This is my Coronavirus (COVID-19) Outbreak update for today, 9 April.
Note that I specifically exclude New Zealand from the context of the title of this post as they are led by a courageous leader in Jucinda Ardern who has been prepared to make genuinely difficult decisions. With what has occurred in China and Europe to this point, and which is just ramping up in the UK and the USA (including makeshift graves in NYC parks), one has to wonder what on Earth would get through to these dinosaurs.
WHO Situation Report 79 for 8 April (released 9 April Brisbane, Australia, time)
Globally: 1,353,361 confirmed cases (73,639 new), 79,235 deaths (4,904 new)
Today I want to talk about the erroneous use of the term “curve flattening” which is the term du jour. This is an epidemiological term which refers to the spread of a pathogen through a population. By population, it assumes a closed or near closed system, and being theoretical it refers to the total number of infections.
So what is the problem in applying that theory to contemporary human populations, and especially Australia through this pandemic?
There are two. Firstly we have not been a closed population as the Government has been at pains to state that new (detected) cases have been mostly from travellers, i.e. those coming from other populations. Now that that introduction of the virus has (finally) been effectively ended – by strict travel restrictions and strict quarantine – it is becoming evident that there has been community transmission within Australia, as I warned there would be in “Politics Vs Society” published 21 February, when there were only restrictions on those entering from China, where I said:
I am of the view that there may be hundreds of people infected by the coronavirus in Australia as of the time of writing, that being 21 February 2020. (Note I always state such opinions beyond the first few paragraphs of my writing because I know the superficial masses will have stopped reading paragraphs earlier.) To make myself accountable, I will say that I will be very surprised – and wrong – if there are no reports of people ill with coronavirus in Australia by 7 March. And I would expect that many who present as unwell with coronavirus throughout March have not been to China.
The second point is that we still have no idea of how many people in Australia are infected because the testing criteria are still too stringent. Thus we have no idea of the shape of the curve in the broad population. To be clear, an infected person, who has not travelled overseas and has not been in contact with a known infected, could only be detected if they are symptomatic and are an essential worker or live in an aged care facility, or are so ill that they have developed pneumonia. Now the morbidity rates of this disease, across populations, has stayed fairly consistent since the outbreak in Wuhan – 4 of 5 infected people experience only very mild disease (so even most essential workers who are eligible for testing would NOT be detected let alone the broader public), and around 3 of 4 of the remaining people experience illness but not the most severe symptoms (so infections in those eligible for testing would be detected but NOT in the broader public), while around only 1 in 20 of those who are infected will develop more severe disease leading to admission to intensive care units which would lead to detection irrespective of the other eligibility for testing criteria.
The authorities are making a very big assumption that there is limited community transmission beyond what has been found because an explosion in cases of otherwise unexplained pneumonia have not been appearing at hospitals, to this point in time, in contrast with what has occurred in Europe and the US.
As I explained in “COVID-19 Elephants in the Room“, with a pathogen so new to humanity and consequently so very little understood, it is a serious mistake to make assumptions and prudent policy would continually choose the cautious path and apply the precautionary principle.
Unfortunately, nations, and especially the Anglophone countries, are so incredibly quick to jump on anything remotely “positive” on the pandemic progression, and that is mostly because of the predilection of their “followers” (their anti-leaders) to choose money before people, rather than vice versa.
I am not going to speculate on what is an infinite range of possibilities about what could trigger a greater expression of disease amongst Australians infected over the next few months as Australia moves into the winter season, but it is much, much too early to be talking about an opening up of the Australian economy without first undergoing an enormous ramp up in testing to determine where we really sit in terms of the incidence and prevalence of infection in our population.
We are still in the very early stages of this pandemic. Even in Spain, where recent research suggests that their population has the highest proportion of people who have been infected by this coronavirus, less than 15% of the population have likely been infected. While these studies showed a significant saving in lives due to measures implemented throughout Europe, the report states:
Our estimates imply that populations in Europe are not close to herd immunity (approx. 50-75% [of populations infected with known rate of spread of virus]). Further [with the rate of spread due to measures implemented] dropping substantially, the rate of acquisition of herd immunity will slow substantially. This implies that the virus will be able to spread rapidly should interventions be lifted.
No matter how much our national “followers” want the pandemic to be over, no matter how much the business elites want to re-open, no matter how much people are tired of the social isolation, the simple reality is that continuing these reluctantly introduced and late measures is necessary to minimise deaths which have been shown to be patently preventable.
Moreover, these “followers” are suggesting that they have made the “hard decisions” yet they squibbed on making the really hard decisions – going it alone and enacting strict quarantine measures earlier than others. Instead they try to frame giving $Billions to business to put the “economy on life support” as heroic when historically they have framed their left-wing counterparts as irresponsible when they have done the same, frequently taunting that it is never difficult to spend money.
This continual flirtation with “opening up” economies shows that these “followers” have learnt nothing through February and March, and that they are continually making the same mistakes of underestimating the power of this natural disaster, the impacts it is and will continue to have on humanity, and the consequences that that has on the way they can PLAY their politics.
Moreover, it is cynical in the extreme, when humanity is psychologically weakened, to toy with emotions and suggest that the light at the end of the tunnel is nearer than was feared. Without promising news on an earlier than expected vaccine or treatment, or an intention and capacity to step-up testing enormously along with biosecurity measures for infected people, that light is just as far away as it always has been.
A far, far better strategy for humanity would be to begin a discussion which shows that people are the genuine focus of the future which coalesces around inclusion and sustainability.
In other words, show that that light at the end of the tunnel is bigger and brighter than it ever has been before!
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© Copyright Brett Edgerton 2020
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