As you are probably all aware from the news, both France and UK have now entered “Phase 3” alert level of the epidemic. This is a significant step as it means that both governments believe that the epidemic cannot be stopped anymore, and that measures are now taken to limit the consequences rather than containing the virus.
From next week, we will be taking measures as well, mainly:
- Having everyone work remotely, while we will adapt our weekly schedule to allow more teams calls interactions between all team members.
- Recommend against having face-to-face meetings
- Avoiding events, bearing in mind we have already cancelled ours
- Limiting travel to the maximum, also for personal reasons
Other main day-to-day advice from the Ministry of Health also include the following:
- Wash your hands frequently with soap and water for at least 20 seconds and/or use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands
- Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue or sleeve when coughing or sneezing. Discard tissue immediately into a closed bin.
- Avoid close contact with people who are sick or have any symptoms
- Stay home when you are sick or have any symptoms
- Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces.
- More generally, social distancing is also recommended
However, the core of the message is really to ask you not to panic -it is a manageable crisis- and act responsibly, not just for yourself, but mostly for your relatives and your neighbours that you may not even know. There are tons of misinformation circulating around us. We feel it is important that you are fully aware of what is best to do, but also able to communicate it to others around you. Because it is our collective behaviour that will determine the course of the epidemic.
In our team, we are -at least in the short term- privileged to belong to the least impacted age class. Even if we get infected, we would probably just face a tough two weeks of unpleasant flu symptoms. But this may not be the case for people around you that you can infect. We all have parents, grand-parents and people living around us who are over 70, where the mortality rate is over 10–15%.
The rest of my message is about the guidelines, presented as a list of the most commonly asked questions with fact-checked answers. I have no doubt you already know those but can also help you convince people around you.
As fact-checking is a constant effort, it is important as well for you to fact-check all of those points yourself as well as assessing the risks of each answer if you were to put into practise. While I made the effort to check everything, part of it remains my unchecked personal opinion.
If you have any question regarding the matter, you can contact me via email or WhatsApp as I will be the main referent. Non-private matters can be discussed on the corresponding Teams channel!
The document will be shared on Medium as well, not for marketing purpose (we wont relay it on Social Media as it is not the goal) but more for you to forward the link to people around you who may surrender to anxiety.
Why so much fuss? Few thousands people infected, that’s nothing!
- Few thousands today but the number of confirmed cases in each country follows an exponential curve, the type of perfect exponential curve I wish to see only in our start-ups’ revenue.
- The countries where we invest the most actively (FR, UK, GER, US, ISR is too early to see as of today) have an average growth rate of 22% per day, and this is without the unconfirmed cases (people who haven’t been tested or carrying the virus without knowing).
- This means that, if this rate is maintained (hypothetically), France and Germany will be in the same state as Italy less than a week from now. From 2876 cases in France as of today (12/03/20), the number may grow to 100k in less than 20 days, 1m in about a month.
- On top of that, models about virus propagation have been studied for years and they all predict quite well what is likely to happen if nothing is done
Ok, but it is not much different than flu so what is the matter even if we get infected?
- It kills much more than flu, and symptoms are also much more serious
- In the best case, it is 14 times more deadly than flu (1.4% mortality rate, from the earlier clinical studies in China compared to 0.1% for seasonal flu).
- It is however higher in most countries, on average 3.4% across the world up to 5% in Italy, where death toll is higher due to a higher number of elderly people
- Even in other cases, symptoms are much more serious. About 18.5% of the cases are severe enough to be hospitalised, with often respiratory failure, dangerously low blood pressure or immune system wipe out (and this is not just the elder ones).
- It is also 3 times more contagious than seasonal flu
- Last but not the least, it is a new disease, meaning that there is no cure nor vaccine. It may take at least a year to get the first one. We dont know how it may mutate in the near future.
Can this be stopped?
- Yes and no…
- Technically yes, some countries are nearly there but at the price of drastic measures such as total lock down.
- In China, very early city-wide lock down, aggressive use of quarantine, conversion of any available space into usable healthcare centres as well as social distancing have nearly stopped the expansion of the epidemic in Wuhan [The Guardian: How did CChina get grips with coronavirus].
- Regardless if you believe the Chinese figures or not (this is not the debate here), South Korea is another good example where the peak seems to be in sight. They have been tracking down proactively and testing all people who were at risk of being contaminated regardless if they show symptoms or not. South Korea run the most tests of all countries apart from China. Yet, culture and personal behaviour is the key aspect in stopping the virus, and it is difficult even in disciplined countries like Korea as this much publicised piece of news shows [How one patient turned South Korea’s virus outbreak into an epidemic].
- And this is where it gets complicated for us, Westerners. Fundamentally, talking about France here, we are a country that likes wine, good food and active socialising. We also love hugging and kissing, arguing and rebelling against everything we slightly disagree with. In short, everything we like, the coronavirus does as well.
- So stopping the epidemic is unlikely in Europe. In fact, France and UK just announced phase 3 of the epidemic today
So basically, phase 3 is next… but what is phase 3?
Phase 3 is the phase where the country is preparing for a nationwide epidemic, the priority being shifted from containing the virus to ensuring that the healthcare system can cope with it.
- This is now a critical phase. Underreacting means that you would take the risk to propagate the virus even more but overreacting means that you will put in even more pressure doctors, nurses and hospitals, who are already in first line
- The goal now is to flatten the curve for the healthcare system not to collapse. You can contribute to that by (1) Not getting infected yourself, and (2) Not spamming the helpline if you are among the mild cases. Remember, doctors, nurses and all medical professionals are there to make it work but they are also the most at risk.
Ok, so now I am worried. Let’s buy all the face masks I can find!
- Precisely not a good thing to do. Buy one or two, especially if you get sick yourself (coronavirus or not) but not more than this
- First, face masks are currently out of stock because people have frenetically bought them. Yet, they are the most useful for people who are the most exposed, i.e. doctors, nurses and other medical personnel.
- Second, because they are less useful if you are healthy anyway. In fact, they are mostly efficient to prevent you from contaminating others if you are sick by capturing droplets that you release when you sneeze on someone else (slurp). It also reduces the infection chances but can’t completely stop the virus from entering through the eyes for instance.
How about buying all the hand sanitisers?
- Washing your hands reduces by a lot transmission risks but same, no need to mass buy stuff…
- In fact, the most efficient is basic soap (sodium stearate and/or glycerine) and water. It removes fat, dirt as well as most micro-organisms
- Hydroalcoholic gel (60–70% alcohol + hydrogen peroxide) is another way and are now widely available in pharmacies. It kills everything… but it doesn’t remove dirt or fat so the efficiency is reduced if your hands are dirty in the first place
- Beware of “anti-bacterial” hand sanitisers (the most commonly found). If they don’t contain alcohol and/or hydrogen peroxide, they will be likely able to kill bacterias, not viruses, as their name suggests…
Ok, but how about something really vital. Can I buy all the toilet paper available?
- You don’t poop nor pee more during epidemics. Panic buying would only make the life of those who really run out of toilet paper miserable. Plus there is no big risk of long term shortage, the toilet paper supply chain is reactive and resilient.
- Worst case, some start-ups are working really well right now. There are no stupid ideas, it’s all about timing they say…
How about mass gathering?
- Most countries except the UK have banned mass gathering from a certain number of people (100 people in France). UK has made a unique choice different from other EU countries claiming that it strictly followed scientific facts. This is kind of debatable. Most evidence from the impact of mass gathering on epidemic comes from past epidemic events (including 2009’s H1N1) who have been limited in scale compared to COVID-19. UK’s own Department of Health suggested in older reports that the impact of mass gathering could vary from none to huge depending on the typology of the events, recommending that precautionary principles should apply.
- So avoid unnecessary gathering and keep social distance for the time being!
- In any case, is it worth putting your lives at risk for this: [France beats the world record during the Smurf Festival, amid fears of coronavirus]?
The most important: what to do if I am sick?
- It is important to read the recommendations of the countries respective governments as well as the directives given to healthcare professionals to understand how they have been asked to react.
- In the UK, it is important to understand that testing is not a priority anymore and will be systematically denied if one has not been in contact with someone that has been confirmed positive, or who just came back from more exposed areas such as Italy. Mild cases are recommended to stay at home in order to allow the NHS to treat the more serious cases, without even calling 111. More details here.
- In France, guidelines still ask sick people to signal themselves to SAMU (15) but recommend as well to not go to the GP or emergency. Telemedicine, however, is recommended and facilitated by a recent décret (no need to get approval from GP anymore in order to get online consultation). More details here.
What if I just came back from an infected area but feel good?
- Self-quarantine yourself for 14 days. Many people can be asymptomatic but in fact, infected and contagious without even knowing
- Don’t put others at risk!
And what if this is a big complot financed by Paris St Germain so they don’t have to loose in Champion’s League quarterfinals this year again?
Do you want to bet the life of your grand-parents, parents and children on this?
Business-wise, what should I do?
It is tough time ahead but the short-term priority is safety
- We recommend working from home and staying at home whenever possible, avoid gatherings, also on small numbers, following the same guidelines as we provided at the beginning
- Our business activity should continue as usual, we will turn face meetings into video conferences and adapt as much as possible as the situation imposes.
- On the investment team side: focus on deal flow, most relevant opportunities, also initial scouting could be more efficient as people might stay away from travelling, hence more available for calls and video interactions; focus as well on progressing on research activities, like MR and IT as well as articles as the social media activity we suspect will increase in the next weeks — i.e. more audience
- On our start-ups side, we will focus on making sure they stay safe with their employees and help them manage their cash burn and cash flow projections.
- For Fab, we will focus on maintaining project or prospect meetings that can be done remotely and leverage the opportunity of more free time to push business development actions (emails, calls, presence on social networks, planification of physical meetings for end S1, formalization of thought leadership)
- Each team, investors relations, operations and Fab should keep focussing on their business and agendas and see internally if focus and priorities will need to adapt to the new situation
Finance-wise for our start-ups, it will be difficult as well
I won’t be paraphrasing Sequoia, this piece explains it well. I would only add on top of that, that many series A+ investors will be momentarily pause their investment because valuations highly depend on revenue forecasts, which mean nothing right now…
But most importantly, there are measures that can temporarily mitigate the economic downturn.
- Postponing corporate tax and employers social contribution
- Extension of business loans through BPI
- Chomage partiel
Useful links are there:
For the UK:
Nothing specific has been announced yet but we will monitor carefully the space and give updates.
Board members and Observers
It is the responsibility of the Board Members and Observers to make sure that the start-ups they are following are properly informed, as well as actioning the measures that can help them pass this crisis. It is not a period with business as usual, but of crisis management.
How long will this last
We don’t know where the peak is yet… UK PM has announced that the epidemic should peak around June and tail out towards the end of the summer. So it is likely that it will still last for a while.
In France, the Government has taken more stringent measures but no complete lockdown such as Italy mainly to not scare people and provoke large population movements. There is a chance that this happens though, in a couple of weeks’ time if the epidemic keeps spreading at the same speed.
From beginning of April, we will see the first impact of the measures from Italy, this will give us an idea of the impact (positive or null) of the measures taken there.
So let’s stay safe and don’t take any unnecessary risk as the impact of this pandemic spread is still yet to see.