The current economic topsy-turvy caused by the Corona virus is a worry, but for what it’s worth my view is there will be substantial corrections, even if Westpac says we are moving into recession and our Government is assembling a “stimulus package”. The behaviour of the stock market is evidence of simple panic and great ignorance, quite like the behaviour of the people who have stored great quantities of toilet paper in their garages. It is important to remember that external shocks like this one cause immediate reactions within the community. There will be dozens of medical teams searching for some kind of vaccine or anti-body, and within months there will be candidate vaccines ready to roll. Apparently there is one being trialled in Singapore already. A little more on this aspect later, but it is important to remember, too, the other pandemic scares in the last quarter-century: AIDS, SARS, bird flu, swine flu, Ebola and probably others I can’t remember. The public health agencies were able to contain them. Yet at the time there were fears they would sweep the world.
On the medical side the issue is simple: how scared should any of us be at the prospect of catching the disease? Read the papers, and things are “grim”. Every TV news session starts with “Coronavirus”, possibly because it sounds more worrying than the more technical “Covid-19”. Each infection reads like a crime, with hunters after the possible contacts. The tendency in the media reports is quite similar to other scares — “the worst is yet to come”. Doomer stuff, which the sensible searcher after real knowledge should pass by. Yes, we seem to love disaster movies, safe in the knowledge that it won’t happen to us. I should say firmly that I am not given to that genre at all. Give me Emma every time.
So whom should we take particular notice of? Larry Kummer, whom I do take some notice of, says we should listen to the World Health Organisation, which keeps count, and gives daily briefings. I think he’s right. Here’s what the Director-General of WHO said (in part) the other day at a press briefing. It was serious, but not panicky. I’m doing scissors-and-paste here.
There is now a total of 95,265 reported cases of COVID-19 globally. And 3,281 deaths. In the past 24 hours, China reported 143 cases. Most cases continue to be reported from Hubei province, and eight provinces have not reported any case in the last 14 days. Outside China, 2,055 cases were reported in 33 countries. Around 80% of those cases continue to come from just three countries.
We see encouraging signs from the Republic of Korea. The number of newly reported cases appears to be declining, and the cases that are being reported are being identified primarily from known clusters. Although a few countries are reporting large numbers of cases, 115 countries have not reported any cases. 21 countries have reported only one case, and five countries that had reported cases have not reported new cases in the past 14 days…
This epidemic can be pushed back, but only with a collective coordinated and comprehensive approach that engages the entire machinery of government. We’re calling on every country to act with speed, scale, and clear-minded determination…
The solution is aggressive preparedness…
If countries act aggressively to find, isolate, and treat cases, and to trace every contact, they can change the trajectory of this epidemic…
This is a serious disease. It’s not deadly to most people, but it can still kill. We’re all responsible for reducing our own risk of infection, and if we’re infected, for reducing our risk of infecting others. There is something all of us can do to protect vulnerable people in our communities.
So there it is. The WHO site is full of numbers and graphs and maps, for those who want more detail. Our Government seems to be doing what the WHO thinks it should do. We will see in time how effective that was, in comparison to other countries.
One of the intriguing aspects of this virus, as of them all, is that we don’t know a lot about it, though we do know quite a lot about viruses in general. Viruses are pesky little things, and they mutate. Corona viruses, four of them, are responsible for what we call the common cold. Our systems get sick, and in time our immune response kicks in and deals with the virus. Next year the common cold will be different, but the same thing will happen again. Developing an antibody to deal with the common cold is vitiated from the start because last year’s cold is not this year’s.
Influenza has the same problem. Yes, we dutifully accept our flu shots, and they work to a degree. But the coming winter’s flu will not be identical to that of 2019. There is quite a bit of guesswork involved in determining what to put in the flu shot for 2020. While we’re on the subject, 1137 people died from influenza in 2017, but fewer in 2018. That’s quite a lot of deaths from a virus, but we seem to expect something like that as normal, like deaths from road crashes.
Back to Covid-19. No small child has died of it yet, and there is some suggestion that kids shrug off the virus more easily than adults. A U-shaped curve is common in deaths from viruses, with the very young and the very old most at risk. It doesn’t seem to be the case here, and researchers are exploring why that may be so. The general death rate is around 2-3 per cent from those with the infection. That is, the great majority of those who fall to the virus subsequently recover from it. They do not seem to be contagious after recovery.
So what do we do about it? The advice that makes the most sense is to wash your hands carefully more frequently that you usually might, and be careful about whom you kiss! Person-to-person contact is the most powerful cause of infection, as is the case with all viruses, through the droplets that come with coughing and sneezing. So have a care for others when you cough or sneeze. If you develop the infection you will need to be in isolation for a time, but the overwhelming probability is that you will recover quickly and return to normal life.
How normal the life outside will be over the next months is moot. I simply have no idea, though to return to the beginning of this essay, I do not think we are at the beginning of the end of civilised society, whatever the headlines say. Things will be much the same. Yes, this epidemic is important, but it’s not going to kill us. If you want to keep up to date with developments, ignore the papers and the broadcasts, and read what WHO says.
Finally, I have no great knowledge in this area at all, and what I have written comes from careful sifting of what I could find on the Internet. My general outlook is positive and sceptical, as regular readers will know. Others may well take a gloomier view. So be it.