Opinions on SARS-CoV-2: How Long Should We Hide?


Moments may fly whilst the weeks drag.
Asian countries are now seeing second waves of the virus [1] after easing lockdown. Long term the only solution is herd immunity, either through most people catching it or a vaccine. Then the virus dies out, until the next one or it mutates. That's assuming you can only catch it once and we'll develop a vaccine, neither is guaranteed but both seem likely.

For the furloughed middle class, sitting at home, the virus is a scary inconvenience. For others the lockdown is bringing ruin, delayed treatment, mental health problems, increased abuse, destroyed businesses and families and even suicide. Poverty kills, stress kills, lockdown kills too.

Meanwhile it's still the case that something like 9 out of 10 deaths due to COVID-19 (SARS-CoV-2) are people with other serious health complications [2][3]. It's also the case that the mortality rate is a lot lower than reported because we're doing so little testing and a lot of people who have it are asymptomatic (maybe half according to an Italian study - or vastly more than half according to the recent - and probably flawed - Stanford study. [4][5][6][7])

The bug is dangerous, but only substantially if you're in one of the vulnerable categories. If you're not it's likely unpleasant at worst, unnoticed at best. If this is true this is very good news, for the mortality rate to be much lower than we've assumed and to already be more widespread than we were aware might make fighting it harder but it would also mean it's less of a danger than we think.

If that's true, for vulnerable people the best policy could be for them to stay isolated and everyone else to go out (gradually - managed), get the bug, develop herd immunity. Let the virus burn itself out. Sacrifice the strong to save the weak. You'd need "cold zones" in hospitals to protect the very vulnerable from catching it, something they're trying to do at the moment.

This is the approach countries like Sweden and Belarus are taking and was what the UK government, under scientific advice, was trying to do but the public baulked. [8]

Currently it's that or hide forever.

If the lockdown lasts until June OBR (Office for Budget Responsibility) estimates we'll see GDP down 35%, unemployment up to 10% and huge public debt [9]. That's serious.

There are experts who agree and experts who don't. Make your own mind up what you think and let's see how it plays out. Nothing else we can do really. 

But don't worry, in the meantime we can always borrow more money from our children to get us through these times (and pay the interest on it - government debt is borrowing from the future and Britain used to have a budget surplus!) and blame the government for a global shortage of PPE. Be thankful you don't live in the US where they're already spending most of their budget on interest payments [10] whilst borrowing more, their healthcare costs are out of control and who knows what will happen with COVID-19, plus their military spending is vast and fails every audit. That house of cards comes crashing down some day and who knows what else falls with it.

California is a beautiful metaphor for the US, so wealthy but bleeding itself dry to make almond milk.


"But secondly, nine in 10 did have pre-existing illnesses, such as heart disease and respiratory problems that put them at heightened risk of death anyway."

[3]These figures say about 8 out of 10, but including some "unknown".

[3] Reference for the Italian study (not yet peer reviewed): https://www.medrxiv.org/content/10.1101/2020.04.17.20053157v1

[4] Here's a link to a South Korean study of 140 000 people finding a mortality rate of 0.6% https://www.businessinsider.com/south-korea-coronavirus-testing-death-rate-2020-3?r=US&IR=T

[5] A link to a BBC article with an interesting snippet about Swine Flue (H1N1):
One example is the H1N1 pandemic of 2009, known as swine flu. Early case fatality rate estimates were inflated by a factor of more than 10. Even 10 weeks into the epidemic, estimates varied widely between countries, coming in between 0.1% and 5.1%. When medics later had a chance to go through case documents and evaluate cases, the actual H1N1 case death rate was far lower, at 0.02%.

[6] 21 days ago, and things change quickly, but this article shows varying mortality rates by age.

A recent study of COVID-19 cases in the United States estimated a mortality rate of 10% to 27% for those ages 85 and over, 3% to 11% for those ages 65 to 84, 1% to 3% for those ages 55 to 64 and less than 1% for those ages 20 to 54.
[7] All the figures also show higher mortality rates, for example Italy, when the health service is overrun. Flattening the curve is not useless, but there is a cost - it prolongs the virus and the lockdown.

[8] https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-51979654

Is the virus bringing forward deaths by a few months? 
Every year, about 600,000 people in the UK die. And the frail and elderly are most at risk, just as they are if they have coronavirus. 
Nearly 10% of people aged over 80 will die in the next year, Prof Sir David Spiegelhalter at the University of Cambridge points out, and the risk of them dying if infected with coronavirus is almost exactly the same


[10] Most is a slight exaggeration. US debt servicing is estimated to be 3% of GDP by 2024. US public debt was $16.8 trillion in 2018/19.


"Deep calls to deep in the roar of your waterfalls;
all your waves and breakers
have swept over me."

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