Email of the day on unwinding COVID-19 restrictions, fires and governance
Comment of the Day

September 22 2020

Commentary by Eoin Treacy

Email of the day on unwinding COVID-19 restrictions, fires and governance

Hi Eoin - hope you are keeping safe & well. It is sad to see the fires causing so much devastation in your state once again, and you are also dealing with the "new norm" and the unsettling Covid world. With this in mind your readers may find this article of interest. Stay safe 

Eoin Treacy's view

Thank you for your well wishes. The headlines about California are terrifying and I can see why people question the decision to live here. The place is either jammed with cars, choking on smog, shaking with earthquakes, burning to the ground or dying en masse from the coronavirus. On top of that the occasional surfer is munched on by a Great White Shark and we are all about to be inundated with rising sea levels.  

Any loss of life is a tragedy and I know this is not going to sound politically correct but we’re fine. We knew the shelter in place orders were coming so we stocked up early. As soon as the tennis courts opened up, we started playing again. Over the course of the last few months my resting heart rate has fallen to 43 and I’m fitter than I have been in years.

Eating lots of fruit and veg, drinking plenty of water, getting enough sleep, moderating one’s consumption of alcohol and practicing as much physical activity as you can, without injuring yourself, should be everyone’s prescription for life. The fact it helps keep illness at bay is a bonus.

Los Angeles’ traffic has improved immeasurably and the city is a lot less crowded. That’s the one thing I will miss from the lockdowns. Online school for my daughters is the biggest nuisance we face. I’m convinced they are learning nothing. Doing so without the benefit of daily physical interaction with their friends is a trial for them.

I thought the above article was particularly interesting because it gels with many of our personal experience. If the virus was as deadly as we are led to believe a lot more people would be dead. Here is a section on the important “2nd wave” question:

A second wave is now being discussed in Belgium, with a further tightening of the measures as a result. However, closer examination of Sciensano’s figures37 shows that, although there has been an increase in the number of infections since mid-July, there was no increase in hospital admissions or deaths at that time. It is therefore not a second wave of corona, but a so-called “case chemistry” due to an increased number of tests. 50

The number of hospital admissions or deaths showed a short-lasting minimal increase in recent weeks, but in interpreting it, we must take into account the recent heatwave. In addition, the vast majority of the victims are still in the population group >75 years.

This indicates that the proportion of the measures taken in relation to the working population and young people is disproportionate to the intended objectives.

The vast majority of the positively tested “infected” persons are in the age group of the active population, which does not develop any or merely limited symptoms, due to a well-functioning immune system.

So nothing has changed – the peak is over.

I’ve been saying for months that there will not be a 2nd wave. However, there are two big obstacles to removing restrictions. The first is it is almost impossible for a politician to admit they are wrong. Once the big decision has been made, they feel obligated to stand by it. If they are seen to flip flop that creates the appearance of weakness. That’s how politicians lose power. I’m convinced that the drive for a vaccine is as much about giving politicians the cover to sound the all clear, as it is about providing a workable solution.

The most important point to highlight is the evolution of the COVID-19 vaccine is a proof of concept for brand new technology. It should work but we are all signing up to be guinea pigs in this trial. If it fails, we are looking at a significant problem of again causing more harm than good. A massive public information campaign will be required to support consumer confidence.

The 2nd big obstacle is hospitals. Last week I had to have my GP sign some immunization forms for my daughter’s new high school. He normally takes a couple of days to reply. This time he replied in five minutes and then only to remind me that our annual physicals are overdue. Then his assistant called to make an appointment. That’s never happened before. Usually to get four back to back appointments we need to book six weeks early and to come at the end of the day.

Intensive care and emergency room personnel are very busy but everyone else in the medical field is scrambling for work. That’s particularly true for hospitals that rely on high margin elective surgeries. The extra funding from treating COVID-19 cases has been a life saver for hospitals because they have lost money on every other part of their business.

If the virus countermeasures are removed without a coincident increase in demand for elective surgeries and returning demand for monitoring chronic conditions hospitals are going to find themselves in serious trouble. That’s an additional reason so much emphasis is being put on vaccines. They are as much about confidence as they are about treatment.

 This article from Niall Ferguson on the governance crisis in California is much more relevant than the fires or the coronavirus. At least natural phenomenon can be dealt with on a personal level. There seems to be no helping government. Here is a section:

Yet wildfires are only one of the reasons people are fleeing California. In addition, the wrongheaded environmental policies of the sages of Sacramento have so undermined the power grid (for example, by shutting down gas-fired power plants and refusing to count hydroelectric energy as renewable) that residents have been subjected to rolling blackouts this year. The same policies have largely killed off the oil and gas industry. Newsom & Co. have failed to upgrade the water system to keep pace with the last half-century of population growth.

It’s not that California politicians don’t know how to spend money. Back in 2007, total state spending was $146 billion. Last year it was $215 billion. I know, I know: In real terms California’s GDP increased by nearly a third in the same period. And I know: If it were an independent nation it would be the fifth-largest economy in the world, ahead of India’s. But for how much longer will that be true?

California’s taxes aren’t the highest in the country — for the median household. But the tax system is one of the most progressive, with a 13.3% top tax rate on incomes above $1 million — and that’s no longer deductible from the federal tax bill as it used to be. The top 1% of taxpayers (those earning more than $500,000) now account for half of personal income-tax revenue. And there’s worse to come.

It's worth considering that the exit tax included in the bill mentioned in this article is patently unconstitutional and unlikely to pass. Nevertheless, it is true that the trend of governance has been declining and single party government is a significant contributor to that condition. When the number of contributors to the public weal are outnumbered by the receivers then it is easy to see how unbalanced outcomes can become.

Turning to the fires, I remember writing about the mountain pine beetle’s migration from east to west Canada more than a decade ago.  It’s one of the primary reasons most new logging now takes place in the USA’s southeast. The droughts of the last few years contributed even more dead trees. Ignoring this evolving situation is what caused the fire problem because fuel was allowed to accrete over years.

The fires in the Angeles forest about 30 miles away are large at over 100,000 acres but we only had smoke for about two days. The wind changed and blew it somewhere else. Canada apparently. The fire in Brentwood and Bel Air in October 2019 was much worse for us than the current fires. I had a raspy throat for months after it. If that kind of experience were to become regular, we would certainly think twice about staying here.

However, it was very pleasant taking my daughters to fencing practice on the beach over the summer. They were running sprints on the soft sand and had no idea just how hard that is. I was hanging out on the patio of the café nearby and working while enjoying the sea breeze. We all miss it.

I’ve been coming around to the conclusion that the risk from COVID-19 is manageable. In fact, I booked our first flights in months last night. We’re going to Denver for a fencing tournament for a few days in November. The price of the tickets was 70% cheaper than when we went there this time last year. That’s the kind of value that will overcome a lot of people’s fear of flying. I continue to think we are likely to see a rapid return of economic activity next year.

Back to top

You need to be logged in to comment.

New members registration