Thursday, January 30, 2020

New coronavirus is effectively just a new disease between common flu and SARS

Six days ago, I wrote a text titled I don't believe that this coronavirus is new. My reasoning was simple: that statement about the "age in weeks" depended on the assumption that all infections are mapped quickly which seems implausible. And indeed, a few days later, a Lancet study was advertised that said that the virus and/or the Covid-19 disease is from October or older. I would guess it's even older but my certainty about such claims decreases as you increase the proposed age.



Respiratory illnesses apparently existed in the 1980s, even in songs LOL. I think that during communism, we had access e.g. to this Italo Disco music (band: Scotch) that was much easier than the access of youth to things from Russia today, for example. The fanaticism of censors has already surpassed the late communist levels. By the way, because the song above is Italy Disco, I predict that by March, China will already be almost completely cured and many more people (hundreds per day) will be dying in Italy. They're good at coughing.

It's also possible, as I pointed out, that the coronavirus was engineered as a Chinese bioweapon; an Israeli analyst and others joined me days later, too. If that highly speculative scenario is true, I must say that the Chinese are very humane folks because, as I want to argue, its effects really make it equivalent to another strain of flu. But to donate a "new kind of flu" to the enemy's army could be a rather effective part of the warfare, too, at least psychologically.

Whether "we should panic" is clearly the most divisive question right now.



So I've seen some folks – on our political side – who accuse the Chinese authorities of completely lying about the state of the disease. On the other hand, sometimes the very same people (!) are telling us that the wise Chinese communist comrades surely have very good reasons why they're locking whole cities and regions. ;-)

The inconsistency of this "trust untrust" in the Chinese officials is self-evident but what is consistent is these people's desire to make people hysterical. At the end, many of them – regardless of their political attitudes demonstrated elsewhere – are making living as publicists and the fabrication of hysteria is a simple method for this occupation to increase its income!



I am clearly among those who believe that the hysteria is unjustified. Of course, I am far from alone. You may find lots of articles along the same lines, e.g.:

* Don’t Worry About The Coronavirus. Worry About The Flu (Buzzfeednews)
* With 8,000-Plus Deaths in U.S. Alone, Flu Far More Deadly Than Coronavirus (Weather.com)
* Why we panic about coronavirus, but not the flu

and many more. A pro-panic guy told me that the coronavirus is surely much worse than flu because people need to be hospitalized while you may stay at home if you contract flu. This is a typical Modia-not-Mundia argument because it claims to prove something about natural sciences – about the severity of a disease in this case – but in reality, it only measures something about the people's beliefs.

There are good reasons to be careful and to isolate the infected people because we don't know the new disease too well and there could be a surprise that would be very harmful for nations or mankind. But the knowledge grows every day and the knowledge increasingly confirms the view that the coronavirus disease is effectively no different from something like flu.

This worldometers.info page contains lots of useful numbers that immediately fill a quantatively thinking people like us with a sensible perspective. 7848 cases have been reported and 170 people died. Now, the really important is the number 170. The number of infected cases could indeed be much higher, perhaps 100,000, but if 170 is right, it means that the mortality rate is even lower than we think now.

The simple ratio 170/7848 is equal to just 2.2%. You may say that the mortality rate is actually much higher because many people from those 7848 will die in coming days. That's nice but in coming days, the number 7848 will also increase further. The current doubling time is comparable to 3 days, both for the infected people and the fatalities. The real question is whether the ratio "fatalities over cases" will substantially deviate from 2% in the future.

I don't see clear signs that it's going to happen. The page I mentioned quotes the estimated mortality rate as 2.4%. That's much higher than the seasonal flu whose mortality rate is just 0.01% (one death per 10,000 infected people). But it's the same as the bird flu and much lower than for SARS (10% in China plus Hong-Kong but 4% globally) or MERS (34%). According to this parameter, the new coronavirus is just a new species in between the mundane diseases and those more severe ones that were hyped in the recent past.

That page mentions that aside from the mortality rate, the other important parameter is R0 (r-nought or r-zero) which is the average number of people who catch the disease from an infected one. This is close to 2 for the coronavirus as well as SARS while common flu has 1.3 which is not too much smaller. This parameter is shaky because it really depends on how much people avoid the contact, on the degree of precaution etc. That degree depends both on the policies and the degree of fear in the society as well as the ability of the disease to hide the symptoms while it is already contagious.

Well, given the anxiety and hype, I think that people are shielding themselves from the disease much more than they're shielding themselves against common flu. They know what to expect. They know that tourists who come from China or especially the Wuhan region represent more risk. Even a Chinese woman in the subway means an elevated risk. I think that this behavior already brings R0 – which mainly decides about the direction and speed of the exponential trend – close to the parameters of the flu.

The 2002-2003 SARS (a horseshoe bat flu) has claimed 774 lives out of 8,098 cases. As I said, the mortality was 10% in China plus Hong Kong but just 4% globally. I would guess that the main reason of the higher Chinese mortality rate is that their hospitals were running out of capacity while the more diluted cases elsewhere were an easier job for the physicians.

Already five days ago, RT informed about the dozens of patients who were cured, about the same number as fatalities. So it is possible to survive, making it almost certain that mankind can't go extinct. ;-) But I am sure that the number of cured patients is vastly higher by now and has already outnumbered the fatalities very clearly. I would like to know the fresh numbers.

The worldsometer page says that due to flu complications, 300,000-700,000 people die globally every year. Relatively to that, the coronavirus' 170 fatalities are negligible. There will probably be a few more doublings of the coronavirus but there will come a day (in 2020, I am almost sure) in which the deaths per day peak and the total deaths will stay well below those "half a million" annually claimed by the common flu. And I think that by the end of 2020, we will also have a vaccine against the coronavirus.

I think that the protection against the likely infection is a wonderful challenge for intelligent algorithms or even machine learning. The final values of R0 might be greatly lowered if people were told by their smartphones that they should be particularly careful at some places or with some people etc.

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