Wednesday, April 15, 2020

Covid-19 and the Right

It is reported that in EU countries, Germany and Austria, there are < 5 deaths from covid-19 (coronavirus) / 100,000 people, while in Italy and Spain it is > 30 (BBCN24 WN, 15.4, 00:00). In the UK and France, it was around 20.

I suppose it would be rather cumbersome to express this as 0.005%, less so when it gets to 0.03%. Either way, it is more useful than absolute numbers (30,000 deaths and so on). The US has a population 5 times larger than the UK, France, Italy or Spain, whereas New York State (pop. 19m) is 3 times smaller than the European countries.

Reporting of covid-19 usually now comes with something like, 'behind every statistic there is a human tragedy'. However, it is only in the grim figures of confirmed cases of infections and hospital admissions, and deaths, with their associated time lags, that we can see how much success we are having in controlling the virus.

There are a number of unknowns: many deaths outside hospitals are not reported; the rate of confirmed cases depends on the amount of testing done. This has an impact, on both sides of the equation, in the rate of mortality in a given population. Germany, along with some East Asian countries such as South Korea, have a high rate of testing; in the US and UK, it is around half that rate, but it is a little-known fact that in Japan it is much lower. The BBC's Tokyo correspondent comments, 'we don't know what we don't know.' (4 Apr)

I have no claim to any medical or scientific expertise, but it is interesting to see that there are divisions opening up along political lines.

In the worst global health crisis in maybe a century, Donald Trump, president of the United States, decides this is the moment to suspend funding to the World Health Organisation. 

Trump's mendacity and his disregard of suffering outside his own country are well-known, but hopefully rationality, arguments based on reality and respect for evidence, and compassion, can prevail. If Democrats endlessly run with Trump's words, 'it's a hoax' and 'it's just like the flu', it is hard to see how they can lose in November, but who can say?

A few hours earlier, Peter Hitchens, on C4 News, argued that the approach taken in the UK was disproportionate and that Sweden had shown that it was possible to control the virus without shutting down the economy.

The last I heard, there is growing criticism of the approach being taken there. The idea seems to be to allow the virus to slowly infect the population, similar to the way, newspapers reported, but the government later denied, that Boris Johnson and Dominic Cummings wanted to build up 'herd immunity' (Newshour, BBC WS, Sat 11 Apr.). But, we shall have to wait and see how things turn out in Sweden.

There is little to criticize in what the government is doing now, but this is a sign of something that seems to be more pronounced in the US, a sign that even in the UK there is hostility on the Right to measures being taken to protect lives. And we could also see the same distortion of the truth as we saw with the campaign for the UK's exit from the EU.

15.4.2020. Published: 22.4.

** update: Germany has conducted 1.7m tests, > 3 times more per head of population than the UK, with < 400,000. The death rate is 2.5% of confirmed cases, compared to 12.8%, with > 3,200 deaths, as against < 13,000 (Jonathan Rugman report, C4N, 15.4).