This is obviously a really scary time, but I have put together this list of reasons to be cheerful based mainly on the data. I have read everything, EVERYTHING I could find on this topic to pull this together. For a while I was a reporter on Radio 4’s More or Less, a statistical programme, and puzzled out a few epidemiological cases in my stint there. So I am not a complete layman at this, I do have some broad idea of the field. (I fear I was a bit shit in general on More or Less but that’s another story. I never actually dropped the ball.) It’s human nature to catastrophize, so I feel sharing only the more upbeat discoveries is a valid and fair corrective.
In South Korea, the death rate is just 0.77%. Why? They probably have a milder strain than Italy, but they also have a way, way more widespread testing regime than anywhere else. That means even the mildest of cases get picked up by the tests, and you can see that deaths as a percentage of infections actually are much lower than they would otherwise appear. So the true death rate is more likely to be around 1%, not 4%. That makes a big difference. Now, South Korea has had 7,755 cases. Of the 2,718 cases involving under 30s, not a single patient died. Just one patient in their 30s died and I would presume they had serious underlying health problems. Just one person in their forties died. Every UK death so far has had underlying health problems AND was over 70.
It’s age eighty and above where the danger is and then the chances of needing hospitalisation rise fast. People in their early seventies are much, much safer. And yet, even the octogenarians in South Korea only have a 7% death rate. That is not bad odds at all when you think about it, better than almost any cancer. (Again, albeit possibly this was a weaker strain). I know this is of limited comfort to those of us, me included, with elderly relations. I am very worried indeed. But if you are under 80 you almost certainly will not die of this unless you are already very ill. If you are over 80 you very probably will not die.
For all that huge questions have been raised over UK government strategy, in that press conference on Thursday they absolutely would not be drawn into any speculations on numbers, and yet this they were totally adamant on: the overall death rate is about 1%. I believe them on this.
And the above is without a cure or a vaccine being created. This will happen at some point. Today, a Dutch lab found a possible antibody. That adds to breakthroughs made in London, Israel and Canada, and an old patent in the US which currently shows the most promise of all and even apparently shows some efficacy against the virus. I’ve probably missed some. We are going to beat this thing – it’s when, not if. With the whole scientific world pulling together as it is now, albeit in fractured fashion without overall leadership (if Obama was here!) and testing and regulatory process being rushed through. Either a cure or vaccine may come faster than people think.
People are naturally talking about the worst case scenario the whole time. Constantly. Worse case scenarios rarely happen. I personally believe that the world will change permanently because of this, but it will carry on. In a few years we will all have a seasonal coronavirus jab, and hospitals will have a tonne more ventilators so if you get ill, you’ll be looked after. This is not ‘the Fall’ or any of that nonsense we’ve been conditioned to expect by years of zombie movies. We will learn to manage. That’s what humans do. It’s been proven time and time again in history, and on history I will say I am almost an expert. We will get over this.
For those of you who I know, I look forward to the next time I meet each and every one of you. For anyone else, I look forward to making your acquaintance.