The Coronoia Blogbook

Critical Observations re COVID-19 and Lockdowns in Canada, Germany, and the United States

“The Coronoia Blogbook: Critical Observations re COVID-19 and Lockdowns in Canada, Germany, and the United States” is a collection of posts originally published on this blog between March and November 2020. The posts were lightly edited and rearranged into three thematic groups: Part I puts “COVID-19 in Context”, Part II illustrates “Mapping the Pandemic”, and Part III discusses “What the Data Do Not Tell Us”.

Back and front covers of "The Coronoia Blogbook"
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Honey, I Shrunk the Economy

We Are in a Public Emergency Situation – Health Scientists Are Not Qualified to Lead the Response

According to a March 2 press release by the Government of Ontario, “A new Command Table will be the single point of oversight providing executive leadership and strategic direction to guide Ontario’s response to COVID-19.” The Command Table, whose membership has never been disclosed, reports to the Minister of Health, Christine Elliott. The Ministry’s existing Emergency Operations Centre “will continue to provide situational awareness and perform an overall coordination function”. Yet, the Minister, along with the Province’s Chief Medical Officer of Health, Dr. Williams, and municipal and regional MOHs such as Toronto’s Dr. Eileen de Villa, are the public faces of the pandemic response and use their powers to order sweeping restrictions on everyday live. The March 2 press release is clearly focused on the health and medical side, promising to “Safeguard [the] Public from COVID-19” and “Ensure Health System Readiness”.

While this singular focus may have been appropriate in the early phase of the COVID-19 outbreak, doubts have started to emerge as early as March 2020 and continue to grow. In a May 12 post titled “Corona Crisis – Tunnel Vision vs Comprehensive Risk Assessment“, I summarized a leaked report — known as the “false alarm paper” — from Germany’s crisis management specialist Stephan Kohn, in which the author argues that “a new crisis situation should be declared and the out-of-control pandemic crisis management itself be battled”. In “We Have a Different Emergency Than You Think“, an anonymous blogger and self-identified business professional provides a brief but scathing assessment of the Ontario government’s situation assessment and emergency response capabilities. He recommends listening to Canadian emergency management experts, at least two of whom have spoken up about the corona crisis: David Redman and Alex Vezina.

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Merry Crisis and a Happy New Fear!

The writing’s on the wall: COVID is a totalist cult with righteous followers who are impervious to evidence

In his Master’s thesis “Hope Wanted: Wall Writing Protests in Times of Economic Crisis in Athens“, Georgios Stampoulidis presents a photo of a graffiti on Athens’ Sina Street reading “Merry Crisis and a Happy New Fear”. This play on the words of the standard holiday greeting became a symbol for the street protests in conjunction with the 2008 economic crisis and its political fallout, as it primarily affected southern Europe. In the context of the 2020 corona crisis, this aphorism is so spot on that I can’t skip writing about it.

Source: Stampoulidis (2016), https://doi.org/10.13140/RG.2.2.14237.31203
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Even If Your SARS-CoV-2 PCR Test Is Positive, You May Not Be “Truly Infected”, Says WHO

Bonus: Select feedback on my Sun op-ed

Mentioning the state of Florida in my Dec 14 Sun newspaper op-ed was one of the triggers for a nasty personal attack from a fellow geographer on Twitter, suggesting that I spread “cherry-picked disinformation” and “contribute to ignorance”, “rather than listening to [the health experts]”. After having my olive branch spurned, I decided to ignore these uninformed and underhanded comments and let others think for themselves. Some community members indeed seem to have a better sense of what a geospatial data analyst can contribute to resolving the corona crisis. In response to a similar kick at the expertise of a “professor in the Department of Geography and Environmental Studies” by a Sun reader, other readers’ answers included that “it’s about data and using it properly” (John Cauchi) and “As for this professor, he is a professor because he has critical thinking skills” (John Smith). My personal favourite is Twitter user Darryl Schomson’s observation that “Geographers have a unique, synthetic view of the world which no other discipline has.” I am very grateful for the overwhelmingly positive response and support; hopefully I will find the time to put together a collage of the most insightful comments.

Due to recent events, I want to talk a little bit more about Florida. I mentioned Florida in the op-ed because they had recently mandated their labs to report PCR test results along with the cycle threshold (Ct) count (for source, see my blog post “Brave New Covidworld?“). This was a consequence of concerns about what Stanford professor of medicine Dr. Jay Bhattacharyan calls “functional false positives” (see the interview referenced in my post “Some Doctors Are Giving John Snow a Bad Name“).

As if it was coordinated with my op-ed, the World Health Organization (WHO) this Monday, 14 December 2020, issued an information notice/medical product alert for laboratories that use PCR tests to detect SARS-CoV-2. According to this document, the WHO is responding to reports of “an elevated risk for false SARS-CoV-2 results“.

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Brave New Covidworld?

Today’s the day that my first-ever newspaper op-ed is published. I argue that “Canada’s current pandemic response isn’t supported by the facts“. The working title of the op-ed was “Brave New Covidworld?”, inspired by a brilliant paper by British philosophers Ian James Kidd and Matthew Ratcliffe. In “Welcome to Covidworld“, they raise many of the same concerns with the global pandemic response that I reiterate in the op-ed and that many clear-thinking academics, health scientists, professionals, and other citizens have developed since March 2020. For example, I maintain a short list of dissenting Canadian doctors’ voices published in the mainstream media, see MSHFD.ca. These reasonable critics are largely ignored though, and that is a problem.

Source: https://torontosun.com/opinion/columnists/opinion-canadas-current-pandemic-response-isnt-supported-by-the-facts
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Understanding Risk – Ordered Weighted Averaging and Relative vs Absolute Risk Reduction

One of my students has just completed an individual research paper on “Investigating the use of GIS-Based Ordered Weighted Averaging in Wildfire Restoration”. Ordered Weighted Averaging (OWA) is a multi-criteria decision analysis technique that allows the decision-maker to mathematically define their attitude towards risk. The available strategies range from risk-averse to risk-taking approaches, based on a simple parameter setting. That parameter determines whether we emphasize the negative or positive aspects of a possible solution. Under a risk-averse strategy, we focus on the worst aspects and choose the solution that has the “least bad” outcomes. Under a risk-taking strategy, we focus on the best aspects and choose the solution with the “greatest good” outcome. The OWA also allows any number of strategies between these extremes, including an intermediate approach under which emphasis is balanced between the strong and weak outcomes.

Decision strategies defined by the ordered weighted averaging (OWA) technique. Source: Ron Eastman, Directions Magazine 14 Dec 2000, https://www.directionsmag.com/article/4036
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It’s 2009 All Over Again …

A new “killer virus”, global panic, squandered public monies, and a rushed vaccine—déjà vu from the swine flu pandemic

The Council of Europe blasts the World Health Organization and national governments around the globe for the handling of the pandemic. Their report cites “overwhelming evidence that the seriousness of the pandemic was vastly over-rated by WHO, which led to a distortion of public health priorities.” The British Labour politician and author of the report, Paul Flynn, is cited with the comment: “This was a pandemic that never really was.”The pandemic in question is the 2009 swine flu pandemic and the quote is from a 2010 article in the British Medical Journal. The concerns at the time focused on undue influence by big pharma companies on the WHO, which led to poor decision-making and excessive spending by many countries on unnecessary anti-viral drugs and vaccines. By early 2010, Mr. Flynn apparently filed a motion in the UK Parliament to deplete left over Tamiflu pill stockpiles by using them as winter road salt.

Cover page of Council of Europe report on the handling of the 2009 swine flu pandemic. Source: http://www.assembly.coe.int/CommitteeDocs/2010/20100329_MemorandumPandemie_E.pdf
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The Little Pandemic That Could

The PCR test is coming under fire for missing its target: detecting COVID-19 infectiousness

The late Dr. Kary Mullis, a biochemist who won the Nobel Prize for the invention of the polymerase chain reaction (PCR) process that is used in COVID-19 testing since January 2020, said that “with PCR … you can find almost anything in anybody” in a video (around minute 49:00) from a 1997 meeting on “Corporate Greed & AIDS” in Santa Monica, California. He responded to an audience question about the possible misuse of the PCR test in medical diagnoses, stating that the technique cannot be “misused” in a narrow sense, but that the test results are prone to misinterpretation when doctors “claim that it is meaningful” when a virus is discovered based on a minimal amount of genetic material present in a patient. “It doesn’t tell you that you’re sick“, as Mullis says in an extract of the video created by Bright Light News. In this context, he also referred to the “Buddhist notion that everything is contained in everything else.” While the statements were made in conjunction with HIV/AIDS, where Mullis held a highly contested view, they increasingly prove true in the ongoing SARS-CoV-2/COVID-19 testing fiasco.

Dr. Kary Mullis, inventor of the PCR technique, speaks at an event in 1997. Source: screen capture from video at https://lbry.tv/@marengeti:c/corporate-greed-aids-santa-monica-1997-07-12-part2:5
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The Divided States of Coronamerica: How Big is too Big?

For coronaphobics and lockdown believers, the United States serve as the poster child for how not to handle the pandemic. The Johns Hopkins University COVID-19 dashboard (Fig. 1) shows cumulative “case” counts by US counties using proportional circles – a suitable cartographic choice, although the bright red colour on dark background is questionable, as discussed elsewhere. The ten-and-a-half million cumulative cases and nearly a quarter-million deaths as of November 10th, place the US at the top of the COVID-19 world rankings. But are these numbers actually big? And what can we gather from the spatial pattern of cases?

Figure 1: The Johns Hopkins University COVID-19 dashboard zoomed to the United States. Source: screenshot from https://coronavirus.jhu.edu/map.html.
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Some Doctors Are Giving John Snow a Bad Name

On 15 October 2020, a group of some 30 medical scientists and academics published a letter titled “Scientific consensus on the COVID-19 pandemic: we need to act now” in The Lancet, see https://www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140-6736(20)32153-X/. The authors reiterate details from the early, terrifying assessments of the public health threats from Sars-CoV-2. This includes the initial worry that the entire human population on earth might be susceptible to infection, owing to a lack of prior exposure; the infection-fatality rate of COVID-19 being “several-fold higher” than it is for the flu; and a claim that lockdowns were successful in slowing the spread of the virus.

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