panic don’t panic

Red alert, day 75. Lockdown, day 65.

Private Eye is doing a good job of covering the pandemic these days, not a surprise for the last investigations-focused news organ left. (Cleverly camouflaged with the cover and center section of humor magazine for twelve year-olds.) Each fortnight’s issue nowadays contains at least two solid pages of news summaries by “M.D.” Lately M.D. has front-loaded the space with the number of deaths and excess deaths, pointing out how Covid affects non-Covid health outcomes as well (delays in visiting the doctor, delays in treatment).

MD themself did not take the threat seriously at first, nor discuss it as sensitively as one might hope:

600 people a year die of flu, 10-13,000 in a bad year.
In the two SARS coronavirus outbreaks between 2002 and 2004, the UK media again went into full throttle “killer virus” mode and yet only four people in the UK were infected, with no deaths. This was largely due to calm, coordinated global public health measures. 

Pandemic infections come and go, and Covid-19 may yet turn out to kill more Brits than seasonal flu does every year. But pandemic panic always causes significant harm, and usually overloads the NHS more than the virus. Yes, it’s exciting that a virus may have come via snakes, bats and pangolins to infect us. Yet it may be less deadly that boring old Influenza A in a bad year. So get a grip and wash your hands: it’s the best thing you can do to protect yourself. (MD, Issue 1516 / 21 Feb)

Could fear of coronavirus cause more harm than coronavirus itself?
Respiratory infections are a normal way to die, particularly when you’re old. Prolonged intubation and intensive care is often futile, expensive and unkind; yet we tend to panic and “pull out all the stops” for exciting new infections when it may be kinder not to treat … The mild to moderately unwell need to sweat it out at home, the elederly need to consider if – as for any serious illness – they would want hospital admission, resuscitation and intubation (intensive care bed permitting) or for a retired GP in a space suit to pop round with some morphine and the death certificate book. … We’re going to die, some much sooner than others. Now wash your hands again. (MD, Issue 1517 / 6 March)

At least they sometimes acknowledge their miscalculation:

The first thing a South Korean friend in London did when she got wind of the coronavirus outbreak in January was to buy and wear a mast. MD thought it was an overreaction. The next thing she did was fly home. How foolish, flying toward the outbreak, MD thought.

Thus far, a country of more than 50m people has recorded 10,793 cases with 9,183 recovered and just 250 deaths, zero current community spread and no ruinous lockdown. They even pulled off an election, with 30m citizens voting in person, without any outbreak. The locked-down UK has had around 40,000 Covid-19 deaths in a population of 65m, with thousands more to follow from collateral damage unintended consequences. If the UK has been “following the science every step of the way” – as our government insists – what has South Korea been following? (MD, Issue 1521 / 8 May)

Posted on by Diana ben-Aaron
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