In January 2020, we started to hear about the new coronavirus causing the disease later called Covid-19. In the first blog post, I mentioned that I didn't believe that the virus was really new. Well, it seems that this statement – like many other propositions that I made about the disease – was increasingly supported by evidence. For example, indirect evidence summarized in a Harvard study and criticized by the BBC yesterday indicated that the virus already existed in August 2019.
I am sure that many of you understand that the actual point of my first article about Covid-19 was the shock that some people wanted to ignite a new "story of global importance": whether or not the virus was "new" (at most a month or two), there was really nothing substantial that changed about the world of diseases in early 2020, it was absolutely irrational to act as if "something huge had taken place", and I was certain about this statement despite some initial uncertainties about the "parameters" of Covid-19.
At any rate, the amount of hysteria that followed has surpassed my wildest expectations. Almost exactly 4 months ago, in mid February, the stock markets started to collapse. The first 3% drop seemed like a surreal insane exaggeration; I clearly didn't expect that another 30+ percent decrease would follow (obviously, that decrease was justified by the lockdowns – something I hadn't expected at all). Incidentally, some U.S. senators sold stocks for millions of dollars right before the hysteria was kickstarted in February 2020, almost overnight. Recall that the mid February hysteria coincided with a bunch of first cases in Italy (i.e. Europe). People who understand the contemporary Western psychology of fear could have correctly predicted that this transfer of the Wuhan flu to Europe would lead to the unprecedented hysteria we have witnessed, indeed.
Well, I surely thought that within 3 days or a week, the hysteria would subside. This was clearly just another disease comparable to cold, flu, tonsillitis, or at most their hybrid with SARS (in which case the infections would surely be monitored much more closely). How could it be claimed to be a game-changer? And if it were claimed, how could millions (let alone billions) of people – including the big shots of the political and business world – take these claims seriously?
Well, I was totally wrong about the reaction of the humans, the longevity of this hysteria, and the overall impact on the economy that the bulk of our brainwashed mankind has apparently considered "justified". This experience has made me fully understand and share the message of the quote by my late colleague Isaac Newton:
However, I was still qualitatively right about the ultimate mankind's attitude to the disease. It was clear that after some time of panic, almost all the people would regain their composure and understand that this was basically a non-event and there was no justification for a substantial change of our lifestyle, culture, economy, and the civilization in general.
In countries like mine, the hysteria peaked in late March (which was also the time when the face mask usage arguably surpassed 99%), persisted throughout April, but in May, it was already pretty clear to almost everybody that the existential worries were unjustified and stupid and the overreaction was unsustainable. Today, Czechia is pretty much reopened – including sports (and other) events up to 2,500 people, popcorn in the cinemas, and borders, among most of other things (no face masks are worn outside) – but the reopening had many stages. Our health officials wanted to be "cautious". Well, I think that the real main reason why it wasn't done more quickly was that they didn't want a fast reopening to prove that they admit that they have made a terrible mistake by having locked down much of the country in April and a part of the adjacent months.
You may check the global statistical pages if you need to be reminded of some basic numbers. The disease started in China which has recorded 80k cases and 4600 deaths so far – and the first number only places China to the ludicrous 19th place. A bit later, the disease seemed to spread to Iran, Korea, ... and then Italy, Spain, rest of Europe, then the U.S., then Brazil and Russia etc. Each country or region had a slightly different timing. The intense, quasi-exponential growth of the disease has never lasted for more than 6 weeks or so, the dynamics of the disease looks pretty much universal. The disease may grow exponentially and quickly for a month but then it runs of the people who can achieve a very short doubling time.
The total number of deaths right now is about 440,000. Dr Ladislav Dušek, the boss of the Czech Health Statistical Institute, estimates that only 40% of the "Covid fatalities" actually had Covid-19 as the main cause (some 150 out of 330 fatalities in Czechia). If we extrapolate this estimate to the global numbers, it might be true that only some 200,000 deaths were really "due to Covid".
That's a pretty modest number because the complications resulting from seasonal flu (especially pneumonia kickstarted by flu) claim about 600,000 lives in the world annually. We've had about 300,000 deaths "due to Covid" (let's pick the compromise between the original and reduced figure) which is about 1/2 of the flu season – and we had about one-half of the Covid season, too. So while Covid-19 may be distinguished from flu by some of its symptoms, dynamics, and the choice of demographics, its overall "ability to kill" makes it virtually indistinguishable from flu. In some countries or regions, such as Lombardy, Covid-19 has been significantly more lethal than flu; in most others, it was the other way around. In Czechia, flu kills 1500-3000 people annually; the latest Czech Covid-19 fatality count is merely (40% of) 330 people right now.
Lots of the basic questions about Covid-19 were debated, sometimes emotionally, and some answers were often turned into taboos in many nations. Can it spread from a human to another human? You bet – but the WHO claimed the answer was "No" in January. Do face masks reduce the fatality rate and/or the number of cases? I am pretty sure that both answers are "Yes", especially the answer about the lower fatalities. Do lockdowns help to improve the medical situation? The answer is almost certainly "No". And so on.
But I would still claim that the primary question that has determined the quality and rationality of whole national policies has always been: Is it rational to treat Covid-19 in analogy with flu? The correct, scientifically justified answer (which was preferred by almost all competent immunologists and other natural scientists who know "how things work inside") has always been a resounding "Yes". But there were tons of people who would scream at you – and presented you as a heretic – if you said "Yes". All these people were closer to politics and/or "social sciences" and "humanities". Some of them may have been genuine scientifically illiterate morons and people who were totally brainwashed and truly afraid of the virus. But in most cases, the people telling you that "you just can't compare Covid-19 with flu" were nasty, ideologically driven demagogues and bullies who had a political goal. They didn't want anybody to rationally think about Covid-19 – i.e. to think of Covid-19 as a cousin of seasonal flu – because this rationality was threatening what they actually cared about which was their own political power and the ability to make a financial profit out of this power (while most of the economy is collapsing).
The people demanding everyone to worship the new virus were a coalition of the sensational journalists (including some journalists who were "previously right-wing") – who are important (and make a lot of money) whenever they are capable of scaring the viewers and readers – and political journalists and other pundits who just want to harm the world economy, Trump's economy, capitalists across the world, and many other "related" description of mankind's material well-being. I can enumerate hundreds of such people who unquestionably deserve a life in prison (or death penalty, wherever allowed) for their crime against humanity, for their having made a profit on the huge damage that they have made to the well-being of billions of others. But our world is so distorted by these nasty individuals that I am afraid that they will get away with it. In that case, we are threatened by incredible moral hazard: if the people who have burned tens of trillions of dollars (and often made money along the way) can get away with it, they will be encouraged to do similar things in the future. And repeatedly so.