Following my post yesterday, I have been told the reason Covid-19 warrants such an extreme and costly response (one that itself puts millions of people at increased risk through isolation and destitution) is because its mortality rate and infection rate are both well above that of ordinary flu.
This is incorrect. In terms of the mortality rate, the government’s chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance has said that ‘a death rate of one fatality for every 1,000 cases was a “reasonable ballpark” figure, based on scientific modelling.’ This is 0.1 per cent, which is the same as flu.
There are viral flu epidemics every year. The US government estimates that last winter there were ‘at least 36 million flu illnesses, 370,000 hospitalizations and 22,000 deaths from flu.’ And that’s a pretty good year, apparently; some are much worse. According to official UK statistics more than 28,000 people died of flu in 2014. But we didn’t bat an eyelid (did you even know about it?), and we haven’t since then locked down our liberties, wrecked our economy or isolated our most vulnerable people every winter. Where is the sense of proportion?
Neither is coronavirus unusually infectious. The scientific model from Imperial College currently informing government policy is based on the experience in Italy and especially Lombardy and assumes exponential growth in infections. In fact, though, coronavirus has not shown signs of spreading at such a rate except in concentrated regions (Wuhan, Lombardy, London) for a short period of time.
Data from around the world suggest instead (so far) that new infections plateau after a week or two, and do not continue spreading everywhere (northern China and Singapore have not seen large outbreaks, for example). This appears to be largely independent of what measures are taken (though of course some are better than others, as South Korea has shown).
This pattern of infection makes coronavirus no bigger threat to human life than seasonal flu, and likely smaller (like SARS and avian flu before it). But even if it should turn out to be a somewhat larger threat, does it really warrant such an extraordinary response? All this economic damage, which harms real people and their jobs and livelihoods, and all this imposed isolation?
We can’t do this every time a flu-like virus does the rounds, even if it does sometimes turn out to be worse than the annual flu epidemic, which kills an estimated 650,000 every year.
We need to get a grip and get a sense of proportion back. Viruses go round. We need to be able to carry on regardless. Like we do every single winter.
‘Covid19 has so far been considered much more dangerous than the flu, particularly on the basis of data from the Chinese city of Wuhan. However, a new study by researchers from Japan and the US has now come to the conclusion that the mortality of Covid19 even in Wuhan was only 0.04% to 0.12% and therefore the same or even lower than that of seasonal flu, whose mortality is around 0.1%. As a reason for the apparently strongly overestimated mortality of Covid19, the researchers suspect that only a small part of the cases in Wuhan was initially recorded, since the disease probably remained symptomless or mild in many persons.’