The situation is serious. We may need to take extreme action today to avoid or alleviate a coronavirus disaster.
In summary: in most countries affected by the coronavirus, most of us may need to stay home, if possible, at least for the next few weeks.
Work from home if you can. Set up appointments or make them online. Set everything that is not necessary. And start today. For every day that goes without action, the epidemic can be exacerbated by 40 percent.
While younger and otherwise healthy people are most likely to do well, even if they are affected by the virus, we need to do this to protect people at risk – the elderly and those with underlying illnesses.
Panic or necessary action?
Country after country – including Italy, Spain and France – are now closing down and demanding that they stay home. Schools close, all non-essential shops and restaurants close, crowds are banned and borders are closed.
Only a couple of weeks ago no one could have imagined that this would be a reality. It’s turned apocalyptic.
Does it panic? I do not think so. I believe that some of these measures – albeit extreme – may be the best choice for our governing body to apply. It may be necessary to protect the vulnerable community, at least for a few weeks to come.
While younger and healthy people are most likely to do OK, even if they are affected by the virus, it can be fatal for the elderly and people with underlying illnesses. Several percents of those over 60 who need medical care may die, and for people over 80, the death rate may be as high as 15 percent.
Without extreme measures at this stage, the health care system risks being overloaded within days or weeks. We may end up in a situation where we cannot offer help to a tsunami of sick people, who need emergency and life-saving healthcare such as oxygen and intensive care.
Our doctors may need to decide who should receive care and who should not receive care, who should die and who should live.
According to reports, this is already a reality in northern Italy. And this is a virus that spreads exponentially. This means that within a week or two the situation may be the same in your own city.
Unfortunately, it is different this time compared to the Swineflu. Coronavirus is not a mild flu. It is much worse than the seasonal flu. It may be the most dangerous virus to mankind since the Spanish illness in 1918. It may be the epidemic of the century.
Just look at what has already happened. China was forced to build new hospitals – in a few days! – to deal with the epidemic where it started. Healthcare in a developed country such as Italy is congested and close to collapse, unable to offer anyone in need of intensive care. In Iran, mass graves are apparently being excavated for those who have died in the corona.
This does not happen with seasonal flu. Coronavirus is not like the flu.
According to today’s safest estimates, coronavirus can be nearly ten times more deadly than seasonal flu. In addition, it is spreading faster because there is no existing immunity in the population against this new virus. Because of that, somewhere around half of the population may be infected this year.
While seasonal influenza mortality is 0.1%, the current death rate for known coronavirus cases is currently 3.7%. Fortunately, that figure is probably a big overestimate, as many or most mild cases are not known. On the other hand, some of the known cases will still die, which raises the figure slightly.
The true death toll may land on 1 percent of those affected by the virus, hopefully, a little lower. In the main, older people and those with underlying illnesses die.
The decisive factor is whether our healthcare system can handle the influx of patients. If health care collapses, if seriously ill people cannot receive intensive care, then the death rate increases, perhaps up to 3 or 4 percent.
The disease can be stopped
Fortunately, the numbers above are just a forecast of what can happen, not what will happen. The future depends on the measures we are taking today. What happens is still largely within our control.
Extremely interesting is that China and South Korea have already shown that this epidemic can be slowed down, or potentially prevented if we take far-reaching measures as soon as possible.
It is possible to slow down or prevent the disease, but it requires action in all affected countries.
What happens now?
First, we need to slow down the spread. It requires more than just washing your hands and avoiding touching your face – even if necessary. It also requires that we stay away from other people as much as we can. It requires that we keep a social distance.
This means closing and setting everything that is not necessary, at least for a couple of weeks to come. No conferences or meetings can be held remotely. No restaurant visits, cinema, evenings, theaters, concerts. Start today. Every day we wait can aggravate the epidemic by 40 percent.
This is what many governments now demand. I think it is wise and that anyone who can follow these guidelines.
Schools? That is why the scholars dispute, but more and more European countries and states in the US are closing for a while.
Much can change over time. But we have only one chance to slow the spread in the population. It is today.
To me, it feels reasonable to put in stronger action right now, to limit this disaster and protect our fellow human beings. But it is a political issue for our politicians. As individuals, we can only do our best.
What we can do
Even if you feel young and healthy enough to be safe, your responsibility in the coming weeks can save lives – perhaps the lives of your parents or your grandparents, or the lives of your friends.
Basically, this means only going from home to get to your workplace and only visiting stores to buy what is absolutely necessary, such as food and medicine. Do not take anyone’s hand and keep a distance.
If your work allows, work from home. Companies that can should do it. At least for a couple of weeks.
If you get symptoms of colds or flu (such as fever and cough), but feel good, you should still isolate yourself at home (so says our government). Do not leave home until after a day or two without symptoms.
Prepare for that scenario, make sure you have food and other essentials at home for a few weeks. For most people, coronaviruses are likely to result in relatively mild symptoms, such as a common cold or flu, and you will recover nicely without medical attention.
If you have cold symptoms and are starting to feel really bad or if you belong to any of the risk groups, you should, of course, contact your health care provider.
It could get worse, and it will go over
It sounds boring to keep social distance, but it will go over. We are going through this and after all it could be much worse.
The main thing right now is to slow down the spread to save lives. As long as we can achieve it, other things matter less.
People have endured worse than working from home and watching TV instead of going out in the evenings, not meeting relatives and friends for a time and perhaps suffering a palpable financial loss. It’s not good, but worse things can happen.
People have endured catastrophic wars, starvation and deadly epidemics such as the dying deaths in the 1300s where half of Europe’s population was wiped out and where it took 200 years for it to recover.
Compared to that, a social distance for a few weeks or months, to protect others, is still a relatively small sacrifice.
In a few weeks or months, things can slowly return to mostly normal again. It is on condition that we now take responsibility for slowing down the spread, but we will need to remain cautious for some time. The healthcare system must be able to quickly test those in the risk groups to take measures and keep the disease under control.
Hopefully, relatively soon, we will find antiviral drugs that may be helpful in treating severe coronary disease, to reduce mortality and speed up recovery.
Hopefully, within a year we will get a vaccine and life can return to what it was before.
Once there, we can hopefully be proud of how we did what we could to meet this crisis. Let’s do the right thing to protect the lives of fellow human beings and prevent a widespread disaster.