The coronavirus, and what we can do

YACA — Yet Another Coronavirus Article. But the situation is dire, and there are things you should do and heed.

The entire world is in disarray, everything has ground to a halt. No more parties, movie theaters, pubs or restaurants, no more public sporting event — even the 2020 Olympic Games and the Chess Olympiad have been cancelled — both today. One chess tournament after the other is being abandoned, leagues, opens, everything. And at least one top player has caught the virus, another is trapped. Everyone is searching for a cure — even DeepMind, the AI company that generated the first self-learning chess program AlphaZero!

My plans were fixed: I was invited to a number of top chess events, and from the wonderful Summer Nostos Festival in Athens. That, like all my favourite chess events, was also cancelled. And hard and fast the cancellations keep coming — today our wonderful family gathering with 50 cousins, nieces and nephews, also bit the dust.

All of this, as you doubtlessly know, is due to the coronavirus Covid-19 epidemic which has swept the world, bringing society and commerce to a standstill. Here are some facts you need to know — and some advice you would do well to heed.

The lockout — what it looks like out there

A lockdown is an emergency protocol that is implemented by government authorities and prevents people from leaving their homes. “Shelter in Place” is another way of telling people they must seek safety in their places of residence (and not community or emergency shelters). This, and social distancing — avoiding groups of ten, five or even three people — is currently being adopted all over the world. All movie theatres, pubs, sporting events, barber shops, etc. are closed. Only food outlets and pharmacies remain open and accessible. In Italy the lockdown is total, in New York it will soon be, as far as I can tell.

In Germany all schools are closed, and home schooling is part of the daily agenda. The schools are sending daily lessons by email to the students.

The grandkids Hennes, 7, and Enders, 8, learning at home

Incidentally, grandson Enders is writing a Journal of the Corona Year. It’s supposed to emulate something Daniel Defoe did for Yersenia pestis a number of centuries ago.

From Cornwall to Rio to Bangalore

From colleagues I am getting pictures of empty cities, town squares and beaches. Here are two (of many) examples:

John Nunn, sent us this picture of a popular beach in Cornwall. He wrote that the requirement of keeping two meters away from other person is troublesome: no people there to avoid contact with.
This is what Copacabana Beach in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, can look like in normal times
This is a picture my friend Albert Silver took, from his flat on the beach highway, yesterday

Ken in California say he finds it difficult to keep six feet away from prople when there is nobody to keep away from. Friend Ashwin, who works for Intel Bangalore, writes: “India is on a complete lockdown. Guideline is that no one steps out of the houses, apart from few exceptional roles/situations. No public transportation within or inter-city, no flights, no commercial establishments open, schools shutdown since ~10 days now, police on the road etc.). Across the entire country for 21 days starting today!” — I remind you: India has 1.3 billion people!

The Spread

This is graphic (by Dr Siouxsie Wiles) illustrates how the coronavirus can spread if left unchecked, and what happens if social distancing is applied. It is clear that isolation and working from home is an effective weapon against the coronavirus. Naturally every scientist, or institution involved in any kind of medical research, has dropped everything to look for the ideal solution: medical relief for the symptoms of the disease, and a vaccination that will prevent it from infecting people and spreading in the first place.

It is a trillion-dollar search.

Outbreak

Kevin Simler has posted quite a remarkable page (link below), which provides playable simulations of a disease outbreak. “Playable” means you’ll get to tweak parameters (like transmission and mortality rates) and watch how the epidemic unfolds.

On the left is a screenshot (click or tap to enlarge) of the “Full Model” that is located at the end of Kevin’s article. It lets you set the parameters like incubation, symptoms, self-quarantine rate, strictness, encounters per day, hospiral capacity, fatality rate, and then displays the running results.

I advise you to spend quality time running this simulation. It is highly informative and greatly improves your understanding of the spread. Especially interesting is to try to find parameters that will most effectively stop the virus from spreading, and bring the outbreak to a halt. I spent an hour working on this. You should try as well — and let us know which (realistic) settings work best. Do it at: Outbreak by Kevin Simler March 16, 2020

AI vs Covid-19

I consulted Demis Hassabis, founder and CEO of Deep Mind, the London-based AI company that a few years ago was bought by Google. Currently, DeepMind is using their AI software technology to calculate the folding of proteins. I have known Demis since the 1990s. So I asked him: “Demis, isn’t there anything DeepMind could do about Covid-19?” His reply: “Yes, we are doing everything we can. Did you see this?” — and sent me to a site which describes their work:

Computational predictions of protein structures of COVID-19

The scientific community has galvanised in response to the recent COVID-19 outbreak, building on decades of basic research characterising this virus family. Labs at the forefront of the outbreak response shared genomes of the virus in open access databases, which enabled researchers to rapidly develop tests for this novel pathogen. Other labs have shared experimentally-determined and computationally-predicted structures of some of the viral proteins, and still others have shared epidemiological data. We hope to contribute to the scientific effort using the latest version of our AlphaFold system by releasing structure predictions of several under-studied proteins associated with SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. We emphasise that these structure predictions have not been experimentally verified, but hope they may contribute to the scientific community’s interrogation of how the virus functions…

Chapeau! Read the full DeepMind article here.

Irina diagnosed with Covid-19

Irina Krush is an old and treasured friend, whom I have known since her mid-teens. She is a chess grandmaster and one of the US top female players. We are in regular contact, but suddenly our correspondence was interrupted — she untypically stopped replying to my emails. I was slightly alarmed, and justifiably so. The reason for her silence became plain to me when I read a post on her Facebook page, of which I give you a few excerpts:

“Last Wed night, March 11th, I started to feel a little bit under the weather. By Friday night I lost my sense of smell completely [a known symptom — red]. I could not smell the cup of coffee right in front of my nose. On Monday evening, I felt a shortness of breath, a symptom I’ve never experienced before. On Tuesday morning, I had an internet lesson. I just couldn’t talk without taking extra pauses to breathe.

I went to CityMD right after my lesson. When they saw I had no temperature, that my chest X ray was clear and there were no signs of pneumonia, the doctor visibly relaxed (since it didn’t look like I had coronavirus). She had no explanation for the shortness of breath, though, and suggested a CT scan at the ER to check for blood clots. The CT scan showed “early coronavirus” and pneumonia in both lungs. I was also given the actual test, which only came back today [March 20] (positive). I spent a couple days in the hospital, I guess mostly under observation as there wasn’t much that needed to be done for me…they did test my blood for oxygenation and found it was fine. So now I am home…taking the hydroxychloroquine tablets.

I thought I’d share this as I know the trajectory of my illness was not completely typical, and it can help some of you get tested/treated/go into quarantine earlier. And it absolutely made me see the importance of staying home and doing your part to slow the spread of this. Wish you all to stay healthy!”

You can read Irina’s full text on her mobile Facebook page.

Flightradar24

This is a global flight tracking service that provides you with real-time information about thousands of aircraft around the world. Flightradar24 tracks 180,000+ flights from 1,200+ airlines, flying to or from 4,000+ airports around the world, in real time. You can keep checking and see how the number of flights decreases, and make any travel arrangements you might be contemplating accordingly.

Vitamin D3

This is valuable advice I got from a highly respected (and conscientious) expert: Take Vitamin D3. I am following his advice and have passed it on to friends and colleagues, who are passing it on to others. Snowball effect.

Vitamin D3 (cholecalciferol) is responsible for increasing the absorption of calcium, magnesium, and phosphate. It has many other biological effects — like reducing the body’s ACE2 enzyme. All Coronaviruses, including Covid-19, attach to the ACE2 enzyme in human cells. Researcher have been trying prevent or alleviate Covid-19 infections with massive doses of Vitamin D3. They advocate increasing the D3 levels in your blood to over 50. The natural source for Vitamin D is sunlight on your skin. In winter in northern latitudes, with heavy clothing, this is a tad hard to come by. On the specific advice of my expert I am taking a high dose of D3 per day — and I augment this with capsules that contain Vitamin C, Quercetin, Zinc, each of which improves immune systems.

If you want to know the scientific background of what I am saying watch this video lecture by highly qualified Ivor Cummins. It is long and technical, but very convincing in its conclusions.

Positive feeling and humour

One other piece of advice from the experts that I adhere to is keeping your spirits up. In this global crisis there is certainly reason to be scared, and depressing news keeps coming hard and fast. This exacerbates your ability to cope. “Lower your stress,” says the New York Times.

“Worries about the coronavirus, the stock market and the general disruption of life have added to our stress levels. We know that stress also can make you more susceptible to respiratory illness — and other injuries as well. Did you know that marital or partner conflict is especially taxing to the immune system? In a series of studies, researchers at the Ohio State University inflicted small wounds on the arms of volunteers, and then asked the couples to discuss topics both pleasant and stressful. When couples argued, their wounds took, on average, a full day longer to heal than after the sessions in which the couples discussed something pleasant. Among couples who exhibited especially high levels of hostility, the wounds took two days longer to heal.” Source: New York Times.

So, in summary: you should react more calmly to the crisis than this!

Keeping calm and cheerful is what I am trying to do, and receiving daily assistance from my good friend Vladimir Kramnik, who shares my opinion, Vlady is similarly in lockdown with his family in his flat in Geneva. He never fails to send me (and probably other friends), once a day, some snippet of information or a cartoon that makes me smile, and lift my spirits. I want to share a small sample with you.

The fresco painting by Italian artist Michelangelo, appropriately modified
This is how you may have pictured yourself during an Apocalypse — and this is reality today
Protection? There is a world-wide obscession to stock up on — toilet paper, of all things!
Hey mum, when is this corona thing gonna be over? — Just shut up and eat your toilet paper.

Thanks, Vladimir, for helping us keep our spirits up!

See also:

Written by

Frederic Alois Friedel, born in 1945, science journalist, co-founder of ChessBase, studied Philosophy and Linguistics at the University of Hamburg and Oxford.

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