Tuesday 17 March 2020

Oh let us never, never doubt what nobody is sure about

A wide range of opinions are confidently proffered on the virus, its provenance and its effects on economics and politics. That is without the exotic absurdity of the preposterous, crackpot theories that the virus is germ warfare developed by the CIA, the Chinese or (inevitably) Mossad. 

Israeli virologist Professor Jihad Bishara said on television that everyone should to calm down.
“I’ve been in this business for 30 years. I’ve been through MERS, SARS, Ebola, the first Gulf war and the second, and I don’t recall anything like this. There’s unnecessary, exaggerated panic. We have to calm people down.

“People are thinking that there’s a kind of virus, it’s in the air, it’s going to attack every one of us, and whoever is attacked is going to die.

“That’s not the way it is at all. It’s not in the air. Not everyone [who is infected] dies; most of them will get better and won’t even know they were sick, or will have a bit of mucus.

This is good to hear. So is this news item from Australia.

"University of Queensland Centre for Clinical Research director Professor David Paterson told news.com.au today they have seen two drugs used to treat other conditions can wipe out the virus in test tubes.

"He said one of the medications, given to some of the first people to test positive for COVID-19 in Australia, had already resulted in "disappearance of the virus" and complete recovery from the infection."

"One of the two medications is a HIV drug, which has been superseded by "newer generation" HIV drugs, and the other is an anti-malaria drug called chloroquine which is rarely used and "kept on the shelf now" due to resistance to malaria."
The Americans and Israelis are working on vaccines and hope to have them ready soon, but who knows when or whether they will be be found?

My hope was that warm weather would clear the virus away till the autumn, as it does flu, but there is bad news in a scientific paper from Harvard University, that argues that the virus won't go away when the warm weather comes. Let us hope the paper is wrong.

Why the huge discrepancies in reported mortality rates? The WHO mortality rate of 3% for Wuhan some weeks ago was obviously very wrong because it ignored the many people infected who were not reported. The real mortality rate seems to be one percent or less. Donald Trump's hunch was right.. 

In Italy I have read of mortality rates of 7% or 5% and different explanations are given for why they are so high, like an ageing population and pollution. Poor testing seems a much more likely explanation to me. 

The British Chief Scientific Adviser Sir Patrick Vallance today said he had no way of knowing but thought a mortality rate of 0.1% is his ball park estimate of how many will die in the UK. That is the mortality rate for normal flu.

A very heretical view was expressed a week or so ago by Wolfgang Wodarg, a German doctor and former SDP MP. He did not think more people were dying than die of flu in other years. He argued that the Coronavirus was a statistical anomaly due to over testing using the PCR test, but this does not explain why Italian hospitals are overwhelmed.

He makes what seem like good points about discrepancies in testing between countries but his conclusions seem to have been overtaken by events. His website has been blacklisted by Wikipedia.

58,000 people died of new flu strains in the UK two years ago, without anyone noticing. It would be good if as few as that died this time. The British Government's central estimate of total deaths from the virus and flu this year is 100,000 but let us hope it is less than 60,000, which would vindicate Dr Wodarg, though the death toll of 58,000 was an outlier.  But for now his words seem dangerously complacent.

Allison Pearson in the Daily Telegraph today makes a very good point about the usual numbers who die each year of flu.

"Normal influenza kills an average of 17,000 in England every year. That makes it sound like we’re over-reacting to this beastly Chinese interloper until you realise that those 17,000 people are already having to share just over 4,000 adult critical care beds. Quarantine will not be totally effective, but at least it will slow the rate of transmission, giving the health system more time to manage the load."


  1. A total of 75 U.S. residents have died from Covid-19 as of noon on March 16, 2020. Among these deaths, 48 occurred in the State of Washington, and at least 29 of them are associated with a single nursing home near Seattle.

    To put those figures in perspective:

    roughly 12,469 people in the U.S. died from the swine flu from April 12, 2009 to April 10, 2010. Unlike Covid-19, which mainly kills older people with preexisting health problems, 87% of people killed by the swine flu were under the age of 65.

    an average of 37,000 people in the U.S. have died from influenza (“the flu”) each year over the past nine years.
    about 67,000 people per year in the U.S. die from drug overdoses.

    around 170,000 people per year in the U.S. die from accidents.

    In summary, deaths from Covid-19 are now 0.03% of the annual fatalities from some typical causes of untimely death, including the flu, overdoses, and accidents.

    Vital Facts About Covid-19
    By James D. Agresti
    March 17, 2020

  2. I laugh at the crowd of armchair experts who think the Imperial College team has got it all wrong. The moment to stop panicking will be when the death curve for Britain stops shooting up.

    The news from China is no use for anything, you can’t believe a word Beijing says. And the Italians are all suffering from the disease of being Italian.