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News, observations, guesses January 14, 2022

January 14, 2022

The Atlantic writes:

The fact that we’ll eventually end up with endemic COVID has not changed. And the fact that people cannot expect to avoid the virus forever in an endemic scenario has not changed. Omicron is now forcing us to look squarely at the reality that people can get and spread COVID even when vaccinated.

This is the same script that was used for media coverage about the poisoning of the biosphere, habitat destruction, mass extinction, and climate change: First ignore it and deny it, then, if that is not possible anymore, call it inevitable, call it the new normal, and regard it as a fact of life.

Concerning the pandemic, propagandists yet have one big problem: China is not playing along, it still insists on its zero-Covid strategy.

Imagine: The creativity, ingenuity, and discipline of 1.4 billion rather healthy people, compared to the creativity, ingenuity, and discipline of 330 million US-Americans, many of them stricken by long Covid and other chronic diseases.

This is a menace, an existential threat to US hegemony and Western neocolonialism. The whole Western World, the imperial coalition, ravaged by COVID-19, could be outcompeted, subjugated, and humiliated, society and culture could be changed, history could be rewritten.

Will China’s “century of humiliation” be revenged?

There’s only one way to fend off this threat: Brutal military aggression. But is has to come fast, because the window of opportunity will be closing soon.

A new study from the UK suggests that antibody levels may start to drop off by 15 to 25 percent already 10 weeks after a booster shot. Vaccine manufacturers are starting to develop Omicron-specific boosters — but this will take time. Pfizer expects an Omicron vaccine to be ready in March.

Efficacy and safety of Covid vaccines are still vigorously debated by scientists and doctors, but one will not hear anything about this in mainstream media. Questioning the wisdom of betting on “vaccinations and nothing else” is conspiracy theory.

Such a modus operandi is called: “zero visible dissent.”

Pandemic policies have been coherent, logical, and straight forward from the start and throughout the Corona crisis. It never was in dispute that securing profits is the supreme goal of most governments and that ordinary peoples lives and welfare are a distant afterthought. A headline in the Washington Post illustrates: “Lawmakers are discussing more pandemic relief for businesses.”

Pandemic relief for the people may come after that — if the budgets allow it.

News channels report: In another effort to bolster the economy, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson told the House of Commons that pre-departure tests for people traveling to England will no longer be required because the Omicron variant is so prevalent that travel restrictions meant to contain its spread are now meaningless.

Let ‘er rip.

As authorities all over the world are busy with securing profits and corporate financial wellbeing, pandemic mitigation efforts concerning health care have become individual responsibility. It’s up to you to avoid infection, reinfection, and reinfection again.

If you want to avoid life-threatening sickness and possible longtime ailments: Isolate, don’t contact persons who may be infected, avoid places and spaces where infected persons may be, don’t travel.

You will object: “But that’s impossible, we live in a task sharing, supply chain dependent industrial global economy.”

But what about creativity, what about “thinking outside the box? Your employer demands that to boost productivity, while your personal life should remain unchanged, so that you remain a dependable cog in the big profit machine.

What about creativity, what about “thinking outside the box” to change your life fundamentally, to drop out of the rat race?

Old habit’s die hard, old ways of thinking are difficult to leave, old perceptions, beliefs, ideologies are hard to overcome. Maybe an extraordinary experience (a pandemic for instance) can push you over the precipice into a new modest life of subsistence in a close-knit local community.

A modest, harmonious life of subsistence in a close-knit local community — nothing less will do. Not to forget: Inner peace, serenity, content are required too.

We will need more sages and prophets.

This is old “New Age” crap, easily to be dismissed with some stinging mockery on social media platforms. The noise from quadrillions of loudspeakers, the honking from endless columns of cars, the banging, buzzing, roaring, growling of big industrial and agricultural machines will drown the silence of nature, wisdom, and love. And bury the visions of a new peaceful, harmonious world.

Is the pandemic a transitional event? Will it end the industrial noises and the cacophony of modern urban life? Will it show the way to a sane world? Will it be the last pandemic or just the start of a merciless purge of human predators in the epic ware of humans against nature?

Will nature prevail or will humans win and continue destroying nature?

Which side are you on? Are you supporting humans or are you a traitor, a thug who is collaborating with nature, trying to impede human progress?

How to cope with the painful realization that we are not uninvolved bystanders, observers, that we are combatants indeed?

How to overcome cognitive dissonance and mental paralysis? How to drop out of the rat race? How to regroup and retreat to the mountains?

Do we need to sacrifice the conveniences and allures of modern life for preserving future or shall we better sacrificing future for the conveniences and allures of modern life?

You want to have it both ways, have your cake and eat it too? You convince yourself and vehemently argue that these are silly and irrelevant questions, that the poisoning of the biosphere, habitat destruction, mass extinction, and climate change are just bumps in the highway of human progress and that science will find ingenious solutions to enable endless economic growth?

Continue dreaming, but don’t blame anybody than yourself for the rude awakening!

The pandemic is worsening and there could be an estimated 3 billion new infections globally over the next months thanks to the highly infectious Omicron variant. The largest outbreaks are across Europe and North America, but Omicron has reached most corners of the world, with its impact depending on the various health care and disease prevention politics.

Covax, the vaccine-sharing initiative, has shipped a billion doses, which sounds impressive but is far behind where it planned to be at this point in the pandemic. The selfishness displayed by vaccine-hoarding richer countries could prolong the pandemic, but nothing is for sure, as fast changes, unexpected developments, and a deluge of misleading data make predictions difficult.

Unwavering efforts to eliminate Covid in China

The northwestern Chinese city of Xi’an suspended all passenger flights at its airport until further notice. Chinese officials say that the outbreak in Xi’an has largely “brought under control” after two weeks of a stay-at-home order with daily case counts down to single digits. Other cities where clusters have been detected face similar restrictions, including a partial lockdown in Yuzhou, Zhengzhou, Xuchang, Anyang, and Tianjin.

The lockdown in Xi’an and associated public health measures, including mass testing and contact tracing, the establishment of quarantine centers, and the provision of food and home supplies required a huge mobilization of resources.

Multiple rounds of testing the whole population have been conducted to identify new cases. 5,077 testing points have been set up, with more than 30,000 testing personnel and 132,900 related service personnel.

Initially one person from a household was permitted to go out to buy food and supplies every two days. However, that policy was further tightened to prohibit all trips (except testing for COVID-19). To provide food and other daily necessities to the city of 13 million, authorities mobilized 64,000 grassroots officials and 45,000 volunteers, many of whom are students, workers, and retirees.

The purchase of food and other supplies is mainly done by placing orders from businesses, and delivery by volunteers or community workers. In addition, food and daily necessities purchased by the government or donated by people from all walks of life are  distributed by volunteers and community workers.

There has been an expansion of medical services throughout the city. Xi’an has built new hospitals in the course of the pandemic, another one with a capacity of 3,000 beds is under construction.

Beginning in mid-December, medical institutions from neighboring areas have sent more than 1,000 medical workers to Xi’an and on December 27, 150 medical workers from the Air Force Military Medical University went to Xi’an.

The city of Yuzhou in the central province of Henan imposed a lockdown on January 3, 2022, after the discovery of three coronavirus cases. Yuzhou’s 1.1 million residents were ordered to remain indoors and public transport was suspended. As of January 4, over 950,000 people had been tested for Covid-19.

In the port city of Tianjin 97 people tested positive for COVID-19 in a first round of mass testing and contact tracing of the city’s 14 million people, Authorities imposed restrictions on movement both within Tianjin and in neighboring areas including Beijing. 75,000 people are quarantined, subway lines are partially closed, and most flights are cancelled. Tutoring centers, daycare centers, and vocational training centers have been closed while universities and colleges have sealed off campuses.

Imported cases of Omicron have been found in five cities (Tianjin, Guangzhou, Changsha, Shenzhen, and Zhejiang) and there have been a few confirmed cases of community transmission in Guangzhou.

Omicron cases have also been identified in Anyang city in Henan province, more than 300 miles from Tianjin. The cases have been traced to a potential source — a university student who returned to Anyang from Tianjin on December 28, raising the possibility that Omicron has been circulating in Tianjin for nearly two weeks. A lockdown of Anyang, home to 5.5 million, was being ordered to facilitate mass testing. The northeastern city of Dalian reported one Omicron case, imported from Tianjin.

Chinas efforts to eliminate COVID-19 are dismissed or discredited by Western commentators who are well aware, that this could become a monumental and  unprecedented humiliation for the USA and Europe.

https://mronline.org/2022/01/12/yes-there-really-were-only-two-covid-deaths-in-mainland-china-in-2021-heres-how-they-did-it/

The New York Time writes: The army of millions who enforce China’s zero-Covid policy, at all costs. As the troubled lockdown in Xi’an has shown, many Chinese people remain willing to work diligently toward the government’s goal of eliminating the virus, no matter the consequences.

No matter the consequences? If the consequences are less sickness and death, all costs are justified. But that’s certainly not what the New York Times implied.

Or living with COVID

A recent study, published on medRxiv, found, that most Omicron cases were infectious for several days before being detectable by rapid antigen tests. Incubation periods (the time from infection till becoming infectious) were as short as three days.

Omicron has a much higher rate of asymptomatic carriage than other variants. It is often undetected, which certainly helps its rapid global dissemination.

Researchers in Glasgow discovered that an essential protein on lung cells called TMPRSS2, which helped previous SARS-COV-2 variants to gain entry into the lung cells bound less strongly to Omicron, making it more difficult to get inside the cells.

The fact that the new variant seems milder than originally feared is likely to mean that restrictions are lifted more quickly and that the economic effect is more moderate than it might have been. Israel and Australia, for example, are already loosening restrictions despite high case numbers.

The abandonment of public health measures has been spurred by a massive disinformation campaign which has successfully convinced a significant portion of the population that not making a fuss and just enduring COVID-19 is the way to go. The young and healthy have especially embraced this narrative.

Obama and Biden adviser Ezekiel Emanuel, together with other former Biden administration health advisers, including Michael Osterholm and Céline Gounder, called for COVID-19 to become the “new normal.”

Emanuel organized the production of three opinion articles published in JAMA (Journal of the American Medical Association). The statements there were hailed with front coverage in the New York Times, Washington Post, and NBC Nightly News. Emanuel told NBC: “We have to reorient our goal so we can get it to a manageable state, and we can continue with our normal life while Covid is around just like we do with flu.”

CDC director Rochelle Walensky correspondingly stated on ABC Good Morning America: “The overwhelming number of deaths, over 75 percent, occurred in people who had at least four comorbidities, so really these are people who are unwell to begin with, and yes, really encouraging news in the context of Omicron.”

Ignoring long COVID

Yet, the idea of “Omicron the Pandemic Killer” ignores dangers of long COVID. SARS-CoV-2 is not just a respiratory virus, it is similar to HIV because it can silently spread throughout the host’s body and attack almost every organ. It has multiple avenues to induce long-term impairment, attacking the brain, heart, lungs, blood, testes, colon, liver, and lymph nodes, causing persistent symptoms. The virus is able to cross the blood-brain barrier and cause significant neurological damage (demonstrated in mice at the University of Washington).

SARS-CoV-2 is frequently detected in brain (loss of smell) and heart (loss of cardiac function from myocarditis). Even those who develop ‘mild’ COVID-19 can develop long COVID-19. There is no indication that Omicron involves a reduction in the incidence of long COVID, potentially meaning millions of people will be debilitated for months, years, or their entire lives.

A preprint study by Oxford University investigators on the medRxiv website, compares brain scans for SARS-CoV-2 infections in 394 COVID-19 patients who tested positive for the infection against 388 patients in a control group. “We identified significant effects of COVID-19 in the brain with a loss of grey matter in the left parahippocampal gyrus, the left lateral orbitofrontal cortex and the left insula,” the study states. “When looking over the entire cortical surface, these results extended to the anterior cingulate cortex, supramarginal gyrus, and temporal pole.”

In the UK, hospitalizations of children under six years with COVID-19 are rapidly rising with 570 admissions in just one week. 3 million children (aged 0-19) have been infected with COVID, with a record 40,000 daily cases on January 10. Long COVID numbers in children have more than tripled in 6 months. 117,000 children have long COVID and 20,000 endure illness lasting more than a year.

For the week ending December 30, children accounted for 17.7 percent of new reported cases in the USA, the American Academy of Pediatrics said, noting a record 325,00 new cases among children — a 64 percent increase from the week prior. The week ending January 6 saw even 580,247 pediatric COVID-19 cases, up 74 percent. There were also a record 1,636 pediatric hospitalizations and 14 additional deaths.

In Georgia, public school teachers who test positive for Covid-19 no longer have to isolate before returning to school, and contact tracing in schools is no longer required, according to a letter to school leaders from Gov. Brian Kemp and public health commissioner Kathleen Toomey. The Georgia Department of Public Health posted an updated administrative order allowing teachers and school staff to return to work after a Covid-19 exposure or a positive Covid-19 test if they remain asymptomatic and wear a mask while at work.

https://www.nakedcapitalism.com/2022/01/more-on-the-morbidity-risk-of-omicron-like-a-chess-grandmaster-playing-against-schoolboys.html

US pandemic news

800,000 US-Americans have died from Covid-19 (December 18, 2021).

President Biden vowed “not to shutdown the economy, period.”

In New York, officials have had to delay or scale back trash and subway services because of a virus-fueled staffing hemorrhage. The Metropolitan Transportation Authority said about one-fifth of subway operators and conductors (1,300 people) have been absent in recent days. Almost one-fourth of the city sanitation department’s workers were out sick. The city’s fire department also has adjusted for higher absences, as 28 percent of EMS workers were out sick.

At Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport, two checkpoints at the airport’s busiest terminal were shut down because not enough Transportation Security Administration agents showed up for work.

Just 37 percent of US-Americans name the virus as one of their top five priorities for the government to work on in 2022, compared with 53 percent who said it was a leading priority at the same time a year ago. The economy outpaced the pandemic in the open-ended question, with 68 percent of respondents mentioning it in some way as a top 2022 concern. A similar percentage said the same last year, but mentions of inflation are much higher now: 14 percent this year, compared with less than 1 percent last year.

https://www.counterpunch.org/2022/01/13/profits-over-people-why-werent-the-vaccine-manufacturers-nationalized/

Other pandemic related news

Scientists at the University of Cyprus have found 25 cases of a strain of the coronavirus that combines elements of the delta and omicron variants. The researchers sent their findings to GISAID, an international database that tracks viruses. They called the mutation “deltacron” and doubt, that it will prevail.

Only one monoclonal antibody, sotrovimab, currently works against Omicron, and supplies are short.

The US government ordered 700,000 doses of AstraZeneca’s combination antibody Evusheld, for about 300 US$ per dose. The drug was authorized in December to prevent infection with COVID-19 in immunocompromised adults and adolescents, as well as those who cannot get vaccinated for medical reasons. AstraZeneca’s Vaxzevria, given as a third booster dose, is also said to increase antibodies against Omicron.

Pfizer’s antiviral Paxlovid, also recently authorized, has been shown effective at preventing high-risk people from requiring hospitalization. But only 20 million doses of the drug, which is hard to manufacture and costs 530 US$ per course, will be available throughout 2022.

It is doubtful, that these rare and expensive drugs will be equitably distributed.

https://www.infectioncontroltoday.com

China sent a million COVID-19 vaccine doses to Syria. This is the fourth time China has sent coronavirus vaccine doses to Syria,

Syria experienced a bad outbreak of COVID-19 late last year, exacerbating the fragile healthcare system that has been damaged by year of civil war. Cases have since decreased, and the country of 17 million is averaging around 40 new infections per day, according to data from Reuters.

China is an ally of Syria. Last month, China’s embassy in Damascus provided a grant to a Syrian nonprofit.

China has provided its Sinopharm vaccine to several countries in the Middle East, including Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates. China’s Red Cross also sent 6 million Sinopharm doses to Iran in October.

UK travel industry groups have called for all remaining Covid restrictions on travelers to be removed. The travel industry said compulsory testing for UK arrivals and departures had held back the sector’s recovery.

A recent report by aviation analytics firm Cirium found that the Covid pandemic triggered a 71 percent drop in international flights in and out of the UK in 2021.

Royal Caribbean International canceled cruise voyages on four ships because of “ongoing Covid-related circumstances around the world.” Norwegian Cruise Line canceled the voyages of eight ships.

Who wins, who loses?

An unprecedented wealth transfer from the already exploited population to extremely rich and powerful people has been ongoing for the past two years, while the kind of neoliberal restructuring they’ve been dreaming about has been implemented in the name of saving lives.

The cozy Covid life for privileged, resourced people who can work from home or afford not to work is propped up in many ways at the expense of many who are suffering under the economic restructuring process for the oligarchy

The richest 10 percent of the global population currently take 52 percent of global income, whereas the poorest half of the population earns 8.5 percent of it. On average, an individual from the top 10 percent of the global income distribution earns 122,100 US$ per year, whereas an individual from the poorest half of the global income distribution makes 3,920 US$ per year.

The poorest half of the global population barely owns any wealth at all, possessing just 2 percent of the total. In contrast, the richest 10 percent of the global population own 76 percent of all wealth.

Luxury carmaker Rolls-Royce, a unit of Germany’s BMW, said its sales soared 49 percent to a record high in 2021, as demand worldwide for luxury vehicles surged. The carmaker sold 5,586 vehicles to customers in more than 50 countries, the largest number in its 117-year history.

Eternal economic growth is still the prevailing state religion.

Asia will be very important for growth prospects in 2022. Major economies such as the UK, Japan and the eurozone were all still smaller than before the pandemic as recently as the third quarter of 2021. The only major Western economy that has already recovered its losses and regained its pre-COVID size is the United States.

China still rising

The Chinese economy is projected to have grown 10.6 percent for the whole of 2021, compared with 2019, the year the coronavirus first emerged in Wuhan. Chinese gross domestic product (GDP) was on course to hit 15.66 trillion US$ versus 14.15 trillion US$ in 2019.

China has managed the pandemic well with strict control measures, and its economy has achieved strong growth since the second quarter of 2020. It has been struggling with a heavily over-indebted property market, but appears to have handled these problems relatively smoothly. Though the jury is out on the extent to which China’s debt problems will be a drag in 2022, some such as Morgan Stanley argue that strong exports, accommodative monetary and fiscal policies, and government provided relief for the real estate sector point to a decent performance.

The Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) trade agreement came into force. Signed at the end of 2020, and ratified by at least 10 of its parties through 2021, the deal constitutes the largest free trade agreement in history, including 15 countries, nearly one-third of the world’s population, and 30 percent of the world’s GDP. The RCEP trade agreement brings China, Japan, South Korea, Australia, New Zealand, and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) into one bloc, where members enjoy 90 percent of goods tariff free. Tariffs on more than 65 per cent of China’s trade in goods with ASEAN, Australia, and New Zealand are expected to immediately reach zero.

Rail trade between China and Europe has seen container traffic up 30 percent and the China Development Bank will provide additional funding support to upgrade the China Railway Express, which links 89 Chinese cities with 23 countries in Europe.

Beijing over the past few years has framed itself as a champion, advocate, and defender of a multilateral trading system against protectionism, and in turn sought to hasten its trade agreements as a means to hedge against Washington’s attempts to block Chinese economic development.

The trade war between the US and China looks likely to continue in 2022. The “phase 1” deal between the two nations, in which China had agreed to increase its purchases of certain US goods and services by 200 billion US$ over 2020 and 2021 has missed its target by about 40 percent (as at the end of November).

Essential questions remain unanswered:

When will the Chinese leadership wake up from the dreams of hegemony and eternal economic growth? Will China’s great awakening and resurgence be followed by a great disenchantment? Will the poisoned lands still be able to feed the people? Is Taoism, Confucianism, Buddhism a viable fallback option? Will there be a great redemption?

War preparations

According to a new SIPRI (Stockholm International Peace Research Institute) report published in December, the 100 largest arms companies sold 531 billion US$ worth of weapons in 2020 — a 1.3 percent increase compared to 2019.

The defense industry has been largely immune to the economic impact of the pandemic. While the global economy shrank by 3.1 percent in 2020, most of the 100 largest defense companies increased their sales.

Leading the way in arms sales is the United States, which accounts for 41 of the hundred largest arms producers, who increased their exports by 1.9 percent and achieved total sales of 285 billion US$ last year. This corresponds to 54 percent of the world total. As of 2018, the top five arms companies are all based in the US.

Russian defense sales, which account for five percent of global sales, declined for the third year in a row, falling from 28.2 billion US$ in 2019 to 26.4 billion in 2020. According to SIPRI, this is mainly due to the Russian government’s diversification of product portfolios, according to which the share of civilian products must be 30 percent of total production by 2025 and 50 percent by 2050.

Political organizations in Kazakhstan in 2020 received 3.8 million US$ from George Soros’ Open Society Foundation, which promotes regime change against pro-Russian leaders in Eastern Europe and Central Asia, and more than $1.2 million US$ from NED (National Endowment for Democracy) (data for 2021 is not yet publicly available).

The US European Command (better known by the acronym, EUCOM) announced that it was establishing a new headquarters in the Balkans – a special operations unit based in Albania, which would form part of an overall US government effort to increase the capacity of Western forces.

Former CIA agent Ray McGovern stated in an interview that the US government decided to open a military base in the region to undermine growing Chinese influence in the region and prevent the rapprochement between Tirana and Beijing.

A recent report by the Balkan Investigative Reporting Network (a pro-Western Balkan NGO), identified at least 135 cooperation projects between China and Albania whose value exceeds 36 million US$. The projects work in the most diverse areas, including high technology, computing, metallurgy, mining, energy, transport, infrastructure, security, among others. One of the projects is a cooperation in technology with Huawei, a Chinese company that has been a prime target by Washington.

https://www.aljazeera.com/wp-content/uploads/2022/01/INTERACTIVE-NATO-expansion.png

https://www.aljazeera.com/wp-content/uploads/2022/01/INTERACTIVE-NATO-OSCE-EU.png

https://www.aljazeera.com/wp-content/uploads/2022/01/INTERACTIVE-NATO-budget-2022-1.png

https://www.aljazeera.com/wp-content/uploads/2022/01/INTERACTIVE-NATO-members-military-expenditure-1.png

https://www.aljazeera.com/wp-content/uploads/2022/01/INTERACTIVE-NATO-operations.png

Update:

China reported 201 new coronavirus cases for January 13, up from 190 a day earlier. Of the new infections, 143 were locally transmitted. The new locally transmitted cases were in Henan, Tianjin, Shaanxi, Guangdong, and Shanghai.
China reported 42 new asymptomatic cases, which it classifies separately from confirmed cases.

3 comments

  1. Thank you so much for sharing the thought, research, synthesis, analysis, and perspective you present here.

    Like


    • Thank you so much for being a loyal longtime reader!

      Like


  2. Humans are strange animals when all is said and done.

    Like



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