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Thoughts from Pontevedra, Galicia, Spain

Random thoughts from a Brit in the North West. Sometimes serious, sometimes not. Quite often curmudgeonly.

Thoughts from Pontevedra, Galicia, Spain: 30 October 2020
30 October 2020 @ 13:10

Night’s candles are burnt out, and jocund day stands tiptoe on the misty mountain tops.

Spanish life is not always likeable but it is compellingly loveable.  

- Christopher Howse: 'A Pilgrim in Spain'*  

Covid

See the interesting article below: There is no reasonable scientific or medical justification for lockdowns, convoluted social distancing rules, masks or travel restrictions

Living La Vida Loca in Galicia/Spain

The Galician president says Galicia is going to pass a law arrogating to the Xunta the power to declare total lockdowns, etc. So, if you thought it was crazy having 4 different regimes in the UK, just wait until we have 17.  Lunacy.

Ancient cave drawings in Spain reveal a Europe-wide artistic style that existed 25,000 years ago, as they bear striking resemblance to styles throughout Europe as far back as that. The engravings, mostly of bison, have a distinct style suggesting that region was more connected than archaeologists had previously thought.

The latest AVE forecast, I think, is the 2nd half of 2022. But what does it matter; no one believes it. Especially not whoever issued it.

This comment is also from early 2004. As I haven't watched Spanish TV for more than 10 years, I have no idea if things are still as bad. Possibly most previous advertising has moved to the internet. . . 

All Spanish TV channels are commercial and so carry advertisements, which take up a significant proportion of each hour of what might loosely be termed viewing. And then there are the product endorsements issued out of the blue by the programme hosts, gushing with specious conviction about some product's merits. When I came to Spain. this mid-programme puffery was relatively infrequent but now it is almost common-place. If you really were desperate for a reason not to watch Spanish TV, this might just be the answer to your prayer. Worst of all, though, are the cash-strapped local TV stations. Their speciality is a banner ad running along the bottom of the screen during soccer matches. Three years ago, these only used to appear when play had actually stopped. They has since progressed - through discrete stages - to their current permanent status. I'm not sure that the situation is as bad on radio but last night I was listening to a soccer match when the main commentator suddenly burst into song, to be joined a few seconds later by his companions. This turned out to be a jingle for some product or other. Seamlessly, they then shifted back to the usual semi-histrionic chatter that characterises soccer commentaries here.

The UK

One side effect of the Covid-19 epidemic has been a plague of rats and mice infesting private homes,. . . . There is a range of possible reasons for this but the most obvious and plausible is the closure or reduced activity of restaurants and pubs. Rats and mice which have hitherto been reliant on food waste from these premises have found these sources drying up, triggering migration in search of new food supplies. .  . .  The lockdown has created an ideal habitat for the rat with careless waste habits, vacant shops and quiet streets leading to a breeding frenzy across the country. Technicians out on the road are said to have seen nothing like this before.   Stand by for the return of the Black Death

The EU

Good question - Why doesn't the EU support France more against Turkey? German economic self-interest?

Our resident Cassandra writes today that the ECB fears Covid could trigger a financial crisis . . . There is a clear danger that the eurozone could relapse into a double-dip recession before it has regained more than half of the output lost during the first wave of the pandemic.  . . . The risk is that thousands of businesses hanging on by their fingertips will see credit lines cut as banks move preemptively to build up their own safety buffers, leading to a vicious circle.  . . . It is unclear whether the ECB's ritual moves have much more efficacy than a rain dance at this juncture.  See the full article below.

English

My daughter once found, in a guide to English written in 1918, that back then ‘today’ is written 'to-day' and 'tomorrow' 'to-morrow'. I told her that I had never seen this done Then the very next day I received an email from my mother with 'to-day’ in it.

Spanish

Cazar: Both To hunt and To catch, as least when it comes to speeding drivers.

Finally

A nice maxim about admissions of guilt/apologies: Anything before the word ‘but’ doesn’t count. 

THE ARTICLES

1. Britain's Covid response is utterly mad – here are 10 reasons why.

There is no reasonable scientific or medical justification for lockdowns, convoluted social distancing rules, masks or travel restrictions   Dr John Lee

This year, like many years, there’s a new respiratory virus on the block. But this year, unlike any year ever before, the world has gone mad. Governments around the world have decided that their remit extends to micromanaging risk on behalf of everybody, for just about everything: where and when you can travel, what you must wear, what you can buy. Even in your own home, for goodness sake, amongst your own family, the state thinks it is “right” to regulate who you mix with, who you can see and who you can touch.

How did we come to this? Could such an approach ever be regarded as genuinely reasonable? To be honest, I think that it would be a stretch under any circumstances. But I could envisage a situation where a new pathogen was so nasty – say highly transmissible and reliably killing 30 per cent of people of all ages that it infected – that the very fabric of society would be at stake unless the state acted decisively.

But even in such dire circumstances the state would need to understand very clearly indeed what it was doing, in order to be absolutely sure that compelling populations to act in one way or another would definitely cause less harm than giving people the facts and letting them make their own decisions about risk. After all, what other justification could there reasonably be for trying to restrictively rewrite the rulebook of human interaction?

Of course, this has been tried before for all sorts of ideological reasons, and resulted in a 100 per cent track record of failure and disaster; responsible for untold misery, suffering, tragedy and deaths. One would have thought that there is a lesson there somewhere. Suffice it to say that Covid is orders of magnitude away from causing the level of societal damage that would justify even considering such a response.

Current consensus on the infection fatality rate (which has been continually falling as better data arrives) is 0.2 per cent. When we look back at this period any visible mortality signal will be well within the envelope of the last 30 years when deaths caused by lockdown are excluded. The average age of death from Covid is actually above the average age of death from all causes.

So why are governments around the world persisting in, and indeed elaborating, responses that are progressively being seen, as evidence accumulates, to be fundamentally wrong?

You don’t have to listen too hard to hear the sound of many, many pigeons coming home to roost simultaneously. I think this is why it has been so hard to explain what is happening, and why so many people remain deeply unsure as to what the right course of action should be. Any given article or interview tends to deal with only one or two key points, leaving so many unanswered questions for most people that doubt and confusion fill the gaps. Neither governments nor their advisors seem able to see the big picture, let alone explain it. So here is my attempt to assemble, in one place, the most important of the very many drivers of the Covid response. 

1. Preconceptions

Current ideas about how to “control” viruses are based on Spanish flu, smallpox, SARS, MERS, HIV, influenza and Ebola, among others. This coronavirus isn’t the same as any of them. The idea of “controlling” an airborne, easily transmissible virus on a population basis, beloved of “public health” “experts”, is largely myth, based on mediocre observational or questionnaire-based studies using unverified and unverifiable methods.

2. Incorrect framing

Television pictures from China, Italy and New York painted a picture of a deadly new global plague and were highly instrumental in determining the initial response. But TV pictures are highly selective and often unrepresentative, as was the case with coronavirus. Months ago, real-world evidence conclusively disproved initial perceptions of this virus, yet the initial framing still seems to be a key driver of government responses around the world.

3. Fear

It is a strong and evolutionarily valuable human emotion. Broadcast and social media are effective in maintaining it, especially with government backing aimed at generating the “correct” reactions from people. Written media is often more nuanced and thoughtful, but narrower in appeal, and slower to take effect. It has struggled to balance the broadcast narrative, which has thrived on highly selective presentation of information.

4. Poor quality data

The prerequisite for our current shambles of rubbish-in, rubbish-out, affecting all areas of our understanding of Covid. Suspension of peer review in the name of speed has removed a crucial quality control, undermining much research in the field and encouraging false consensus.

5. Excessive risk aversion

The anti-scientific Precautionary Principle* has become so entrenched in public decision-making that it seems almost normal to respond to an unquantified threat with responses that have had no prior assessment for either effectiveness or harm.

[* Big in the EU].

6. Suppression of debate

In their eagerness to entrench the “right” course of action, governments have radically reduced the chances of it being found by suppressing contrary views. There is also an inability to have a grown-up and measured public conversation about human lifespan, illness and death. What does “saving lives” actually mean? Whose lives, and saved for what? And where is the discussion about quality of life? Old people do die, and we all are, in fact, more susceptible to dying of everything with advancing age. Covid is no exception to this.

7. Flawed testing

Detailed technical problems with the rapid development and mass rollout of tests (by technicians who are often marginally trained), without a sound biological understanding of the tests’ basis or meaning. Few are armed with the knowledge needed to understand (among other things) the technical subtleties of PCR or antibody tests, the meaning (if any) of weak positives, the relevance of antibodies versus T-cell reactions, the statistical invalidities of test and trace, the inadequacies of death certification, or the details of why get-out-of-jail-via-vaccination has such a low probability of success. These details matter.

8. Perpetually moving goalposts

Save the NHS, save lives, reduce “cases”, reduce positive tests, “control” the virus….

9. Focus on a single threat

And the virtual exclusion of everything else. How “public health” doctors can claim to be protecting “public health” with this approach seems incomprehensible, as well as being medically negligent.

10. Skewed motives

Political desire to be seen to be taking action. Media-driven and short-term, taking action is apparently politically desirable even if it means subjecting entire populations to experimental, unverifiable, oppressive methods of viral “control”. This also mirrors a cultural divide in medicine between interventionists and nihilists. 

There are probably more drivers of the Covid response that could be listed, but you can see the many-tentacled head of the medusa that is petrifying society.  It seems pretty clear that if we are asked to make major sacrifices there should be solid, quantifiable evidence of benefit to justify them. Unfortunately the solid, quantifiable evidence of benefit of the current approach to Covid simply does not exist.

The secrecy surrounding the basis for the government’s decisions speaks volumes. In fact, real-world data suggests that the harms caused by current actions outweigh the benefits when measured even in terms of deaths, and massively outweigh the benefits when measured in terms of quality of life – which, after all, is central to the human experience at all ages.

How can we know what would have happened if we had never locked down? The simple answer is that, for our particular circumstances, we cannot know for sure. But countries which have not enforced lockdowns, of which Sweden is the nearest, have not been noticeable outliers in terms of deaths or illness. 

More importantly, by allowing the virus to spread in the way that viruses do, these places are now in a much better position than countries which made major economic sacrifices, but still have to face the virus. Lockdowns may (perhaps) slow down slightly our arrival at herd immunity (through exposure of a large enough proportion of the population), but we will all get there in the end.

The only differences will be the extent of the own goals caused along the way by restrictions. Countries that have isolated themselves, such as New Zealand, will have to face the virus in due course or remain isolated from the world (their only get-out-of-jail-free card would be an effective vaccine). Yet the costs of such isolation seem highly suspect, since data suggests that very few cases of Covid are caught or spread by travellers. This virus has already circled the globe while we have been largely staying put. So we might as well start travelling again, since the risks, in a majority of countries, are rather similar.

So how can we find the right way forward? Revocation of progressively inappropriate emergency powers, with restoration of parliamentary scrutiny, accountability, transparency and debate must be part of it, along with involvement of a more diverse base of scientific and medical advisors.

If the NHS is struggling for capacity – which is debatable, and anyway substantially due to self-imposed rules related to “controlling” Covid – then sort it out: build more capacity, and remind NHS workers that they are there to look after the sick. 

The bottom line is that, at the present time, there is no reasonable scientific or medical justification for lockdowns, convoluted social distancing rules, masks, travel restrictions, quarantines or most of the rest of the flotsam that has attached itself to the Covid response. The sky is not falling. And the more people who understand the multifaceted reasons why this is the case, the sooner we will all get our lives back.

2. The ECB fears Covid could trigger a financial crisis     Christine Lagarde indicates that circumstances have suddenly become treacherous with far more fiscal and monetary support urgently needed: Ambrose Evans-Pritchard

The European Central Bank is increasingly worried that economic damage from Covid-19 could mutate into a full-blown financial crisis, setting off a second downward leg in the recession and deep scarring of the productive system.

Christine Lagarde, the ECB’s president, warned that risks are “clearly, clearly, tilted to the downside” and pledged a fresh blast of stimulus in December using “all instruments”. Such a clear signal breaks with the institution’s long-standing rule that it never commits in advance. 

The ultra-dovish language pushed the euro to a four-week low of €1.1659 against the dollar and sent sovereign bond yields plummeting to historic depths. German 10-year Bunds dropped to minus 0.64pc. Even Portuguese bonds fell below zero for maturities out to nine years.

Mrs Lagarde said the recovery is “losing momentum more rapidly than expected” and tacitly admitted that the bank’s rosy forecast of 3.1% growth in the fourth quarter now lies in tatters. She may regret having said in June that the “lowest point” of the Covid crisis had already passed.

There is a clear danger that the eurozone could relapse into a double-dip recession before it has regained more than half of the output lost during the first wave of the pandemic. 

Her tone was a crystal clear message to governments that circumstances have suddenly become more treacherous and that double-barreled fiscal and monetary support is urgently needed, with national treasuries carrying most of the burden.  

Krishna Guha from Evercore says a further €500bn of pandemic bond purchases is likely in September, buttressed by a fresh round of ultra-cheap lending to banks (TLTROs) at rates of minus 1pc or even lower.

Lagarde says the ECB is on high alert in case the second wave of Covid-19 triggers retrenchment by banks and a destructive squeeze in lending: “The whole eurosystem will be extremely attentive. We need to make sure that there is ample liquidity to respond to any kind of shock.”

Pablo Hernández de Cos, Spain’s central bank governor and chairman of the G20’s Basel Committee, said there is a risk that banks will become the channel for a further contractionary shock. 

“There’s no room for complacency. This began as a health crisis and then turned into an economic crisis, and it is vital that it doesn’t turn into a financial crisis,” he says. 

The ECB’s chief regulator, Andrea Enria, warned this week that non-performing loans (NPLs) in the eurozone could surge to €1.4 trillion in a “plausible scenario”, dwarfing losses seen after the Lehman crisis. He called for a pan-eurozone "bad bank" to clean up balance sheets and recapitalise troubled lenders. 

The International Monetary Fund said in its Stability Report that a double-dip downturn could set off a cascade of bankruptcies and blow through the loss-absorbing buffers of the banks, with contagion ripping through “the entire financial system”.

"Renewed liquidity pressures could easily morph into insolvencies, especially if the recovery is delayed," it said. 

The ECB’s latest bank lending survey recorded a “considerable tightening” in credit over the third quarter despite the economic recovery during the summer, with 19pc imposing tougher loan terms.

It is clear that lenders were already looking beyond the mechanical effects of the V-shaped bounce, fearing a wave of defaults as support schemes wind down and debt guarantees expire. Spain faced an incipient credit crunch even before it spiralled back into a health emergency this week.

The risk is that thousands of businesses hanging on by their fingertips will see credit lines cut as banks move preemptively to build up their own safety buffers, leading to a vicious circle. 

The ECB has relaxed rules on capital ratios and non-performing loans, but banks know that tougher conditions will snap back sooner or later. Consultants Oliver Wyman says half the European banking system will emerge broken from the pandemic, forced to cut their balance sheets by 10pc to 15pc to stay afloat.

It is unclear whether the ECB's ritual moves have much more efficacy than a rain dance at this juncture. 

It cannot do much to prevent a wave of business failures and a slide into protracted stagnation. Interest rates are already minus 0.5pc. There is nothing left to extract from the bond market by pushing down yields.  

The ECB has so far bought almost €3 trillion euros of bonds and owns a large chunk of the Spanish and Italian debt market, yet it has nevertheless failed to meet its inflation target continuously or ignite self-sustaining recovery. The eurozone has slipped ever deeper into a Japanese deflation trap with corrosive pathologies. Inflation has dropped to minus 0.3pc.

Lagarde insisted vehemently that there is no deflation “at all” in the eurozone, sticking to the house mantra that the region is merely going through a bout of “negative inflation”. 

Deflation veterans in Japan can only smile.  

 

* A terrible book, by the way. Don't be tempted to buy it, unless you're a very religious Protestant.



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