The virus is changing. Or at least it appears that way.
That’s according to Chinese doctors who, after observing an infection cluster in the country’s northeast, said patients are taking longer to exhibit symptoms versus the Wuhan outbreak.
New patients in Jilin and Heilongjiang may be carrying the virus unknowingly for more than two weeks before getting sick, potentially spreading it during the prolonged incubation period. “The longer period during which infected patients show no symptoms has created clusters of family infections”, Qiu Haibo, a leading critical care doctor said, in remarks to state television.
Some say these observations fall well short of offering conclusive evidence to support the contention that the virus is, in fact, mutating. It’s possible, for example, that the perceived “changes” are attributable to closer observation of the new flareup than the initial outbreak in Wuhan, where the rapid spread and frantic character of the response meant medical professionals were constantly behind the virus, fighting to keep critically ill patients alive, as opposed to tracking the development and onset of initial symptoms.
According to Qiu, there are other differences in the new cases. For example, the virus appears to concentrate on the lungs, sparing other organs, compared to more invasive infections in Wuhan. It’s suspected that the flareup is connected to infected Russians. Lockdowns have, of course, been reinstated in the northeast provinces. More than 100 million people are affected.
Meanwhile, Brazil’s outbreak continues to worsen. The country now has the third-most infections in the world and some 18,000 deaths.
Needless to say, those figures are woefully understated. Testing is wholly inadequate, as is the government’s response. The latest figures show the country had nearly 17,500 new confirmed cases and almost 1,200 fatalities in the space of 24 hours.
To say this has been a disaster for Jair Bolsonaro would be an understatement. His administration is plagued with defections and he’s lost two health ministers in less than a month. There’s little coordination between federal and local governments and Bolsonaro, like his ideological twin in the White House, has adopted a pedal-to-the-metal approach to reopening the economy, even if that entails rising infection rates.
Like Donald Trump, Bolsonaro has habitually downplayed the virus and generally hews to some version of the “cure is worse than the disease” talking point when it comes to the tradeoff between containment protocol and the economy.
Bolsonaro’s approval rating has plunged, as have the country’s stocks and currency. The real and Brazilian equities are among the world’s worst performers in 2020. Each is down more than 30%. Brazil was among the countries with the largest drop in US Treasury holdings during March’s turmoil.
“How can the market invest in a nation that does this?”, one political analyst wondered earlier this month.
Brazil has, of course, been grappling with endemic corruption for years, and to the casual observer, seems to careen from crisis to crisis, with many of the same characters showing up again and again, only in different roles. It’s a kind of real-life soap opera. This time hasn’t been much different in that regard, but the virus adds a new dimension to the melee.
“The government doesn’t have the money to provide much aid to companies or the 25% of the population classified as impoverished, many of whom simply can’t afford to stay home”, Bloomberg notes, adding that for the 14 million people who live in favelas, social distancing isn’t possible because… well, because they live in favelas.
At a rally last weekend, Bolsonaro’s supporters shouted “Chlo-ro-quine! Chlo-ro-quine!” outside the presidential palace. Trump told the media this week he’s been taking the malaria drug, despite little in the way of medical evidence to support its efficacy as a COVID-19 deterrent. “Banging drums, blowing horns and letting off fireworks, the crowd created a carnival atmosphere”, Reuters writes, documenting the Sunday rally in Brasilia, during which Bolsonaro posed for pictures with children despite the obvious health risks.
On Tuesday, Trump said he’s considering a travel ban. “Brazil is having some trouble, no question about it”, he remarked. “I don’t want people coming in here and infecting our people”.
Finally, it’s worth noting on Wednesday that Mike Pompeo somehow managed to irritate the Chinese even further, no small feat considering how angry Beijing already was with America’s top diplomat, who state media in China branded an “evil clown” earlier this month.
Pompeo on Tuesday referred to Taiwan’s Tsai Ing-wen as “president”, demonstrating a complete and total disregard for decorum, and prompting a predictable backlash from Beijing.
“China urges the US side to immediately correct its mistakes”, the Foreign ministry said, in a statement, vowing to take “necessary measures” if the US can’t refrain from stepping on the “one-China” credo. Beijing didn’t say what those “measures” might be, but did promise that America “should bear the consequences arising therefrom”.