Coronavirus, Trump, the Economy Leave Americans in a Very Bad Mood | US News


Americans are watching with anguish as the nation grapples with systemic racism, but also upset over protesters’ defacing of statues of those representing the country’s worst racist sin, slavery.

They worry about the economy, slowed by the pandemic, but fear more the spread of the coronavirus. Strong majorities of voters think President Donald Trump doesn’t care about people like them and is neither honest and trustworthy nor bringing the nation together.

Any joy former Vice President Joe Biden may feel over his lead in polls is tempered by the fact that strong majorities of his voters are motivated more by ousting Trump than sending Biden to the Oval Office.

Source: Coronavirus, Trump, the Economy Leave Americans in a Very Bad Mood | America 2020 | US News

Republicans, Democrats in Tight Battle for Gubernatorial Advantage in 2020 | US News


Just a few months ago, governors seemed to be a declining force in American politics. Governorships were once a feeder for the presidency – that’s how Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush got to the White House – but the governors and former governors who ran for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2020 faded early in the contest.

However, with the emergence of the coronavirus, all of that changed. Suddenly, governors were on the front lines of the fight, and they attracted attention not just in their own state but in many cases nationwide. In New York, Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo held closely watched daily press conferences as his state was experiencing the worst of the virus. His cool manner led some to suggest he be tapped as a vice presidential candidate for Joe Biden.

Other governors who’d previously had little national profile, such as Republicans Mike DeWine of Ohio and Larry Hogan of Maryland and Democrats Jared Polis of Colorado and J.B. Pritzker of Illinois, also received positive attention for their coronavirus responses.

Source: Republicans, Democrats in Tight Battle for Gubernatorial Advantage in 2020 | America 2020 | US News

Corona Capital: Quarantines, UK bailout, Drugs | Reuters

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BONKERS NO MORE. Britain is finally scrapping its poorly conceived 14-day quarantine rule for most new arrivals. The relaxation means people arriving in England from more than 50 countries will no longer have to worry about self-isolating for two weeks. It’s a relief for travelers planning summer holidays.

It’s also a victory for airline bosses: Ryanair CEO Michael O’Leary had variously labelled the requirements as “useless”, “rubbish” and “bonkers.”

Source: Breakingviews – Corona Capital: Quarantines, UK bailout, Drugs – Reuters

How to Forecast Outbreaks and Pandemics

America Needs the Contagion Equivalent of the National Weather Service


In 1900, the deadliest hurricane in U.S. history hit Galveston, Texas. The storm, estimated to have been a Category 4, all but washed the city away. An estimated 8,000 people died, and even more lives would likely have been lost if Isaac Cline, the chief of the Texas section of the U.S. Weather Service, had not spent the day before the hurricane’s arrival walking around and urging people to seek higher ground. He did so on little more than a hunch based on the fact that a bad storm had recently passed over Cuba. The science of weather forecasting had yet to emerge; guesswork was the best anyone could do.

Over a century later, hurricane forecasts are a central feature of summer and fall for millions of Americans. Such forecasts, along with those predicting winter storms, tornadoes, and floods, have saved an untold number of lives and many billions of dollars. Even fair-weather forecasts play an important role in modern life. Take the airline industry, for example. “Even when you’ve got clear skies, that has an economic benefit,” explained Greg Romano of the National Weather Service, “because then you don’t necessarily need to plan to reroute as much, so you can perhaps take on less fuel; you know that you can have tighter schedules.”

With the world moving quickly toward an age of pandemics, the story of how weather forecasting in the United States improved deserves attention. Because when it comes to modeling the likely course of contagious outbreaks, the country is in some ways closer to the bad old days of deadly, no-notice hurricanes than to the current era of precision storm tracking and multiday weather forecasts.

Today, if a hurricane was barreling down on Florida, no one would suggest that an arbitrary assortment of academics gather data, quickly develop models to predict the storm’s course, anticipate its landfall, tell agencies where to preposition response teams, and craft warnings for the public. That, however, is essentially what the U.S. government has done during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Of course, sophisticated disease modeling has contributed a great deal to the response to the pandemic. Early in the outbreak, modelers estimated that the new coronavirus would prove more deadly than influenza. Others concluded that rapid containment of the virus in China was unlikely, based on the unusually high number of infected international travelers. And when the United States was in the throes of the worst outbreak in the world, it was modelers whose work informed the White House task force that coordinated the federal response, including the decision to begin (and later extend) the “Slow the Spread” campaign of social-distancing measures and business closures.

Unfortunately, however, the full force of epidemiological expertise in the United States is not being brought to bear. Despite some successes, serious gaps remain in the ability of infectious disease models to inform public health policy. That is because the country has no centralized system for disease forecasting; there exists no epidemiological equivalent of the National Weather Service. That is precisely what the country needs to succeed in the fight against COVID-19 and to avoid future failures and missteps of the sort that has marred the U.S. response to the current pandemic.

This is hardly the first time that academics have filled the disease-modeling vacuum. In 2009, during the H1N1 pandemic, officials in Pennsylvania consulted modelers as they deliberated about whether to shut down schools. During the Ebola outbreak of 2014, modelers helped the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Department of Health and Human Services calculate the risk that travelers would import cases into the United States, how many hospital beds would be needed domestically, and how many future cases could be expected under varying scenarios.

But after those outbreaks ended, the ad hoc and informal ties that had developed between modelers and decision-makers were not institutionalized; no formal system emerged for centralizing expertise within the government. So it should have been no surprise that the few modeling experts who do this work within government agencies were quickly overwhelmed by the enormous number of consequential decisions demanded by the COVID-19 pandemic. And once again, academic modelers have stepped in to fill the gap.

This is part of a familiar pattern. During contagion crises, modeling becomes a priority. However, as the sense of urgency fades, attention shifts to other issues and relationships between experts and decision-makers fade. The chief danger is that as the results of modeling shift, those changes won’t get on the radar of policymakers. “The projections provide information at a particular moment but unfortunately will change all the time. It’s important to communicate that uncertainty,” said Jeffrey Shaman, a professor of environmental health sciences at Columbia University. Shaman’s research has been consulted by the White House task force on COVID-19, but Shaman says that the working relationship has been limited.

The CDC’s epidemiology task force has convened weekly meetings with pandemic experts. These meetings are a marked improvement in coordination and information exchange over such efforts in previous outbreaks. However, the connection to key decision-makers, including the White House task force, has not been clear.

One result has been a proliferation of models without enough people to make sense of them. “It’s really hard to separate the wheat from the chaff, without someone or a group of people evaluating the assumptions and form of each model,” said Shaman. “There are a lot of teams who want to contribute to modeling efforts, but we don’t have a clear game plan for separating and combining the various projections.”

To better integrate disease forecasting into decision-making, the CDC and other public health agencies should look to the history of the National Weather Service for inspiration. Americans take for granted the elaborate, highly detailed weather information they can easily access. But such tools developed only after decades of sustained public investment.

Numerical weather forecasting emerged in the 1920s in the wake of mathematical advances that helped describe atmospheric physics. Decades later, computers allowed meteorologists to apply more elaborate models. Other new technologies—aircraft, weather balloons, satellites, and digital communications—made it possible for scientists to add ever more data to the models, creating a virtuous cycle that led to progressive improvements in forecasting over time.

But technological change is only part of the story; the other part involves organizational change. During the Civil War era, tracking and anticipating weather was a largely academic effort. Later, disparate independent efforts emerged in multiple federal agencies, including the Department of War, the Department of Agriculture, and the Navy. Finally, in the late 1960s, what would eventually become the National Weather Service was established as an integrated office in the Department of Commerce. This unification and centralization was crucial: it allowed for significant investment over time and created a stable point of contact between forecasters and policymakers by giving weather experts a permanent seat at the table.

Outbreak modeling and analytics should be centralized in a similar way. Over the last decade or so, public investments in disease forecasting have yielded some progress. Programs funded by the National Institutes of Health, the National Science Foundation, and the Department of Homeland Security have advanced modeling capabilities, generated excellent research, and helped to develop a cadre of well-trained experts.

These programs, however, are largely focused on developing basic science, as opposed to helping public health officials navigate difficult decisions about outbreak control. And they rarely receive the kind of reliable, sustained funding that has long supported weather forecasting. Generally, funding takes the form of grants to principal investigators that typically last only three to five years and must result in academic publications—the kind of research that is necessary but not sufficient to the task at hand.

“Everyone is on grants,” noted Cécile Viboud, a staff scientist at the National Institutes of Health. “So if you don’t have a particular dedicated line of funding to work on the [outbreak], then you do it on your own time. You just run those estimates because maybe it can help.”

Making matters worse, private-sector innovation and advanced data technologies have hardly made an appearance when it comes to contagion modeling, in part because there is usually not a great deal of market demand, public health agencies are ill-equipped to evaluate new data technologies, and new technologies must pass through a torturous regulatory path before gaining approval.

Roni Rosenfeld, a professor of computer science at Carnegie Mellon University, pointed out another problem. “By far the biggest obstacle is the data,” he lamented. Health data are fragmented across the U.S. health-care system in silos that cannot talk to one another. And public health agencies are not known for being forward leaning on data technology. This hampers their ability to acquire, process, share, analyze, and communicate data that would inform an outbreak response.

“There is no systematic report format for individual locations to provide data in,” said Lauren Gardner, an engineering professor at Johns Hopkins University who led the team that built the university’s coronavirus map, which has become one of the most reliable sources of data on the spread of COVID-19. “Even when data is provided, it may not be in a usable format. Together these issues substantially limit the capabilities of disease models to be able to inform policy in real time.”

Unfortunately, the pandemic is laying bare these data challenges. The White House task force announced last month that all 4,700 or so hospitals in the United States would be asked to send daily emails to the task force with data on their capacities. It’s baffling that in the country that sparked the digital revolution, hospitals must rely on such a rudimentary, unreliable tool in order to transmit vital information.

It’s also striking that the most timely and detailed data on new cases of COVID-19, diagnostic testing, and personal protective equipment have been available mostly through websites set up and run by volunteers or journalists. It is wonderful that so many skilled individuals have been motivated to help out in a time of crisis. But the country’s pandemic response cannot rely on volunteers. And although journalism is crucial during an outbreak, responsibility for tracking the spread of contagions can hardly be outsourced to media organizations.

The best way to address these vulnerabilities would be the establishment of a National Center for Epidemic Forecasting and Analytics (CEFA). The center would handle research and development in outbreak science, develop technology for producing disease forecasts, and provide guidance for preparedness and response to outbreaks. The center’s structure should resemble that of the National Weather Center, located at the University of Oklahoma. The NWC has a unique structure that enables academics to work closely with federal employees and develop a mutual understanding of respective challenges and capabilities. In the same manner, the new center would work with the CDC, nonprofit organizations such as the Council of State and Territorial Epidemiologists, public health departments in all 50 states, and the National Governors Association to improve outbreak science and analytics, decision-making during outbreaks, and the data and technologies needed to support these efforts.

During an epidemic outbreak, CEFA scientists could help to forecast how many cases might emerge in a given place during a given period, which interventions would be most effective, and where to direct resources, and would assess progress in the fight against the pathogen.

Between outbreaks, CEFA scientists would develop new models and advance the science of forecasting and analyzing outbreaks, just as atmospheric scientists work constantly to improve the accuracy of weather models. Initially, the center would focus on improving the predictive analytics needed to produce forecasts of new cases and deaths. It would also work to improve visualizations and communication approaches to make as clear as possible the implications and uncertainties involved in all modeling.

To be successful, CEFA scientists would need the ability to directly advise decision-makers on preparedness and response, as forecasters do in other countries. In the United Kingdom, for example, the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies brings together experts in various fields, including epidemiology and modeling, to advise the government. The United Kingdom has not always managed to successfully bring scientific expertise to bear on emergencies, but the fact that it has a formalized way of bringing experts together puts it in a better position than the United States. Other countries have similar mechanisms. In the Netherlands, for example, the Infectious Diseases Modelling team at the National Institute for Public Health and the Environment is chaired by Jacco Wallinga, an esteemed modeling expert who also holds a prominent academic position.

In addition to working with officials, just as local meteorologists translate the complex weather models into forecasts that are easily understood by the public, CEFA science communicators could bring forecasts and analyses to the public to help individual decision-making. Just as people rely on weather reports to know when to bring an umbrella, CEFA forecasts could make it easier to decide whether to telework during flu season or whether to wear a face covering. People want to know how to keep themselves and their families safe, and providing information to help them do so would be an enormous advance for public health.

To meet its mission, the center would need to be able to identify, adapt, and adopt cutting-edge technology and attract the best data scientists, engineers, and technologists. That would require significant, sustained funding: approximately $1 billion over the next ten years. But it would be money well spent.

The COVID-19 pandemic should serve as the epidemiological equivalent of the Galveston hurricane. It is a stark reminder that Americans are vulnerable to the forces of nature. But as with weather forecasting, with sufficient vision and investment, the United States can develop the ability to anticipate and respond to such outbreaks. The country can do better—and it must do better, so that this never happens again.

Source: How to Forecast Outbreaks and Pandemics

The Secret to a Safe Reopening During the Pandemic | Foreign Affairs

Why the End of Lockdown Looks So Different Around the World


For the last few months, much of the world has lived under unprecedented public health restrictions, social-distancing mandates, and other emergency measures. At least 137 countries imposed partial or total lockdowns to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus. One hundred forty-one restricted internal travel, and 169 closed at least some of their schools. In many ways, these measures have had their intended effect, helping to reduce transmission and ease the strain on health-care systems. Although more than eight million people have tested positive for COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus, and over 400,000 have died, these numbers would likely be far higher had countries not acted as they did.

But much of the world has now begun the process of reopening, even though the spread of the disease continues to accelerate in many places. The United States recorded its largest one-day total of new infections this week, even as many states push ahead with plans to reopen their economies.

This new phase of pandemic response is risky, but it may have been inevitable. Tight restrictions on people’s lives cannot be maintained forever. Their purpose was to “flatten the curve”—that is, to avoid a crush of sick patients that would overwhelm hospitals and to give governments time to bolster their public health systems. But where those aims have been achieved, it becomes difficult to justify the painful economic and social costs of extended lockdowns. It is little wonder, then, that so many are experiencing “quarantine fatigue.”

For some people, particularly in low- and middle-income countries, getting back to work is a matter of life and death. For others, especially in the United States, the issue has taken on a partisan dimension, with Republicans more likely to oppose coronavirus-related restrictions than Democrats. Further complicating the picture are the protests that erupted in the United States and many other countries in the wake of George Floyd’s death. The first wave of the pandemic is not yet over (and a second wave could be on the horizon), but the era of the lockdown is coming to an end—at least for now.

That doesn’t mean every country is now on the same trajectory, however, or that all reopening strategies are created equal. Countries that proceeded cautiously, maintaining lockdowns until their outbreaks were mostly under control and their health systems were ready to handle new outbreaks, have fared better than those that opened rapidly and prematurely. Similarly, those that followed careful—and reversible—stepwise processes while communicating effectively with their publics have had more success handling inevitable surprises than those that flipped the “on” switch all at once. In other words, the when and how of reopening has proved enormously consequential.

The trend toward reopening is scarcely a month old, but already it is clear that countries that waited for the right time to ease restrictions are in better shape than those that moved to reopen despite ongoing community transmission and gaps in public health capacity. Just as places that acted swiftly to implement lockdowns fared better than those that dragged their feet, those that waited for a lull in transmission to begin reopening have outperformed those that did not. Australia, Germany, Hong Kong, New Zealand, and Norway all maintained lockdowns or strict social-distancing guidelines until new case numbers had come down to a level where the risk of resurgence was relatively low. With transmission rates leveled off, these countries have been able to begin reopening schools and businesses and to allow people to resume their social lives, without a high risk that the epidemic will spiral out of control.

Places that have pushed ahead with reopening despite ongoing community transmission, increasing case numbers, or other metrics of epidemic growth are on a much more troubling trajectory. In Brazil, for instance, a number of big cities began reopening this month even as coronavirus cases, hospitalizations, and deaths appeared to be peaking. As a result, Brazil has surpassed 50,000 deaths and is on track to become the hardest-hit country in the world. It has some competition for that distinction from the United States, which has begun to lift business and other restrictions even though cases are increasing in more than half of states. While a few states have paused reopening after experiencing spikes in new infections and hospitalizations, others have pushed ahead despite worrying signs.

In both Brazil and the United States, reopening has led to surges in public activity at a time of already widespread community transmission—a recipe for uncontrolled spread of the disease, it turns out. Certainly, part of the challenge for large, federalized governments such as those in Brazil and the United States is that some of the responsibility for public health lies at the state and local levels, meaning that reopening policies can be inconsistent and even contradictory in different locations. But a federal system doesn’t have to mean an ineffective approach to reopening—as Germany, Canada, and Australia can attest.

Part of the reason countries that waited for a lull in new cases to begin reopening are in better shape now is that they had time to shore up their public health systems. Those that bolstered their testing, contact tracing, and isolation capacities during the lockdown period have an insurance policy: the ability to detect the new clusters of cases that will inevitably emerge as they reopen and to prevent these clusters from seeding full-blown resurgences of disease.

Several countries in the process of reopening have already demonstrated just how important these capabilities can be in the event of a new outbreak. In April and May, South Korea tested tens of thousands of people and did exhaustive contact tracing in order to isolate a cluster of cases in the capital, Seoul. Germany has also been able to respond quickly and effectively to recent outbreaks linked to a meat-processing plant and to several religious congregations. And China has shown that it can mount aggressive interventions to prevent new outbreaks of the disease: last month the government tested 11 million people in Wuhan after new cases were detected there, and earlier this month it locked down much of Beijing and began an enormous test-and-trace operation after new clusters of cases were detected in the capital.By contrast, countries that didn’t shore up their ability to test, trace, and isolate before reopening have proved much less able to respond to new outbreaks. The United States and Brazil are in this boat, but so are the United Kingdom and, to a lesser degree, Sweden, both of which have relaxed restrictions and taken steps to reopen despite lingering questions about their ability to identify and contain outbreaks and to protect the vulnerable.

Not everything is about timing and preparation, however. Flexibility and public messaging also matter. Scientists and public health officials have learned a lot about the risks associated with this virus over the last six months, but considerable uncertainties remain. As a result, countries that have taken more conservative and methodical approaches to reopening have been better able to pause or recalibrate their policies when faced with new outbreaks than those that have relaxed all of their precautionary measures at once. It was for this reason that public health experts recommend reopening in stages, starting with regions and activities that are lowest risk and moving progressively toward those that are higher risk.

With the requisite testing and tracing capabilities in place, governments that followed this approach have been able to monitor the effects of their reopening policies as they are implemented—enabling them to proceed to the next stage of reopening only after it is clear that they haven’t ignited a wave of reinfections. Germany moved cautiously but deliberately in reopening and has now reached the point where all shops can serve customers, soccer matches can be played (though without spectators), and internal travel restrictions have been lifted. Several U.S. states that mounted aggressive initial responses have followed this cautious approach, lowering community transmission before beginning phased reopening processes.

Just as important for managing the transition from lockdown to reopening is clear, science-based public messaging. Leaders in Germany, Ireland, New Zealand, and Singapore in particular have done an exemplary job of communicating their countries’ policies and the logic behind them. Unsurprisingly, these countries have enjoyed high rates of compliance with their lockdown and reopening policies, enhancing their effectiveness. The public messaging from leaders in Brazil and the United States, by contrast, has been inconsistent and even counterproductive, contributing to widespread confusion about the utility of masks, for instance, and undercutting compliance with official guidelines.

It has been more than a month since many countries began to reopen, and there is little sign that the lifting of lockdowns has spurred a significant resurgence of COVID-19 in most places— though the number of new cases continues to grow in many parts of the world that never got their initial outbreaks under control. The countries that locked down long enough for transmission to die down, bolstered their public health systems, and approached reopening with flexibility and clear messaging have shown that a return to daily life need not spell disaster. Yet the success of these countries has been partially overshadowed by others, such as Brazil and the United States, that rushed into reopening without much preparation and are now paying a heavy price. Countries that have been reckless in their approach to reopening not only face preventable outbreaks within their own borders but pose spillover risks to countries that have managed their reopenings more responsibly, given the global nature of this pandemic.

Reopening during the coronavirus pandemic remains an experiment in real time. Effective public health systems can reduce the risk of new outbreaks, but even countries that reopen cautiously and with all the right capabilities are likely to see further outbreaks and may even face a dreaded “second wave” sooner or later. Vigilance, enhanced protections for the vulnerable, and agility in the face of uncertainty will be necessary for months—and potentially years—to come. Even the best plans for reopening can meet with unexpected realities on the ground, as was the case with the protests that upended stay-at-home orders and social-distancing guidelines in countries around the world. While it is reassuring to know that a road map for reopening is taking shape, it may need to be rewritten in the weeks and months ahead.

Source: The Secret to a Safe Reopening During the Pandemic | Foreign Affairs

Dollar wobbles as decent U.S. data tempers safe-haven demand | Reuters


The greenback kicked off the third quarter with a decline against currencies that perform well in times of risk appetite such as the Australian, New Zealand, and Canadian dollars. It also fell against the euro and sterling.

Analysts said the dollar could still gain, with the resurgence of COVID-19 cases and the potential for renewed lockdowns in U.S. states deemed hot spots.

Source: Dollar wobbles as decent U.S. data tempers safe-haven demand – Reuters

‘Help!’ cry British musicians, warning of crisis in live music industry | Reuters


Paul McCartney, Ed Sheeran and The Rolling Stones were among some 1,500 musicians who called on Thursday for the British government to help the live music business survive the novel coronavirus outbreak.

“The future for concerts and festivals and the hundreds of thousands of people who work in them looks bleak,” the musicians wrote in an open letter to British Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden.

Source: ‘Help!’ cry British musicians, warning of crisis in live music industry – Reuters

Corona Capital: Byton, Primark, Ikea in Paris | Reuters


REVERSE GEAR. Citing Covid-19, Chinese electric-car startup Byton is suspending production from July 1 to reorganise itself, and is raising funds to address unpaid salaries. That will cramp its IPO plans, and is another sign of trouble in the world’s biggest EV market, which was struggling before the pandemic hit. Sales of new energy vehicles fell 23.5% year-on-year to 82,000 units in May, according to an industry association, even while overall auto sales rose 14.5%.

Byton, which has yet to sell a single car, is hardly the only cash-strapped EV maker, but its peers are faring better. New York-listed Nio announced this week it had substantially completed cash injections into its China operation, while Alibaba-backed Xpeng has started deliveries of its P7 electric sedan, which will challenge Tesla’s Model 3. But barring a startling demand revival, the coronavirus looks set to accelerate consolidation. (By Sharon Lam)

Source: Breakingviews – Corona Capital: Byton, Primark, Ikea in Paris – Reuters

Other deaths spike in Indian city ravaged by coronavirus | Reuters


The spike in deaths in Ahmedabad, the most populous city in western Gujarat state, is due to patients with serious illnesses either not able to go to hospitals or being afraid to visit them because of the virus, doctors said.

The numbers contain “ominous signals” for the rest of the country, said Dr Rajib Dasgupta, a professor of community health at New Delhi’s Jawaharlal Nehru University.

India has the world’s fourth biggest outbreak of the COVID-19 disease caused by the virus, with over 600,000 confirmed cases and 17,800 deaths, and some of its largest cities are still reeling from rising infections.

Source: Other deaths spike in Indian city ravaged by coronavirus – Reuters

Its Economy Battered by COVID-19, Spain Tries a Guaranteed Minimum Income


Spain is one of the hardest-hit countries from COVID-19, with nearly 300,000 confirmed infections and more than 28,000 deaths.

Its GDP is expected to contract by more than 9 percent this year, with unemployment slated to rise from 14.4 percent to 19 percent. Long lines are forming at food banks across the country, as charities struggle to meet the spike in demand for their services. All of this has raised the stakes for Spain’s new policy, which, if implemented effectively, could provide a necessary layer of protection for the most disadvantaged Spaniards.

Source: Its Economy Battered by COVID-19, Spain Tries a Guaranteed Minimum Income