Gareth Vaughan on the COVID-Anosmia Initiative, the non-politicians leading NZ's fight against COVID-19, Abenomasks, a new use for Indian railway carriages & a potential vaccine

Gareth Vaughan on the COVID-Anosmia Initiative, the non-politicians leading NZ's fight against COVID-19, Abenomasks, a new use for Indian railway carriages & a potential vaccine

Welcome to this COVID-19 lockdown Top 5 weekend special. All our previous Top 5s are here.

1) Sniff out COVID, the COVID-Anosmia Initiative.

Michael Lewis, he who gave us Liar's Poker, Moneyball and The Big Short, has written an interesting article for Bloomberg. He highlights how Claire Hopkins and Nirmal Kumar, British doctors and ear, nose and throat specialists, wrote about the same strange symptom in their coronavirus patients: a loss of the sense of smell, or Anosmia.

The inability to smell was the first symptom many patients noticed; in some cases, it was the only symptom the patients noticed. “In the past it was once in a blue moon that we saw patients who had lost their sense of smell,” Kumar told me. “Now we are seeing it 10 times as often. It’s one of the things that happens with this virus.”

Peter Hancock, the ex-JPMorgan chief risk officer, who post Global Financial Crisis ran "the giant risk management mess that was AIG," also noticed Hopkins and Kumar's letter, Lewis writes. Hancock contacted the British doctors who agreed it might make sense to use this unusual symptom to track COVID-19.

 If enough people who suddenly found themselves without a sense of smell self-reported their condition, you might well create an early warning signal that told you where the virus was heading, and how fast. “The missing piece is population-wide infection rates,” Hancock said.

The result is The COVID-Anosmia Initiative. According to the website, it's a non-profit collaboration between leading medical researchers and talent in academia and technology to track COVID-19 through social media.

The website says:

Through data driven experimentation, viral marketing, machine learning and statistical analysis, our goal is to develop low cost, highly scalable and predictive population level indicators for COVID-19.

The idea, Lewis explains, is to encourage everyone in the world with access to the internet to report whether they can or cannot smell.

Make it easy for them to do so. Find widely admired people with big social-media followings to make short videos on the subject — at the bottom of which there’d be a simple button that allows anyone watching to report their sense of smell. Go viral with the virus. Before long you’d have a pile of data that smart analysts could use to map it, and evaluate its risks. The results might not be perfect, but they were far better than what we have now in any rich country and far better than what they might ever have in countries with fewer resources.

I love this idea. Hancock is well on his way to building an organization to make it happen — the website is He is in the market for both widely admired people and data scientists.  Here’s to hoping he finds them before my father calls me to say that he can no longer smell his Burgundy.

2) The non-politicians leading New Zealand's fight against COVID-19.

Here RNZ (Radio New Zealand) profiles the non-politicians leading the country during these extraordinary times. There's Director-General of Health Ashley Bloomfield, the Director of Civil Defence and Emergency Management Sarah Stuart-Black, Juliet Gerrard the Prime Minister's Chief Science Advisor, retiring Police Commissioner Mike Bush, microbiologist and science communicator Siouxsie Wiles, and public and private sector liaison Rob Fyfe.

Bloomfield and Stuart-Black are certainly front and centre of the Wellington press conferences. In Bloomfield's case he's there while Heath Minister David Clark is home in Dunedin making headlines for going mountain biking.

On Saturday, when Director-General of Health Dr Ashley Bloomfield took a day off, people on social media celebrated, and with good reason. In little over two months, Bloomfield has fronted at least 40 press conferences related to Covid-19 and won the hearts of many New Zealanders. There's even a Twitter fan account dedicated to the public health crusader, father of three, and mountain biking enthusiast.

In June 2018, after accountant Chai Chuah resigned from the director-general of health role, amid controversy over an $18 million budget blowout for the cost of refitting the Health Ministry's Wellington headquarters, Bloomfield took on the top job. He earns $528,000.

Stuart-Black has certainly had some big events to deal with in her time.

Stuart-Black - often referred to by her nickname 'Norm' (a reference to her family name Norman) - has been the director of Civil Defence and Emergency Management since December 2014. In the role, she's led the Civil Defence response to, amongst other things, the 2016 Kaikōura earthquake, the 2017 Port Hills fires, last year's Christchurch mosque attacks and Whakaari/White Island eruption and the recent floods that saw parts of Southland grind to a halt.

Stuart-Black has been with Civil Defence (which is officially called the National Emergency Management Agency Te Rākau Whakamarumaru) since 2003. She was a member of the United Nations Disaster Assessment and Coordination Team for nine years and has worked in England, Ethiopia, Niue and the Solomon Islands.

3) Abenomasks.

Government's everywhere are under the pump as they battle COVID-19. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is no exception. Among other things he has being criticised for his government's move to distribute two cloth masks to every household, The Japan Times reports.

But it was the unexpected distribution of two cloth — therefore washable — face masks to approximately 50 million households nationwide that has left many online aghast.

They have said the proposition is a far cry from measures they truly expect of the state, such as cash handouts or bold compensation for businesses hit by government calls for residents to stay indoors, not to mention little help for households with more than two family members.

The government is set to announce next week what it says is it’s biggest-ever economic package, which is likely to include cash handouts to households and relief measures for businesses.

Abe is defending the move.

Abe, for his part, insisted the distribution of cloth masks, announced before the comprehensive economic package is mapped out, would be “extremely effective” in easing the ongoing shortage because, unlike surgical masks, they can be reused if washed properly with detergent.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said Thursday that a cloth mask costs about ¥200 and Japan Post would directly distribute them to each letter box at households nationwide, calling the method “swift.”

But that assurance hasn’t stopped those on social media from expressing shock at what they see as a tone-deaf policy.

But much fun is being had at Abe and his government's expense. As demonstrated here.

And here.


4) India uses railways carriages as isolation wards.

Ever since COVID-19 made its presence felt in Wuhan, people have been adapting buildings and any facilities available to cope with its human toll. In Wuhan temporary hospitals sprang up in no time. In Madrid an ice rink was converted into a temporary morgue. And, as Al Jazeera reports, in India railway carriages are being converted into isolation wards.

Indian Railways on Wednesday said work had begun on modifying 20,000 carriages into medical facilities, with each carriage containing 16 beds.

This means that a total of 320,000 patients could be cared for in the "quarantine coaches", a statement from the railways said.

India is a week into a national lockdown, with 1.3 billion people told to stay at home as the country attempts to check the spread of the virus. But there has been a spike in COVID-19 cases this week, with authorities confirming 1,637 infections and 38 deaths.

Sports stadiums are also being converted into quarantine facilities and temporary hospitals. And in Chandigarh a stadium and sports complex has been converted into temporary jails to detain people who violate the lockdown.

Operational since March 24, 600 people have been held in the facility, counselled about sanitisation and social distancing and let go by the evening, Singh added.

Cartoon by Mike Luckovich , the Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

5) COVID-19 vaccine shows early promise.

On Medium Robert Lea writes about a potential vaccine for the novel coronavirus - SARS-CoV-2 - that causes COVID-19, which is being worked on by researchers at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine. Good luck to them, and everyone else working on a potential vaccine.

The vaccine — named PittCoVacc, short for Pittsburgh Coronavirus Vaccine — is delivered into the system via a fingertip-sized patch of needles made from sugar and proteins, and produces enough antibodies to fight SARS-CoV-2 and neutralise the virus.

Thus far, the results published in the journal EBioMedicine — part of the Lancet family of publications — represent tests carried out on mice, so should be viewed with some caution. Despite this, the study represents the first to describe a candidate vaccine for COVID-19 published after critique from independent scientists.

The team at the University of Pittsburgh were able to hit the ground running on a vaccine to tackle the pandemic because they have experience in dealing with previous coronavirus epidemics.

Andrea Gambotto, M.D., associate professor of surgery at the Pitt School of Medicine, says: “We had previous experience on SARS-CoV in 2003 and MERS-CoV in 2014. These two viruses, which are closely related to SARS-CoV-2, teach us that a particular protein, called a spike protein, is important for inducing immunity against the virus.


Image by reader Ben Sharpe.

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Bazookas indeed ? - US experience

Did the Fed stop the run? Did the $ swaps work? How come the Fed didn't buy a single corporate bond under the SMCCF and yet credit spreads came back a little?

Jay Powell finally figure out the right combination of alphabet magic? Link

Bloomfield needs take 50% paycut, we can't be paying people that with economy spiralling down the sink

Replace him with someone with half a dozen brain cells who will work for minimum wage?

So should Adrian Orr actually carry a Real bazooka into the next RBNZ public conference, just so there can be no confusion about his policy? Would be quite cool. Does the RBNZ own a real bazooka, just in case? They really should.

He could hold the next RBNZ conference in front of a newly acquired/installed Koenig and Bauer Offset Printer.

Well .. not a real bazooka - but they do hold Goldman Sachs bazooka certificates.

Worldwide.. now the bail out banks, shortly will be under pressure by mass.. yip, to release their hoarding/keep going up profit in?....real estate/properties funds - keep on socialising the loss by future tax payers burden/borrowing, have been tried before, and it's never fix the problem - C'mon guys, release all those years of's just a sensible way to deflate those hoarding assets..before? more painful outcome to pop up. Banks cannot keep on asking all nations/their citizens - to bail them up, after all it's their reckless lending towards greed, into hoarding properties/RE industries - By the time we need Healthcare, more worker wages, primary produce to consume, medication etc? - the hoarding of assets stay firm, but ask the rest of citizens to pay for it.. from the future, this Covid19- is just soft tap on the shoulder, when we will learn? - Orr said 'Knee jerk reactions'... my Arse nal.

Meanwhile in Ireland, a country known for its past banking calamities and private excess , has a central bank forecasting 25 percent unemployment in its latest quarterly. Thankfully in New Zealand, a country known for its lack of private excess ,sound banking system and unique central bank forecasts of stardust and joy with house prices surging to new highs. After all that is the New Zealand economy . If bank deposits, not a penny are currently insured, why would anyone seriously leave their money in any New Zealand based institution

Ireland Deposit Guarantee Scheme
The Deposit Guarantee Scheme (DGS) is part of the Central Bank’s strategy to ensure that the best interests of consumers of financial services are protected. The DGS is administered by the Central Bank and is funded by the credit institutions covered by the scheme.

DGS protects:

Eligible depositors in the event of a bank, building society and or credit union authorised by the Central Bank being unable to pay deposits
Up to €100,000 per person per institution
Current accounts, deposit accounts, share accounts in banks, building societies and credit unions.
The website of the DGS can be visited by clicking on this link

DUBLIN (Reuters) - Ireland’s central bank said on Friday the shock to the Irish economy from the coronavirus pandemic could be greater than in any year of the financial crisis that brought the country to the brink of bankruptcy a decade ago.

Unable to make a conventional forecast without knowing how long the crisis will last, or the economic toll it will take, the bank estimated that gross domestic product could fall by 8.3% in 2020 if current containment measures last three months.

Ireland, whose economy grew by 5.5% last year, ordered its citizens a week ago to stay home until at least April 12 to slow the spread of the virus after a gradual ramping up of restrictions from mid-March

The bank expects the jobless rate to soar to around 25% in the second quarter, from 4.8% at the start of the pandemic. The rate could fall back to 12.6% by the end of the year, Central Bank Director of Economics Mark Cassidy said.

A surge in people seeking some form of welfare income support since the introduction of measures to limit the spread of the virus has left the state supporting 513,350 people, or a fifth of the labour force, data showed on Thursday.

The situation could be worse if the public health situation does not improve quickly over the coming months, with added risks including firms being forced to close during containment, the extent of permanent job losses or permanent income cuts and changes to consumer behaviour as the pandemic eases.

“If they are in place for longer than that (three months), the economic effect will be worse. The longer firms are closed down, the more difficult it is for the firms that are struggling, to survive,” Cassidy told a conference call.

“Even if we get a grip on the pandemic within the time period that we are assuming, there is a lot of uncertainty about the longer-term degree of scarring or more persistent effects.”

Separate research on Friday by Ireland’s biggest property website showed the number of homes listed for sale in the last two weeks of March fell suddenly to half the level a year ago, although there was little sign of any price effect.

Reporting by Graham Fahy, editing by Padraic Halpin and Catherine Evans

The foot-dragging and massively long lead time on setting up our pathetic deposit scheme is mind-numbing. It's the sort of pedestrian rate of change that you could only find in government. There should be real questions to answer about how this has been a 'work in progress' pile for years, given we are now all facing the rainy days that our rainy day funds (should you be lucky to have one) are designed to cover.

If the banks do fall over, where does all this insurance money come from. Was thinking in terms of fine if one bank turns up toes, but multiple banks all over. More money out of thin air is it?

I've said this before, but I think there's going to have be an international, mutual write-off of debt coordinated through the Fed and IMF. We run the risk of paying so much to get out of this bind that no one will have anything to spend, which will just suppress demand globally. It's the only way I can see us getting of this with any disposal income to circulate through our economies.

Did you read the bit about a vaccine probably coming soon?

Many people are working on vaccines. The chances of them being available any time soon (months) is slim and in sufficient quantity that NZ can get access to them are slim to none. We need a plan now to deal with the stimulus cheques being written to support those who have already lost their jobs and the many more who will in future as our borders remain closed, and that's assuming the lockdown doesn't get extended in the first place.

How much do you think the first vaccine maker can charge? I’m thinking it could be worth $1 trillion or more across the world if you can pump it out quick enough.

Although Blomfield and Stuart-Black are doing the long hours and fronting the daily press conferences once the virus is stamped out guaranteed David Clark will come out of hiding in Dunedin straight to Wellington to deliver the news and take the credit.

I doubt he'll make the next Cabinet shuffle.

It's an election year .......... don't expect much fronting up by anyone in the COL.

Not a peep from any of the empty vessels like Peters , Jones or that fool Willie Jackson , in fact all dead quiet anyone else other than Taxinda and Billy Bunter - Robertson.

No doubt Cabinet minutes will in due course reveal a group decision to shut the #$%^ up and don't ride your bike , go home and stay out of trouble

Are you Shaw where is Shaw now.

If ever we need the demonstration of the "rightness" of experts. Face Masks, Testing......
The creditability of international bodies WHO, makes the IPCC job so much harder.
Who says NGO's can't play political. WHO's Taiwan.

Remember experts are justified by evidence.

# of COVID 19 cases - I can only conclude that China numbers were/are made up;

Today, they had 19 (yes, nineteen) new infections.

Take time to review the Peak Prosperity works.

Within you will see the quadratic model the Chinense seemed to be reporting to early on.
Using that model PP were able to predict next days China numbers.

It's a topic VDH speaks to at length too.

PM very snappy, unhappy this afternoon.

Poor performance.
So stressed she is slurring words. (See final question).

Very funny a reporter asks where is the health minister.
PM tells the reporter you know exactly where the minister is, in lockdown in Dunedin....
(hey that's the point...).

Well at least Labour has been able to over-ride the parsimonious Green party in this unfolding COVID drama