Let’s be honest: the coronavirus pandemic, for that is what the mainstream news media is calling it, is a scary phenomenon. In order to take fear out of the equation let’s add a bit more fact to forecast where this is going.
I intend to take the publicly available numbers today – on 8th February 2020 – and provide a basic forecast for where the number of cases and deaths due to coronavirus may end up by 2nd April 2020.
First and foremost though: this is a tragic public health issue and one that world governments are frantically trying to come to terms with. WHO Director General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus has recently come out to stress that misinformation “is making the work of our heroic workers even harder.”
The intention here is to de-mystify the virus and to simply present an estimated end-result than is better than guessing.
Coronavirus Update for 8th February 2020
As of today there are 38,359 cases of coronavirus world-wide and there have been 815 total deaths. That’s much higher than when we wrote about the virus on 1st February 2020, when cases numbered 14,551 and there had been 304 deaths.
The problem is this: numbers are completely meaningless without context. How many deaths do you think there will be in a month? Three months? Ten months? Headlines in the news suggest there could be tens of thousands of deaths.
Coronavirus Total Cases and Total Deaths (February – April 2020)
What we really need to do is take the existing data and do some basic calculations to figure out the current growth rate in 1. Total number of cases and 2. Total number of deaths. Then take that data set and without much complicated effort project it into the future to understand where this might be headed.
Right away you can see that the growth rates have slowed significantly.
|Date||Total Cases||Total Deaths||Growth Rate||Death Rate|
The graph would suggest that the growth rate has picked up; however, it hasn’t, and despite a rising number of cases the growth rate is now 10%, compared to 55% on the 24th of January. There are similar figures for the death rate that again show it is slowing down in a fairly predictable fashion.
When you take these numbers and use a basic system for projecting them into the future, following two rules:
|1. Growth rate reduces by 51.6% every week based on the last 2 weeks from 24th January 2020|
|2. Death rate reduces by 49% every week based on the last 2 weeks from 24th January 2020|
What you find is that the coronavirus will virtually fizzle out by 2nd of April 2020.
Let’s look at the death rate (above). What on Earth? Why is it so small? Well, if you stayed awake during stats courses you would remember that it is best practice to keep graphs axes the same when comparing datasets. The first graph shows cases rising from 38,359 today to approximately 89,048 by the 2nd of April 2020. To be honest unless the growth rate changes that could turn out to be a very decent forecast. Remember, if we use the same scale for the second graph (100,000), then the final forecasted death roll is 2,555 and barely registers on the graph.
Here is what it looks like with a modified axis, which is no doubt what the news media use:
This suggests that the coronavirus death toll is going to pick up between the 8th of February and could very well reach 1900 by 20th February. We are in peak flu season, this virus is spreading across a bunch of cities and although slowing down the growth rate is still high. If it continues to drop like it has within the last two weeks, then you would expect to see a material slowdown by 24th February when the growth rate drops below 2%.
I think that rather than sensationalising what is happening, people should be focusing on the public health tragedy that coronavirus represents. If you are going to listen to the data that is widely reported, in terms of raw figures of cases and deaths, then remember that you need to view these numbers in context.
Instead of projecting forward, as many economists are doing, what the likely economic impact is going to be and talking about ‘great unknowns,’ we should be using our vast pools of data scientists and empirical evidence to figure out what the likely outcome is going to be and work towards eliminating the virus.
As of yet I haven’t seen anybody doing that. Instead, there has been a lot of hearsay and speculation about ‘what could happen.’
Perhaps this small contribution (which may turn out to be quite wide of the mark) will have the impact of raising the standard of factual reporting to a point where – at the very least – we try to use numbers and facts to determine what the likely outcome will be.