BRANDON J. WEICHERT | THE WEICHERT REPORT
There are some bright spots in the overall negative stories coming out from the coronavirus outbreak. Of course, we must temper the good news with some realism. While everyone should be rooting for a world rally to either cure, or at the very least, stem the outbreak of this pernicious illness, we must understand that this disease is still unknown to many officials in both government and the medical community.
The first bit of “good” news is that China believes it has reached a “turning point” as the nation, which processes around 30 percent of all international container traffic (around 715,000 containers per day in 2019) resumes normal shipping operations from to and from their ports.
According to Chinese shipping experts, the logistics backlog that had occurred when Beijing ordered all workers to stay home as the coronavirus became all-encompassing in the country, has started to be ameliorated.
Here is a recent report from the Chinese newspaper, South China Morning Post:
turnaround times at [the port of] Zhoushan and other ports are starting to improve as more container crane operators, customs officers, tugboat pilots and other key logistics links slot back into place.
Shanghai’s port of Yangshan, the biggest deepwater container port in China, cleared 59,800 TEUs last Thursday, exceeding the average daily volume in 2019 of 54,200 TEUs, the port said.
Chinese ports are also seeing fewer vessels divert to other destinations because of the backlog, with 61 container vessels redirected from China last week, down from a peak of 144 in early February.
Of course, processing rates remain well below the port’s daily average of just over 75,000 TEUs in 2019. So, while we should all be happy that the pressures on the global supply chain may be mitigated in the near-term, the fact remains that there is no amelioration of the coronavirus in China in sight.
The workers had to be coaxed to come back to work and there remains considerable anxiety about the longevity of the Chinese action–particularly as reports circulate that a “second wave” of the coronavirus may be on the way.
For their part, the CCP has insisted that things have turned a corner with the CoVID-19 outbreak in China. They reassure world audiences that the resumption of shipping at their major ports indicates that the disease has already peaked.
Let’s hope they’re right.
As far as I know, though, the regime in China has not only been consistently wrong about most of this disease but it has, at times, sought to manipulate, downplay, and outright lie about the disease’s origins, pathology, duration, and severity.
What’s more, China’s vital belt of factories are “struggling” to come back online, according to reports from the Chinese regime-friendly South China Morning Post.
The next batch of “good” news comes about potential vaccines to CoVID-19. The pharmaceutical company, Gilead, is believed to be near to successfully testing their Ebola medicine, Remdesivir, for combating against the CoVID-19 (which has similar genetic markers to Ebola). Gilead specializes in virus research, making them a prime candidate for developing a vaccine in the short-term.
They are attempting to modify their company’s Remdesivir drug used to battle Ebola into an effective counter to the CoVID-19 disease. There are, of course, other biotech companies seeking to find a cure–some analysts have described the process as a “horse race,” with Gilead potentially in the lead.
Bram de Haas of Seeking Alpha, is optimistic about Remdesivir’s chances as being used for combating CoVID-19. Here is his reasoning from his recent article on the subject:
- Gilead is a virus specialist. For decades they have thrived on their HIV (a Lentivirus) therapy. Remdesivir has been used to treat humans against Ebola (a Filovirus). Remdesivir specifically attacks a part of the virus that’s common to all coronaviruses including COVID-19.
- Bioinformatically, the target of Remdesivir is very similar to that in the SARS coronavirus, 99% similar and 96% identical.
- Remdesivir has already proven effective in lab tests against a range of coronaviruses.
- Remdesivir worked against various coronaviruses in mice.
- Remdesivir has been shown to prevent and cure monkeys (rhesus macaques) afflicted with the MERS coronavirus.
- Remdesivir worked against even the most divergent coronavirus called Porcine deltacoronavirus.
- Remdesivir has been proven to work against every coronavirus tested against whether in lab or animals.
- A U.S. patient and a French COVID-19 patient both recovered after being administered Remdesivir on a compassionate use basis. The French articlewasn’t easy to find but it said the following (translated with Google translate): “The 48-year-old patient infected with the new coronavirus and released from the Bordeaux University Hospital on Thursday, after 22 days of hospitalization, was treated with remdesivir, a “promising” antiviral, said his medical team on Friday.”
- It’s a promising sign that this patient was treated after 22 days and still recovered. Typically, if you are in the group that gets really sick by that time you’re in intensive care. One question with vaccines/therapies like this is how effective they are once you already are sick. Giving a vaccine in a preventive manner is the lowest bar for a treatment to beat. Being administered on a compassionate use basis to patients that are 22 days in and appearing to be effective is a much higher bar. Admittedly, we can’t derive conclusions from two patients that seem to have improved (if you know of any documented compassionate use cases please PM me) but it’s something. Especially in combination with the commentary from the medical team: “…It is “today in the state of knowledge the most convincing promising candidate for an evaluation,” he added, adding that the choice of this drug had been made “collegially at national level, in consultation with WHO ”(World Health Organization)…”
- CDC officials told the medical team treating the infected man in Washington about Remdesivir after his condition worsened. Meaning both WHO and CDC are currently recommending this as a last resort compassionate use option.
- Gilead stated it’s building up manufacturing capacity. Over the last couple of weeks, it already has coordinated with contract manufacturers to start producing Remdesivir. The company also stopped production of one of its approved products to churn out more of the stuff. This exudes confidence and perhaps also indicates the company expects COVID-19 to spread widely.
- A Chinese company called BrightGene has started to manufactureRemdesivir as well. BrightGene’s share price went up ~70% to a ~$4 billion market cap.
- Two studies of Remdesivir already are underway in China. Two-thirds of enrolling participants are given the real drug, which is quite unusual.
- In the U.S. a trial for COVID-19 on humans has started as well.
- National Economic Council Director Larry Kudlow: “Gilead will probably come up with a vaccine faster than most people realize.” Kudlow is no expert on vaccines but he is likely to be well informed in a crisis situation, although his political agenda needs to be considered.
- Dr. Nancy Messonnier, director of the CDC’s National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases: “We expect we will see community spread in this country,” “It’s not so much a question of if this will happen anymore, but rather more a question of exactly when this will happen and how many people in this country will have severe illness.” This is not unexpected to me as I’ve been researching COVID-19 since January 22 but it’s definitely unwelcome. Economically Gilead (by my estimate) is most sensitive to spread as opposed to the average price per dose of Remdesivir.
- Gilead has been granted 3 patents on Remdesivir in China as of today. Another good sign after some earlier patent shenanigans where a Chinese research center applied for a patent.
Meanwhile, an Israeli biotechnology firm, MIGAL, believes it, too, might have a cure for the coronavirus “in a few weeks.”
The fact that so many firms have gotten in on the action indicates that there is real hope of an efficient and reliable cure on the horizon.
Now for the bad news: the shortest time it takes to develop and scale up a reliable cure, including human trials, according to Bram de Haas is 1,000 days. Gilead and other firms are working hard to cleave that number in half. But, the fact that there is still much unknown about the disease–and the fact that the disease is proliferating around the globe at an efficient clip with still no cure or any mitigation to the disease indicates that we are by no means out of the proverbial woods.
Also, the fact that the White House is considering invoking the Korean War-era Defense Production Act to ensure that enough coronavirus protective gear is produced. After all, most of the kinds of equipment that would be needed to be used to combat and contain the coronavirus in the United States is, hilariously, produced by China (where, as you saw from the video posted above, the manufacturing sector has been basically shut down indefinitely by the coronavirus outbreak there).
Here is the top-line Reuters report for you:
President Donald Trump’s administration is considering invoking special powers through a law called the Defense Production Act to rapidly expand domestic manufacturing of protective masks and clothing to combat the coronavirus in the United States, two U.S. officials told Reuters.
A White House official confirmed that the administration was exploring the use of the law to spur manufacturing of protective gear. Both the DHS official and the White House requested anonymity to discuss the issue.
“Let’s say ‘Company A’ makes a multitude of respiratory masks but they spend 80% of their assembly lines on masks that painters wear and only 20% on the N95,” the White House official said. “We will have the ability to tell corporations, ‘No, you change your production line so it is now 80% of the N95 masks and 20% of the other.’”
“It allows you to basically direct things happening that need to get done,” the official added.
This precautionary measure is good, considering that, even if a vaccine was found by any of the world’s premiere biotech firms, it would take an average 1,000 days (so, by the end of 2020, at best) to have it to the general public.
And the disease continues spreading at breakneck speed. Not only has it spread to nations near China, such as South Korea, Japan, and Singapore, but so too has it spread to Italy–in fact, the number of infected has doubled in Italy in the last 24 hours. Meanwhile, there are 33 suspected cases of CoVID-19 in California.
The number will continue growing (which is why the Trump Administration has so heavily talked up the need for preparations and is finally addressing the situation in a coordinated and public manner).
For all of the talk coming from the White House about coronavirus spreading to the US being a “very low risk,” this does not seem to be what the medical community is expecting. Yes, the death toll is relatively low but the situation with the disease is still developing and preparedness and proaction are the only real ways to mitigate the damage this disease will cause when it spreads to the United States (which it is already doing).
The economy has already entered “correction” territory from the ongoing spate of negative news stories surrounding the spread of the coronavirus over the previous week. It remains to be seen if the Trump Administration’s inputs over the last day, as well as China’s proclamations of having “turned the tide” both with the outbreak of the disease and the return of productivity in China will pan out. For now, that does not seem to be the case–especially as the “second wave” of coronavirus impacts the other countries important for the world supply chain (South Korea, Japan, etc.)
Here is a report from this afternoon from ABC News:
The Dow Jones Industrial Average plummeted 1,190 points, more than 4%, on Thursday as economic uncertainty over the spread of the novel coronavirus continued to rattle markets.
The losses mark the worst week for the Dow since the financial crash of 2008. The S&P 500 and Nasdaq each also plunged by more than 4%.
But, this is a long term problem and so long as we are not in possession of reliable cure, and as the disease spreads, and as the production lines in China and throughout the supply chain struggle with delays, expect the economy to decline and the political situation in the United States and elsewhere to become more unstable. For his part, the president is correct to attempt to stunt fears about the disease. Although, he cannot appear to be too Pollyanna-ish–which I worry he might be viewed as, when the economy continues its contraction and more people get sick over the next several months.