When is it time to self-isolate?

When is it time to self-isolate? By David Evans. Yes, on this blog we’ve been doing the early-warning thing about the Wuhan virus, and it’s dominated the blog recently. But the borders weren’t shut and now our society has the virus. So foreseeable and avoidable. But here we are.

If you and your family are all healthy, but there’s a pandemic about, when should you self-isolate? Maybe never, you say — I’ve got things to do, like a job, and it’s unlikely to kill me, and most everyone will get it sooner or later anyway.

Well, it might be very unpleasant for a couple of weeks — much worse than the flu — as shown by the account of the 25 year old British man in good health in Wuhan. As time goes on, these contagious diseases usually evolve into less harmful forms (because the harmful strains don’t spread as fast, incapacitating their victims before they can spread it). So if you are resigned to catching it anyway, it’s better to catch it later rather than earlier. Already there are hints of an early nastier version that is not spreading as fast.

When should society impose quarantine — close schools, sporting events, borders, and so on? (Should the paddock gate be closed before or after the horse has bolted? Oh well, the horse has bolted now. Move on.) If quarantine is going to end up being applied anyway, the sooner the better for harm minimization. A bit of paranoia can save lives. Time is lives when danger approaches.

The virus is out and about in Perth. It came from people arriving by plane from overseas (surprise!), some of whom didn’t feel well but then didn’t self isolate. It can be spread by people who show no symptoms yet, so there are presumably people spreading it in our locale now.

Our household is now pretty much in isolation. We intend to go out only out for emergencies, while we see what happens. Fortunately none of us have essential jobs that require us to be on duty. (We saw this coming. One room in our house is fully stocked, rolls of toilet paper from floor to ceiling. No, just kidding. We have a fairly normal amount of toilet paper, and just a few weeks extra above normal levels of food that we would consume anyway.)

Putting it off, and inertia, are getting people into trouble. Another early-warner complains:

Most people lack the ability to think in a non-linear manner. If they see 100 people infected with the virus this week, then they project 100 next week, 100 the week after that, and so on and so on, and conclude that the virus is no big deal. Sucks for 10 people each week who need hospitalization, but a minor health problem compared to even the flu. They don’t understand how epidemics spread in a nonlinear manner, that the number of infected doubles every so many days. If there is a doubling every 5 days, then it only takes 50 days to go from 5000 infected (no big deal) to 5 million infected (a pretty darn big deal) and then only 20 more days to go to 80 million infected. In the absence of action to contain the virus or increase social distancing, epidemiologists say that 40% will become infected before we develop herd immunity.

The Australian stock market is taking another dreadful pounding today. The US futures markets are limit-down. The price of oil is in free fall today — half what is was when the virus began. Do the financial markets know something that the complacent among us do not?

Maybe this will be the straw that finally breaks the debt bubble?

David Evans, money supply

The graph is almost five years old now, but I haven’t bothered updating it because it basically hasn’t changed much. Debt-GDP is slightly higher, around 400% last I looked. Currently Australia’s debt/money growth has accelerated to 10% per year, up from 5% for the last couple of years, as the property bubble re-ignites. GDP is only growing at 1% or so, so Australia’s debt-to-GDP ratio is still increasing.

The “big one” is a move in debt (and thus the money supply) back to the usual level of about 150% of GDP. That would be an earthquake in our societies, re-arranging wealth and motivations. The exact machinations are partly unpredictably, because our political system will change the rules to determine who the biggest losers will be. But low interest rates and high inflation will be part of the scenario.