COVID-19 is pretty much the only news at the moment. No wonder, the draconian actions taken by governments effects everyone. A lot of people seem to be genuinely scared by the virus. This again is not surprising. The constant media coverage makes it sound like we are really dealing with an unusually dangerous bug. Critics of this narrative are ridiculed, if they are heard at all. But how deadly is COVID-19. This article will try to examine that question according to the data we have.
I have been on record comparing the new virus to the flu. That is seen by most people as downplaying the pandemic. No one seems to be particularly worried about the flu. But the flu is not a harmless virus. It kills hundreds of thousands of people worldwide every year. We are just used to the flu. So comparing COVID-19 to the flu is not to say that it is harmless. The comparison is more to give it perspective. We do not worry, or take some special actions against the flu every year. We certainly do not close down all public life over it. And that although the thread to some people is real.
So why are we doing this with COVID-19? In order to justify a different, let alone an orders of magnitude different response, at the very least, the new virus would need to be a hell of a lot more deadly than the flu. And I don’t think it is.
Why do I think that? To be honest, this thought developed. Back at the end of January, when the first people were tested positive for the virus in Germany, I looked into it. What I found was a bit worrying. According to the data coming out of China, this virus seemed to have a similar case fatality rate than the Spanish flu. The latter, of course, killed tens of millions of people, more than the very deadly First World War that preceded it.
I alarmed my family over this and told them to take this seriously. My father, who is an internal medicine physician in Germany, was immediately very skeptical about my worries. Let’s wait and see what the data really says and not panic, he said.
But I remained convinced of the narrative that we are dealing with an unusually deadly virus for a while. It was only in mid March, when the panic in Europe was already picking up a lot of steam that I started to become skeptical. What changed my mind? In one word, experts!
I have to say that I generally consider arguing by referring to an authority as a very weak way of arguing. Saying that something is true just because some guys say it is requires a lot of faith. I strongly believe that thinking critically is very important.
Having said that, inevitably, one has to listen to experts often in life. One simply cannot become an expert on everything. On complex subjects it is therefore wise to take a lead from experts. And I am comfortable doing that as long as I cannot see any flaws in their reasoning.
Up until mid March, I could not see anything wrong with the idea that this virus is much more deadly than the flu. But then I came across a video of a German expert, who was trying to alert the public that what we are dealing with is probably another flu virus.
Wolfgang Wodarg is a German physician for internal medicine. More importantly, however, he is a very experienced epidemiologist, and was a German MP for many years. He dealt with a number of previous pandemics like the swine flu of 2009, and was proven right with his criticism back then. So he was not someone without any credentials on the subject.
And the message in his video was very strong. He essentially called complete BS on the whole narrative that we are dealing with an unusual killer virus. That caught my interest. Someone who new a lot about the subject did not agree with the panic. I listened carefully. While he did not convince me fully, the video was enough for me to do more research.
And in the weeks after the video came out, I discovered multiple other true experts, people with a lot more credentials than Wolfgang Wodarg, who all spoke out and were all basically saying the exact same thing. The message was, we don’t know that much about this virus yet, but from all we know, this is essentially a flu virus that is likely to be somewhere between a lot less to a bit more lethal than Influenza.
There are now a lot of experts who have stepped forward. Here are just a few names so that you can research them for yourself. There a many more.
Prof John P. A. Ioannidis, Stanfor University
Prof Sucharit Bhakdi, University Mainz
Dr. Knut Wittkowski, Rockefeller University
Prof Stefan Hockertz,University Hamburg
Prof Martin Haditsch
Many will say, surely these people must be wrong. I watch the news everyday and it looks horrible. I have never seen anything like this before. If it is just the flu then why, for example, are hospitals so full? I can see hundreds of people dying in a single day from this virus.
Even my girlfriend, who I love and whose opinion I value, constantly keeps showing me heartening media stories of people dying with COVID-19. “Do you see that with the flu, Nico?”. Understandably, these stories have a big emotional impact on people. One would have to be a psychopath not to feel bad. It is of course tragic that people are dying. Every case is a sad story. But again, the flu, too, is quite deadly to some people, we just don’t hear about them. The difference now is that we put a camera on the tragedy.
In order to see how deadly COVID-19 is, we need to do more than looking at individual cases. Those cases only show that the virus is able to kill, not how often. And absolutely no one I know doubts that COVID-19 is a real virus that is able to kill. But so is the flu.
Let us look at the real numbers. The UK government creates a report about every flu season. It can be downloaded freely here. The graph below is from page 47 of the 2018/19 flu season report and it shows the excess flu deaths in every year by each week.
As we see, the flu waves peak dramatically within a few deadly weeks, before they decline rapidly. The average number of deaths in an average, non flu season, week is around 9000. That in itself might surprise some people. Taken out of context, a report that 9000 people died in the uk last week could sound very dramatic. But in fact that is just a normal week.
In a bad flu season, like the one in 2014/15, we had a couple of weeks where the Influenza virus killed over 4000 people more than average. It is not uncommon for such weeks to have days with excess deaths approaching 1000. And again these are excess death, over the normal 9000/week.
How does that compare with COVID-19? As I write this, April 7th 2020, the most deadly day was quite a bit short of 1000 deaths per day. And that although the numbers reported at the moment are not excess deaths but simply people who have died with the virus in their body. There is a significant overlap with those 9000 people who die every week, just like there is with the flu.
That means we are currently seeing numbers that do not even reach the highs of previous Influenza waves, let alone significantly exceed them. The same is even true in places like Italy, which according to media reports, is completely devastated by the virus. But the official death statistics at EuroMomo do not seem to support that narrative.
I am sorry, but those are the facts. And these fact are in line with other data we have, suggesting that the case fatality rate of COVID-19 is much lower than 1%. I am happy to hear arguments of why these numbers are false, but short of such arguments I go with the facts.
Media reports about horrific individual stories do not change those facts. Not even if that story is Boris Johnson. Again, I am not downplaying the tragedy of these cases, they are tragic, but if the media wanted to, we could hear very similar bad stories every year from an Influenza wave. All these facts confirm exactly what the real experts who came forward against the official narrative say about this virus. So they seem to be correct.
But then, if COVID-19 is not much different from the flu, how come the hospitals are full? That does not happen during the flu season, right? Yes, it does. In a number of countries with bad medical systems, hospitals are chronically overcrowded. These are countries like Italy, Spain, France and the UK.
Even some hospitals in countries like Germany, which have a lot more capacity, can get extremely busy in peak flu weeks. Triages, meaning the assignment of medical equipment according to urgency, where they take away the oxygen from an old person dying anyway and giving it to someone younger with a life ahead of him, are tragic, but happen frequently all the time.
There are other factors crowding hospitals as well. Everyone who is trained in first aid knows that one of the most important things to do when helping someone in an accident is to calm them down. Lie if you must, but try to prevent panic which is extremely dangerous. Psychology has a big influence on our well being. That is why placebos often work.
And what are we doing now? We massively encouraging every story that helps fuel the panic. Everyone who is appealing for calm is shouted down. Good news are not reported. Hendrik Streek, for example, was the first epidemiologist who investigated the early major outbreak of COVID-19 cases in Heinsberg Germany. He and his team searched the houses of infected people for the virus.
But he was not able to find any living virus on any surface in any of the houses. This suggests that one cannot catch this virus through touching surfaces, as it does not survive on them. Good news, but did you read about that in the media? I didn’t. Did you instead hear horror stories that the virus survives weeks on surfaces? I did.
People who have a panic attack can experience symptoms like a racing hear, feeling weak, faint, tingling or numbness in the hands and fingers, sense of terror, or impending doom or death, feeling sweaty or having chills, chest pain and breathing difficulties. These are severe symptoms, but they are purely psychological. There is no physical underlying condition causing this. It is a powerful example of what psychology can do to us. If the goal is to prevent people from dying then we need to stop panicking them. Panic, stress and anxiety are very dangerous for anyone’s health.
Having said that, hospitals are not actually that full. The UK just opened the new nightingale hospital and had to admit that it did not currently have a lot of patients for it, as the regular hospitals were coping with the numbers of cases.
In Germany, where my father still works at a physician, hospitals are more than half empty. They have postponed any non essential operations and are now twisting their thumbs waiting for the COVID wave that so far has not arrived.
This makes my father very angry. He has some patients who are in great pain and need an operation. But they are not an emergency as they will survive for a few more month. Even though hospitals are half empty, they are not allowed to treat these non emergencies at the moment, as they have to keep the beds available for COVID-19 patients. It is quite disgusting really.
Now, some might object that this is just because of the great policies introduced to fight the new virus. But the evidence for that is thin. Countries like Sweden or Japan, which have not closed down their societies also seem to cope well. Although they have come under great political pressure to adopt the same disastrous police state policies of other countries. As I write this, Japan has actually given in and declared a national emergency.
As I wrote in my last article, the idea that governments can fight viruses is ridiculous no matter how dangerous a virus is. There is no evidence to believe that they can. I might be wrong, but all the data I have seen suggests that COVID-19 is at worst a bit more deadly than the seasonal flu.
Nothing whatsoever suggests that it is orders of magnitude more deadly. There is reason to be cautious, as there is with the normal seasonal flu. I mostly get myself a flu shot every year because of that. But there is no reason to panic. The only outrage we should have is outrage over how badly we are being informed about this pandemic, and how impulsive and irresponsible governments have acted.