Sunday, March 22, 2020

stay home save lives

I came back from Germany on March 14 and it took me a while to realise just how badly the Coronavirus pandemic is being mismanaged here in the UK. Essentially, the UK is 2 weeks behind Italy on the same trajectory, but has done nothing to learn from the disaster unfolding in Italy.

Everything the govt has done so far has happened more than a week too late, and the exponential function of the virus spread grows by a factor of 10 every 8 days (33% daily growth rate) so stopping the spread 8 days later than you could have done means ten times as many people get infected and 10 times as many people die (possibly more, due to the health service running out of capacity).

Some of the things I realised with great horror this week:

1) key people in govt. and some reporters don't understand exponential functions. They talk about the spread entering a different phase, accelerating, or whatever - all nonsense. It obeys an exponential function which very neatly means that every freaking day there will be 33% more infections than there were the day before. And there will be 33% more deaths than the day before.We had 233 deaths by yesterday Saturday 21.3., and we will have 2330 death by this time next week, Sunday 29.3. Nothing surprising about it, that's what happens when you let an infectious agent run wild. As significant behaviour change only really started this weekend, we're already committed to those 2000 extra deaths. Any benefits from measures we see now will only show up later.

2) That herd immunity approach that the UK govt. proposed on March 12 and then dropped allegedly after hearing of new scientific data in the report from Imperial College. In my view, all that the Imperial College people did was a multiplication of 3 numbers that I had previously done in my head and I assume everybody else with multiplication skills as well: 65 million people times 60% infection rate times 1% mortality = 390,000 people dead. Plus those who would die from lack of treatment as the health system can't cope with anything near the peak, even if it is flattened by mild precautionary measures. My reading is that BJ didn't understand this, while DC did understand it and didn't care (which is also the message of the piece in the Sunday Times that is causing a bit of a stir right now). In any case, the Imperial College people made it clear to BJ in terms that he could understand. He then realised that half a million dead people would look bad on his CV and changed course. Sadly, it was a week too late.

3) as there has been far too little testing in the UK, we don't really know how many cases we have. Based on the 233 deaths, it must have been more than 20,000 infections more than a week ago. So, that means 200,000 infections now. See, exponentials are easy. You just add a zero every 8 days.

4) Commiserations to all in the US, they may very well be heading for an even bigger disaster for the same reason.

Watch this space - I'm adding new developments here rather than having repeated blog entries on the pandemic.

* I'm seeing serious sources reporting that a sudden loss of smell is a symptom of Covid-19 infection. Knowing this can help to reduce the spread via otherwise asymptomatic carriers.

* antiviral remdesivir gets orphan drug status, slightly ironic as it might help to save millions of lives. It was originally developed against Ebola, however, which fits the bill a bit better.

So my belated message is don't wait for the govt to introduce a curfew, just stay away from other people now. Act as if getting infected could kill you. If it doesn't, it might very well kill somebody else you pass it on to before you even show symptoms.

The last gathering of more than 4 people that I attended was on March 4th. And it will remain the last for months, if not years, I'm afraid.

By lagging more than a week behind the curve, the government is causing preventable deaths. We can all save lives by doing more to stop the spread than we are being asked to do.

Related reading:

My recent feature on the animal sources of the coronaviruses that cause SARS, MERS, and the current pandemic.

A long report by John Vidal
on animal links and how nature destruction makes zoonotic transfers more likely.

Richard Horton, editor of The Lancet, on the UK govt's failure to act.

Epidemiologist William Hanage demolishes the UK govt. herd immunity plan.

A very clear summary by Devi Sridhar of the many ways in which the UK govt f*cked up the response to the epidemic so far (until 23.3.). These errors are on track towards causing tens of thousands of additional deaths.

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