It’s all about the ventilators, right? That’s what they’ve been saying. The reason we’re decimating the economy and in totalitarian lockdown is so there are enough ventilators to go round when we hit peak demand. That’s why we have to flatten the curve, suppress the virus and all that: so that more lives can be saved because more of the seriously afflicted will have access to respiratory equipment when they need it.
So this is devastating. A life support specialist, Matt Strauss, writing in the Spectator this week explains that ventilators barely help, since preliminary data now shows that as many as 90 per cent of Covid-19 patients who go on life support die anyway. That’s right, ventilators only save 1 in 10 of those who are put on them. This means that for all the immense cost and effort we have gone to to ensure as many as possible have access to a ventilator if they need it, almost all of them die in any event.
‘”More ventilators” does not seem like the game-changer we seek,’ says Strauss, a critical care physician and assistant professor of medicine in Canada. ‘As a life support specialist, myself, I am greatly chagrined to admit this.’
It might seem scary to think that if you get the virus a ventilator is unlikely to help you. It’s worth remembering though that only the most serious cases require a ventilator. The vast majority are mild enough not to need any medical intervention.
How many? That’s the big question right now. While the high death tolls in Italy and Spain have driven panic about the virus’s advance, the evidence continues to mount that its true mortality rate is much closer to that of flu (around 0.1 per cent) and that many more have already had it than current reported figures show. The discrepancy comes because the number of cases reported depends on how many are tested and who is tested, while the number of deaths reported includes all those who die with the virus but not necessarily of the virus. In Italy, for example, all who die are tested and added to the coronavirus tally if they die with the virus. But many of those will not have died of the virus, and indeed it’s now been shown that only 12 per cent of reported ‘coronavirus deaths’ in the country actually had Covid-19 recorded on their death certificate as a direct cause of death.
So how widespread is it? According to a new study from Oxford University published this week more than half of the UK may already have been infected and the virus may have been circulating in the UK since mid-January, a month before the first reported cases. A separate study from Italy suggests that the majority of those infected show no symptoms, supporting earlier findings from the Diamond Princess cruise ship outbreak.
The chorus of medical experts taking up this theme and saying that the emperor has no clothes swells by the day.
Italian virologist Giulio Tarro has said that the mortality rate of Covid-19 is below 1 per cent even in Italy and is therefore comparable to flu. The higher values only arise, he says, because no distinction is made between deaths with and by Covid-19 and because the number of symptom-free infected persons is greatly underestimated.
German immunologist and toxicologist, Professor Stefan Hockertz, explains that Covid-19 is no more dangerous than flu, but that it is simply observed much more closely. He also notes that most so-called ‘corona deaths’ have in fact died of other causes while also testing positive for coronaviruses. Hockertz believes that up to ten times more people than reported already had Covid-19 but noticed nothing or very little.
Argentinian virologist and biochemist Pablo Goldschmidt explains that Covid-19 is no more dangerous than a bad cold or the flu. It is even possible, he suggests, that the Covid-19 virus circulated already in earlier years, but wasn’t discovered because no one was looking for it.
Even the authors of the Imperial College report that spooked the UK government into taking firmer action have now said that the peak of the epidemic may be just 2-3 weeks away and have drastically dialled down their predicted death toll. They credit the government’s actions as flattening the curve, but international evidence suggests that government action has little impact on the spread or severity of the virus in a country. Countries like Sweden and Japan that have taken relatively little action have not seen big outbreaks, while countries like Italy that have gone into lockdown have suffered badly. South Korea took moderate (though well-targeted) action and saw great success.
Sweden has pursued a more liberal strategy than most, based on two principles: high risk groups being protected and people with flu symptoms staying at home. Chief epidemiologist Anders Tegnell says, ‘If you follow these two rules, there is no need for further measures, the effect of which is only marginal anyway.’ Social and economic life continue normally, he says, and the big rush to hospitals has so far failed to materialise.
There are many mysteries still with this virus, many of which we hope will be solved in the coming months so we can be better prepared and protected in the future. But for now, it’s time to admit that the current strategy of locking everything down and sacrificing the economy in order to make sure everyone can have a ventilator if they need it is a dud, a huge expensive lemon. Ventilators only help 1 in 10 of the people who need them, and the deadliness of the disease appears to have been grossly overstated. We’ve sold the farm and ended up with precious little to show for it. Time to reverse.