Wednesday Briefs – 24 June 2020

A weekly commentary on current events. Follow populyst to receive notification.

This week: Coronavirus new hospitalizations and deaths; Coronavirus seasonality; Geopolitical tensions.

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Coronavirus new hospitalizations and deaths

Although the numbers are too small to call this a second wave, reported coronavirus cases are rising in a number of US states. Counting cases however is unreliable because states use different approaches: all include positives from diagnostic tests, but some also include positives from antibody tests and/or cases deemed probable (not lab-confirmed) per CDC guidelines. The amalgamated total does not give a good picture of the virus’s progression in every state, in particular if a change in accounting took place in May or June.

Hospitalizations and deaths totals are more reliable and they are stagnant or rising in Arizona, Florida, South Carolina and Texas. The most certain thing that can be said is that virus daily deaths in a number of states have stopped declining and have flatlined or have started to rise modestly. Undoubtedly this is a series that should be watched closely in the next few weeks.

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In Arizona, the seven-day average of daily deaths has risen to 24 from a brief dip to 12 in late May. In Florida, it is 35, hovering near the same level for the past month. In South Carolina (not shown in the chart), it stands at 9 which is where it was a month ago before it fell briefly to 5. In Texas, it is now at 27 in line with its level one month ago before it dipped to 17. These figures are small and are noteworthy mainly because they are trending up. Assuming a lag of a few weeks between cases and deaths, the number of deaths could start a more sustained rise in coming weeks.

As a comparison, New York’s seven-day average is now 23 deaths, similar to some of these states’ totals but New York’s number has by contrast been falling every day. Nationwide too, the downtrend continues and now stands at 623 deaths daily, down from 1,000 at the beginning of June and 2,000 at the beginning of May. This is obviously great progress in the space of seven weeks.

Coronavirus seasonality

Some of this progress can probably be attributed to the seasonality of the virus with warmer temperatures, higher humidity and a higher UV index conspiring to fade the pandemic. The fact that a number of southern hemisphere countries including Brazil, Peru and Chile are now posting large increases in cases could be a validation of the seasonality thesis, but more research is needed before the correlation is conclusively established.

It is safer to assume that the pandemic will return to the US in the fall and to prepare for it accordingly. The main issue then is how to avoid a second lockdown that would be devastating to the economy. We are or should be much better prepared.

Geopolitical tensions

Geopolitical tensions did not disappear during the pandemic. There are a number of hot spots or potential hot spots worth watching. Among them are China-India where a border skirmish in the Galwan valley recently led to the deaths of 20 Indian soldiers and several Chinese fatalities; and Syria, Yemen and Libya with their long wars.

Among renewed concerns, Egypt has to manage difficult situations to its west and south. West, the Libyan war grinds on and Egypt has stated that it may intervene in the east of Libya, where most of that country’s oil fields are located. South, Egypt faces a more existential challenge to its main resource and lifeblood, the Nile water, with the construction upstream of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam that will regulate the flow of water into South Sudan, Sudan, and Egypt. Multi-party talks do not seem to be going well so far.

2018 populations: Egypt 98.4m; Libya 6.7m; Ethiopia 109.2m

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