Sunday, February 09, 2020

Coronavirus 3

9th February 2020

In Part 1 and Part 2 of these little thoughts on 2019-nCoV, I discussed some key issues where the data is still woefully lacking, the case fatality rate and the reproduction number, RO, which tells us how easily the infection spreads.

The outbreak is a live experiment in how humanity deals with the precautionary principle. We still lack the basic information that leads to any certainty between an epidemic that quickly loses its virulence and peters out relatively harmlessly, or one that becomes a global pandemic, infecting a large proportion of the world's population, not ending until most folk have either recovered with their resistance built up or are dead.

It's instructive to consider for a moment the rather different pandemic around the end of the First World War. Between 1917 and 1920 H1N1, known as 'Spanish Flu' infected over a quarter of the world's population. Estimates of fatalities range from 50 to 100 million, some 3 to 6 % of the then population. For background on this start at Wikipedia.

Of course medical science has progressed over the past century. Patient care and treatment of secondary consequences has improved. Some of the already available anti-viral drugs may prove effective against 2019-nCoVn and a vaccine may be developed over the coming month. Or it might not.

The precautionary principle demands, in the face of a potential catastrophe facing a billion people or more, that everything potentially useful be tried to slow and halt any emerging pandemic. Now is perhaps not the moment to worry about the supply chain of parts in the motor manufacturing industry, but rather to ensure that the pharmaceutical industry has all the resources that it can usefully use, that the healthcare systems are as good as they can be and that population are kept informed with the best information available.


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