The media hysteria surrounding the coronavirus epidemic (which doesn’t yet deserve that name in any part of the world but China, BTW) is getting repetitive and annoying. What’s even worse are attempts by his political opponents (aided and abetted by the generally anti-Trump news media) to make the President appear responsible for it, and to hold him accountable for every “failure” or “mistake” or “misstep” or inept behavior by officials that comes to light. That’s simply not true, as any investigation of the facts will demonstrate.
See, also, the hysteria surrounding Vice-President Pence, who is (according to some news media) allegedly “anti-science” because of some of his ethical and moral positions. I have news for them: he doesn’t have to be a scientist to be in charge of anti-COVID-19 precautions – he has to be a manager and organizer. There are technical specialists who can (and will) handle the science, and report to him. He, with the help of others, will decide how their efforts are to be applied in the wider sphere. That’s not rocket science (or medical science, for that matter) – that’s business and administration.
Expect bureaucracies and bureaucrats to be inefficient. That’s their basic nature, after all. Ask any American who’s had to deal with their state’s Department of Motor Vehicles to get, or renew, a driver’s license, or register a vehicle, or something like that. I don’t expect much better from the official COVID-19 response; but that’s OK. Most of us have muddled through despite all the obstacles the the DMV can put in our path. I daresay we’ll do the same in dealing with this virus.
The “panic buying” reported by the news media is probably precisely that. I remain astonished at the number of people who don’t have an emergency reserve of any kind in their homes. I think everyone should be able to cope without outside support (shops, travel, even electric power if necessary) for at least two or three weeks. That’s rock-bottom basic. Miss D. and I have enough to get by for up to three months (which is what we can afford, and for which we have enough storage). Longer than that, and we’ll be in trouble; but that’s a realistic figure, IMHO, and I think we should survive almost any likely emergency. We may not be comfortable, and we may not be as well-fed, or warm, or cool, as we’d like to be, but we’ll make it. The “panic buying” we’re seeing at present is mostly people who haven’t already laid in a stock of emergency supplies, trying to do so at the last minute. That’s on them. It’s not the government’s fault.
As for preparing for the virus itself . . . it’s a virus. There’s no need to get hysterical about it. We have experience of something similar every year. It’s called the common cold! COVID-19 appears to be more infectious than most of its ilk, but for the vast majority of those who catch it, it appears to produce temporary discomfort rather than a life-threatening condition. Those most at risk are those with pre-existing conditions that can be made worse by the new infection. If you suffer from (or have in the past suffered from) coronary or lung problems (former smoker, asthma, COPD, previous infections with severe bronchitis or pneumonia, etc.), or you’re over 60, you’re in a higher-risk group. As such, take more precautions, and stock up on the same over-the-counter medications you use to deal with the yearly sniffles. They’ll probably help most of us get through COVID-19 as well. (I’d also recommend a pneumonia immunization shot, because a severe infection with COVID-19 may lead to that.)
If we’re among the relatively few who need more than those basic treatments, particularly hospital care, then yes, we may find ourselves in a difficult situation. I don’t like that thought (particularly because I’m in some of those high-risk groups), but it doesn’t matter whether I like it or not: I have to live with it. I’ve taken what precautions I can, and stocked up on OTC medications. If I need more, I’m in one of the best countries in the world to receive it – unlike China, where centralized, socialized medicine has in the past produced less than optimal results. Read about one man’s experience there, and be thankful we don’t have to share it. Our medical facilities are likely to be overstrained, but I don’t think they’ll collapse. We’ll muddle through, even if things are a lot less than optimum for a while.
Those needing regular supplies of prescription medications should take immediate steps to build up a reserve supply, if they haven’t done so already. (If you don’t already have a minimal reserve of them – I work on at least 90 days’ supply – then one can only ask, why not? That’s a basic necessity for any and all key, critical supplies we need.). There may be disruptions to their supply for some months, and some people may die if they can’t get the supplies they need of a particular medication. However, for most of us, it’ll be an inconvenience rather than a death sentence. (If you aren’t sure how to get a reserve supply of prescription medications, try being honest with your doctor. I went to mine some time ago and told her that I wanted an emergency reserve for myself and my wife, and I was prepared to pay cash for them, because our medical insurance wouldn’t cover an excess supply. She immediately issued an extra 90-day prescription for our essential medications, and contacted our pharmacy to make sure they didn’t charge it to our insurer. No fuss, no bother. Also, try renewing your regular prescription at the minimum interval, rather than waiting until you run out every month. Most insurers will allow refills of a 30-day prescription up to a week before it runs out. Over time, by refilling them as quickly as possible, you can build up a reserve supply, a few days’ worth at a time. By doing that, Miss D. and I have up to a 180-day reserve of some medications.)
As we’ve discussed in these pages on several occasions, I think the lasting impact of COVID-19 is likely to be economic. Wall Street is already showing signs of incipient panic. Main Street, on the other hand – the manufacturing economy – is already buckling down and finding new ways to cope with the problem. We’re going to have supply chain disruptions while products from China don’t arrive, and alternatives have to be found, but I think most essentials will remain available. We may be uncomfortable for a period, but by working together, we’ll get through this.
It’s not just disruptions in factory production, though. A bigger bottleneck is likely to be shipping, getting products from where they’re made to where they’re needed. The container shipping industry is in profound disarray, and it’ll take months to regularize the situation. During that time, even if factories return to full production, their goods won’t reach us easily or cheaply. “Lars Jensen, CEO of Sea-Intelligence Consulting, outlines several dominoes that are happening or about to happen in this crucial industry.”
1. Chinese manufacturing facilities didn’t open after Chinese New Year. A lag followed by a lag which “created massive shortfall in Chinese exports and, therefore, a drop in container demand.”
2. Sailings were canceled, which caused “staggering” demand shortfall for containers.
3. “Blank sailings” lead to more blank sailings back to Asia creating 3 – 10 weeks’ more lag time.
4. Pre-Chinese New Year peak of delivered cargo results in excess containers building up in places “such as Europe and North America.” Repatriating containers takes time and money.
5. “Backhauls to Asia will drive up backhaul rates.”
6. There will be a “surge in demand for containers” but getting containers back takes time. See Domino number 4.
7. Need to order new containers.
8. Value of all containers will drop as a result of Domino 7.
9. Headhaul rates will increase. Headhaul is “leg of the route that has the highest volume.” The route back is “back haul.”
10. Refrigerated containers will continue to stack up in Chinese ports.
11. That will trigger “congestion surcharges”.
12. Refrigerated containers will be diverted to other Asian ports “creating congestion challenges – and new tranches of dominoes – all their own.
13. This is will cause temporary equipment shortages.
14. Refrigerated transport rates will increase.
Now imagine the cost of all that stuff that’s either still stuck inside those containers or will be stuck inside those containers or hasn’t yet received a container in which to be shipped. The cost of whatever those widgets are will go up.
There’s more at the link.
A bigger issue is going to be societal disruption. If schools are shut down, or cities quarantined, I expect problems. America isn’t like some countries where the state, or the community as a whole, is considered more important than the individual. Here, there’ll be many people who regard a quarantine as more of a suggestion than an order, and who won’t obey it even if it’s mandatory. Rugged individualism is all very well, but it’s not helpful in a situation like this. All of us will need to be on our guard against such tendencies. Basic precautions like hand-washing, minimizing public exposure, etc. will be called for. I don’t know how supermarkets will cope, and that’s a potential bottleneck. One can order only so much online, and there’ll always be the need for an emergency run to the store for small kids who’ve run out of diapers or baby formula. That’s going to be tricky.
Basically, let’s employ common sense rather than emotional, hysterical over-reaction. Plan ahead: do what you can to prepare: and expect this to go on for months, possibly longer. We may yet find that COVID-19 joins colds and flu as an annual infectious event. If so, we’ll deal with it.