If there remains anyone out there who insists COVID-19 is no worse than the common cold, refer them to this free read at The Economist.
Or read it to them. Maybe that’s better.
The latest coronavirus is different from past ones, so requires a different response.
SEVEN VARIETIES of coronavirus infect humans: four give us the sniffles; one causes a deadly disease smouldering in the Middle East since 2012; and two erupted into full-on pandemics. The first caused SARS and it petered out quickly. The other causes covid-19 and it has hobbled the global economy. Why the difference?
It is not only a matter of the public-health response or governmental incompetence (though that has certainly made things worse). It also has to do with the underlying epidemiology of the pathogen, which we are coming to appreciate, after little more than a half-year of experience. Viewing covid-19 through the lens of SARS can lead to flawed responses. Understanding how the novel coronavirus is different is essential for identifying how society can best confront it …
… What do the differences between yesteryear’s SARS-CoV-1 and the current SARS-CoV-2 tell us about how to respond today? There are critical insights that must be heeded if countries are to protect their people and economies.
Cutting to the chase.
Since we cannot rely on symptoms to identify cases, testing needs to be widespread and the results returned rapidly if not immediately.
After all, a thin cotton swab shoved up your nostril beats a thick plastic tube jammed down your trachea. And though some people resist face masks, perhaps they will come to see that they’re better than closing the economy or counting body-bags. Given the epidemiology of the virus, the best response is to do what has been voiced by health officials but not always adhered to in our communities. Until an effective vaccine is developed and becomes widely available, minimise social interactions, keep our physical distance, implement widespread testing and yes, wear masks.
The distinctive characteristics of the virus behind covid-19 mean it will inexorably infect a large percentage of the world before the pandemic has run its course—an epidemiological parameter known as the “attack rate.” For SARS, the attack rate was infinitesimal: only 8,422 people out of a global population of 6.3bn in 2003, just 0.00013%. For covid-19, at least 40% of the world’s 7.6bn people will probably become infected, with millions of deaths. We have a long and sorrowful way to go. So we had better respond wisely.