Weirdly True- Coronavirus Saves More Lives Than It Kills

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This is something that we’d think is not true but actually turns out to be so – true that is. The coronavirus has saved more lives in China than it has caused deaths. Different lives, to be sure, and there’s a certain transposition across time as well. But, given the criteria being used here it’s right:

Separate analyses indeed found that ground-based concentrations of key pollutants — namely PM2.5 — fell substantially across much of the country. These reductions were not uniform. In northern cities such as Beijing, where much of wintertime pollution comes from winter heating, reductions were absent. But in more southern cities such as Shanghai and Wuhan where wintertime pollution is mainly from cars and smaller industry, pollution declines appeared to be dramatic.

Given the huge amount of evidence that breathing dirty air contributes heavily to premature mortality, a natural — if admittedly strange — question is whether the lives saved from this reduction in pollution caused by economic disruption from COVID-19 exceeds the death toll from the virus itself. Even under very conservative assumptions, I think the answer is a clear “yes”.

So, coronavirus kills people. Coronavirus reduces economic activity. Less activity means less pollution and therefore fewer deaths from less pollution. The number of deaths averted by the less pollution being higher than the number of deaths caused by the disease.

This is all true. However, it doesn’t go far enough.

Less economic activity also means more deaths. For economic activity is how we feed ourselves. Not just food though – farming hasn’t been sufficiently affected to cause starvation. But feeding all of our lives. Economic surplus that is then used to provide health care say. Or invest in making life better in the future. Lack of economic activity certainly kills as Mao proved with the Great Leap Forward.

A 5% of whatever drop in GDP will indeed kill people. Again, with a certain transposition over time.

We can also assume that the loss of life from the absence of activity will be greater than the lives saved by less pollution. For societies with greater economic activity have more people living longer lives than those with less economic activity. Thus the effect of the activity in prolonging life must be greater than the deaths caused by the pollution from the economic activity.

Adding this third iteration of effects we get back to what we originally thought was true – the coronavirus kills people,

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Phoenix44
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Phoenix44

Except “pollution” by PMs doesn’t kill anybody. There’s not even a known biological mechanism by which it would – unsurprisingly as we are constantly inhaling PMs from natural sources and always have done. Relatively inert bits of carbon or rubber do very little. Only studies that include every possible death show PMs are a problem, and all suffer from the Exposure Fallacy. Even then the increased risk ratios are tiny, far below a meaningful result. UK PMs are a quarter of what they were in 1970, yet no-one can point to the huge number of lives that have been “saved,”… Read more »

BeerNeeded
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BeerNeeded

Yes indeed, likewise the common claims that PMs from cooking on open fires in low-income countries kill [insert large number] people per year, based on models, tend not to survive controlled trials, for example this large trial of clean cookstoves in Malawi https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2016/10/161026081142.htm which found no effect at all on infant pneumonia, although they did notice a large and very useful effect on reducing infant burns.

John B
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John B

It does in ‘research’.

jgh
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jgh

To the people (in the West) who scream and demand “we must clean the air!!!!!” I turn around and ask: you weren’t around in the 1950s were you? We *HAVE* cleaned the air.

Pat
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Pat

Amen

Pat
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Pat

The environmental movement started in the 5Os when it sure was needed.
Now it’s desperately looking for issues to justify its continuence.

Pat
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Pat

I would suggest that since Covid , like flu, carries off those already at death’s door, I would expect the increase in deaths from Covid to be offset (not matched, at least for a few years) by a decline in the number of flu deaths. However badly ill you are you can’t succumb to both but will likely succumb to one.

jgh
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jgh

It’s one of those things where I expect there will be few people dying *of* Corvid-19, people will be dying *with* Corvid-19, having died of something else excaerbated by Corvid-19.

Michael van der Riet
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Michael van der Riet

Not a single CV19 death in North Korea, although there has been a sudden spike in cause of death given as “firing squad.”

Spike
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Spike

But also, the resulting nagging toward hand-washing and social separation should make this end-of-winter a relatively mild one for many diseases.