Don’t you feel manipulated?
That’s how I feel regarding COVID-19. We only see reality through the prism of the media. We all know that panic is newsworthy and constitutes journalists core business. Why would you want to listen to good news?
Last week, I noticed the European Commission planned to splash more than half a trillion Euros as a “recovery plan” for people, companies and member states. My first reaction was “recovery from what? Bad crisis management? Who’s gonna pay?”
I realised my fears about the virus came from the media. I wanted to forge my own opinion based on scientific facts and data. And you? What drives your behaviour against COVID?
I started to realise that my opinion and fears about the virus were modelled by the media. I never took the time to properly look into studies, facts and figures from official sources. Did you?
Most importantly, I did not analyse the available data to forge my own opinion based on scientific insights. I am more a Cartesian than an artist and I am really fed up with the people spreading and sustaining panic while they have absolutely no idea of what they are talking about (except the “knowledge” from their daily shot of bullshit from the TV news).
Be critic! Make your own judgment
What’s the cost of the crisis? What is the danger? If we look at this crisis under other perspectives, would we change our mind and behaviour? Here is below my attempt to answer these questions and more importantly my calls to actions to mitigate this economic, environmental and social disaster. This article is meant to share a more positive image of the crisis, shake your mind and hopefully raise questions for a better future.
⚠ Spoiler alert: This article may shock you
LIMITATION: I am not a doctor, just a modest analyst. CFR is not a perfect measure of an epidemic. There are many more variables and elements to take into account than the one I included. I simply want to raise some thoughts based on hard facts about how we are managing this crisis and the necessity to fight COVID at all cost.
I would very much appreciate any insights from specialists (knowledge from Facebook is not enough!) to help me to understand the discrepancies between the data and the reality.
The situation at a global scale
21st of May. There were 4,871,205 confirmed COVID-19 cases around the world. This represents 0.065% of the humanity, 1 human out of 1538… Amongst them, 330,840 unfortunately died. Therefore, the Case Fatality Rate (CFR) is 330,840/4,871,205 = 6.8%. In other words, people that got the virus have 6.8% chance to die from it. It is a lot, but spoiler alert, it is far from the reality!
Based on the global data, if you get COVID, you have 6.8% to die from it
This CFR has increased since March 1 when WHO said the rate was 3.43%.
What does it mean at a national level? As per the below graphs, the EU and the US are dramatically hit.
Fatality rate in Belgium is almost 4 times higher than in Germany. Hopefully, according to the FIFA, we are better at football…⚽
Let’s have a look at the CFR per country. As per the below graph, on the 20th of May, the CFRs at a local scale are significantly different than the global average rate. The highest, from Belgium, is as high as ~16% while its counterpart in Germany is 4.6%.
Netherlands, Sweden and at some point Switzerland have almost no lockdown restrictions but they are not doing worse than us. Why? Is lockdown really efficient against social distancing and protective measures?
Hopefully, other EU countries are managing the crisis in a better way to show us the path to follow. Speaking of these countries, let’s have a look at what is happening in the regions where lockdown measures are light or nonexistent. Netherlands, Sweden and at some point Switzerland are examples of countries respectful of everyone’s freedom. Yes, they have amongst the highest CFR but with people freely moving, respecting social distancing and using protection (masks). My understanding of their plan is to make people responsible for their action: You are at risk or afraid? Stay home!
Are lockdown measures effective? From this perspective, we can doubt about it. Are we then banning people from their most essential right, freedom, for nothing? Make your own judgment…
==> What’s my point? I think we need to learn from these countries that lockdown measures miss granularity. We have to live with the virus, not eradicating it.We should have a targeted approach based on factors that we are aware since the very beginning of the crisis such as underlying conditions, age, the concentration of people, open space, and so on. It seems that the benefit difference from social distancing with protection and full lockdown is quite low. I see every day in my street shops closed. We should allow people to open and run their business but with an adapted capacity depending on the configuration of their shop/restaurant/… even with a capacity decreased by 50%, that may still be enough to cover the expenses. That would make a huge difference if employees are paid or supplier kept a bit busy.
I do not believe that looking at national figures is the exact representation of reality. The virus is mostly an urban issue where people are close to each other (offices, public transports, events, …). So I wanted to study fresh data from a big city and I found very interesting insights for NYC. We would all agree that the US is severely hit by the virus and the health system is not the most democratic in the world…So, I think it makes an interesting case.
NYC case study
The total official cases in NYC were 185,206 [12/05]. On the 1/05, following a big test campaign, 19.9% of the NYC population sample were positive to Covid-19. Therefore, from the total NYC population, it would give 19.9%*8,400,000 New Yorkers = 1,671,600 real cases instead of 185,206. You followed? If not, read again 😊.
Mid-May, 185,206 official COVID-19 cases. 2 weeks earlier, an official test campaign suggested that the real number is almost 10 times more!
In the Big Apple on the 12th of May, there were 15 233 deaths among the confirmed cases. 4,023 of them were below 65 years old which represent 26% of the total deaths. 3,333 (from the 4,023 deaths) had underlying conditions, defined as “the person who died had one or more underlying medical conditions” including “Diabetes, Lung Disease, Cancer, Immunodeficiency, Heart Disease, Hypertension, Asthma, Kidney Disease, GI/Liver Disease, and Obesity”[data from 12th of May 2020]. In other words, 83% of the people below 65 years old that died from COVID had known health issues. It means that 690 people died while being in a good shape or with unknown underlying medical conditions. Therefore, a healthy New Yorker aged below 65 years old who has the coronavirus has 690/185,206 = 0.372% chances to die from it. If we want to be fair, we know that if we have the COVID today, we may die another day…
So let’s go back to let’s say to the 1st of May and recalculate the CFR.
In NYC, if you are <65 years old without underlying conditions, you have 0.372% chances to die from COVID. But wait, it is in reality much lower than that!
1st of May, there were total cases in NYC = 166,883. The CFR is then 690/166,883 = 0.413%. This is 1 chance in 250! That’s only if we work with the official numbers. Intuitively, we understand that the death count is more accurate than the total number of cases. Some of us get the COVID-19 either without symptoms or light ones. They are probably not counted into the total cases. This is also true for people really feeling bad due to the covid but not in deadly danger. Look at the official UK Government leaflet I received. Nothing is said to report somewhere our covid suspicions or conditions. So, how on Earth are they counting?🤔 We should have clear instructions to report any doubts of covid to a collaborative database and go to test centres for confirmation.
The point is, the number of total cases is absolutely wrong and far away from reality. I read a scientific study in January (can’t find it back…) that even suggested to multiple by 20 the number of official cases. Why nobody is correcting this? National leaders make decisions based on these numbers!
Now let’s take into account the suspected total number of cases from real tests. The ratio is even more ridiculous: 690/1,671,600=0.041% (bear in mind I use the 19.9% from a study performed on the 1st of May. We can fairly assume that the % on the 12th would be slightly higher, increasing then the denominator of the CFR…). It represents ~1 chance in 2500 to die IF we are below 65 years old without underlying conditions AND get the disease. This may not be the case, not everybody has the flue in the winter…! So add an infectious coefficient to this ratio and we would have an even lower number.
If you are below 65 years old without underlying medical conditions, you have 0.041% of chance to die IF you get COVID-19 (not everybody has the flue in winter…). Odds to die in a car accident is ~0.75%. Why aren’t we closing all the streets and go back to horses?🎠
By the way, despite my research efforts, I was not able to find how infectious the virus is. I found a recent study from economists at the University of Wyoming. They say that “social distancing would slash the peak infection rate in half”. This is good news, we should share it more widely! Moreover, there were plenty of scientific statements claiming that the transmission risk in open space is very low. Add social distancing and protections (mask, hand sanitizers, …) and the risk seems then negligible.
If you are above 65, allow me to reassure you. Still with the NYC data from the 12th of May, 3,170 people over 65 without underlying conditions died. With the same total case number, the CFR is 3,170/1,671,600=0.19%
Do not get me wrong. I am not minimizing the importance of this virus. We should all be careful, behave properly and protect ourselves. But we should not overreact and make irrational decisions!
If you’re healthy and over 65, don’t worry your chances to die is 0.19%. Your car is still more lethal… And try to avoid stairs, odds to die from a fall are at 0.79%🤓
==> What’s my point? Why am I bothering you with all of these facts and calculations?
First, I do it for me. I wanted to understand by myself where we are in terms of cases, deaths, evolution, … it helps me to adjust my “level of fear” regarding the epidemic. I hope it helps you to see another version of the reality.
Second, “now what? What should we do?”. Does this article aim to change the world or your opinion? No. But perhaps some of the below ideas may inspire concrete actions:
- Let’s work together to improve the reliability of the data. It is the responsibility of everybody to report cases and suspicious deaths anonymously. I tried to find where I can report a case in the UK and I could not find how (except calling a GP). Without good data it’s like we are blind. Let’s create a Google doc, a Slack, a survey, whatever as long as we can finetune the data.
- When people condition is worsening, is it really necessary to go to the hospital? What if we train households to use the required machinery to give the patient the temporary respiratory support they need? We are limited mainly because of the number of hospitals and doctors/nurses but we now have virtually an unlimited production capacity for medic machines since factories are stopped. Why don’t we share ventilators (from local storage for quick deployment) to households and explain to them how to use it? Nurses could check from time to time. With cameras and sensors, we could remotely monitor people. Patients could be registered in a priority list in case of a sudden worse condition. We would exponentially increase our treatment capacity and therefore be less sensitive to a higher peak. The most severe cases would still be hospitalised.
- When the Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris burnt, almost €1 bn were collected in a few days. There was a clear campaign to donate to support the disaster. We should build an EU COVID donation fund with all the incentives needed (tax, communication, …) to push people to share. If we collected that amount of money for a holy roof, we could do better for a global pandemic…
- There are as many national covid plans as there are countries. This should not be the case in Europe. We should have a more centralised and coordinated approach. I think here Europe missed a fantastic opportunity to show strength.
- Let’s protect and help people at risk (easy to identify) to stay safe at home (walk their pets, deliver groceries, bring their medics, …). For the others, we should go back to what is close to a “normal life” while protecting ourselves and changing our social behaviours. Why not using a derivative of social apps such as Nextdoor for a COVID specific use? If it exists (could not find one), let’s showcase it.
- We deserve more transparency and explanations from public authorities about this crisis. We are afraid and nobody’s trying to reassure us. We should focus on a public-friendly communication campaign that is simple and honest. For example, we keep saying old people are more at risk. Yes and no. What I found above is people with underlying conditions are certainly at risk. Then what’s the correlation between being aged and having underlying conditions? Probably high and positive.
- Lots of people lost their job and are angry against the virus. They want to fight. We could create an international covid solidarity task force and make it as easy to integrate as it is to join scout camp or the army. These “coviders” could support critical worker and key functions of our society: cleaning/disinfection, education, kid gardening, psychological support, and so on.
- Instead of using the money from the different recovery funds (discussed below) for no one knows applications, let’s submit to a European vote different strategies to use this money for the future. This is too much money to let only a few people decide what to do with it. I heard Ursula Von Der Leyen (President of EU Commission) on the 28/05 when a journalist asked her “how are you sure this money will be invested for EU citizens in the good way?” and she said “member states are well aware of what to do to improve their economy and where to invest”… Sorry for not being convinced with that statement. What’s lost is lost. We will never get back our 6 months of crisis. But with the amount ready to be invested, we have the right to decide the future we want to live in.
Let’s talk about money!
In this section, I wanted to explore what’s the cost of the crisis and the economic impacts.
There is a European recovery fund of €540 bn to be launched 1/06 to protect workers, (what’s left of) businesses and member states. Oh wait, that was last week. I saw in the news this week that now we are talking about €1 trillion… Moreover, tens of billions were already distributed to support health care systems across EU but we did not talk about it because the focus was on the virus. Other tens of billions of euros were and will be spent at a national level to support local economies. For example in France, almost €9 bn just to support OEMs…
What will be the real cost of the COVID-19 crisis? Nobody will ever know. The only thing I am convinced is the price is absolutely too expensive
While we are saving thousands of people, we are putting at risk billions of others today and for the long term. People lose their jobs, go bankrupt, are kicked out of their place they rent or kill themselves. Did you know that when one loses his or her job, the risk of suicide increases up to 30% (do you image the damage at the scale of job losses from COVID…)?
In Belgium for example, 11% of us find extremely difficult if not impossible to pay their health treatment.  We save people from COVID-19 and much more will flood hospitals because they cannot afford treatments anymore, is it the best move?
Locking people in their place is nice, should they are still able to afford a place!
Here come the summer and its influx of tourists. Countries such as Mexico or Spain expect ~15% of their annual GDP from tourism and millions of people only live with what they earn during summer. What would you do? Allowing tourism or not?
==> What’s my point? I simply want to understand if it’s worth it and what is the cost of potentially saving those lives? I hear a lot of people saying « everyone’s life matter and should be saved. » I cannot agree more with this statement. However, if the point is to save people from death, when we compare covid to other ongoing crises to look through another perspective, perhaps we should focus on other priorities to save more lives…
Covid through other perspectives
I’d like to put this virus crisis into perspective with other scourges that the world has and had to face. Very difficult to compare COVID with comparable pandemics. Some are too deep in the past to be relevant to make the comparison and others are minor (at a global scale) or with not very accurate data. I tried to find other measures and reference points with other dramatic global challenges.
This section may seem demagogic or even complotist but it is unfortunally the reality of our world. It is not because we use the following examples all the time to compare crises that we should banalise them
In 2020, we expect around 60 million people to die.
In half a year, COVID has accounted for 0.55% of the expected deaths in 2020. What the hell are we doing for the remaining 99.45%?😔
Have we already stopped our entire world to fight natural disasters, stroke or cancer?
What are we really doing to fight climate change that puts at risk the 10 bn of lives on Earth by 2050? Think about your kids, your grandchildren, … The responsibility is ours!
300 million of us in 2050 would see their living place flooded at least once a year due to the rising sea level. What do we do for them? Should we rebuild every year their place?
$265 bn needed to save 815 million people around the world from starvation
What do you tell this little girl and the 3+ million of children dying from malnutrition each year? 45% of deaths among children under five are linked to undernutrition. Wiping out hunger in Africa would “just” cost $5bn.  It is 0.5% of what the EU Parliament is about to spend to cover the last 6 months!
Joel Berg, CEO of Hunger Free America, has calculated the cost of ending hunger in the US at $25 billion.  At a global scale, we would need up to $265 bn per year to eradicate starvation and related deaths. What do you tell to these people dying on the streets?
3+ million children die because of malnutrition, over 300 million people will be flooded by the rising sea level within the next 30 years, over 4 million deaths per year due to pollution. What should we tell these people and kids when we splash in EU €1 tn for the virus?
Remember that we can protect ourselves from a virus: gloves, masks, social distancing, hand sanitizers, air filters, … It is just a bit of equipment and behaviour change. Can we say the same for hunger or natural disaster?
Pollution kills 4.2 million people each year.  Did we stop the entire world to reduce GHG emissions?
Are you aware of the cyclone Amphan? Probably not, we were too busy with covid. This cyclone happened last week and is “the most powerful cyclone to hit Bangladesh and eastern India in more than 20 years” Millions of people have lost their house. Should we ask them how are they gonna lock them up to face covid?😳
Did you notice the cyclone Amphan? Simply the most powerful cyclone since more than 2 decades in Bangladesh and India displacing millions of inhabitants last week. We did not noticed it, too busy with covid
Back to mobility. With less than half of the European recovery fund, we could have built all the charging points we need at a global scale. “We estimate that the world will need around 290 million charging points by 2040 involving cumulative investment of $500 billion.” Investment in public charging infrastructure is seen as a cumulative $111 billion across all countries by 2040. Can you imagine the lives we could save by decreasing pollution just with EV? Urban mobility accounts for 10% of the global CO2 emissions. Transport related emissions alone kill in EU over 400,000 people per year. This would still be more lives saved than with COVID.
With less than half of the European recovery fund, we could have built all the charging points we need at a global scale for the next decades!
Final point: have you thought where all these masks and gloves would end? In the sea of course! We are creating probably the most important plastic pollution the oceans have ever experienced.
What if COVID is the pause the world needed to make an impact where it really matters?
==> What’s my point? I think we are limiting a single crisis to create bigger ones and worsen the existing ones. Yes starvation, climate change, natural disasters and so on are not new and are traditional examples to put something into perspective. Yet, I bet you were not aware of half the facts I shared (at least I was not). But is it a reason to banalise these challenges? Is a life saved from covid worth more than a kid starving? We are above all humans and everyone should have the chance to live. What if COVID is the pause, the spark that the world needed to exactly look at the other issues? Perhaps it is a divine or a mother-nature intervention to rethink our behaviour and redesign our societies to really make an impact where it matters. We already experienced economic crises but never the world was stopped like today. Never the people were that equal against an issue (we’re all humans facing a virus).
We should not splash the cash from recovery funds to finance our old world but to invest in a new future
Let’s explore how we can all play our part to support the losses from the last 6 months for our rebirth. Some could donate money, others invest their time. We should not splash the cash from recovery funds to finance our old world originated the crisis I listed above but to invest in a new future that we shape together. What do you think?
This economic, social and environmental crisis is the wave following the covid wavelet, preceding the climate change tsunami
Last picture for today: Have you already seen empty ad spaces in the London tube? This is one of the first signs of an enormous disaster wave that is just after the COVID-19 wavelet. And I am still not talking about the climate change tsunami that is coming…
The views expressed in this article are personal and do not represent the opinion of my employer or any other parties I am involved with. The suggested insights come from my personal discussions, research and analyses.