Chinese Virus, CORVID-19, was at first called “novel coronavirus”. Because nothing like it had been seen before. So we knew nothing about it. And we are still learning. What was apparent straight away is that it is incredibly contagious:
- We have no herd or individual immunity to it. If you are exposed then you get it. Except for children who are largely protected by their Thymus.
- The virus is airborne. It is in the air we breathe. One person in a crowd can infect hundreds. Thousands even. This has happened with Chinese Virus at conferences, religious meetings and in cruise ships.
- During the incubation period, lasting from a few days to a month, victims have no symptoms yet are contagious, unknowingly passing the virus on.
- The immediate danger zone surrounding an infected person has a radius of at least 4.5 metres.
- The virus persists outside the body at room temperature for at least 9 hours. On surfaces, in the air.
- Our society, with schools, mosques, workplaces, underground railway systems, cinemas, pubs, spectator sports and air transport is perfect for the almost instant transmission of the virus to just about everyone.
It became apparent very early on that many people who caught the disease had an infection so incredibly mild that they had no symptoms whatsoever. The first known British victim, who gave it to at least 11 people, was one of these. As were many quarantined and tested Wuhan returnees, as were many people on the cruise liners. But because virtually all testing was done on people who had symptoms the people who had no symptoms were mostly undetected.
In the few countries that did some testing of people who weren’t ill, such as Germany and South Korea, they found plenty who had the disease but didn’t have symptoms. And remember that the tests only show if you currently have the disease, not if you have already had the disease. They do not test for antibodies.
One thing we have learned is that the only people who become ill are those with compromised immune systems (and only a very few of them). Air pollution, obesity, smoking and comorbidities such as asthma, diabetes and cardiovascular disease. These people are not getting ill because of the virus, they are getting ill with the virus. It is just one of several factors causing their illness.
To track the progression of the disease it is no good looking at deaths. It is new cases that tell you what is happening. In Wuhan these are now effectively zero and the social restrictions there have been lifted. They know that they have herd immunity because virtually everyone has had the disease, even if the vast majority haven’t been ill. China has a population of 1,379 million yet only 81,637 (with 3,285 deaths) of them became ill. This really is insignificant. Less than seasonal ‘Flu.
Now let’s take a look at Italy, the current hotspot and currently, supposedly, two weeks ahead of the UK in disease progression. They have 69,176 cases out of a population of 60.5 million, still less than ‘Flu. A higher percentage than China, but Italy has an older population and thus more comorbidities. But Chinese Virus in Italy has already peaked, the number of new cases is declining every day, following the classical natural distribution, or bell, curve well known to every statistician and every epidemiologists. Here is the graph:
It is very easy to see that very few infected people become ill with Chinese Virus. But we need to get an idea how many people in the UK already have the virus and how many of them are going to get ill. And now we have the answers.
A team of academics at Nuffield College, Oxford University have built a mathematical model of the UK Chinese Virus epidemic. As at 19 March it shows nearly 70% of us already infected and less than 1% of us going to get ill with it. (Read it HERE). Obviously this is a model, not the real world, and the data available is still fairly sparse. But it confirms what we are seeing with our own eyes.
So what can we learn from this:
- Chinese Virus is vastly more contagious than seasonal ‘Flu. But of far less danger to those catching it.
- The lockdown of society is pretty pointless now and in two weeks time will be ridiculous. Even though the NHS will be overrun.
- President Trump is right, the economic harm we are allowing this virus to do to us is worse than the medical harm it causes.
- The problem with this virus is that it spreads nearly instantly. So all the ill people come at once. The population of the UK is 67.2 million. So up to 672,000 becoming ill at the same time will give the tabloids scary headlines. Long after the virus has stopped spreading.
- Global society needs to learn. New viruses will appear in the future. If one comes along that is as contagious as this but more lethal society could not handle it. We need to ground all aircraft, for instance, as soon as an epidemic is detected.
- With hindsight we would have been far better off just isolating people in the clearly identified vulnerable groups.
- The Government know all this but are hedging their bets until the antibody tests arrive that will prove the extent of people who have been infected without symptoms.
We are headed for an interesting two weeks and irresponsible self publicists like Piers Morgan will become more hysterical. But it it too late to do anything except treat the ill and return society to normal as quickly as possible.