The World Health Organization (WHO), after many weeks of dithering, has finally declared COVID-19 a pandemic. Most scientists and healthcare professionals already had been treating it as such anyway. Scientific advisers to Chancellor Merkel warned her that as many as 2/3 of all Germans may contract the coronavirus and she needed to attack it seriously and immediately as a major pandemic. The US, as many had urged for weeks, is finally ramping up testing and found 313 new cases today – more than the cumulative total for weeks up to March 5th. The stock market took another major tumble today with the Dow now down more than 20% — forecasting a recession is coming to the US. (These forecasts are sometimes scoffed at since the Dow has forecast 9 of the past 5 recessions.) Is the world ending? Is there any good news?
I think the risks are many and they are far more likely than optimistic scenarios painted by Trump, but there are some signs that the world may avoid some of the near apocalyptic scenarios if governments act forcefully and quickly.
The first sign is that the Chinese contagion finally broke its fever with just 18 new cases and 11 new deaths — record low case number for China last seen Jan 15th — eight weeks ago. These numbers and the number of active case have been trending down for more than three weeks now. If China doesn’t suffer reinfection, it means that the US might only suffer similarly until the end of April. Of course, this assumes that the US adopts similarly draconian measures as the Chinese — not a slam dunk given today’s political environment. Following the Chinese containment model as the Italians appear to be doing now will set back any country’s economy severely for at least 1–2 quarters.
The second sign is that some countries appear to have escaped any major fatalities. For example Norway has 629 confirmed cases and hotness of 116 per million citizens and yet has suffered no deaths. The apparent mortality of zero, although statistically significant, is very misleading since case count has exploded in recent days. The lagged5 mortality of 0/113, that is 0 out of 113 confirmed cases 5 days ago in Norway, is also misleading because Norway has only had one resolved case so far so the lag time between disease diagnosis and resolution may be longer than 5 days especially since we suspect that they may be doing a better than average job of testing potential cases early like South Korea. So even though Norway and its neighbor Denmark (514 case with no deaths) are hot and show zero mortality on all 3 of our measures, it is still too early to say whether they provide an optimistic model for testing, tracking, and treatment of COVID-19 that may be emulated by other countries. There is another country, though, where optimism may be justified and that is Singapore. It has experienced the coronavirus outbreak for more than two months already. And yet it still has 0 fatalities out of 178 confirmed cases (coincident). It also has 0/130 mortality on a 5-day lagged basis. In fact it has zero mortality on a resolved basis as well with 96 recovered patients and no deaths. This is beginning to be statistically significant and rules out some of the more apocalyptic scenarios envisioned by some. It may make sense for researchers to look at how Singapore test, track, and treat potential victims and how they restrict travel, activity, and quarantine to protect their citizens.
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