Global Intelligence Briefing March 11 2020: Coronavirus management

By Chris Woods

Wednesday March 11, 2020

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

Preparation key to reducing health stress

While it might seem obvious at this point, a new World Economic Forum report emphasises just how important prevention is in maintaining a sustainable health system; Italy, which is now in the throws of a country-wide quarantine, has seen doctors and nurses work non-stop, emergency hotlines divert to recorded messages, and some hospitals forced to suspend all but the most important surgeries to focus on the virus.

And Italy, the article notes, is not alone; according to last year’s inaugural Global Health Security Index, national health security is “fundamentally weak” across the globe.

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A model courtesy of Esther Kim and Carl T. Bergstrom demonstrates how a reduced rate of coronavirus infections directly reduce the impact healthcare system capacity.

Is Trump relying on a Reagan-era AIDS precedent in communication crack-down?

America has, much like China, adopted an authoritarian-style of communication over the virus. As the New York Times wrote, Vice-President Mike Pence was given control over vetting and even censoring communication from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in late February; for political context, Pence pushed against a clean needle exchange program as Governor of Indiana in 2015 amidst a severe AIDS outbreak .

Now, a Slate report examines the legal opinion underpinning the White House’s censorship decision, and argues the government might, coincidentally, be relying on the precedent set by the Reagan administration’s censorship of AIDS information in the 1980s.

For two more disparate examples, see a recent order to to remove coronavirus posters at immigration courts that the Miami Herald says has since been recanted, and a censored report by the Director of National Intelligence that, according to Time, warns the country is not ready for a global pandemic.

Bill Gates to flood America’s Wuhan with home-testing kits

In an interesting diversion from philanthropy’s traditional, research-oriented role, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has begun funding a project for home-testing kits in Seattle, with the Seattle Times reporting of an eventual goal of process thousands of tests a day.

This is likely welcome news considering that, in a new Business Insider chart, the US ranks behind comparable countries in testing rates by an order of several hundredths:

Science corner: vaccines, therapy, and mutations

According to KOUW Public Radio, Seattle’s Kaiser Permanente Washington Health Research Institute is set to host the first clinical trials for a coronavirus vaccine, which, as AP notes in a breakdown of related work by the National Health Institute, is still not expected to be publicly available for at least a year.

More immediately promising are antiviral therapeutic drugs, specifically, as The Guardian reports, remdesivir, which is currently being tested on COVID-19 patients by Gilead Sciences after it was originally developed to help Ebola patients.

In other science news, a new Science article warns that while mutations of the coronavirus can illustrate how the virus moves, they are particularly easy to overinterpret.

On the home front…

The federal government, as The Conversation reports, is preparing to roll-out e-health systems and 100 pop-up clinics as part of a $2.4 billion health package.

With events moving fast across the country, here’s just a quick news wrap:

  • Victorian Premier Dan Andrews has signalled potential “extreme measures” for a future pandemic phase of the outbreak, including school shutdowns, event cancellations, and entire sectors working from home (ABC);
  • a Sydney doctor is calling for quarantines across NSW’s major population centres as the state records another 14 cases (ABC);
  • South Australia has opened the country’s first drive-thru testing clinic (ABC), although South Korea beat them for the global title by at least a week (CNN);
  • Tasmanians are complaining of being knocked back for testing even if they show symptoms (The Mercury $), just one day after Premier Peter Gutwein publicly considered fines for “isolation scofflaws” (The Mercury $);
  • Business NSW has circulated legal advice to members stating that they do not have to provide paid leave to permanent workers forced into isolation over virus concerns who have not yet been diagnosed (The Australian $);
  • queues for testing are literally running into the street in Sydney, Melbourne (The Australian $), and Perth (WAtoday)
  • the University of Tasmania has slashed courses following the China travel ban (ABC), while the state’s live fish trade has plummeted as customers avoid Chinese restaurants (ABC);

And if you’re more in the podcast mood, do check out The Conversation’s Michelle Gratton chatting with Chief Medical Officer Brendan Murphy on the capacity of Australia’s health response.

Cocaine is not a preventative: France

Finally, because no country has been immune to misinformation — hello $30 million Australian communication fund/toilet paper panic — France has warned citizens that, no, cocaine really does not prevent the virus. Nice try, pushers.

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