Covid-19 – are we supposed to get sick?

Like many Melbournians, I was immensely relieved to hear that the Grand Prix had been cancelled due to Covid-19, but I was puzzled, and angered, by the Federal government’s continuing mixed messages about the virus. On the one hand Scott Morrison says the authorities will put social distancing interventions in place, but not until Monday [March 16, 2020]. And they won’t apply to schools, universities and public transport.

Why give the virus a whole weekend to turn up at the ‘footy’ and in churches and concert halls and theatres etc etc etc.

If these interventions are meant to stop the rapid spread of the virus, why wait?

Why encourage people to ‘go to the footy?’ And why not close schools, universities and public transport?

Is the delay all about the money?

Despite my cynical anger, there was something about all of this that simply did not add up, especially as the Premiers of all states and territories appear to be in agreement with #ScottyFromMarketing. As my state, Victoria, has a Labor government, I would have expected the Premier, Daniel Andrews, to be more caring of people’s lives than old Scomo.

It was at this point that I remembered an episode of The Drum I had watched just a few days ago [the 12th of March, 2020]. On this episode, the panel of The Drum included a guest, Professor James McCaw, a mathematical biologist and Infectious Diseases Epidemiologist from Melbourne University. Apparently, Prof. McCaw and his colleagues have been modelling the spread of the Covid-19 virus and have been advising the Federal government.

Keep that point in mind, ‘advising the Federal government’.

During the course of the discussion, the panel talked about interventions such as forced social distancing – e.g. cancelling the Grand Prix – as a way to avoid getting the virus and jet propelling it through the community.

To explain the reasoning behind social distancing, they displayed this graph:

Those of you who have been following the Covid-19 virus online will be familiar with graphs that look very similar. The sharp peak is what happens if the virus is allowed to spread without interventions. The flattened, ‘fat’ curve is what happens when you slow the spread of the virus via interventions. The important thing to note from this graph is that a slow spread allows hospitals to cope with the influx of desperately ill people infected with Covid-19.

So far so good. But if interventions slow the virus, and slowing the virus is good, why would mathematical biologists and infectious disease epidemiologists have to model anything? Isn’t it obvious?

Going back to Professor McCaw, I think I’ve found the answer, or at least understood it. This is what the Professor had to say about the virus and interventions:

“The really important thing to be aware of, though, is by avoiding that transmission [i.e. of the virus] all of the people who may otherwise have gotten ill, they are all still susceptible. So as society returns to normal…the population is still equally susceptible, and this is where the mathematicians have a role to play.”

ABC, The Drum, March 12, 2020, at minute 19:55

You can find that episode of The Drum on iView
If the link doesn’t take you to the right episode, look for the episode aired on March the 12th, 2020.

So, what exactly does all that mean?

I am no expert so my reading of Professor McCaw’s comment may be completely wrong, but this is how I finally understood it:

  1. the whole world is going to get this virus sooner or later, so…
  2. if Australia stops the virus from spreading, we’ll simply postpone the deaths until a later,
  3. but if a lot of the most healthy people get the virus, they are likely to get only a mild version that does not need hospitalisation.
  4. this will leave the hospitals free to deal with those who do get very sick,
  5. so it makes logical sense to allow this younger, healthy group to get sick, recover and become immune before interventions are put in place,
  6. then, once this first pass of the virus is over, and a vaccine is available, the uninfected members of the population can be protected as well.

From a theoretical perspective, this ‘strategy’, if that’s what it is, would stagger the victims of the virus, making the epidemic manageable. I guess it would also have less of an impact on the economy.

But even in theory, this strategy can only work if the authorities actually know how many cases of Covid-19 there are in the community so they know when to apply the breaks via more draconian interventions. It also assumes that everything else needed to apply the breaks is already in place, ready to go.

Given the lack of widespread testing, I don’t think the authorities do know. I think they are guessing on the basis of how quickly the virus has spread in other countries and extrapolating that to Australia.

More worrying still is the lack of clear, public messaging. People are getting their information from social media, and they’re scared and confused. Getting them to go along with drastic social interventions ‘when the time is right’ can only succeed if everyone understands and agrees with those interventions.

Australia is not a ‘command and control’ country. How are the authorities going to enforce these interventions? Using the police? The armed forces?

People working in the GIG economy, the underemployed and those who think they are immortal will continue doing what they think they need to do for themselves.

This is human nature. Expecting people to behave like robots may work on paper; it will not work in the real world. In the real world, individuals who ignore the interventions could easily infect far more people than the ‘strategy’ anticipates. This will skew the timing and effectiveness of the interventions so when they finally do come, they may not work at all. Or they may not work well enough, allowing the curve of the graph to continue shooting up like a rocket.

But practical considerations aside, nowhere in this strategy is there a recognition of all those who will become collateral damage, the ones who will catch the virus, get sick and die.

According to the statistics, children under the age of 10 don’t die of this virus, but those over the age of 10 do start to die. It’s a small percentage, but it exists:

Taken from a video by Dr John Campbell

So who are these children and teens likely to be?

Right from the start, we’ve been told that people with pre-existing conditions will be most vulnerable to the virus. Well guess what, children and teens have pre-existing conditions too. They have asthma, diabetes, multiple sclerosis, cystic fibrosis, Crohns, ulcerative colitis, leukemia, cancers of all sorts… the list goes on and on and on.

What part of the strategy protects these vulnerable young people when they go to school or university or travel by public transport?

And then there are the older age groups. As we age, almost all of us develop some type of chronic disease. I’m pretty fit and healthy, but I’ve had cancer. If the virus gets out of control and the hospitals can’t cope, will I be triaged to die because I am less likely to survive than someone younger?

That kind of soul destroying triage is already happening in Italy.

And what of remote Indigenous communities? They are already behind the eight ball when it comes to health. How are they going to survive when they are often hundreds of miles from the nearest doctor let alone hospital?

We are people, not numbers, yet the silence about us has been deafening. Self isolation is fine, but where are the systems that will make it effective?

I went to Coles [supermarket] this morning. I arrived at 7am, thinking I’d be almost alone in the store. Thank god I was wearing my mask because there was a conga line waiting outside the entrance. What were they all waiting for? Toilet paper.

Coles is now doling the toilet paper out, one packet at a time, but to get a packet you have to stand in a queue next to people who may already be infected but not showing any symptoms.

Toilet paper aside, whole families packed the aisles of the store, stocking up, and every single cash register was open and working at a feverish pace. Instead of being in and out in ten minutes, it took me an hour and a half to get my shopping and leave. The whole time I stood there, flanked by overflowing shopping trolleys, I was acutely aware of the people around me. I didn’t hear any sneezing, but someone did cough behind me. Just a little cough… Probably just clearing their throat… ๐Ÿ˜ฆ

Professor McCaw’s models may work on paper, but as they are currently being implemented, they are ensuring that the most vulnerable in our society pay the price if things go horribly wrong.

Meeks

About acflory

I am the kind of person who always has to know why things are the way they are so my interests range from genetics and biology to politics and what makes people tick. For fun I play online mmorpgs, read, listen to a music, dance when I get the chance and landscape my rather large block. Work is writing. When a story I am working on is going well I'm on cloud nine. On bad days I go out and dig big holes... View all posts by acflory

11 responses to “Covid-19 – are we supposed to get sick?

  • CarolCooks2

    The theories as to what, where and how are now in full swing…as is handwashing and sanitising everything here….Thank you for the updates …Have a great weekend and stay safe ๐Ÿ™‚ x

    Like

  • Widdershins

    ‘…he most vulnerable in our society pay the price if things go horribly wrong…’ – There hasn’t been a society in human history, since the beginnings of ‘city-states’ where this hasn’t been the case.
    Many, many years ago when Colleen McCulloch wrote The Thorn Birds, there was a line that has stuck with me through the ‘ages’ ๐Ÿ™‚ … which is where the matriarch (too many years have passed for me to remember the details ๐Ÿ™‚ ) is talking to a reporter, I think, from the big smoke, who is horrified at the shearers sewing up sheep who’d been sliced open by the hand-held shears with a bit of string and sending them on their way to live or die as their fate decreed.
    The matriarch asks the reporter how the ‘down and out’ people are treated in the city, and says (to paraphrase) societies always treat with contempt that which they have in excess.
    I would change that to, ‘that which they THINK they have in excess.
    It’s probably the greatest irony of ‘globalisation’ that it has produced a staggering rise in the worst forms of isolationist tribalism. Not surprising when you think about it, human beings being what they are, disappointing, but not surprising. ( I tend to be saying that a lot these days:( )
    I’m even more convinced now that our plan to ‘get out of dodge’ as it were, and create a sanctuary is the right thing to do.

    Liked by 1 person

    • acflory

      ‘that which they think they have in excess’…people, yes. Fifty years ago people were needed to manufacture the consumer goods that were making corporations rich. Now? Most of that is either automated or sent offshore to poor countries where the cost of actual /human/ labour is peanuts.

      So what are people still good for? We’re consumers. We buy stuff. Or at least, some of us do. Those without good paying jobs, or any jobs at all, can’t buy much, which makes us a drain on the economy…
      Successive Australian governments, even labor ones, have bemoaned the rising cost of an ageing population.
      Covid-19 is almost a godsend, isn’t it?
      I’m sure none of our conservative politicians would dare to say that out loud, but I wonder how many of them are already counting the ‘savings’ to the budget bottom line when a big chunk of Boomers bowout.
      And yes, being detached from all this is a very good idea.

      Liked by 2 people

  • Remembering Lives

    Sorry meant to say “for a few weeks,” but clicked SEND prematurely. Jacinda Ardern is looking pretty good, isn’t she?

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    • acflory

      Yes, Jacinda Ardern is looking darned good. She and her government have realised that caring for people is the best way of looking after both the country, and ultimately the economy. The bushfire response proves that we are capable of digging deep to help those in need. It’s just our stupid politicians – on both sides – that can’t see past the dollar value of the economy. After all, it’s most unlikely that any of /them/ will ever go without treatment if they get sick. :/

      Liked by 1 person

  • Remembering Lives

    I admit I have done a complete about turn on this. I think it is best to just”bite the bullet”. Just accept for a while there is going to be economic pain etc. Watching China, things are starting to get back to normal there now, with an ABC reporter able to walk around Beijing again. People are being tested when they enter buildings. We just need to accept we may not be able to attend sporting events, concerts for aweek with it, being as considerate and kind as we can manage.

    Liked by 1 person

  • Matthew Wright

    If the spread can be slowed, there will be time – hopefully – to prepare a vaccine to protect those who haven’t had it (but I’ve heard 12 months, realistically, for that, which is a looooong time-frame even if things are slowed – and that’s quite apart from mass-production timing). As to how many will get it? I suspect Covid-19 will become one of the many diseases generally circulating world populations in future. Hmmn… so much for the 1960s vision of a disease-free world.

    I guess meanwhile the toilet-paper manufacturers will be laughing all the way to the bank. I would suggest that any large Ayn Rand novel offers an alternative source of the stuff if there’s a shortage, but somehow that seems too useful a purpose for them.

    Like

    • acflory

      lmao! I quite enjoyed Atlas Shrugged. It provided an interesting counterpoint to my altruistic schooling [Catholic] and my left leaning politics. I’m sure I can find something to take the place of toilet paper if all else fails. ๐Ÿ™‚
      Ahem, levity aside, I agree that this bloody virus will spread across the world, and like the ‘common’ flu, it will probably recur every so often, but the gradual build up of immunity within the community [world wide] will stop it from being this devastating again. Maybe. I hope.
      My concern for the here and now is the cohort of people who must not get this virus. Certainly not this year. They’re the ones with compromised immune systems or existing medical conditions that have weakened them. They will be sitting ducks for covid-19. Without going into details, my own, extended family is full of autoimmune problems. I really am afraid that I’m going to lose people I love, in large part because #ScottyFromMarketing is still not taking this seriously enough.
      Btw, if it weren’t too late already, I’d immigrate to NZ immediately. I know your government is not universally loved at home, but from the outside looking in, your PM really does care and she’s doing everything she can to save lives. If you could see what it’s like here, you’d think she was a saint. -sigh-
      But we have to make the best of what we have, even if it’s a porker’s ear.

      Liked by 2 people

  • wordlywoman2

    Accident or experiment mishandled Meeka?

    Like

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