COVID-19 Growth Rate Trends

The number of confirmed COVID-19 cases has increased by this much daily (most recent three days average) in the following countries:

1) Korea: 1%
2) Japan: 5%
3) Italy: 14.2%
4) Spain: 22.8%
5) Germany: 26.8%
6) USA: 29.6%

Korea seems to be getting close to getting the epidemic under control. Patients who have officially recovered now outnumber new infections day by day. That is very encouraging.

Due to geographic proximity and economic relations with China, Japan was also one of the countries with early cases, many of them visitors to China. It crossed the 100 confirmed case threshold on February 22, one day before Italy, yet the outcome could not have been more different. Since then the case number doubled three times in Japan (about every 8 days on average) versus 8 times in Italy (about every 3 days). Confirmed case numbers can not always be taken at face value as they can be quite dependent on the amount of testing and most mild cases will most likely never be counted. There could easily be an order of magnitude more cases than listed in the official statistics. However, 28 deaths in Japan vs 2,503 in Italy (i.e. about 90 times more) suggests that there were actually hugely different outcomes in these two countries. Japanese infection case numbers have increased about 9 times since they were below 100 whereas in Italy they increased about 400-fold since that threshold. One would expect higher mortality in Italy once the medical system was stressed to limit and beyond. Quite plausibly Japan and Italy have been counting a similar percentage of actual cases, but case numbers have been growing much slower in Japan (9% daily average over 24 days) than in Italy (28% daily average over 23 days) and with less stress to the medical system, outcomes have been less lethal on top of numbers being smaller. With intensifying efforts at social distancing, Japan may be next at halting the spread for now. It will still be a difficult road.

Italy and Spain
In Italy the absolute number of daily new infections has been more or less flat for the last 4 days. As a percentage of existing cases it is now half of what it was about week ago, but as total numbers still tripled, the new cases are still at a peak, even if steady. In Spain too the daily increase as a percentage has slowed but like in Italy it has some way to go before it comes close to zero.

Germany and US
Neither in Germany nor in the US is there a clear drop in the daily case growth percentage yet. They are still in exponential growth. Hopefully self-isolation measures will bite soon.

Other numbers
Germany has 5 times as many respirators as France (25,000 vs 5,000).

Italy now has about half as many infections per million inhabitants (~500) than Hubei province, where Wuhan is located, had at the peak of the local outbreak (1,100 per million).


COVID-19 Growth Rate in USA and Italy

“And again, when you have 15 people, and the 15 within a couple of days is going to be down to close to zero, that’s a pretty good job we’ve done.”
(Donald Trump, Feb 26, 2020)

Looking at charts for the number of total COVID-19 cases in the US and in Italy, it looks like in the 11 days from March 1 to March 12, case numbers increased by an average of 33% per day in the US (75 to 1697).

A week earlier (February 22) Italy already had a similar number of cases and numbers have also been growing exponentially (79 to 1701 in 8 days, an average daily increase of 48%). The infection growth rate seems to have slowed to around 24% after quarantine in parts of Northern Italy and then a countrywide lock down on March 9 (1701 to 15113 cases in 11 days). Nevertheless, in some of the worst affected areas in Italy the health care system is already stressed to the breaking point.

Assuming the US case numbers keep increasing at 33% a day, it would exceed a million cases around April 4. At 24% it will happen a week later, on April 11. But regardless of the timing, if 5% of a million infected Americans were to need intensive care, that’s more than there are ICU beds in the entire US (and most of those are already in use, of course).

This is a very worrying picture. Obesity, high blood pressure and diabetes are known risk factors for severe outcomes of COVID-19 and these are highly common in the US. 45% of the US population over 45 are either obese or severely obese (both men and women). On top of that, some 25 million people in the US are not covered by any health insurance.

Worldometers Coronavirus data:
USA Coronavirus
Italy Coronavirus

How Taiwan handled the COVID-19 epidemic

As one country whose economy is closely entwined with mainland China, Taiwan was expected to take a major hit from COVID-19, but it appears the Taiwanese authorities’ response has been exemplary, resulting in a small number of infections (45 as of March 6) and only a single death so far.

Almost a million Taiwanese live in mainland China and close to 3 million Chinese a year visit Taiwan. China accounts for 23.9% of trade with Taiwan.

This report makes for fascinating reading on how quickly and efficiently the government dealt with the emergency:
Response to COVID-19 in Taiwan: Big Data Analytics, New Technology, and Proactive Testing

It helps to have competent people in charge:

In addition to daily press briefings by the minister of health and welfare the CECC, the vice president of Taiwan, a prominent epidemiologist, gave regular public service announcements broadcast from the office of the president and made available via the internet. These announcements included when and where to wear a mask, the importance of handwashing, and the danger of hoarding masks to prevent them from becoming unavailable to frontline health workers. The CECC also made plans to assist schools, businesses, and furloughed workers.

Many other countries could learn from Taiwan’s common-sense approach, yet the WHO does not even provide Taiwan with any information on the worldwide epidemic or allow its representatives to attend its conferences. That’s because the People’s Republic of China, a UN and WHO member, claims Taiwan as one of its provinces. The WHO expects Taiwan to receive all information from Beijing and report its findings that way too.

In the March 6, 2020 WHO Situation Report (PDF), the WHO lists Taiwan under “Taipei and environs” in a table on “Confirmed and suspected cases of COVID-19 acute respiratory disease reported by provinces, regions and cities in China”. Interestingly, all but three of the provinces listed there have far higher number of infections and those three have but a fraction of the population of Taiwan (e.g. Macao SAR has only 3% of the population but 22% of the number of infections of Taiwan; Hongkong SAR has 231% of the infections of Taiwan but only 32% of the population). Though it probably helps that Taiwan doesn’t have a land border with mainland China, it also has fewer infections than far away countries such as Norway or Spain that are 8 time zones away from China.

On March 1, the US Center for Disease Control (CDC) removed Taiwan from its list of countries with community spread of COVID-19.

What about COVID-19 in Turkey?

In stark contrast with the openness of the government in Taiwan, there has so far not been a single officially confirmed case in Turkey, which beggars belief considering that the WHO lists 15 countries in the Eastern Mediterranean region with COVID-19, including over 3500 confirmed cases and over 100 deaths in next-door Iran.

Turkey claims to have tested 940 individuals with symptoms by March 3 but that every one of them tested negative. The same day, a passenger on a Turkish Airlines flight to Singapore tested positive for COVID-19. It was a French Citizen transiting through Istanbul from Europe. By March 5, Turkey claims to have tested 1,363 persons, still all negative. Turkey claims to have developed its own corona virus test.

Closing the land borders to Iran and Iraq as happened on February 23 could be like shutting the barn door after the horse has bolted.

Also, almost 300,000 Chinese tourists visited Turkey in the first eight months of 2019 alone. And therein may lie the rub: The Turkish economy is highly dependent on tourism. If Turkey were to share Italy’s fate with hundreds of counted cases, it would deal a heavy blow to an important source of foreign currency and employment, which would weaken President Erdoğan’s grip on power.

But if infections have been spreading in Turkey, which I suspect is highly likely, it will not be possible to hush it up forever. Viruses don’t tend to respect authoritarian politicians’ sensibilities.

Test-driving a Tesla Model 3 in Tokyo

Recently my son Shintaro and I went to the Tesla showroom in Aoyama, Tokyo to take a Tesla Model 3 for a test drive. I wanted to see for myself how this electric vehicle compared to my almost 12 year old Prius hybrid and to be able to compare it to future EVs from other brands that we may eventually consider.

I’d noticed an increasing number of Teslas around Tokyo, though they’re still far rarer than around the San Francisco bay area. Given that much of Japan is densely populated, range anxiety (an often cited reason for slow electrification) should be less of an issue here compared to the US, particularly with cars that already have over 400 km of range.

I love the practicality of the rear hatch of my Prius that allows me to carry two road bikes without disassembly by simply folding the rear seats. The Tesla Model 3 has a much less accessible trunk, which pretty much rules it out for me. The Model Y will be more practical, but is also even bigger. Apparently it won’t be available in Japan until a year or two after it starts shipping in the US this month (March 2020).

Tesla’s models are quite large by Japanese standards, with implications for parking and for driving on narrow back streets. For example, these are the dimensions of the Tesla Model 3 vs. the current generation Toyota Prius (XW50):

Length: 4690 / 4570 (+120 mm)
Width: 1850 / 1760 (+90 mm)
Height: 1440 / 1470 (-30 mm)

Exact numbers for the Model Y aren’t available yet, but it’s expected to be about the same width but about 1600 mm tall (160 mm taller than the Prius).

The test drive was an unusual experience by Japanese standards. Somebody had mentioned that the dealer experience with Tesla is more like visiting an Apple store than a traditional dealer showroom. I’d say the difference was even greater.

Customer service expectations in Japan are incredibly high and that is probably one factor for Tesla’s relatively sluggish sales here, see a recent Japan Times article.

Shintaro had tried to make the reservation online and was promised a callback within 48 hours, but that never happened so he had to call again to fix up an appointment.

Even when I take my Prius to an oil change at a local gas station, I’ll be served a cup of coffee while I wait. By contrast, when we visited the Tesla showroom to evaluate a JPY 5,100,000 (USD 48,000) car, all we received was a business card of the sales person. They don’t even give you paper brochures. You can look it all up on the website, right?

Before the test drive they took photo copies of our drivers licenses. We were instructed not to take any pictures and to follow the rules of the road. We would be liable for any incidental damage to the car during the test drive. Then we got into the car parked by the roadside outside the showroom, first as passengers, then later taking turns driving it around Akasaka.

I liked the seats, which were nice and firm. The acceleration when you put your foot down is amazing. It feels like a big car but with enough power for its weight. Getting back into the Prius later, it felt quite light by comparison, by which I don’t mean acceleration but it simply feels like a lot less metal being moved around. It tips the scales at about 280 kg less than the base Model 3 (1335 kg vs. 1612 kg).

Some of the controls took some getting used to, such as the lever action of the indicator stalk (which is on the left unlike in Japanese cars) or putting the car into park or into drive with the right stalk. Much of the demonstration involved showing the use of the center screen and its user interface. Many of the functions of the car, such as the electrically assisted steering or the regenerative breaking can be tweaked there, to change the feel of the car.

Headroom in the Tesla was good but personally I don’t much care for the glass roof. In a roll-over accident I would feel safer with a steel roof, but maybe those are not so likely with the low center of gravity afforded by the floor-based battery. The car interior felt overheated when we got into it and no fan was blowing, but I only asked about fan control towards the end of my driving portion. In any other car I would have easily figured it out on my own.

Checking out the trunk and the “frunk” (front trunk) after we got out of the car, the limited access for bulky luggage from the rear was quite a contrast to our Prius, in which we regularly move large items from a DIY center or bicycles for cycling tours far from Tokyo. The Model Y will address that, but it’s also 160 mm taller than the Prius on top of being 90 mm wider like the Model 3. That’s more air resistance and more kWh used to overcome it. That’s one thing I love about the Prius, it offers all this interior space despite being compact and efficient on the outside. 🙂

The width would already make a Model 3 or Model Y a very tight fit in our driveway. We would also have to figure out if there’s enough clearance around the car to plug in the charging cable for overnight charging.

In summary, Tesla’s range of cars is not an easy sell for me as a Japanese customer. While they have great technology, some of the design choices are not a good fit for Japan and the customer experience when dealing with the company (especially given the price range) will not match a lot of cultural expectations.

UPDATE (2020-03-19):

Size information has finally been released for the Model Y. These are the exterior dimensions compared to my current Prius:

Length: 4751 / 4570 (+181 mm)
Width: 1921 / 1760 (+161 mm)
Height: 1624 / 1470 (+154 mm)

Given the width and height it looks like it has roughly 20% more frontal area than the Prius which will impact its air resistance and hence energy usage at freeway speeds.