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.

The true number of cases will be much higher for most countries, depending on level of testing and availability/access to testing. And data for countries is being updated daily but at different times of day for various countries. The numbers on worldometers.com are quite similar to those on theJohns Hopkins website but seem to be updated slightly earlier and so are usually a little higher.

There is also a nice new site http://91-divoc.com/pages/covid-visualization/ that plots time trends in cases and deaths, total numbers and rates per million population. The time axis is days since 100+ cases/deaths or days since 1 case/death per million population. I’ve included screenshots below of cases/million and deaths/million with Switzerland highlighted. The dotted straight line on the log scale represents a daily growth rate of 1.35 (35% more cases than day before). That corresponds to a doubling time of 2.31 days. Fortunately, most curves are showing some flattening after the first 10 days. Australia has a curve that corresponds to a daily growth rate of 1.2. That difference is huge. At a daily growth rate of 1.35, the first case becomes 3.2 million after 50 days, whereas at 1.2 it becomes 9,100.

The USA is on day 20 since 100 confirmed cases (or day 18 since 1 case/million) and is following the 1.35x line very closely so far. Unlike most other countries this far into the epidemic, it is not yet showing signs of slowing down. US total confirmed cases will likely overtake those of Italy and China by tomorrow or day after.

If you hover over a point on one of the country curves in the graphs on this site, you get growth rates for last day, week, 16 days. You can convert growth rate g (eg. 1.35) to doubling time in days by calculating log(2)/log(g) and the increase in total cases over d days as g to the power d.  Of course, these growth rates cannot continue unchanged. Either people will change their behaviour to socially isolate and more, if the bodies start piling up as happened in Italy, or the level of herd immunity will rise to the extent that the number of new infections caused by an infected person will drop lower. And that latter scenario will come with lots of deaths as well, particularly when health systems become overwhelmed.

Here in Geneva, we are on day 10 of social isolation. Staying home unless necessary to   work, or buy food, or other essential activities. No gathering of more than 5 people. Borders are now closed to all except cross-border workers and essential trips. Most border crossings are completely shut, and the three that are open are checking papers for every person and there are waits of hours to get across. All shops, gyms, restaurants, entertainment, ski resorts closed with the exception of food stores, petrol and pharmacies. Hairdressers are closed, unlike in Australia where they are considered essential for morale. I am also on day 7 of doing Wim Hof breathing. Who knows, it might even pep up my immune system.

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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Augusta Raurica

I went to Basil for a powerlifting competition in mid-March and stayed in a small town just outside Basel called Kaiseraugst. In this town are the remains of the Roman town, Augusta Raurica, which was founded around 15 BC and named after Augustus Caesar and the local Celtic inhabitants, the Raurici. At its height around 100 AD, the town had around 15,000 inhabitants. The surrounding modern town is now called Kaiseraugst (Caesar Augustus) and I stayed in a hotel just across the road from the fortress (see below). I spent an afternoon visiting the ruins of Augusta Raurica, which  has the best-preserved Roman theatre north of the Alps. This theatre once seated between 10,000 and 12,000 visitors.

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Glacial Erratic Blocks in the Rhone Valley

Continuing our glacial explorations (see also The-pyramids-of-euseigne), we visited a number of enormous glacial erratic blocks in the wooded slopes above the town of Monthey in the Rhone Valley. These blocks played a pivotal role in the realization that there had been great Ice Ages in the past. There are eight blocks along a trail about 5km long between Monthey and Collombey. ( MT_Blocs_Erratiques_Web.pdf). The first and largest of these blocks, “La Pierre des Marmettes”, is now in the middle of the parking lot of the Monthey Hospital.

La Pierre des Marmettes

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