COVID19 update, April 24, 2020: Belgium reopening May 4, Israel reopens “phase 1.5”, NYC immunity testing, nicotine

(1) Belgium has been nibbling around the edges of its existing lockdown, allowing phone stores, garden stores, etc. to reopen, but (with the highest per capita COVID19 mortality of any country in the world) experts kept saying they were not out of the woods yet. Now the country’s national security council decided on reopening in two phases, May 4 and May 19.

In Phase 1 (May 4), the following will again be permitted:

  • outdoor sports like tennis, angling, horseback riding (as a family, or in pairs — not yet in group)
  • registered sports teams can resume training
  • public parks etc are reopened
  • car dealers/garages, bike shops, real estate offices may function “by appointment” (not yet walk-in)
  • smaller home improvement shops (paint, tiles, lighting fixtures, kitchen stores,…) may reopen
  • non-essential enterprises may resume activity, subject to social distancing
  • masks will be mandatory on public transit. (Belgium has an extensive multimodal network.)

Phase 2 (May 18) adds:

  • all remaining businesses may reopen. Hairdressers have to wear masks
  • schools gradually reopen
  • museums reopen for individuals or families, not yet for groups
  • meetings up to 50 permitted
  • visit to vacation homes (in practice, on the sea coast or in the Ardennes): details to be finalized

“Horeca” (hotels, restaurants, and cafés) are not to be opened before June 8.

(2) Israel was supposed to have its Phase 2 reopening in a week, but apparently decided to speed things along a bit. As of Sunday, remaining stores are allowed to reopen. In addition, hairdressers are allowed to reopen, with maximum 2 clients at a time, and disinfecting equipment between every haircut. Indoor malls still remain closed for now. Restaurants, which until now were only allowed to operate by delivery, are now also permitted to offer takeaway (not yet with seating).

The country will go in hard lockdown over Memorial Day and Independence Day, to prevent super-spreader events like there were at Purim, but that should be “it” for a while. Active COVID19 cases in Israel have been declining for a week now, as recoveries outpace new cases.

(3) Much ado about preliminary results from a community testing effort in NYC that appears to indicate as much as 20% of the NYC population has antibodies for COVID19. (The figure drops to 3.6% for upstate New York.)

(4) (Hat tip: Erik Wingren.) Peculiar and counterintuitive claims (see here and here) from France that smoking, and specifically nicotine, would have a protective effect — specifically, that the COVID19 patient populations contained an anomalously low percentage of smokers compared to the general population.

A French study from the Université Pierre et Marie Curie found that just 8.5 percent of 11,000 hospitalized coronavirus patients were smokers compared to 25.4 percent of the country’s population.

They are now experimenting with nicotine[*] patches. The initial data from China (caveat emptor) appeared to indicate that smoking was a risk factor because of damage to the lungs — but that damage comes overwhelmingly from tar, not from nicotine. (I wonder if anybody looked at “vapers” for comparison?) Anecdotally, a friend who is immunocompromised following an organ transplant, and has been having regular troubles with bronchitis, told me he took up vaping (which gives him nicotine but not tar), and it greatly reduced his respiratory issues.

[*] What is the purpose of nicotine in nature? Some plants produce alkaloids to deter animals from eating them: for this purpose, tobacco produces nicotine (named after Jean Nicot, the 16th century French diplomat who was the first to bring tobacco to France).

0bama and Bloomberg: case studies in defense mechanisms of incompetent managers #Omustgo

Like all of us who have dealt with managers and/or work(ed) in management ourselves, I have witnessed on numerous occasions two defense mechanisms of incompetent and/or out-of-their-depth managers. Both of these are on ample display in the political environment today.

The two mechanisms are seemingly opposite but in fact closely related — both are misdirection/displacement/”red herring” tactics.
The first is: faced with large and seemingly unsurmountable problems, the outclassed manager instead focuses on some detail problem that (s)he judges manageable and declares this THE top priority, so that (s)he can “solve” it and declare victory. For example, the pathetic joke of a president suddenly declaring that not the $16T and swelling federal deficit, not the crash-and-burn of an Islamo-appeaser foreign policy, not an on-paper employment of 8% (out of an ever shrinking labor force), but… bullying or homosexual ‘marriage’ are the most important issue of the day.
The second mechanism takes an opposite tack: it instead redirects attention to some super-issue in comparison to which all other problems become trivial — so why waste time on them? For example, in Israeli politics, the agenda of the day is understandably dominated by the issue of ‘hamatzav’ (the [security] situation) — and any politician who wants public attention without the thankless hard work of writing and passing legislation that deals with mundane things like roads, crime, still pervasive oligopolies,… can instead pontificate about ‘the situation’/’the peace process’/… (Another such ‘super-issue’ there, albeit a distant second to ‘hamatzav’, are synagogue-state relations.)
Similarly, the pathetic joke of a New York mayor, rather than deal with the bed bug epidemic, a city that isn’t as safe as it was under his predecessor, or the vulnerability of the city’s infrastructure to man-made or (most recently) natural disasters — starts pontificating about ‘global warming’, and declares that we have to re-elect the Worst President In Living Memory because he has the ‘correct’ position on global warming.
I’ve dealt with incompetent managers who applied either tactic: more commonly they engage in both, like Bloomberg who also finds it necessary to regulate the size of sodas. They may be people that never belonged in any managerial role of any kind but wormed their way into one based on superficial, glib manipulation skills — like our president whom we at last have a chance to fire come next Tuesday.
Or they may actually be people who, based on their success at one managerial task, get appointed to one where they are manifestly out of their depths: Bloomberg’s manifest success in creating and building his financial news company clearly did not translate to anything resembling success in the unrelated field of running the municipal services of a metropolis. Here we actually see Peter’s Principle in action: people competent at lower-level managerial jobs (or those merely able to pass as such) eventually get promoted to their level of absolute incompetence.
But in private business, when a manager is clearly not delivering, (s)he gets sent packing. And Clint Eastwood was quite right in pointing out that it doesn’t matter that (s)he is a nice person or has a desirable social profile: “when somebody does not do the job, we got to let them go.”On Tuesday we have an opportunity to let go a chief executive whose main ‘achievement’ has been to stop the hapless Jimmy Carter from being the worst president in living memory. And #dontgetcocky, but… the polls suggest we have a very real chance of doing so — if we show up in numbers to do it. Let us do so in great numbers and send the fallen-upward empty chair back to the shady Chicago furniture store where he belongs.UPDATE: Walter Russell Mead:

Admittedly, getting public support and finding the money for flood protection would be hard, but it is exactly that kind of hard job that governments are supposed to do. Leadership is getting the important things done, not looking busy on secondary tasks while the real needs of the city go quietly unmet.

The problem with nanny state governance isn’t just that it’s intrusive. It isn’t just that it stifles business with over-regulation, and it isn’t just that it empowers busybodies and costs money. It’s that it distracts government from the really big jobs that it ought to be doing.

Mayor Bloomberg has done an admirable job under great pressure as the city reels from Sandy’s attack. But an ounce of prevention beats a pound of cure. The city needed flood protection for its subways and electricity grid—and it didn’t get it. If the Mayor had spent less time and less of his political capital focusing on minutiae, this storm could have played out very differently.

2010 Census winners and losers

Paul Caron, a.k.a. the Taxprof, has the following useful table of the House seat winners and loser states from the 2010 Census (see also here: and here):


The table speaks for itself. Note one state absent in both columns: California. As Michael Barone points out, his is the first census in which California did not gain any congressional seats since it was admitted to the Union!