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On Covid-19

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I don't want to monopolize the thread.
As we approach the end of the first 1/3 of the year, the official count of COVID deaths stands at a bit below 200,000 (it will pass that by this week). Let’s assume there is serious undercount of 50%, leaving us with a "real" count of 400,000. That is 100,000 per month, on average. Multiply by 12 months, 1.2 million in a year. In view that there are no cures, no treatment and no vaccine, plus that a lot of countries are simply unable to deal with the crisis, there is no reason to believe (for me) that these numbers will change for the better.
Statistically, the "flattening of the curve" should happen regardless of the efforts. In a finite population, events that grow exponentially can never sustain such growth. They start slow, then have a sharp increase and, as there are no more “new” individuals to be affected by the event, the rate of growth levels off. With a transmittable disease, one also must factor in that the famous “herd immunity” will eventually kick in, although this is not a complete given. Meaning, there will be fewer and fewer people susceptible to the virus available for the virus. Those with natural immunity will catch it, not know about it, and keep going. Those without such immunity? We don’t know. As we do not know whether people affected by it gain immunity after the disease, we do not know if the herd immunity will grow rapidly, slowly, or not at all. If the worst-case scenario materializes (you can catch the disease more than once) then the herd immunity hope disappears: those not immune to the disease will always be at risk of catching it.
Every credible authority tells us that this virus will not go away and will return, perhaps with more force, in the northern fall. This adds to the final tally for the year. Plus, eventually, whether under controls or not, the economies of the world will have to open. When we come back out, still with no cures or vaccines, the numbers will increase again. Let's give it a simple 50% increase over the expected tally: 1.8 million deaths of COVID in 2020 (no need to believe that in 2021 this will not be here with us).
The number of people that die in a year in the world is around 56 million. An increase of 1.8 million deaths equals a 3.2% increase in world mortality. As a plain number, it does not sound that bad. As a threat to mankind, it is trivial: there are roughly 130 million new people coming into this world every year, so as an existential threat to humans, this virus does not qualify. But part of the valid fear is that it seems we all have a 3.2% chance of this (more or less; we know the virus does have certain preferences). So if we go out, it means we all have that 3.2% chance of dying. Terrible, but democratic.
The economic devastation is more difficult to calculate. I saw that in the US, the GDP contraction for the Q2 will be around 40%, in annualized figures. It will affect people in a direct proportional way related to your income before the pandemic: the poorer you were, the more it will affect you. I have no figures to back this idea but I suspect that by the end of the year, the pandemic will have pushed millions and millions back into poverty, and millions into it for the first time. So the "collateral" damage of the virus is almost impossible to calculate (for me) but yet it is clear.
The virus seems very resilient. Examples of societies/countries that have re-opened show that the virus spikes again. It seems there is a reservoir out there, just waiting for the prime target (humans) to be available again. In view that there are some felines that have been diagnosed as having the virus (tigers in zoos), could other felines (household cats) be carrying it? Other mammals? Could it be that asymptomatic people remain carriers for longer? If so, the only way to deal with this is the vaccine. Which means 2021, at best. And not assured.

There are currently two camps of thoughts, both logical but unfortunately at odds with each other. Neither is without merit. On the health side, our logical human aversion to all deaths makes it simple: the sole way to deal with this is by reducing contact between people, the current “social distancing” policy. But in a way, this social distancing is doing only one thing: delaying contagion. If all the world would go out immediately on May 1st, nothing would be achieved. The massive plague would hit us the same, just three months later. So separated we must remain.
But economically, this cannot be sustained. Our current world system means that debts accrue. Payments are due. Utilities must be paid. Food and essentials must be produced, distributed, marketed and purchased. A rough guideline for developed economies tells us that 40% of our economies are in service areas. Which have been hit the hardest. So we must re-engage. We have to start working again before hundreds of millions are financially wiped out. There is a limit to how much money can be printed simply by decree and that can be done only with the major currencies. The USA can issue trillions of dollars in debt and the dollar will retain its value. The EU can too. Any other currency attempts that and the laws of economics will kick in. The devastation to such local economies would be total.
The tug of war of these two poles is extreme. If you are a doctor, the solution is clear. If you are an economist, it is clear too. But for everybody else, it is just the devil and the deep blue sea. Scylla and Charybdis. Caught between the sword and a wall. And it is going to take a lot of thinking, a lot of courage, and one final act of decisive action, one way or another, to make the next decision.
Because not making a decision is a decision itself.

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  1. GlennHarman's Avatar
    Ponchi, As always, well-thought and well-written!! GH