Global Intelligence Briefing March 5, 2020: Coronavirus management

By Chris Woods

March 5, 2020

Welcome to Global Intelligence Briefing, the Mandarin’s morning update on everything in local and global government responses to the COVID-19 coronavirus.

Pre-existing SARS-CoV drug combats new strain

Scientists in Germany have written in Cell about a drug already in use across Japan to fight SARS-CoV — called camostat mesylate — also combats the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus and therefore might be useful in fighting the disease the COVID-19 disease. As they told Forbes, the next step would be human trials.

In other research news, Reuters reports that Chinese scientists writing in National Science Review, have found that the novel coronavirus has developed into two major types, which, although they caution is based on a limited study, they say demonstrates for further, immediate studies “that combine genomic data, epidemiological data, and chart records of the clinical symptoms of patients).

Sanctions blamed in Iran outbreak

In a public plea for supplies on Monday, Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif has directly blamed US sanctions for endangering civilians. While it should come as no surprise that sanctions deplete a country’s ability to respond to a crisis of any kind, Politico and — for the podcast junkies out there — NPR have more on why, exactly, Iran is so unprepared for the virus.

Twitter, Apple upgrade precautions

In corporate news, Apple Inc has instituted travel restrictions to Italy and South Korea similar to ones in place for China, which hosts the majority of their supply chains; as Bloomberg notes, that’s currently operating at half capacity.

Similarly, Twitter and Square have asked employees to work from home where able; it’s unclear exactly what’s rights employees have in either situation.

What should a vaccine cost (if anything)?

Compounding the US’ delayed response to the outbreak — Washington State specifically is, according to a local computational biologist, set to become the new Wuhan — is that old chestnut, politics.

According to Politico, a hiccup emerged as the two major parties worked on a $7.5 billion emergency package, with Republicans trying to fight attempts to preventing price gauging of any vaccines; conversely, the sheer requirement for public health funding has seen the party open up to reimbursing hospitals or, as the Huffington Post reports, socialised medicine.

While the package is still set to be voted on Wednesday (DC time), the country will have to deal with the fact that, according to National Geographic, they have just a fraction of the seven billion respirators and face masks required over the course of the outbreak. Which, to be fair, the WHO just warned is a global problem.

How poorly paid sick-leave could leave the US vulnerable

With the US’ national health system failing to quarantine even willing patients, Vox has run through why, with just 27% of people whose wages fall in the bottom 10% are afforded paid sick leave, we can bet there’s going to be people in low-income industries like health and hospitality effectively working through the crisis.

Wherefore Indonesia?

Indonesia’s government has drawn plenty of criticism for its response to the virus — see, for example, an earlier claim that “prayer” resulted in the country’s statistically-impossible zero cases — and, with official cases at just two yesterday, Science has unpacked a few more trouble accusations.

Namely, scientists at the Eijkman Institute for Molecular Biology claiming their offer to help test more people has been snubbed, and, further, that the ministry’s “unclear and nontransparent” testing criteria has meant gaps in testing for Wuhan evacuees.

Meanwhile, on the home front…

Back at home, The Conversation has two excellent new guides: one on how Australia is currently testing and tracking the virus, and another on what government powers exist for quarantine.

And over at Croakey, Seoul-based public health researcher Jinhee Kim has wrapped some key lessons from South Korea’s quick response, which includes but is not limited to:

  • a fast and large testing system (do check out the “drive-through clinics”);
  • a steady flow of official information and daily alerts;
  • preparedness and general trust; and
  • a new national protocol bourne from the 2015 MERS outbreak, which, on top of the testing system, created greater role and protocol clarity, negative pressure rooms across the country, and a dedicated consumer hotline.

Kim also posits a number of challenges for how Australia will react in the coming weeks, ranging from role clarity, testing locations, data sharing, and resource mobilisation.

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