Sunday 1 March 2020

Covid-19 won't be contained

Well, it certainly looks like attempts to contain the spread of Covid-19 have failed. The rapid increase in cases outside of China is now making a significant contribution to the total number of cases and fatalities, and looking at the ex-China case numbers there doesn't appear to be any significant reduction in the exponential increase in cases.

The fatality rate has also trended towards the upper range of my estimate at 3.4%-3.6%, with the 'current day' deaths/cases converging with the 'current day' deaths/T-4 cases. I've seen one 'expert' suggest that this fatality rate might overestimate the actual death rate for those that catch Covid-19, with the logic being that the number of cases is probably under-reported (with many 'mild' cases of Covid-19 not being diagnosed/tested/reported). But to me that would also mean that the actual rate of spread is a lot worse than the reported figures indicate, which would certainly not be good news.

The other reason to 'not panic' that was cited by medical experts in the early stages of this pandemic was that while the fatality rate for Covid-19 (at the time) was thought to be around 1%-2%, the number of cases was much lower than occurred in a 'normal' 'flu season, so the absolute number of fatalities would not become significant. That made the unwarranted (optimistic) assumption that Covid-19 would be easily contained...

Unfortunately, it looks like Covid-19 may eventually spread throughout the global population and could end up infecting 25%-75% of the population. If the true fatality rate (with access to ICU treatment levels) is around 3%, and could be as high as 5% in areas without access to ICU levels of treatment, then the possible number of deaths resulting from Covid-19 during the coming 12-18 months is truly horrendous (I won't bother putting the figure here, as I don't want to be overly alarmist). The thing to bear in mind is that Covid-19 may infect more people than occurs in a 'normal' 'flu season, because a) there is no vaccine available, b) people have no immunity at all, and c) it is highly contagious (more like the 'flu than MERS). And the other thing to remember is that 'flu typically has a death rate of around 0.05% to 0.1% while Covid-19 may have a death rate of around 3% - which is 30-60 times higher!

One thing that may (or may not) be reassuring (depending on your age and overall health) is that the overall death rate is skewed by its impact on older persons - the death rate is 14.8% for those over 80 (I'll tell my parents to stay on their farm and not visit town if at all possible!), and is 8% for those aged 70-79, and 3.6% for those aged 60-69. 1.3% for those aged 50-59 (me and DW), and just 0.2% for those aged 10-39 (and no-one under the age of 9 has died so far). That still means that in our family, if we all eventually catch it (and barring any new treatment regime becoming available), there is about a 1-in-30 chance that one of us would die.

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