Anne Marie Waters
March 30th 2020
Since the outbreak of the global coronavirus pandemic, we have heard startling numbers of cases reported every day, and even more startling numbers of deaths. But how accurate are these numbers? The truth is we can’t be sure.
As a starting point, it’s important to note that deaths are reported as a percentage of cases. Current data strangely shows vast differences between developed countries. At the time of writing, the figure is 1.8% in the US, 10.8% in Italy, 8.2% in Spain, 0.8% in Germany, and 6.2 and 6.0% for France and the UK respectively. We do not know why these figures are so different, simply because we can’t yet know what the true figures are.
The symptoms of coronavirus are flu-like; headache, sore throat, fever etc. The trouble is these symptoms occur in a variety of illnesses. The severity of coronavirus symptoms also vary from patient to patient. There is a no way a doctor can know whether these symptoms are caused by coronavirus or a similar illness.
The only way to know this for sure is by testing, but even this is fraught with difficulty and almost impossible to carry out effectively. Any test must of course test only for this strain of the virus and nothing similar. It must also test for the virus irrespective of the severity of the symptoms. Finally, in order to have truly accurate figures, it must be used to test everyone in the country with symptoms; this isn’t practicable given the common nature of the symptoms. Many people may well have had the virus, recovered, and never known. Similarly, people may have had the virus and sought no medical help. So far, testing has only been carried out on hospitalised patients with significant symptoms.
Furthermore, there is a distinction to be made between people who have died and had been diagnosed with the virus, and those who died from virus. Dr John Lee, a retired pathology professor, explained this brilliantly in a Spectator article at the weekend. In his example, he wrote of people with severe illnesses who die while infected with coronavirus. But people with such illnesses would be vulnerable to any such virus (including the flu). This is entirely different to people who die from the virus, and yet all deaths are recorded as coronavirus deaths.
There is much confusion surrounding coronavirus, as the government finds itself in unchartered territory day after day. Our freedoms have been curtailed as never known before. We are living in a strange and disorienting time. All of this compounded by the fear of not knowing exactly what we are dealing with. Let’s hope in the coming weeks, this becomes clearer and we can navigate our way back to normal life.
Anne Marie Waters