There is a virus abroad in the land. In this NH winter season, in the US alone, it has already caused an estimated 26 million illnesses, 250,000 hospitalizations and 14,000 deaths. It’s called influenza.
This LiveScience article asks the question How does the new coronavirus compare with the flu?
Chinese research indicates a mortality rate of around 2.3%. In the US the the death rate for the flu is typically around 0.1%, according to the NYT. It is possible that many in China contracting the virus were asymptomatic or had only mild symptoms that escaped identification. Sampling a whole population over a period of time will give more reliable figures. More recent estimates I’ve heard place mortality at around 1%, which still makes it 10 times more deadly than the flu.
This is the scary bit:
- In a more recent study, considered the largest on COVID-19 cases to date, researchers from the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Protection, analyzed 44,672 confirmed cases in China between Dec. 31, 09 and Feb. 11, 2020. Of those cases, 80.9% (or 36,160 cases) were considered mild, 13.8% (6,168 cases) severe and 4.7% (2,087) critical. “Critical cases were those that exhibited respiratory failure, septic shock, and/or multiple organ dysfunction/failure,” the researchers wrote in the paper published in China CDC Weekly.
In broad terms, 80% mild, 15% severe and 5% critical. Indications are that the old and those with other morbidities, such as diabetes, are more vulnerable. Young children and pregnant women are susceptible to cating the virus, but are said to be no more vulnerable than anyone else.
More bad news – You’re Likely to Get the Coronavirus.
Harvard epidemiology professor Marc Lipsitch:
- “I think the likely outcome is that it will ultimately not be containable.”
Lipsitch predicts that within the coming year, some 40 to 70 percent of people around the world will be infected with the virus that causes COVID-19. Which doesn’t mean they will all show symptoms. However, one of the features which makes COVID-19 so contagious is that peak virus load is early in the infection and is the same for those who are asymptomatic as it is for those who are sick.
Developing a vaccine is not simple. It costs hundreds of millions, has to be thoroughly trialled to make sure it causes more good than harm, and then needs to be manufactured and distributed at scale. Around 18 months to two years seems likely, which could mean that Australia will have two winter ‘flu seasons’ with COVID-19 rampant.
Expert opinion is that the virus will become an epidemic in Australia, it is just a matter of when. Dr Jeanette Young Chief medical Officer in Qld was plain and direct about this in an ABC interview yesterday. If you Google this article in the Oz it should open – Queensland health chief’s blunt coronavirus outbreak warning. Queensland is chipping in $20 million to clear operation waiting lists to free capacity.
There has been talk of commandeering hotel space, and using warehouses and stadiums for surge capacity. I found this extract in the WHO checklist for influenza pandemic preparedness planning
- Ensure that contact tracing, confinement and quarantine, if proposed, can be implemented both legally and practically. Define criteria for implementation and revocation:
- consider designation of places where persons can be held in quarantine;
- ensure medical care, food supply, social support and psychological assistance for these people;
- ensure adequate transport of persons to these places, and from thereto hospitals or mortuaries.
I wonder who exactly will “ensure medical care, food supply, social support and psychological assistance for these people” and who will be transporting people alive or dead, and how. Some of these things may happen more easily in a place like China.
Barrier training of the operatives will also be a factor.
Please note that compulsory confinement and quarantine is a standard practice, and can happen under our law. The makers of the ABC Four Corners program should have understood that.
Kevin Rudd has slammed the PM’s coronavirus response, suggesting an economic stimulus:
- “When looking at the economic impact, you can’t just look at the effect on countries where the virus is most prevalent, like China.
“You also need to consider the hit our major trading partners, most of whom also depend on China. All of that cascades back to Australia very quickly.”
- On Tuesday Mr Morrison told Australians the coronavirus outbreak was not like the Global Financial Crisis in 2008.
“This is not like a global financial crisis. This is a global health crisis,” said Mr Morrison.
“This is affecting global supply chains. It’s affecting the building industry, it’s affecting the manufacturing industry, it’s affecting our export industry. When planes aren’t coming in, planes aren’t going out.
“The bellies of those planes reason taking Australian produce into those markets.”
Sounds like a broad economic effect to me.
From the Asia Times:
From what I have heard many Asian countries and some European ones are already instituting stimulus measures. Our man is talking about limited, targeted stimuli for directly affected industries. That is not confidence inspiring, an important matter at these times. For example, Trump took over chief responsibility for engendering confidence when he found that his health officials were being frank and honest, substituting a communications strategy that was summed up thus:
I understand that funding to the Center for Disease Control had just been cut, including 80% of their global operation. The immediate result was an accelerated selloff on share markets around the world.
Incidentally, I think our own market was about 20% overvalued before the sell-off began. Unsurprisingly the stock that went up the most (one of only three in the ASX200) was Invocare. Their main business is funerals.
Countries are handling the emergency differently, so it will be interesting to monitor the outcome. Those that cause me alarm include Italy, Iran, India and Indonesia. Thailand, for example, is asking anyone who has recently travelled from a country which has had any incidence of the disease at all to self-isolate for two weeks. In a country where the dominant ethos is to maintain equanimity and to make merit by helping others, that might work.
By contrast, Iran kept its shrines open, thinking perhaps that the virus respected holiness.
Meanwhile in our household we have noted Jody Lanard and Peter M. Sandman’s – Past Time to Tell the Public: “It Will Probably Go Pandemic, and We Should All Prepare Now” (thankyou zoot for the link). We have started building a store of dry and canned foods, and are making sure that we are ahead with supplies of pharmaceuticals and other essential items. I have discovered that I gently scratch my face quite frequently. Just dry skin, I think.
I’ve heard that the hand sanitizers in small bottles that you can buy actually work, because they are mostly alcohol-based, which kills viruses. The Guardian has a commentary supporting that contention, but prefers washing hands with soap. They give full instructions.
For me, the received wisdom on masks is not so positive. What commonly happens, I’m told, is that if used too long they accumulate viruses on the outside. This accumulation is then likely to infect you if not properly handled in changing and disposal. However, I think we would use them if one in our household became infected, especially for the one infected.
The overall economic impact is unfathomable. Warwick McKibbin told Peter Martin and Gigi Foster on ABC RN that he used 25,000 equations to model the economic effect of SARS on Hong Kong. Tony Boyd’s Chanticleer column in the AFR reports that traffic is starting to increase again in Chinese cities, and steel consumption is back to 60% of normal. However, fear itself is a factor, and we may be doing ourselves more harm than good by an over-reaction. Certainly companies will now be building alternative supply chains for many goods, which may cost the consumer.
It is hard to see economic damage being contained to small proportions if schools are closed, sporting events and cultural performances cancelled, and if people generally avoid public places.
Insurance is problematic. One talk-back citizen reported a technology conference in Portugal with 110,000 booked participants being cancelled. They only way he could get insurance from his travel arrangements would be if the Australian government changed its travel advice.
McKibbin said the Chinese top epidemiologists are among the best on the planet. After a shaky start the Chinese have possibly performed like no other country could (where else would you see new large hospitals materialise before your eyes?) However, having gifted the virus to the world, and then perhaps containing it, the chances of then keeping it out in the longer term appear to me slight.
Johns Hopkins seems to provide the best statistical summary (zoot linked to it elsewhere) and now has an interesting interactive map where you can Watch the Coronavirus Cases Spread Across the World.
Stay calm and good luck!