A view on how we’re moving these days, based on aggregated data from Google Maps.

We can stop blaming the shortages on the rest of us. It’s a supply chain problem:

If you’re looking for where all the toilet paper went, forget about people’s attics or hall closets. Think instead of all the toilet paper that normally goes to the commercial market — those office buildings, college campuses, Starbucks, and airports that are now either mostly empty or closed. That’s the toilet paper that’s suddenly going unused. […]

In theory, some of the mills that make commercial toilet paper could try to redirect some of that supply to the consumer market. People desperate for toilet paper probably wouldn’t turn up their noses at it. But the industry can’t just flip a switch. Shifting to retail channels would require new relationships and contracts between suppliers, distributors, and stores; different formats for packaging and shipping; new trucking routes — all for a bulky product with lean profit margins.

Similarly, to reroute their suppliers to consumers some restaurants are turning into temporary grocery stores.

Brookings Institution:

As virus-related recession fears escalate, it is important to stress that while automation is likely to surge in general, not everyone is equally vulnerable. As our 2019 assessment of automation trends suggests, it is low-income workers, the young, and workers of color who will be vulnerable if this pandemic shoves the nation into a recession. The automation surge is likely to affect the most “routine” occupations—jobs in areas such as production, food service, and transportation, for example.

Altogether, our research flags some 36 million jobs that have a “high” susceptibility to automation.

As we were saying the other day.

Expect regulatory barriers to automation to be lifted

Reuters:

Fresh fruit and vegetables will become increasingly scarce in Europe, suppliers warn, as the coronavirus pandemic hampers the global movement of produce and of the people needed to gather crops.

BBC:

Due to ever growing travel restrictions aimed at limiting the spread of the coronavirus, we are now facing a shortfall of almost 80% of the workers required in Scotland to pick our crops this season.

Forbes

While many companies have no trouble hiring truck drivers for shorter distance gigs at a few hours at a time, employers have long been struggling to find drivers who can be away for days or even weeks. “Trucking companies are finding it much harder to recruit those long haul drivers,” he explains.

A prediction: regulatory barriers to automation will fall. In the short term we are seeing supermarkets and delivery services going on an hiring spree, but in parallel I’d expect a stronger push to replace humans with machines where this can be done but has insofar been hindered by regulation. Higher contagion risk, current and future, will encourage more businesses to automate more jobs. Continuity of the service — being able to function even when your workforce falls ill — will be another factor.

We would have (one) less problem if trucks did not require drivers, if fruit picking was handled by robots (hard to do, still), if supermarkets could stay open 24/7h with self-checkouts (easy), if the last mile delivery was handled by a drone or machine of some sort, and so on.

On some of these things we’re not there yet, but some sectors have been held back (protected) by regulation: I’d expect that to go away quite soon.

Larry Brillant, an epidemiologist who helped eradicate smallpox:

The world is not going to begin to look normal until three things have happened. One, we figure out whether the distribution of this virus looks like an iceberg, which is one-seventh above the water, or a pyramid, where we see everything. If we’re only seeing right now one-seventh of the actual disease because we’re not testing enough, and we’re just blind to it, then we’re in a world of hurt. Two, we have a treatment that works, a vaccine or antiviral. And three, maybe most important, we begin to see large numbers of people—in particular nurses, home health care providers, doctors, policemen, firemen, and teachers who have had the disease—are immune, and we have tested them to know that they are not infectious any longer. And we have a system that identifies them, either a concert wristband or a card with their photograph and some kind of a stamp on it. Then we can be comfortable sending our children back to school, because we know the teacher is not infectious.

My premeditatio malorum is that we might not get out of this before the end of the year:

The major challenge of suppression is that this type of intensive intervention package — or something equivalently effective at reducing transmission — will need to be maintained until a vaccine becomes available (potentially 18 months or more) — given that we predict that transmission will quickly rebound if interventions are relaxed. We show that intermittent social distancing — triggered by trends in disease surveillance — may allow interventions to be relaxed temporarily in relative short time windows, but measures will need to be reintroduced if or when case numbers rebound.

In the positive scenario, I expect two to three months.

Arnold King:

In the long run, I don’t expect normal either. Pre-crisis, our patterns of specialization and trade were optimized for efficiency at the expense of fragility. Expect supply chains in the future to have a lot more redundancy and to be less driven by cost minimization. The Chief Risk Officer’s approval will now be needed before the CEO will approve a major new supply contract.

We will develop a lot of what you might call social-distancing capital, including the ability to make use of remote meetings and distance learning. Last night, some folks attempted a virtual session of dancing. Most of the time was spent getting a bunch of old people up to speed on using Zoom. Next time, we might be able to dance. People will get accustomed to new forms of entertaintment.

The guy in this video is flicking through the obituary pages of the local newspaper. The first paper is from the 9th of February: one page and a bit. The second paper is from the 13th of march, yesterday: 10 pages.

I also would like to point out that Lombardy, the region most severely affected by this, has a 9.9/10 score in health on the OECD scale: across all OECD regions, the region is in the top 5% in health.

Don’t be stupid.

NY Times:

The point of a model like this is not to try to predict the future but to help people understand why we may need to change our behaviors or restrict our movements, and also to give people a sense of the sort of effect these changes can have. […]

None of us know what lies ahead. But the wise uncertainty of epidemiologists is preferable to the confident bluster of television blowhards. The one thing we can be confident of is that enormous risks lie ahead — including a huge loss of life — if we don’t take aggressive action.

The possibility for the UK to reach herd immunity (a marketing slang for natural selection at this point, lacking of clear measures to protect the elderly or to strengthen the health system) is based on a lot of untested assumptions.

At the end: “I think one thing that people should remember is that nature is the biggest bio-terrorist. Nature wants to kill you.”

Bill Gates, back in 2015:

But in fact, we can build a really good response system. We have the benefits of all the science and technology that we talk about here. We’ve got cell phones to get information from the public and get information out to them. We have satellite maps where we can see where people are and where they’re moving. We have advances in biology that should dramatically change the turnaround time to look at a pathogen and be able to make drugs and vaccines that fit for that pathogen. So we can have tools, but those tools need to be put into an overall global health system. And we need preparedness.

The best lessons, I think, on how to get prepared are again, what we do for war. For soldiers, we have full-time, waiting to go. We have reserves that can scale us up to large numbers. NATO has a mobile unit that can deploy very rapidly. NATO does a lot of war games to check, are people well trained? Do they understand about fuel and logistics and the same radio frequencies? So they are absolutely ready to go. So those are the kinds of things we need to deal with an epidemic.

Tim Cook:

The global spread of COVID-19 is affecting every one of us. At Apple, we are people first, and we do what we do with the belief that technology can change lives and the hope that it can be a valuable tool in a moment like this. Teachers are innovating to make remote lessons come alive. Companies are experimenting with new ways to stay productive. And medical experts can diagnose illnesses and reach millions with critical updates in the blink of an eye. We are all adapting and responding in our own way, and Apple wants to continue to play a role in helping individuals and communities emerge stronger.

But this global effort — to protect the most vulnerable, to study this virus, and to care for the sick — requires all of our care, and all of our participation. And I want to update you about the ways in which we are doing our part.

The right call to make. If the government is refusing to act fast in face of evidence (as is the case here in the UK), we need to take responsibility in our hands.

If you are organising something, postpone it. If you run a company and can WFH, enforce it.

The virus is not the main danger, our unprepared medical system and fragile supply chains are. We know and have been told about what works and what doesn’t: there is no excuse at this point to delay action.

The only reason to panic is if everyone is going about as if nothing was happening.