I have to credit my wife with bringing to light several facts about Covid-19 that have provided perspective on the disease and its spread across the globe.
The Covid-19 virus is not a black box, and we know a lot about it already.
The news volume has been turned completely up, full volume, and it is unnerving. What I would like to do is provide a very short update on the facts and why we need to be extremely cautious in the 21st century regarding what we read and how we disseminate what we read in the mainstream media.
The world is, sadly, full of misinformation and we need to critically assess the content in ways we haven’t before. There is no doubting that Covid-19 is a public health crisis and we need to be vigilant – but let’s not lose our heads, and let’s keep calm.
Narrative Economics – Covid-19 is a Panic Meme
The graph should be fairly self-explanatory: the coronavirus has absolutely overtaken any other outbreak when measured against how many times it has been mentioned in the news media. This is fascinating, because with Google, and the information economy, you can actually quite accurately track the spread of “viral messages” and “memes”. The news has completely drowned out anything else and capitalised off of spreading fear about the virus.
SARS and MERS were over 12 times more deadly, but we simply did not get the coverage we are now faced with.
Daily Fatality Rates Due to Diseases
As of three days ago, these are the figures for the average number of fatalities across the world for the coronavirus. Compared to 17 other diseases the Covid-19 outbreak looks very mild. It certainly could get worse and become a pandemic that stays with the world. That being said: it isn’t a done deal, and in fact, diseases like Tuberculosis are significantly more virulent (spread more) and deadly (higher fatality rate). When’s the last time you read an article about tuberculosis?
Contagiousness and Fatality Rates
Here is an estimated rate (orange dotted box) for the transmission rate and fatality rate of the virus. Depending on your age and risk factors the fatality rate varies – it is somewhere between 0.7% and 3.4% on average. The more people we find who have had the virus but not been tested, the lower that fatality rate becomes. Often it can be years before the medical experts have a conclusive fatality rate. In terms of transmissibility (horizontal axis), the rate of transmission is 1.5 to 3.5 people infected for every one person who has the virus. Remember the norovirus? Ever had measles or chickenpox? Those three diseases spread much, much faster.
Look After the Elderly
Those over the age of 60 are most at risk. Between the ages of 10 and 49, the fatality rate is very low, and it is further low still when you take into account whether you smoke or have diabetes. The point here is that this isn’t simply a disease that threatens everybody – we need to be taking care of the elderly and ensuring that those with significant risk factors, above all else, are not exposed to the disease over the next 2-3 months.
What is the Severity of Covid-19?
There is of course serious risk to the over 60s and especially those with pre-existing conditions. That being said over 80.9% of people get mild, flu-like symptoms and need to stay at home until they get better. That’s the same advice and approach that we have taken to flu since as long as I can remember.
The news is bad. The WHO director general announced yesterday that Covid-19 is officially a world-wide pandemic. Yesterday evening Donald Trump held a disastrous press conference where he unilaterally put a travel ban on Europe, without consulting his partners, and he mistakenly said that he was banning cargo and transport plans (something he later walked back on Twitter).
There are 129,347 cases and 4749 deaths up to 12th March 2020. German chancellor Angela Merkel has come out to suggest that she believes upwards of 60-70% of the population will eventually get the disease.
However, as we’ve discussed, a balanced and measured view needs to be taken when it comes to the spread of this virus. We have to take the following into account:
- Covid-19 is disproportionately covered in the news media, intensifying the fear and panic
- Disease deaths per day is still dwarfed by 17 other diseases, including HIV, tuberculosis, and pneumonia
- It is more contagious and deadly than the common flu, but much less so than other diseases
- The over-60s age bracket is disproportionately at risk: look after the elderly and those with pre-existing conditions
- Only 4.7% of people experience critical symptoms
The time has come to take a disciplined and measured approach to the outbreak – and stay calm!
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