A science presenter, writer, speaker & former TV host; author of The Skeptic's Handbook (over 200,000 copies distributed & available in 15 languages).



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Reckless Greed: Our Universities driving coronavirus to Thailand and Australia. Israel has banned flights to Thailand. Are we next?next?

Trainwreck in process

Watch this interview. Write to your MP. Send letters to the Editor. Stop the flights at least for a few weeks. 

80% of Australians think closing the border was right so why is Scott Morrison undoing that?

Join these dots. Our universities took a huge bet on Chinese students that is falling apart. They’ve creamed the profits, but taken no insurance and stand to lose billions if they can’t get students to Australia — An extraordinary 65,000 of whom got caught in China by the quarantine. In China, travel agents are marketing 14 day holiday stopovers in Thailand to students, who are then flying on to Australia to get around the ban. But this is not quarantine. Thailand is open to China, and considered so risky that Israel has already banned flights from Thailand. What’s next? Australia imports the virus, tens of thousands may die, and all so the ivory tower smug academics can make their profits, while weak politicians sell out the nations citizens — especially the senior, longest serving ones?

How long before Israel bans Australian planes? We could be one the highest value clean nations in the world, waiting out our first winter of [...]

Iran may have been hiding Coronavirus for weeks. Tajikistan closes borders, but $800 still buys a flight to Melbourne

On twitter, there are a few photos suggesting that in Iran people are collapsing in the streets. The semiofficial news agencies are reporting the death toll in Qom alone is 50, but the official toll stands at 12, out of 61 reported cases. Iranian officials deny that Qom’s death toll is 50, but admitted 900 suspected cases were being tested. Some of the deaths are reported to be doctors and some of the infected are officials suggesting the virus has been spreading for weeks and is underreported. For example: the Chancellor of Qom’s Medical Sciences University, Dr. Mohammad-Reza Ghadir, had tested positive.

If official stats are correct the death rate is 20%. It almost certainly isn’t, but either this virus is deadlier than ever, or Iranian officials are hiding a broader spread. Either way, every nation with high risk people (say, people over 60 years old) might consider suspending the flights til we know more. We would all probably be dealing with what Iran is right now if we had not closed flights to China weeks ago.

The infection from Iran has spread to six countries so far –  Afghanistan, Iraq, Kuwait, Bahrain, Lebanon, Canada and Oman. But flights from China [...]

Coronavirus — life for some in Italy, Iran, South Korean has suddenly changed

Think this is pandemonium?

Changing by the hour:

Israel stopped allowing Koreans and Japanese visitors to enter while planes were in the air. Turkey and Pakistan closed borders with Iran. (Some Iraq did yesterday). Afghanistan followed. Italy now has 134 cases. Two days ago it thought it had only 3.  26 people have been hospitalized. Iran has 43 official cases — up from 3 on Saturday. South Korea has 602 cases, including 6 deaths. Up from 31 cases on Feb 18th. Nine Korean nationals who visited Israel tested postive so now 200 people are in quarantine in Israel. Jordan has barred entry to the country to any citizens of China, Iran, and South Korea

This is the danger of too many open borders and not enough testing. If things are this far advanced in Italy and Iran and South Korea what’s happening under the veil in Africa and Indonesia, and so many other places?

Choices for the West include closing risky borders now, or later perhaps closing schools, events, football matches, movies, parties, and maybe elective surgery.

Italy –a lesson in how fast things move

Current tally: 2 dead, 134 infections and 26 are severe (that’s 19%, and who knows [...]

Coronavirus: And so it spreads, lock downs in Italy, South Korea, riot in Ukraine

Coronavirus, Covid-19, cases outside China.   Source JoDiGraphics

The short not-good news: It’s looking like early exponential growth outside China

The cases outside China have reached 1,500. South Korean cases leap to 156, 204, 340, mostly centred on one church and one hospital.  In China, prisoners were discovered to be infected and a 29 year old doctor has died. The first death in Italy is confirmed, cases jump from 4 to 17, and the health minister there has cancelled or closed schools, events and shops in ten towns. The Iranian death toll has risen to 4, and Iraq has closed flights to Iran. Improbably Canada’s ninth case turns out to be a woman who flew from Iran, raising the worrying possibility that the virus is spreading undetected. Lastly, panic is spreading too. There were attacks in Ukraine to stop a bus of evacuees from China for their 14 day quarantine. It was triggered supposed by an email hoax.

Wise people might like to stock up the pantry just in case. As the people in some Italian towns just found out, there may not be a lot of warning.

The extraordinary rise in South Korea:

Four days ago South Korea had [...]

Coronavirus demographics — very much a risk for older people and the strange split in severe case rates 0 – 15%

The good news — babies and children appear to be not at risk. The not-so-great news, people over 80 in China have up to a 15% fatality rate (usual caveats, based on unreliable communist statistics and will hopefully be lower for many reasons, see below.) Note that even with the “one child” policy effects in China, that most western nations have a higher proportion of older folk — especially  France, Germany and Greece.

The news on “rates of severe cases” is mixed. Singapore, Japan and HK are looking at 15% early rates. But many other nations are looking at 0%. Hmm?

A/ Fatality rate per age group. b/ Demographic age groups in different nations.  C/ Relative mortality compared to China (apparently due only to the age demographic).    |  Click to enlarge.  Age and Sex of COVID-19 Deaths  REF China CCDC

*Fatality rates calculated by the China CCDC won’t include many unrecorded asymptomatic infections, nor the deaths outside hospitals and don’t appear to include the lag either.  But they show which groups are at most risk.

Worldometer now gives us rates according to sex and preexisting conditions. (Reproduced below). Basically there are 30% higher death rates in men, [...]

Outside China 5% of cases are severe; Singapore may be three months away from running out of hospital beds

In short:

Outside China, 2% of cases have progressed to “severe”. But if the lag is eight days then progression to severe is more like 5%. In China about 1/5th of severe cases are “Critical” If that rate occurs in the West, hospitals will be overwhelmed if just 1% of the population gets infected. In Singapore, the doubling period for confirmed cases is about nine days. Currently the spread is not exponential outside China (most days)

News today: First victim in Europe — an 80 year old Chinese tourist.

Stats:           Total cases outside China: 787            Deaths: 4           Severe cases: 18 (2%)

Early days of “outside China” data

The 2% rate of severe cases is an underestimate above. There is an eight day lag from diagnosis to “severe,” and then a longer lag to death. Total cases outside China on Feb 8th was 354. So a more realistic estimate is that about 5% of confirmed cases outside China have now progressed to “severe” (i.e. 18/354).

What does severe mean? It appears “severe” means hospitalized but not necessarily in ICU. In China, the rates issued in a Feb 7 press release were 82% mild, 15% severe, and 3% critical. From [...]

Let the Coronavirus disruption begin: planes held in London and prof warns “this is virus he fears most”

Partial post hoc reactive quarantine holds seven planes at London airport– seriously?

Madness. Eight planes have been held up for hours in London airports as they land with people with coughs and colds and try to check suspected cases. By the time people are symptomatic, its too late. Temperature checks may catch the most contagious people but now one person with a unrelated common cold can also cause a major and unnecessary disruption while other infective people can freely fly in and walk straight through.

Asymptomatic people can potentially infect 2 to 3 random people (or 10) who may then also infect 2 – 3 random people each before the Epidemiology SWAT Team realizes and starts testing and tracking. We play an impossible game of catch up in a race to isolate all possible contacts.

HOURS of misery in coronavirus lockdown at Heathrow:

DailyMail UK

Passengers endured hours of misery at Heathrow Airport this morning when up to eight planes were put on lockdown over coronavirus fears after passengers on board complained of symptoms of the deadly virus.

MailOnline understands a British Airways flight from Kuala Lumpur was held up on the tarmac for two hours when [...]

Coronavirus — early rates of severe cases in Hong kong and Singapore are over 10%

Global Markets were shaken by the sudden rise in numbers out of China yesterday. But the increase was not a surprise for anyone who has been watching social media and the measures being taken in China. That China is now allowing the WHO in may be an admission that they really do need help.  The explanation for the jump is that China changed the definitions.  They are also admitting that there may be many cases of people with low grade infections, but also unattributed deaths as well. For days the ratio of cases to deaths was suspiciously 2.1%, 2.1%, 2.1% …  Now perhaps it’s a tiny bit closer to the truth.

The tally outside China continues to rise: there now 587 cases, with 3 deaths (1 new one in Japan) and 24 people classified as “serious critical”.  These are the key figures to watch. We expected the number of cases that were severe to rise as the five to eight day lag unfolds from the first symptoms to the onset of breathing trouble. So at the moment 4% of cases outside China are headed for hospital intervention, perhaps ICU (does anyone know the definition of “Serious Critical”?). That will keep [...]

CoronaVirus more infectious, but we *hope*, less deadly. Without closed borders Covid-19 uncontainable

So Coronavirus is now CoVID-19.

We’ve been walking the cusp of containable versus pandemic for two weeks but the growth of infections outside China is just a bit too fast, a bit too random and the news suggests its easier to spread. At least the number of severe cases outside China is still only 2% of the total. But there’s a lag of a week or two, so that’s likely to rise. If it is even possible to stop, I suspect only the mass closure of borders will do.

World (ex China)      Cases: 517         Deaths: 2         Recovered: 54         Severe: 12

Click to enlarge

While Australia and the US and even India have the illusion of stability, the rise in Singapore, and on that ship is hard to ignore. Singapore is doing advanced tracking, yet still it spreads (see the chart, right). The difference between Singapore and Australia may be part luck — one superspreader versus one man who didn’t infect anyone on a whole plane.What matters then, is just how many people are superspreaders? The one ray from Singapore is that 15 people on that list are already listed as recovered. [...]

Corona Virus — darkness in China. The West waits while reports come that a mild illness may progress badly

One day ago, the statistics were looking good but there have been a few ominous shifts. Another 26 infections have been recorded, some in a French ski chalet, some in Singapore –at least three of which are hard to explain. These appear to be transmissions outside China, which is what we are hoping to avoid. It’s bad, but could have been a lot worse. Fortunately the Diamond Princess tally hasn’t risen much — standing at 64. Another plus — it’s almost two weeks since one passenger on a Tiger Air flight in Australia flew as he was coming down with symptoms yet the other 157 passengers appear to be OK. Promising.

Just 2% of cases so far are severe outside China (but that may grow)

The all important statistics outside of China are starting to accrue — So far there are 355 infections. Of those, 35 have recovered and only eight are marked as severe (see the table below). It’s good news that only 2% are severe, however it’s too soon to know — 90% are still unwell.

The illness appears to be less severe outside China, but a new study reports that this virus often looks benign [...]

CoronaVirus hope: First sign of a slow down

 Infected 34,887         Deaths 724        Recovered 2,076         John Hopkins CSSE

Assuming that these official statistics from China bear a faint connection to reality (in trend, if not number) this may be a sign that the draconian quarantine is starting to work. If real, it is only a slight slowing in the rate of growth, but it’s a good sign — one I have been looking for. It is a barely visible slowing of the rate of change in the cumulative tally of victims. The exponential curve is slowing. Of course, if this takes off in Africa this would be but a pause…

Graph by

The virus which had been growing at 50% a day two weeks ago, slowed to 20% last week, and 11% today. One week was such a long time ago in exponential land. Last Friday night the tally was 9,700 infected, and 213 deaths. At that point, no nation had cut off flights or refused visas. UPDATED: Saturday.


Sadly the brave doctor who tried to warn the world has been taken by the virus. Ominously he was only 34 — presumably with no “underlying disease”. Instead [...]

The few places that escaped the Spanish Flu — lessons from Samoa

A fateful decision that led to many deaths

The Samoan Islands, 1896 | Wikimedia

Western Samoa and American Samoa are side by side islands in the Pacific. When the Spanish Flu arrived in 1918, one would instigate a quarantine while the other had a trading community that did not want to stop trade. American Samoa survived the Spanish Flu without a death. Western Samoa kept trading and lost a quarter of the population.

Influenza 1918: the Samoan experience

John Ryan McLane

In 1918 the Samoan archipelago was split between American Samoa (a United States territory) and Western Samoa (previously a German colony but under New Zealand governance from 1914). The 1918 influenza pandemic killed a quarter of Western Samoans, while leaving American Samoa unscathed.

The dangers of ship-borne disease were well known, and exclusion of many diseases, especially plague, had been implemented since the imposition of colonial governance nineteen years before.

On 30 October 1918 the Union Steamship Company’s Talune left Auckland for its run through Polynesia… The new, more lethal influenza variant had arrived in Auckland with the spring, and several crew members were ill.

Western Samoa was a German colony that had three [...]

CoronaVirus — huge ghost statistics mysteriously come and go. A hint of much worse?

Ooh. Are these the real figures? Is someone on the inside trying to leak out the truth?

There are claims tonight that a flickering set of figures have appeared that are much higher than the official tolls. These ghostly statistics have appeared three times then switched to the much lower official tally. But each time they grow — almost as if there are two sets of data, one for officials, and one for the public.

Ominously, the flickering death tally was 80 times higher than the official one. The infections were ten times higher. If it’s true the death rate may be far worse than the 2% bandied about.

If they are real, this changes everything. If they are fake, who or what would benefit? A glitch?

From Tyler Durden, ZeroHedge, and the Taiwan Times, h/t David E.

Tencent may have accidentally leaked real data on Wuhan virus deaths

Tencent briefly lists 154,023 infections and 24,589 deaths from Wuhan coronavirus

Taiwan Times

TAIPEI (Taiwan News) — As many experts question the veracity of China’s statistics for the Wuhan coronavirus outbreak, Tencent over the weekend seems to have inadvertently released what is potentially the [...]

Corona Virus update — can we stop the pandemic?

The latest news coming out is mixed. The live map and latest count of 2019-nCoV shows 20,000 confirmed infections, 426 deaths, and most importantly, a spread to 28 countries. It’s slightly encouraging that there are no extra cases in Australia and good to hear 3 of the 12 have been sent home, declared “recovered”. However the incubation period since flights were closed is still only halfway to the average (of 5 – 6 days) so it’s too early to tell.

A South Korean has tested positive after visiting Thailand (not a good sign, but the statement didn’t “rule out China”). Japan has quarantined a whole cruise ship (like Italy did). One passenger came down with the virus in Hong Kong. The whole ship of 3700 is confined to rooms, awaiting test results. It’s reassuring that so many tests can be done.  (Yay, Japan). Meanwhile door handles can carry the virus. Soap and hand sanitizer could help a lot.

On the plus side, one team in Thailand say they have treated one patient successfully with anti-virals. It’s only one case, but a nice thought. How big are those stockpiles? The other plus, is that summer may slow it down. Best case [...]

Stinks: Slow WHO let CoronaVirus run. But Ethiopian WHO chief was part of China’s debt trap diplomacy

The WHO could have declared a state of emergency earlier. Instead it delayed the announcement, praised China’s transparency, and recommended countries allow planes potentially carrying a deadly virus continue to fly freely. The WHO waited until the 2019-nCoV virus had spread to 18 nations before declaring an emergency. Wasn’t it an emergency with the first foreign case or the first case of symptomless transmission?

Follow the chain, or rather the Belt and Road

The WHO Director General is Tedros Adhanom of Ethiopia. From 2012 – 2016 he served as Minister of Foreign Affairs in the one party government that rules Ethiopia. This is the same party that borrowed billions from China to build a railway line, then struggles to pay it back.  In Africa, Ethiopia is the second largest debtor nation to China — owing $13 billion.  As Foreign Minister Adhanom praised China for African loans, looks like he was the man to line them up. We also note that the one-party ruling party of Ethiopia is called the Tigrayan People’s Liberation Front which was once a Marxist Lenninist far left group — labels it dropped after the Soviet Union collapsed. (Thanks Maurice for these tips).

Suddenly there might be [...]