2004, American troops were being deployed to Iraq with “hillbilly armor” of scrap metal and bulletproof glass – instead of body armor and properly fortified Humvees. Like now, the U.S. government didn’t have its act together.
At the time, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld – who had a way with words –said, “You go to war with the army you have, not the army you might want or wish to have at a later time.”
My brother and thousands of his medical professional colleagues are donning the medical equivalent of hillbilly armor to face bullets and bombs that are too small to see… unwittingly delivered by any fellow human being. It’s not a fair fight.
Now here are some of the stories we’re reading…
The conversations are driven by the realization that the risk to staff amid dwindling stores of protective equipment – such as masks, gowns and gloves – may be too great to justify the conventional response when a patient “codes,” and their heart or breathing stops.
Spanish Doctors Are Forced to Choose Who to Let Die
People are dying in waiting rooms before they can even be admitted as the coronavirus pandemic overpowers medical staff. With some funeral services halted in the Spanish capital and no space left in the morgues, corpses are being stored at the main ice rink.
Short-Term Yields Go Negative in Scramble for Cash
Buying a bond with a negative yield means investors will receive less money back when the debt matures, upending a basic relationship that has ruled financial markets for centuries.
Will California’s coronavirus crisis look like Italy’s soon?
On one particularly bad day, Cosentini’s emergency department took in 80 patients with pneumonia. With no available beds inside the 800-bed hospital, patients had to wait all over the emergency department.
Distressed Debt Balloons to Almost $1 Trillion, Nears 2008 Peak
The coronavirus pandemic has caused the worst sell-off since the global financial crisis and deepened stress in credit markets. Driven by some of the lowest oil prices since the early 2000s, the amount of distressed bonds has surged to the highest level since April 2009.
Unemployment claims soared to 3.3 million last week, most in history
That is the highest number of initial jobless claims in history, since the Department of Labor started tracking the data in 1967. The previous high was 695,000 claims filed in the week ending October 2, 1982.
And let us know what you’re reading at [email protected].
May you find your way through the chaos,
Chaos Chronicles Editor, American Consequences
With P.J. O’Rourke and the Editorial Staff
March 27, 2020