The People vs. COVID19

As I write this, statistical data about the novel coronavirus and about mortality rates related to COVID19 is still coming in from many sources around the world. I am not going to go into an elaborate explanation on data sources and methodologies. This is not that article. If you wish to fight someone about R0 being 2.115 or 2.12 or 5.7 you’ll have to find someone else.

Based on the information available to me, from credible sources, at this point in time, here are the underlying COVID19-related assumptions that I’m working with:

  • COVID19 is an infectious disease resulting in higher mortality rates, especially among the elderly and those with preexisting medical problems, than those associated with other previously known flu viruses. While COVID19 case fatality rates may be higher, they appear to be only somewhat higher than those associated with the regular flu. They are not 20 times higher or over 50 times higher, as originally thought and advertised.
  • The novel coronavirus is not generally transmitted by asymptomatic carriers. Exceptions may exist but, if they do exist, they are not statistically significant.
  • While, in theory, you can catch any flu virus repeatedly, there is no definitive evidence that immediate reinfection with this coronavirus is possible.
  • People who are infected develop an immunity to COVID19.
  • R0 for COVID19, over the past two months, was higher than 1 but much lower than 6.

These assumptions are all based on reputable scientific sources and represent a very broad overview of current knowledge related to COVID19. I’ve kept the overview broad and I’m not linking the 200+ sources because I really want to avoid a technical discussion about the colour of one tree that will make us overlook the forest all around us.

As information about the coronavirus started to spread through news outlets and social media earlier this year, governments around the world listened to epidemiologists and health-care professionals, as well as to the loud voice of public opinion, and instituted social distancing rules, quarantines, and lockdowns. Undoubtedly, these measures have prevented, or at least postponed, the deaths of a great number of people. And not just from the coronavirus. In my native Romania, home to the deadliest roads in the EU, over the past 20 years, on average, 6 people died in car crashes every day. Two months of significantly reduced road traffic must have saved at least some of the 360 Romanians who would have been expected to die in this time frame. We don’t have the exact data yet but it’s bound to be good news.

For reference, at the time of writing this, in Romania 790 deaths had been attributed to COVID19 since the beginning of the pandemic. The number of those whose lives were saved is impossible to calculate.

Achieving this has not been easy. In Romania more than 1 million employment contracts, out of an estimated 6.4 million, have been terminated or suspended. In addition to these, countless independent contractors, artists, day workers, entrepreneurs have seen their livelihoods eliminated or greatly diminished. But, we chose to do this. In the face of adversity we decided to come together, or rather stay apart, in order to save some of the people who would have otherwise succumbed to the disease.

In doing this we’ve also negatively affected the lives of many people who would not have suffered due to the virus under normal circumstances. During this time, many people in need of medical services for other conditions did not or could not seek help. People with psychological problems may have seen those problems aggravated and, certainly, more people developed new psychological issues. Some low skilled workers from disadvantaged backgrounds have had to deal with total loss of revenue. People who live alone have had their lives become more difficult. The list goes on. The exact numbers are impossible to calculate but some of these people, especially if they fall in multiple categories listed here, surely have died, through suicide, illness, or starvation.

In instituting the lockdowns, the self-isolation, and the social distancing we’ve essentially answered the trolley problem. You may remember the trolley problem was a thought experiment from those dreadful philosophy classes in high school. It’s usually supposed to provide a starting point for a discussion on utilitarianism. The politically correct answer is that none of the two choices is a good choice because all life is precious.

Well, surely, more life, or some life, is more precious than other…

If you start getting second thoughts, or in the unlikely event that we ever get definitive proof that we were wrong in our assumptions, don’t go looking for excuses or try to blame the government for this. We, The People, based on our collective beliefs about this threat, mandated our governments to take action that would indirectly result in the death of the healthy, potentially young, uneducated, unskilled worker we don’t know in order to save a number of old or sick fellow citizens that we might or might not know. I’m not saying we are wrong in our assumptions, I’m just saying any reasonable person should always be open to the possibility that we might be wrong. And even if we’re not wrong, did we have the right to make that choice?