COVID-19: light at the end of the tunnel for some countries

Tomorrow, Switzerland will relax its social distancing regime. Classroom teaching at primary and lower secondary schools will again be permitted. Shops, markets, museums, libraries, gyms and restaurants will be able to reopen under strict compliance with precautionary measures. Switzerland has had the 10th highest death rate per million people but has been one of the few high death rate countries to successfully control the epidemic. See the plot for Switzerland below.

I just watched the UK’s Churchill tribute act, aka Boris, give a speech to the nation on the phased easing of restrictions, which is conditional on the reproduction rate R remaining below 1. It apparently is somewhere between 0.5 and 0.9, and even partial easing could easily kick it over 1 (restarting exponential growth). Apart from England, the other three governments are all maintaining current social isolation rules. From tomorrow, workers who cannot work from home should return to work, but try not to use public transport to get there. Primary schools won’t open until at least the beginning of June, and restaurants etc not till July. From the UK plot above, its clear that a much more cautious and conditional easing is definitely desirable.

I have to say that Boris, with his hair neatly combed (!!), actually made what I thought was a quite good speech, with strong emphasis that the government would be guided by data feedback and by the science, by a reasonably sincere expression of empathy for the sacrifices and difficulties of many, and by strong expression of the need for community solidarity. The contrast with the clown show across the Atlantic was quite marked.

The plots above separate New York and the rest of the USA. The timing and size of the epidemic is different in these, but more importantly, it shows the very different time trends. New York is past its (current) peak and on the way to controlling the epidemic. The rest of the USA has not peaked, and cases and deaths continue to rise. Absolutely not the time to start relaxing social distancing in New York, let alone the rest of the country.

Australia (and New Zealand) acted early to implement social distancing, and have done as well as China and South Korea in controlling their epidemics. And they are now relaxing social distancing rules as well.

My professional blog has a post with plots for more countries, and some further explanation of the plots and data.

COVID-19 short-run projections

Its now one month since my earlier post on the coronavirus pandemic    A lot has changed since then. We have gone from 24,392 deaths globally on March 26 to 206,915 on April 26th. And recent analysis of total registered deaths by week in February and March, compared to the same periods in the previous year, suggest that the reported deaths (mostly hospital deaths) are only about 70% of the actual deaths. The proportion of deaths reported in developing countries without good death registration (including most of Africa, and much of Asia) will be even lower.

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COVID-19: the big picture

Today Switzerland became the country with the highest rate of confirmed cases of corona virus per million population. Well, that is if you ignore some micro-populations such as the Vatican City, San Marino, Andorra and Faeroe Islands. Why?  It is landlocked with Italy, France and Germany around it. It did not close the border between Ticino and Italy for cross-border workers and many live in Italy were the virus spread rapidly. Also, it was the height of the ski season and alpine resorts were crowded with skiers from all over Europe, Britain and beyond. Here is a graph I did yesterday comparing confirmed cases per million population  for the thirty leading countries (excluding small countries with population less than one million. Data are from worldometers.com at 13.11 GMT on March 24. A this point Switzerland had not yet overtaken Italy.

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The Canal de Versoix

Just beyond the northern boundary of Geneva, a small river, the Versoix River, flows from neigbhouring France eastwards through mixed farm and forest to Lake Leman. I often go for a bicycle ride or take the dog for a walk along the Versoix River and nearby forest tracks. Last week I set out with the dog to walk to the River from a small village called La Bâtie, but I could not find somewhere to park the car with convenient access to the river. So I took a small path into the forest labelled only “Sentier Pedestre” (walking path). It took us to a beautiful canal, which I had never seen before. The photo below shows the dog sitting on a wooden bridge that crossed the canel to a path on its other bank.

Bridge over the Versoix Canal

The Versoix canal was built by Nicolas Céard (1745-1821) in 1785 to feed water to the lakeside town of Versoix. It also provided water power for a mill and paperworks at La Bâtie during the 19th century. Céard was a French civil engineer, one of whose first projects after graduation in 1769 was the construction of Port-Choiseul at Versoix on Lake Leman a few kilometres north of where I live. He fled the Terror (French Revolution) to Switzerland and later became mayor of Versoix from 1790 to 1792.

After a few hundred metres, we came to a dam that we had to cross via the dam wall. We came to a fishway, built to enable the river trout (local name “truite fario”) to migrate upstream. It is a vertical slot fishway, quite deep and with a strong current. I took a photo of the dog crossing it, then called her back to try another shot. She fell in and was swept down. I managed to pull her out before the end of the fishway, though she probably would have been fine if she had gone all the way through.

Fishway on the Versoix Canal

We took a shortcut through a horse dressage and jumping school (the Centre Equestre La Bâtie) to get back to the car.

A sunny day skiing at Verbier

After the day of reasonably heavy snow in Geneva last week, I decided to head up to Verbier to take advantage of the new snow. Verbier is a bit under two hours drive from Geneva and has spectacular scenery and skiing.  In the first few years I was in Geneva, Verbier was my regular ski destination, and for a couple of years I rented a small studio apartment there so I could go up for weekends and longer periods when possible.

From Lausanne onwards, the ground in the Rhone Valley was completely covered in snow, and the trees and mountains were all dusted with fresh powder. I parked in the valley below Verbier and caught the cable car up past Verbier to the mid-level pistes.

Heading up in the cable car

Verbier is part of the “Four Valleys” (“4 Vallées”) ski area, which is the biggest ski domain in Switzerland with extensive off-piste and back country routes.

Grand Combin (4314 m)

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Skiing from Switzerland to France and back

I have recently been cleaning up old external drives that I’ve used over the years for backups and found a folder of photographs from a 2003 ski trip to Champèry. Champéry lies in a side valley of the Rhone valley under the Dents du Midi (“Teeth of Midday”) mountain range. Some of the photos really capture the beauty of skiing in this region, which is part of the Portes du Soleil (The Doors of the Sun). So I decided to put them up in this post. The Portes du Soleil is one of Europe’s two largest ski areas, around 1000 square kilometres, with 13 interconnected ski resorts and around 650 km of marked pistes, and includes Les Gets where we skied in February this year.

Looking down towards Champéry lying under the Dents du Midi on the other side of the valley

Continuing to head upwards from where the above photo was taken will bring you to the ridgeline which marks the Swiss border with France. Later in the day I skied down the other side into France and ended up in the Morzine valley, where I caught a chairlift back up to the top.

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