There is a lot going on this week, but for this edition I’ll focus on the coronavirus and Trump’s impeachment.
Approximate reading time: 4 minutes.
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Coronavirus Fear Goes Global
The World Health Organisation declared the coronavirus an international public health emergency on Thursday, acknowledging that the virus is a
public health threat beyond China. The virus has so far claimed approximately 213 lives, all within China. There are roughly 9,776 confirmed cases, although modelling from infectious disease experts estimate that total cases could be as high as 31,000 in Wuhan province
alone, where the virus originated from.
Source: The New York Times - Coronavirus Map: Tracking the Spread of the Outbreak
Given the early stage of the virus’ propagation, and that the confirmed cases are a lagging indicator, we should expect the number of cases to increase. Some researchers expect the outbreak will stabilise and begin to recede in China by late April. Be mindful that these projections are at an early stage with limited data.
Source: Johns Hopkins CSSE
Experts caution that it’s difficult to determine the mortality rate of a virus that is so newly detected. So far, most (~80%) of confirmed cases are only reporting mild symptoms. As a comparison for absolute mortalities, it’s useful to remember the mortality of the seasonal flu, which in the United States alone has killed 8,200 people this 2019-20 winter.
Here is a tracker showing confirmed cases of the virus.
One aspect of the coronavirus that we do know is highly contagious is fear. Fear because the number of confirmed cases are still increasing, because there’s currently no vaccine for it, and also because of its Chinese origin. This is aided by misinformation spreading through social media. Taken against the darkened political mood between Western countries and China, some commentators have sounded alarm against racially charged theories, scapegoating, and travel restrictions that don’t have a scientific basis. These points were emphasised in the WHO’s international public health emergency declaration. Dr. Alexandra Phelan, an Australian global health lawyer at Georgetown University is a good source for further reading on this.
In a following newsletter, I’ll dive deeper into the some of the political and economic implications of the virus.
Bolton's Big Week
A leaked book transcript from former National Security Advisor John Bolton added a twist to the impeachment trial this week. However, it appears unlikely to be permitted as evidence, nor slow the Republican controlled Senate to acquitting President Trump in the coming weekdays.
The book details discussions Bolton had with Trump indicating his direct knowledge and understanding that he was withholding aid and a meeting with Ukrainian President Zelensky until Ukraine investigated Joe Biden and his son, Hunter. More details from Vox here.
Earlier this week, these revelations put pressure on Republicans to allow additional evidence, and call on Bolton to appear as a witness. With what we know, Bolton’s information doesn’t materially change the arguments of the Democrats or Republicans. However, permitting Bolton's testimony under oath would open the door for stronger evidence from a key person in the Ukraine events, prolonging the trial.
Bolton is executing a delicate dance of maintaining his patriotism and sense of loyalty to traditional US foreign policy processes, without provoking a backlash from the Republican Party whose administrations he has worked for. To me, this explains why he initially refused to cooperate during the Democrat-led House investigation, yet signalled his willingness to do so once proceedings moved to the Republican-controlled impeachment trial in the Senate. It’s also why he hasn’t invoked the nuclear option and spoken publicly about it, which would put overwhelming pressure on Senate Republicans.
Four Republicans are needed to pass a simple majority (51/100 votes) to allow new witnesses and evidence. As I write at midday in New York, this looks unlikely to occur. Remember the real jury here are voting Americans, and so far, there hasn’t been much shift in Trump’s support, giving little pressure for Senate Republicans to prolong the trial before an eventual acquittal. If so, this could all be over in the coming days, with President Trump acquitted.
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Have a great weekend,