Like you and many others, I find myself spending long hours glued to media, reading news about the coronavirus and the increasingly draconian measures that are being passed to combat the pandemic.
In this hour of disruption and panic, I want to send you a message of hope and reassurance, together with some hard facts as we know them.
COVID-19 is a new strain of coronavirus that includes the common flu, as well as the flu types in previous outbreaks: Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) and the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS).
The danger occurs if the disease spreads to the lungs. It does so by causing inflammation and impairing the flow of oxygen to the lungs. This can result in pneumonia, and in severe cases requires the patient to be put on a respirator for assisted breathing. Kidney failure may also occur.
The advanced symptoms of COVID-19 are severe: high fever, pain and intense coughing. On average, the severe symptoms manifest themselves 4-6 days after first contracting the virus. But most infected people do not enter the severe stage.
Death may occur at this stage. Patients may develop Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome, where the lungs fill with fluid, leading to death. Patients with heart conditions or other ailments may find these exacerbated by the pneumonia, also leading to death.
I don’t know about you, but I’ve had severe pneumonia twice and survived. How? The usual: antibiotics, aspirin (for the headache and fever-induced pain), warm fluids and bedrest.
My point is: don’t panic. The measures various governments have introduced are necessary from the viewpoint of safeguarding public health in the absence of a vaccine, and in the absence of lots of intensive care beds in the hospital system.
The reasons governments are implementing these “lockdown” policies are because:
They are unsure what the transmission rate of the disease is, i.e. how rapidly and effectively it transmits from one infected person to other, non-infected ones, and
They are unsure what the severity and fatality rates are. Assuming a 5% severity rate means that hospital intensive care units will be swamped in every country.
A recent article about the outbreak in Italy states that:
About half of those known to be infected in Italy have no symptoms. But when symptoms appear, they do so quickly. About 9% of known positive cases in Italy require intensive care, and the death rate hovers around 6.5%. For those in their 80s, it’s 19%.
One study of COVID-19 patients in China shows a severity rate of about 16%.
Most scientific advisors are probably using statistical models pointing to a minimum 60% transmission rate, 6-8% severity rate, and 1% fatality rate. You can see how such a model might affect the population of the United States here.
A detailed analysis and explanation of the statistical models used by Nial Ferguson and colleagues at Imperial College, London, can be found here. The Imperial research team is advising Boris Johnson on the pandemic, and recently suggested that 20,000 deaths in the UK might be a lucky scenario.
In the absence of facts, erring on the point of caution may be irritating and cause widespread economic damage, but we simply don’t have a better choice right now.
I do believe, however, that countries which have taken measures early and stuck to them will see the virus transmission “burn out” before doing too much harm.
The rapid decline of virus transmission in China, where a densely-populated country of 1.3 billion inhabitants restricted the spread to about 80,000 cases, indicates this.
Michael Levitt, a Nobel Prize-winning biophysicist, makes some useful points about how these models may be wrong. Levitt predicts that the virus will burn out sooner than we think:
When Levitt started analyzing the data on February 1, Hubei had 1,800 new cases each day and within six days this number reached 4,700, he said. “And then, on February 7, the number of new infections started to drop linearly and did not stop. A week later, the same happened with the number of the deaths. This dramatic change in the curve marked the median point and enabled better prediction of when the pandemic will end. Based on that, I concluded that the situation in all of China will improve within two weeks. And, indeed, now there are very few new infection cases.”
Look at the good news from China:
So, live your life as best as possible under the circumstances:
Drink tea and warm fluids (including warm water);
Wash your hands regularly throughout the day;
Don’t touch your lips, nose, eyes or any part of your face (or anyone else’s face);
Keep your distance from other people as far as is reasonable;
Disinfect or avoid surfaces likely to host the virus: don’t touch other people’s mobile phones or computer keyboards, for example;
Keep your morale up.
Don’t overdose on social media: we simply don’t have the right answers to the right questions now, so anything we think now is probably speculation.
There are an absurd number of conspiracy theories and fake news distributed through media of all kinds. If you are a news addict like me, restrict yourself to serious channels.
If we can be of any assistance, please contact us by email or reach out to me on my cell or Skype. I’m in Cyprus for the duration of the pandemic.
Wishing you, your family and your colleagues all the best!
What is the Coronavirus?
Clinical Analysis of Coronavirus Samples in China
How Coronavirus Spreads
Danger to Lungs
How to treat Pneumonia
Survivor’s Account of Coronavirus
Coronavirus Resources Centre
Life in Italy
Modelling the Coronavirus Transmission and Fatality Rate
Imperial College COVID-19 Analysis
Michael Levitt – The Coronavirus will Burn Out