Avoiding an Actual Death Experience
I know this is outside the normal scope of my blog, but given that thousands of people visit this site each month, and that I wish the best for everyone, I want to share my thoughts on what I believe is the truth about the Covid-19 virus, and what should be done by you to protect yourself. It may be that one person reading this doesn’t get infected because they did, and so it will be worthwhile.
I believe that unless radical action is taken, or we get lucky, we all currently have a probability of between 0.1 and 2% of dying in the coming months. Even 0.1% is much higher than it would have been but for the emergence of Covid-19. This statement is based on what we know from China and how national governments are failing to learn from the mistakes of the Chinese Communist Party.
As many on here will know, I have a Ph.D. in medicinal chemistry and I have spent years interpreting clinical data on infectious diseases. My early research focused on developing anti-virals for HIV and Hepatitis, and I have spent much of my subsequent career working in virology or anti-biotics. I also live near the UK’s ground zero for Covid-19…Brighton. My wife works in a busy clinic less than half a mile from where the Brighton super spreader lives. One of my closest friends was on the same flight as the Brighton super spreader from Geneva, so thoughts about this virus have been urgent for me, and these are the conclusions I have drawn, and the actions I believe you…whoever, and wherever you are in the world, need to take to reduce your risk of actual death.
Firstly what we know…the facts:
- Covid-19 is highly infectious. It’s R0, the number of people an infected person infects is at least 2, but maybe as high as 3 or 4. This is more infectious than seasonal flu and without controls will result in the majority of the planet being exposed within a year. On Thursday 13th February a special adviser to the WHO said that 60% of the global population may become infected.
- Covid-19 has a high complication rate, between 10 and 20%. these complications are mostly severe respiratory in nature. With proper healthcare, the majority of cases resolve, but in those that don’t, the patient will die. The current case fatality rates, according to research from Imperial College in London, is between 0.5 and 4%. Seasonal flu is about 0.02-0.05%% by comparison. The time to death from first symptoms can be up to a month, as was the case for Dr Li, a healthy 30 year old, whose warnings could have spared the world from this looming catastrophe if they had been heeded.
- Most importantly is that Covid-19 has an asymptomatic infectious phase of anything from 1 to 14 days, or possibly in rare cases, longer. This means that infecters are completely indistinguishable from non-infecters, and could, theoretically, be anyone you are in contact with.
- China has risked a financial, political and social crisis by locking down many of its major cities in response to what they know about this virus.
- The Chinese data is not reliable.
Crucial things we don’t know:
- The mode of transmission. Droplets definitely, but what about aerosol? We don’t know for sure at this stage. Knowing this will determine exactly how we protect ourselves from this virus…the measures we need to take.
- The actual case fatality rate (CFR). Is it <0.5% or is it 4% or more? Knowing this will determine to what extent we need to act…individually and corporately as a global society.
Until these final two factors are fully characterized, which will take a few more weeks, given what we have observed in China, and what we know, we should act as though it is on the worse end of the spectrum now. Government bodies, like Public Health England (PHE) and CDC, are not doing this at the moment, but you can do things yourself at low personal cost to minimize your own risk.
So back to the data and observations. This is my take on what has happened in China.
They are in shock. The whole society has been completely caught out. While they are being less than honest, the data they have been producing is not technically a lie, but I (and some at the WHO) believe from what we are seeing, that it is just the tip of the iceberg. This is what I believe has happened:
The response to Dr Li’s warnings is the root to all of China’s current problems, and before long, the rest of the world. However, looking at the way that PHE are acting for example, and they know more than the Chinese authorities (CCP) did 2 months ago, our own authorities are no better. While the Wuhan authorities had the opportunity to kill the virus shortly after birth, and didn’t, so our own health authorities and governments, through radical action, could severely reduce the rate of spread, buying us more time, and potentially saving many lives. But like in Wuhan 2 months ago, they aren’t.
Up until about 3 weeks ago the Chinese authorities were able to produce what they thought was reasonably accurate data, but due to one factor, they were caught out – the long asymptomatic infectious phase and the large number of non-serious but infectious cases, and I believe it is fooling our own health authorities today.
Three weeks ago the Chinese thought they were dealing with a virus on the scale of thousands, but due to the silent carriers it was in fact tens of thousands. Then about 2 weeks ago the whole thing exploded in their faces. Suddenly they reached the limit of their PCR (genetic) testing capability. They were seeing thousands of people getting sick, possibly tens of thousands, and maybe thousands dying. I believe they suddenly realized that their testing data was possibly out by a factor of 10 as they had only been capturing symptomatic patients. Looking around, and with no actual idea of numbers, but a realization they were huge, they hit the panic button. They shut down Wuhan first, then the rest of the province and now these lock-downs are extending into places like Shanghai and Beijing.
Up until Thursday morning they were still pumping out the PCR numbers, but while these weren’t lies, I believe they are only a sample of the true picture due to limitations in the amount of tests. Then we had the spike yesterday. They added a few days’ worth of clinically diagnosed cases through CT scan and chest X-ray. This has thrown everything out of kilter. Organizations like PHE and the WHO had been blindly trusting the PCR data, but now suddenly they were told the infection rates were higher by a factor of at least 50%. They are still blindly taking this new data at face value, but it is again not accurate. Just like PCR testing has a limited bandwidth, so too does clinical confirmation by CT scan. In the west, your local primary care clinic does not have a CT scan. In most countries it doesn’t even have enough doctors to treat seasonal flu effectively. To perform and interpret one test requires time and the work of highly trained professionals. Moreover, those getting a scan are probably very ill, and only a small sample of those infected have had these scans.
The official numbers, even now, I believe are hopelessly wrong. The Chinese authorities know this but for a number of reasons are not speaking about it. The first reasons are cultural. The Chinese are very proud, and they are desperate to hide the implications of this whole episode – the combination of incompetence and ineffectiveness that lies at the heart of the communist government system (currently being replicated by our own governments).
The second is political. The communist party must been seen as being in control, and it clearly is not. Once the façade of control slips, the belief in the all-powerful nature of the CCP will fade and become challenged, this is what they are most scared of…more than a financial crash.
Thirdly, they are not technically lying. They genuinely don’t know the true extent of the numbers of infections, or the number of deaths, so they are choosing to only report to the rest of the world their official statistics. They aren’t lying, but they are not being completely honest. But their actions, and the reports from citizen reporters do point to the full story.
YOU DO NOT PUT 400 MILLION PEOPLE IN LOCK-DOWN UNLESS YOU HAVE SEEN SOMETHING TERRIFYING.
They may not be able to precisely quantify the nature of TERRIFYING, but they would not take such extreme measures unless they had a very real sense that it was massive and deadly.
In the absence of official information on this, we are left to rely on the YouTube videos that the likes of bureaucrats at PHE etc dismiss as conspiracy theory nonsense as they continue to follow the data produced by the CCP. In these videos you see people saying that crematoria have been working 24/7 burning tens of thousands of bodies. People are going into giant government hospitals, and not receiving any care…they are effectively death camps. Hundreds of millions of people are still forcibly locked inside.
From these observations, I believe it is sensible to conclude that the answers to the key unanswered questions…the way this disease is spread – droplet vs aerosol, and the mortality rates – low vs high, are not particularly reassuring. As a result, until we know these answers for sure, or we get lucky and the spring kills it off, or find effective licensed anti-virals etc, we should do the following.
- Countries should in effect go into external lock-down. This may be too late for some countries as the disease has established a beachhead (in the UK quite literally on a town with a famous beach), but not too late for others. By stopping all but essential international travel, you will massively reduce the rate of spread. I personally have skin in the game. I am due to go to New Zealand later this year, and will go, with a mask, if I am allowed, but I think we shouldn’t be allowed.
- Public Health bodies should be much more urgent in their warnings. The idiot mayor of London Sadiq Khan was reassuring people that it was safe to travel on the tube yesterday. He said he was basing that advice on PHE guidance. That is wrong. At the moment, it may be relatively safe to travel on the tube due to the low incidence of Covid-19 infection in the UK, but because we don’t know how many have it, how easily it is spread and the death rate, and because of the asymptomatic infectious phase, we are unable to quantify just how safe it is to travel on the tube.
- Areas with known cases should go into some kind of proportionate lock down. Pubs and restaurants closed. Shopping times allocated etc. Public transport limited to all but health care and other essential workers.
The advice from authorities should be honest. We don’t know exactly how bad this could be, and until we do, depending on your appetite for risk, you may want to consider severely reducing your person to person interactions, whether it be social, work or on transport. In addition you should be applying rigorous measures to avoid transmission when in public…hand washing, avoid touching others, and surfaces which others may have touched. Schools should be closed very soon, and in places like Brighton…now! Work meetings should be held remotely. Etc etc.
That should be the advice governments are giving until we know things aren’t really that bad.
Given the unknowns, this all makes complete sense. Now if the CFR is nailed down, and it is below 0.5%, we may decide that is a risk that we can live with to avoid economic collapse, because make no mistake, that is why governments are behaving like the mayor of Amity did in Jaws. He kept those beaches open so the tourists would keep coming, and bring their dollars, and get eaten by the monster. Our governments led by Trump, by Boris, by Xi are all precisely the same…as are we to an extent…I would be prepared to take on a small defined increased risk of death to avoid becoming impoverished, however at the moment that risk is not clearly defined, and could be much higher than we are prepared to tolerate. Our governments are taking an undefined risk with our lives to preserve the illusion of economic well-being.
You however, can choose to take you own measures:
Reduce person to person interactions
Take sanitation measures to avoid exposure to infection
Keep healthy to boost your immune system – sleep and eat well.
Or you could do nothing, hope we get lucky and avoid the bullet that has hit China between the eyes.
Please share this post if you feel this is fair analysis of the situation and sensible advise. Thank you for allowing me to side track our great discussions here. Also, if you want to read a great thriller about deadly viruses with asymptomatic infectious phases, then buy the book Deadly Medicine by Orson Wedgwood:
Deadly Medicine US Amazon link
In my opinion, Ben, you’re not taking into account the economic factors for whom the such a panic could be profitable. But first I’d like to mention that there were people who returned from the Wuhan province and people who have been there said there’s nothing close with what the media is telling us (nobody is collapsing on the street etc.) so this concerns the validity of not only the Chinese data, but the the western…
Regarding the profits. For one the stock market. China has been constantly returning after their holidays to see all the stocks grown by around 5%, which is significant. And the coincidence with corona virus easily allowed all the insitutuatial investors to buy assets cheaply after all the world markets were declining during Chinese holidays. This is at least one major advantage for the Chinese.
And finally, China, if it wanted, like you said being proud and communist, couldn’t have said anything. They got their own Internet even. The fact that we know even something is already a thing to think about.
Therefore, yet again, it’s only my opinion, but I would say your assessment of the situation and your recommendations are a bit of an overkill
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And I forgot to mention, I find it extremely thought-provoking, that the decrease which was a lot more lethal (SARS), taking 10% instead of 2%, didn’t have comparable measures taken. For me it tells me that the coronavirus. is just another minor epidemic… taking into account they are 5 times as more recovered patients than dead (1000 vs 5000), i would say in a few months everyone will forget about the Covid-19
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I hope very much you are right Anton. However, with regard to taking personal steps for prevention of infection, they cost nothing and are worth following in my view.
On your point about SARS, yes it was more deadly, but it was only infectious when symptomatic. That is the huge difference between the 2 diseases. In fact is the key distinguishing factor, and one of the reasons that people will go on to infect many others.
So far there have been very few deaths outside of China. This may be because of the reasons you give, but it may because this virus has long incubation periods and even when symptoms appear, it can take up to 4 weeks to die e.g. Dr Li.
Your points about this being a ploy to manipulate markets is novel but does not ring true to me.
Thousands of times more likely to die from the flu or a whole number of other diseases (e.g., cancer). Maybe you should focus on those genuine pandemics? At least this is true for the UK where I come from. People die from flu and cancer far more than the Chinese killer.
Salmonella, Bird Flu… its every 5 or 10 years these panics come to the fore. I am all for all the precautions from the authorities… its the press and media panic…. good for selling newspapers I suppose. But then gets repeated in the pubs and coffee shops etc. And its always overhyped. Flu is real of course and deserves the attention it gets during winter. But imagine if 35 of Brits died in one week from this Chinese virus… then it would get hyped as 3.5 million will be dead soon. https://www.theguardian.com/society/2018/jan/25/three-times-more-people-dying-from-flu-in-uk-than-last-winter
I will have more but I am in Illinois which has its penetrating system independent of CDC. We are going to be testing cold and flu people to make sure it did my snark in.
Sneak in not snark. The Chinese figures are a total joke but this is a respiratory virus in a country that is polluted beyond belief. Check out waiq.info. It is possible that it is fatal in that population and a bad cold in UK. Guess we shall see.
I guess “we shall see approach” is the one to take, but at the same time taking sensible precautions to reduce your personal risk of infection is wise, precisely the message given today in an article in the Mail (and that is not my normal source of news) where it had the UKs top expert on these issues saying that at this stage a total mortality over the next year for the UK alone of 400k is not a ridiculous number. It also mentions that the government is working on a case scenario of 50% of the population being infected. In such an instance, with the relatively high complication rate associated with this virus, the CFR would rise as the health service would not be able to cope.
This is why I put this up here as I believe that lives MAY be at stake by making the wrong choices, even at this early stage. I want people to adopt a pragmatic hope for the best, prepare for the worst mentality. If you go out a bit less, wash your hands like you have OCD etc if everything turns out to be have been a storm in a teacup, you will have lost nothing, but if this turns into the highly infectious and deadly for >1% pandemic that many believe it to be, then taking precautions now will reduce the transmission velocity.
On I am for every precaution . The US has basically closed off China and out anyone who has been there has to quarantine. We are so far so good on it and we are testing flu reports to see if it’s here.
I was just giving an optimistic scenario. I had a friend who got Cholera once who said it was little more than gas. I was just wondering if Pangolin Virus is the same.
Btw Pollution in China has plunged way beyond where it should be for a complete shutdown of transport and manufacturing because they still need their coal plants for heat and electricity. They aren’t keeping basic functions going because US had to send a chicken shipment to Vietnam because there was no one to unload food!!!!!!!!!!!
There is something seriously wrong going on in China.
Agreed, and they are tightening controls if anything, as well as making people inform on neighbours who don’t wear masks. I would be very surprised if we don’t see civil unrest before long.
Thank you for sharing this information.
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Well all that stuff on Long Term potentiation and memory Well we were wrong
Nothing new a similar article was published by Nature in 2019:
Nonetheless, much work remains to be done. Whether or not memory is necessarily stored at synapses is still unclear.
I would also not go that far that all was wrong we know about the brain so far. That is too big statement. It actually only shows we know little about the brain in the first place. Nothing more or less.
My error. I meant this:
I would also not personally go that far that all was wrong we know about memory so far.
Sorry for the typo.
Ben/Orson, I am in the U.S. and took your post seriously last month. It’s too bad all world governments didn’t heed scientific warnings and implement mitigating measures at that time. Yet, here we are now, a month later. I’m wondering what your current thoughts are on the COVID-19 trajectory for the major world hotspots given the current levels of action/inaction on the part of various governments. I know you’re in the U.K., but I’m wondering what you think might happen in the U.S. Northeast region. Are we truly on pace to be the next Italy? Are the distancing measures currently in place enough to “flatten the curve”?
I just travelled back from New Zealand to the UK, probably just in time as all borders start to close down for what could be months. From New Zealand I have been watching in horror as the UK and US governments completely screw up. One of the reasons I have not been on here much is that I have posting a lot on this subject on other media, and I am getting asked a lot of questions as my predictions have been proved increasingly right.
In answer to your question…I think the UK and US are absolutely going to end up in the same sort of state as Italy within a month. This virus is very infectious, probably hangs in the air, has a longish asymptomatic infectious period, and has a closed case death rate of 7%. The actual death rate is completely unknown, but I would guess between 1-4%, but once the healthcare system is overwhelmed that will double. That will happen in the UK and the US. There is now no turning back as social distancing has not been introduced earlier enough. You can take your own steps to avoid getting it yourself.
Glad you were able to make it back to the UK before everything shuts down. Thanks for your answer to my question. The truth hurts, but I’d rather know what we’re in for than keep my head in the sand. They are currently closing things until about mid-April around here. I’ve already assumed that time line will be extended. Do you think things will be back to normal (ie, going back to work and school) by end of May, or is that too optimistic?