Coronavirus: The Shock of the New?

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From our Swindon Correspondent:

Someone pointed out on Question Time that the number of deaths from Covid-19 in the UK was less than the number of people who drowned last year, so maybe, we’re overreacting.

This got me thinking about our reaction to new things. When Islamist terrorists started blowing themselves up in cities around the early 2000s, it was a huge shock. Islamist terror was a new thing. Many people didn’t fly for a year after. We poured trillions of dollars into fighting wars that didn’t eradicate it. After a while, after attacks in many other cities, we got used to it being a thing. It became largely normalised as one of life’s risks.

I feel we may be going through that a lot here. Covid-19 is a serious virus, probably worse than a flu in terms of deaths, That’s been a shock to us, and we struggle to process these things. We have a propensity to apply more caution until we know what’s happening. After a while we adapt to the change.

I’m sure it’s going to take a while to come out, and then, maybe a few false starts, but at a certain point, even if we haven’t cured it, people will start living again. Maybe we’ll adapt like we added more baggage security at concerts after terrorism with more hand sanitiser and masks being work more on busy trains.
I feel like we’re already starting to come out of that high caution phase and into something that’s more about trying to return to normal.

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Arthur the Cat
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Arthur the Cat

Whoever it was on Question Time, they were a couple of orders of magnitude out. Deaths by drowning in the UK are running at ~400/year. Covid-19 deaths so far are at least 34,000.

John B
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John B

Correction: Covid-19 alleged deaths so far are at least 34 000. Thatโ€™s better.

And there are normally 40 000 deaths per month in the UK, all causes.

Charles
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Charles

Yes, ultimately if we fail to suppress it we will have to adapt to it. That’s what happened when the Black Death swept through Europe killing a third of the population (or more) and mostly what happened when the 1918 flu killed tens of millions (there were a few places that successfully applied social distancing). An increasing number of countries are getting things under control (e.g. UK), so we’re not beaten yet, but it’s far from over.

Anonymous coward
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Anonymous coward

QT caller fell victim to your own fallacy:

We cannot measure the severity of the coronavirus (or poverty, any number of other things) without taking into account the things we do to reduce said severity (or poverty, or any other problem).

In this case, we cannot say were overreacting in containing the virus simply because we have been (relatively) successful in containing the virus. We do not know what would have happened otherwise.

Addolff
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Addolff

AC, this virus is not doing anything that other, similar viruses haven’t done, so we can compare our actions now with those of previous / similar diseases. This isn’t perfect but you can get an idea.

1968 – 80,000 UK deaths from Hong Kong Flu (96,000 if adjusting for the increase in population). No lockdown, no businesses going bust, no increase in unemployment, no increase in the National Debt et cetera, et cetera, et cetera.

Anonymous coward
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Anonymous coward

We dont know there are any similar diseases.

Infection rate (Ro) and mortality of COVID-19 are still (largely) unknown, as are the duration of immunity, mutation rate, etc. Making any comparison to past viruses spurious at best.

Only after we have reliable data on these, plus time to model, might we be able to guess what might have happened given other circumstances.

If we had to guess now, I suspect Italy and Belgium would be the best indicators of the worst-case scenario – but even they are poor examples, given they (belatedly) introduced mitigating strategies.

Spike
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Spike

No, we do not know what would have happened otherwise. For this reason, anytime we empower government to pursue “safety” or “prevention,” it is an unbounded grant with no good measurement of results. Likewise, if we establish a World Climate Agency, it will probably not state what it is trying to achieve and will certainly not be able to show how close it has gotten.