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Covid-19 and foreign holidays

by Frank Schnittger Wed Jul 8th, 2020 at 07:30:58 AM EST

The Irish Times has published an edited version of my letter on Covid-19 and travelling on foreign holidays. The context of the letter is an increasingly polarised debate on-line about the merits of doing so. For the past couple of weeks Ireland, north and south, has been on the cusp of eliminating the virus completely, with only a handful of deaths and between 4 and 24 new cases per day. Some days have seen no deaths at all, and an increasing proportion of new cases have been related to foreign travel.


Covid-19 and overseas holidays

Dr Jack Lambert has really served to polarise the debate about foreign travel in his piece "Telling people not to travel overseas on holiday is wrong-headed" (Opinion & Analysis, July 7th).

Judging by the comments in your online edition, I'm afraid we're developing a left versus right divide on the foreign holiday travel question. The right is arguing for travel on the grounds of freedom of choice, personal responsibility, mental health, and the need for the economy to restart.

The left is arguing on the grounds of the precautionary principle, community responsibilities, and holding out the hope of eliminating the virus in Ireland completely.

Older people, who might otherwise be in the right-wing camp, are siding with the left on this occasion. Public-sector workers, whose livelihoods are less at risk, also tend to the more left-wing view.

The argument is couched in terms of individualism versus collectivism, personal freedom against social responsibility, and full economic recovery versus care for the elderly and public health.

But it's also about how you perceive risk.

Of course, as Dr Lambert argues, the chances are that an individual family going on their holidays abroad, observing all the precautions, will not contract or spread the virus. But how many will do so in the alcoholic haze that often accompanies a sunshine holiday?

If hundreds of thousands of people flock to their sunshine holiday destinations as usual, it only takes a 1 per cent chance of them contracting the disease for thousands of new infections to be imported into Ireland.

This isn't about individuals acting responsibly, but about the cumulative effects of mass changes in social behaviour.

The risk of infection increases exponentially the larger the crowd. With large numbers, even small risks can have significant consequences at a societal level.

Those who are most concerned about restarting the Irish economy should be the first to advocate for a holiday at home.

We may be on the cusp of eliminating the virus in Ireland completely. Let's finish the job of eliminating the virus here and then all discussion of freedoms within Ireland will become moot. - Yours, etc,

With the lock-down in the process of being wound down, the fear is that all this progress will be lost. Ireland has been one of the most severely effected countries, with 353 deaths/million people putting us in the top ten most impacted countries in the world, although a recent report stated that that figure was inflated by the inclusion of "probable and possible" deaths due to covid-19.

In that context, getting the figures down to near zero is a considerable achievement, but one which is increasingly being taken for granted. Business and  right wing commentators are increasingly calling for remaining restrictions to be abandoned as being over-done and an unconscionable infringement of "freedom of choice, personal responsibility, mental health, and the need for the economy to restart."

It doesn't help when their cause is supported by a leading medic. Dr Jack Lambert is professor of medicine and infectious diseases, at the Mater hospital and UCD School of Medicine in Dublin.

Apparently a foreign holiday is now virtually a human right, essential for our mental health, and discouraging them is another case of the nanny state going mad. To be clear, the government is about to publish a "green list" of countries which have effectively suppressed the virus, where travel should be low or risk free, and to which "air corridors" should be established to facilitate foreign travel.

Foreign travel has never actually been banned in Ireland, just strongly discouraged, with passengers on arrival having to fill out a personal locator form and "self-isolate" for two weeks - a requirement which is not actually policed. This has been sufficient to reduce airport traffic by over 90% although it is now beginning to rise again, and Ryanair chief, Michael O'Leary, has been loud in his condemnation of remaining restrictions.

The economy is slowly getting back to "normal" although the tourism and travel industries have been decimated. These account for c. 4% of GDP and 8% of employment so the impact is significant if not catastrophic. However my point is that much of this damage can be undone if Irish holidaymakers holiday at home this year and it is contradictory for right wing/business commentators to call both for a full re-starting of the economy and for people to go on foreign holidays at the same time.

It's not as if foreign tourists are queueing up to come back into the country in any case. Global tourism has been devastated, and the most valued high spending tourists from the USA are unlikely to be travelling in large numbers in any case, with Covid-19 currently rife in their country. Domestic tourism can make up for most of this loss of business, although perhaps not at the very high end where prices can be eye-watering.

Ireland has always maintained a free travel area with the UK partly to facilitate the many family connection with the emigrant Irish population there and to keep the border with N. Ireland open. This has meant we are at continuing risk of re-infection from Britain where the incidence of Covid-19 is much higher. It has also prevented us from joining the Schengen Agreement and means we have not been part of the recent re-opening of Schengen borders.

Business travel has also been much reduced with video-conferencing and home working becoming the norm and likely to continue for many months if not years to come. I do not see this as a huge impediment to economic recovery especially in the pharmaceutical, medtech, ICT and fintech industries which have been the main drivers of Irish economic growth.

The Irish Times didn't publish parts of my letter which suggested mandatory testing of incoming passengers from high risk zones and charging them for the cost of the test as a means of discouraging such travel. Right wing and business commenters calling for an end to any such restriction are high in their praise of economic freedoms and personal responsibility, but slow to accept the social and healthcare costs of doing so.

The Irish Times also didn't publish my question: "How do you take personal responsibility for infecting others after the event?" Personal responsibility, it seems, starts and ends with looking after yourself - until you need free hospital treatment where you also put a lot of staff and other patients at risk. A third of Irish Covid-19 cases have been in healthcare workers who caught the disease at work, and many others have been patients who were in hospital for other reasons.

Freedom and personal responsibility are usually little more than codewords for doing as you please and damn the consequences for everyone else. The USA, Brazil and UK, in particular, are paying a heavy price for putting that ideology at the forefront of their politics. I'm hoping the same won't happen in Ireland. So far we have been winning the argument.

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Some Irish medics haven't covered themselves in glory.

Dr Jack Lambert's article isn't strong on logic either. He bemoans not being able to go on a foreign holiday to Greece (where incidence is low and the government has not advised against travel) and instead says he will visit sick relatives and holiday in Scotland (where the government is explicitly advising against travel because of the high incidence of disease there).

Another Medic who has been an embarrassment is Prof Dolores Cahill:

A University College Dublin (UCD) professor, who chairs the Eurosceptic Irish Freedom Party, has been asked to resign from a leading European Union scientific committee over online claims she made about the Covid-19 pandemic.

In an hour-long interview with a popular alt-right activist on May 10th, which has been viewed hundreds of thousands of times, Prof Dolores Cahill promised to "debunk the narrative" of the pandemic.

Lockdown and social distancing is not needed to stop the spread of the virus, she said. People who recover are then "immune for life" after 10 days and deaths and illnesses could have been prevented by extra vitamins, she claimed.

People with underlying health conditions, such as cystic fibrosis, could freely engage in society during the pandemic after spending a few weeks building up their immunity in this manner, she went on.

Opposing vaccinations, Ms Cahill said "politicians and the media" are using Covid-19 "as a fear-mongering propaganda tool to try and take away rights from people and to make them more sick and to force vaccinations on us."

However, the European Commission said the claims made by Ms Cahill, a professor of translational medicine in UCD, could cause "significant harm", if taken literally.



Index of Frank's Diaries
by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Wed Jul 8th, 2020 at 08:09:06 AM EST
So little science knows about the novel coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2) ...

NST Leader: Covid-19, airborne?

IF scientists are right, face masks may move from masquerades to mainstream. According to a Queensland University of Technology post yesterday, 239 scientists from around the world, led by its air quality and health expert Professor Lidia Morawska, say overwhelming research findings point to airborne transmission of Covid-19.

In a letter titled "It is Time to Address Airborne Transmission of Covid-19" to be published this week in the Clinical Infectious Diseases journal, they call on the international health authorities "to recognise and mitigate airborne transmission of Covid-19". It is no ordinary letter.

It's a plea, and there is a reason why the letter comes dressed as such. The World Health Organisation (WHO) is heavy on droplets and close contacts and less so on aerosol transmission.

by Oui on Wed Jul 8th, 2020 at 10:12:01 AM EST
by Oui on Wed Jul 8th, 2020 at 10:14:29 AM EST
[ Parent ]
This was more than three months ago. Scientists are still learning about the coronavirus and knowledge keeps evolving.

WHO reviewing evidence that indicates COVID-19 is airborne

July 8 (UPI) -- The World Health Organization has acknowledged emerging evidence that indicates the coronavirus disease may be transmitted through the air.

During a news briefing on Tuesday, WHO health experts responded to an open letter signed by 239 scientists urging the U.N. body to recognize the potential for airborne spread of COVID-19 and to adopt measures to prevent such transmission.

Maria Van Kerkhove, an epidemiologist and the WHO's technical lead for COVID-19, said health experts have been reviewing the evidence and discussing the possibility of airborne transmission of COVID-19 and have been working on a scientific brief summarizing their findings to be released in the coming days.

The WHO has said the disease is transferable through droplets, but that form of transmission is different from airborne transmission. Airborne transmission of COVID-19 is possible, the WHO said, under specific circumstances and settings, especially in healthcare facilities, in which procedures or treatments generate aerosols.

by Bernard on Wed Jul 8th, 2020 at 04:59:52 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Coronavirus research updates: Autopsies link immune response to death from COVID-19 | Nature |  

Coronavirus: Scientists say a wave of brain damage could follow pandemic | The National UAE |

Scientists warned of a potential wave of coronavirus-related brain damage as new evidence suggested Covid-19 can lead to severe neurological complications, including inflammation, psychosis and delirium.

A study by researchers at University College London described 43 cases of patients with Covid-19 who suffered either temporary brain dysfunction, strokes, nerve damage or other serious brain effects. The research adds to recent studies that also found the disease can damage the brain.

"Whether we will see an epidemic on a large scale of brain damage linked to the pandemic - perhaps similar to the encephalitis lethargica outbreak in the 1920s and 1930s after the 1918 influenza pandemic - remains to be seen," said Michael Zandi, from UCL's Institute of Neurology, one of the authors of the study.

Newspaper clipping: Edna Klein suffers from encephalitis lethargica  after influenza-pneumonia illness

by Oui on Wed Jul 8th, 2020 at 10:15:07 AM EST
[ Parent ]
There are so many reasons for following a precautionary approach to Covid-19 and yet the sceptics insist on calling it a bad flu of no danger to anyone but the elderly and already infirm. They regard a suppression strategy as unrealistic and economically damaging despite the fact that full economic and social recovery can only come with suppression. Most EU countries have now largely succeeded in that strategy with total EU deaths p/day less than 200- about the same as Russia or UK on their own. We are not far off being able to re-open the EU for business almost as usual if we can get that down still lower.

Index of Frank's Diaries
by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Wed Jul 8th, 2020 at 10:55:00 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Sar-Cov-2 infiltrates a cell using the ACE2 receptor found on endothelial cells.  These cells line the interior surface of blood vessels. As the disease progresses these cells lose their functioning and cause bleeding. Endothelial cells are found throughout the body.  In fact endothelial cells comprise part of the blood/brain barrier so it's not much of a barrier.

Brain damage and brain dysfunction have been linked with even "mild" (sic) and asymptomatic cases of Covid-19.

Prognosis: immediate and continuing neurological and Mental Health problems over the long-term, i.e. decades.

She believed in nothing; only her skepticism kept her from being an atheist. -- Jean-Paul Sartre

by ATinNM on Fri Jul 10th, 2020 at 02:27:30 AM EST
[ Parent ]
"mandatory testing of incoming passengers from high risk zones and charging them for the cost of the test"

Quarantines, surety, fines, and revenue: I've recently read an extremely informative article published in the Columbia Law Review (1993), summarizing US immigration laws' interstate and internat'l consequences, 1776-1875. So beware anyone asserting, this ahh challenge to the free flow of wtf would be UNPRECEDENTED IN THE HISTORY OF THE WORLD.

It also provides some new-to me details about US slave and internat'l. convict transportation costs and equivocal prohibitions before and after the British American Merchants' war of aggression.

Always read the footnotes.

archived Mon Dec 30th, 2019

Diversity is the key to economic and political evolution.

by Cat on Wed Jul 8th, 2020 at 11:59:38 AM EST
by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Wed Jul 8th, 2020 at 07:42:59 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Was Cat gone?
by Oui on Wed Jul 8th, 2020 at 07:52:24 PM EST
[ Parent ]
by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Wed Jul 8th, 2020 at 11:00:18 PM EST
[ Parent ]
The infection rate has been decreasing steadily in France. Yet, epidemiologists are ringing the alarm bell and warning of a potential second wave by autumn or even sooner. Two factors are cause for concern:

  • Slackening of social distancing: many people think "this is over" and are forgetting social distancing precautions and face masks. In some western regions that had a low circulation of the virus last spring, like Normandy or Occitania, the R0 rate is now above one. Of special concern is French Guiana, located next to Brazil, where the peak hasn't happened yet and hospitals are still overloaded.

  • And yes, imported cases from abroad: several travelers coming back from mainly Algeria and other countries have been hospitalized in the past weeks and some have died. There is an important Algerian born population in France and summer travel is important. Since June 28, Algerian authorities have closed their borders again to international travel and imposed lockdowns in several cities.
by Bernard on Wed Jul 8th, 2020 at 05:16:56 PM EST
Meantime the NYT has discussed where (single-passport) Americans can go on holliday. The list is here.
by gk (gk (gk quattro due due sette @gmail.com)) on Wed Jul 8th, 2020 at 08:12:52 PM EST
Fun European countries ... Albania, Kosovo, Serbia, Croatia, North Macedonia, Ukraine, Greece [only EU exemption 😎] and of course the UK with a 14-day quarantine. Best choose a Caribbean country ...
by Oui on Wed Jul 8th, 2020 at 09:02:25 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Draft Letter to the Editor:
Air Bridges and flying safely

As the Covid-19 Pandemic continues to ravage the globe at an ever-increasing pace, there is at least some good news on the horizon: The rate of infection is under control within much of the EU. The 14-day cumulative number of COVID-19 cases per 100 000 population is 3 in Ireland, and under 20 in 21 of the member states. The outliers are Sweden (113 infections per 100 000),  Luxembourg (83),  Portugal (46),  Bulgaria (30), and Romania (28). (https://www.ecdc.europa.eu/en/cases-2019-ncov-eueea)

This raises the possibility that travel within most of the EU on the proposed "air bridges" could be relatively safe, but there is one fly in the ointment: Social distancing at airports is difficult, and impossible when 200 passengers are packed into a plane with much of the same air being re-circulated within the plane.

For a long time the WHO has discounted the importance of `aerosol' or airborne virus transmission, focusing instead on transmission via respiratory droplets that are caused by people simply breathing or coughing and sneezing, a problem which can be largely curtailed by using facemasks. However, a recent letter by 239 scientists has challenged this belief, citing increasing evidence of airborne transmission over quite long distances.

There is however a technical solution to this problem. An Irish company, Novaerus, supported by Enterprise Ireland, has developed a patented, compact, ultra-low energy plasma technology which kills 99.9% of viruses in the air.

Instead of complaining about restrictions on air travel, would Michael O'Leary not be better employed investigating this technology and installing it on his aircraft? Many of us have experienced catching bugs and sniffles after flying on commercial airliners even in pre-covid times and would greatly appreciate having cleaner, virus free air to breath while travelling.

It might even give Ryanair a competitive advantage on other airlines and promote an image of caring for its customers, or would that be a bridge too far for Mr. O'Leary?



Index of Frank's Diaries
by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Thu Jul 9th, 2020 at 03:42:36 PM EST
    Decontamination Plasma Discharge Patent WO2011123512A1

    The escalating threat of airborne biologic and bioterrorism agents present a need for robust technologies and methods to mitigate the spread of airborne contaminants. The avian flu pandemic, the 1976 Legionnaires outbreak in Philadelphia, and the 2001 anthrax terrorism in the United States demonstrate the ability to rapidly spread biologic contaminants through ventilation systems.

by Oui on Thu Jul 9th, 2020 at 04:09:49 PM EST
[ Parent ]
The problem with bio-weapons is the total lack of control once released into the bio-sphere.  The pathogens are just as likely to kill off your own people as the enemy.


She believed in nothing; only her skepticism kept her from being an atheist. -- Jean-Paul Sartre
by ATinNM on Fri Jul 10th, 2020 at 02:33:18 AM EST
[ Parent ]
This may not be a problem for the elites who make these decisions. Witness WWI where people were marched into machine gun fire on both sides to relieve the pressures of popular unrest on ruling elites. A bit of population control may be the required political medication from an elite POV.

Index of Frank's Diaries
by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Fri Jul 10th, 2020 at 05:57:48 AM EST
[ Parent ]
A rather good simulation of Bio-warfare is being played out right now with the Covid-19 Pandemic.  

We will have to see how many of the 1% end up dead, suffocating in their own lung fluids and bleeding through-out their bodies.


She believed in nothing; only her skepticism kept her from being an atheist. -- Jean-Paul Sartre

by ATinNM on Sat Jul 11th, 2020 at 02:25:52 AM EST
[ Parent ]
The Belfast Telegraph has published a longer version of my letter on travelling on foreign holidays...

In case the image above doesn't render properly, the following is the text of my email:

The debate around whether we should go on our foreign holidays is at risk of becoming part of the left/right divide in our society.

The right are arguing for travel on the grounds of freedom of choice, personal responsibility, mental health, and the need for the economy to re-start. The left are arguing on the grounds of the precautionary principle, community responsibilities, and holding out the hope of eliminating the virus in Ireland completely.

Older people, who might otherwise be in the right wing camp are siding with the left on this occasion. Public sector workers, whose livelihoods are less at risk, also tend to the more left wing view. The argument is couched in terms individualism versus collectivism, personal freedom against social responsibility, full economic recovery versus care for the elderly and public health.

But it's also about how you perceive risk.

Of course the chances are that an individual family going on their holidays abroad, observing all the precautions, will not contract or spread the virus. But how many will do so in the alcoholic haze that often accompanies a sunshine holiday?

If many thousands of people flock to their sunshine holiday destinations as usual, it only takes a 1% chance of them contracting the disease for hundreds of new infections to be imported into N. Ireland.

This isn't about individuals acting responsibly, but about the cumulative effects of mass changes in social behaviour. The risk of infection increases exponentially the larger the crowd. The statistics of large numbers dictate that even small risks can have significant consequences at a societal level.

How do you take personal responsibility for infecting others after the event? And since when has the mental health of people become dependent on a foreign holiday? Those who are most concerned about restarting the Irish economy should be the first to advocate for a holiday at home.

We may be on the cusp of eliminating the virus in Ireland completely. Yesterday, despite an increasing proportion of new infections caused by foreign travel, we only had 9 new infections N.Ireland (+4 in the Republic) and no new deaths north or south. Let's finish the job of eliminating the virus here and then all discussion of freedoms within Ireland will become moot.

The costs to our travel and tourism industry are tiny compared to the ongoing cost of managing the pandemic. Each Covid-19 test alone costs £200 to administer. How many would travel abroad if taking and paying for a test became compulsory on their return? Surely it is their personal responsibility to pay for the costs they incur?

Kind regards,

Frank Schnittger,



Index of Frank's Diaries
by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Mon Jul 13th, 2020 at 09:21:06 AM EST
Japan has long accepted COVID's airborne spread, and scientists say ventilation is key - CBS News

But Japan's infamously congested trains, he argues, probably aren't as as risky as his model suggests. "It is very crowded, and the air is bad," Kurokabe said. "But nobody is speaking, and everyone is wearing a mask. The risk is not that high."

Conversely, here in Austria the convention is to remove the mask when loudly talking on the phone.

by generic on Tue Jul 14th, 2020 at 12:22:39 PM EST
In Israel, at least, most of the cabinet wears masks.

by gk (gk (gk quattro due due sette @gmail.com)) on Tue Jul 14th, 2020 at 12:51:21 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Not much point in wearing a mask if it doesn't cover your nose or mouth!

Index of Frank's Diaries
by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Tue Jul 14th, 2020 at 09:37:31 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Making sense of the green list
Sir, - This is all a bit of a storm in a teacup. What's so complicated about saying that people should avoid non-essential travel, but if you must go, here is a list of relatively safe countries which you can travel to without having to self-isolate on your return? - Yours, etc,

FRANK SCHNITTGER



Index of Frank's Diaries
by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Fri Jul 24th, 2020 at 12:22:07 AM EST


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