APOCALYPSE NOT: enter covid19


OMG: we are doomed to a future more mundane than seasonal flu….


The virus that’s going to kill us all because a majority of 8,000 dipsticks interviewed around the world say so (Ipsos MORI today) has been rebranded COVID19. It was only a matter of time: it started in Wuhan city in the Wubei region and has nothing whatever to do with Huawei the G5 phone that’s going to fry our brains, so obviously there was a danger of confusion. Perhaps even contamination. The Huawei G5 could mutate into Huawei V8 or even Hawaii Five-Oh, and untold billions of infected people would all stumble about going “MeToo” without in fact knowing by what exactly they too had been infected.

So as it’s important to be woke about this thing, it’s now COVID19, and that’s official.

Despite endless dire predictions about (variously) Zombie Superspreaders, increases in the death rate, a deadly time spent in the body before symptoms appear, the ease of catching it, and the potential for mutation, none of these have either happened or changed. As of two hours ago, the death rate was still bobbing up and down in a third decimal place, but basically static at 2%. This doesn’t stop somebody, every day, emerging to say, “You see, the thing nobody’s taking into account about this virus is….”.

It’s 21 days since The Slog first posted about the virus, and at that time the alarmists were pointing out that its 10-day incubation was ‘abnormally long’….and so after another week or so (the narrative went) we’d see a sudden surge in case rates. We didn’t, but by that time the Domesday folk had decided the number was 18. Yesterday, it was up to 24, give it another three days and etc etc etc. This reminds me of the General Election, and being told every day that the Labour surge was only hours away.

The big unknown from Day 1 in this whole episode has been the simple answer to one question: is the CCP lying about the either or both of the infection and death rates? The Chinese people themselves feel that the early bromides in mid December were standard Party Newspeak – as a result of which, hundreds of thousands left the City the same evening….forcing the politburo to declare Wuhan a lockdown.

This followed online rage at the imprisonment and death of Dr Li Wenliang, who saw lackadaisical attitudes to the virus among local officials and tried to raise the alarm. He himself was already infected with COVID19, but his treatment produced an unprecedented backlash from ordinary citizens. Despite that, however, “Chairman of Everything” Xi Jinping’s first response was classic totalitarianism: denial of any crisis, everything is under control, this is a small outbreak, we have the technology.

It seems that some time around or shortly after the start of the fat-choi holiday – either within the politiburo or the Chinese medical community or both, it’s not clear – Mr Xi was persuaded that more glasnost was the only way to stop the entire Chinese economy from grinding to a halt for a year or perhaps more. The general view was “take the hit now, and avoid econo-fiscal meltdown in the medium term”.

Many Party officials believe he has not gone far enough – government news still insists that the virus is ‘petering out’ – but the emphasis has switched from one of sublime confidence to evidence of drastic action. Since the first week in January, both WHO and neighbouring national officials have offered undiluted praise for the speed and accuracy with which the CCP has shared all its data with them.

The source of the suspicion about statistical veracity from China stems partly from a genuine clerical error spotted by Taiwanese authorities on 2nd February when ‘infected’ and ‘deaths’ columns data they received got reversed. The numbers thus released make no sense at all unless reversed – and when reversed, confirm the universal experience of a death rate in the range 2.1 – 2.4 per thousand. So I don’t think that one holds water.

A rather more learned study has emerged from Switzerland from a group of eminent virologists, who take the somewhat bizarre view that all methods of assessing fatality rate are pointless until several weeks have passed. This study – while alarming in parts – misses two points of huge importance. First, while some deaths will go unreported because they happen after the snapshot study (true) in healthy people the virus infection itself will go frequently unreported because the patient will put it down to a heavy cold or seasonal flu. If all cases were recorded by testing (and they aren’t, because the patient doesn’t present) then the death rate would be lowered, not raised.

Second, we have outbreak-timed comparative data from SARS and MEARS, and while there is good news and bad news – COVID19 moves faster than its predecessors, but kills fewer than most – there is nothing at all in those data to suggest in any way that we’re dealing with The Black Death here. As I have posted before, the RNA of COVID19 suggests a high likelihood not to mutate.

The Swiss study makes other assumptions that deserve challenge. The authors claim, for example, that the lower death rate in ex-China outbreaks shows once again that the unreported deaths simply haven’t caught up. But that’s far from the only interpretation: just as likely is that those countries have tested all contacts, and they did have the infection without realising it. As I pointed out a week ago, once it gets beyond Asia COVID19 is going to face far more stringent health controls and regulations – I think we shall also see that health services in Hong Kong and Singapore showing a lower death rate than mainland China.

An awful lot of the panic surrounding COVID19 is the result of a virus that’s been getting worse since the internet came into the world. This is the skimreading lazy hack virus. Here’s a good article on the new virus that unfortunately begins with a seriously Grim Reaper opening:

‘It’s still possible that quarantines and travel bans will first halt the outbreak and then eradicate the microbe, and the world will never see 2019-nCoV again….Many experts, however, view that happy outcome as increasingly unlikely. “Independent self-sustaining outbreaks [of 2019-nCoV] in major cities globally could become inevitable because of substantial exportation of pre-symptomatic cases,” scientists at the University of Hong Kong concluded in a paper published in The Lancet last week. What will a world with endemic 2019-nCoV — circulating permanently in the human population — be like?’

Aaarg….cue Apocalyptic Horseman music.

Unfortunately for the Tabloid Toddlers, the answer is “not unlike the world today”. This is the article’s bottom line:

“I can imagine a scenario where this becomes a fifth endemic human coronavirus,” said Stephen Morse of Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health, an epidemiologist and expert on emerging infectious diseases. “We don’t pay much attention to them because they’re so mundane, especially compared to seasonal flu.”

Hmm. COVID19. ‘Mundane compared to season flu’.

Not much of a headline, eh?

Oh – and by the way: it’s not called “seasonal” flu for nothing. Viruses of this class really do not like hot weather, and especially not high humidity. As that will characterise much of the world within a month or two, I’d be prepared to bet that, come September we will see cases tailing off.

But then, as we all learn, the future makes fools of us all from time to time.