Why using a hammer to smash coronavirus will work
A quick survey of news headlines every morning suggests that many governments across Africa have been quicker to react than their European peers when it comes to lock-down measure aimed at stopping the spread of coronavirus. In South Africa, for example, there are fewer than 300 confirmed cases at the time of writing, but restrictions came into place quicker than the UK (which the buffoon-in-chief reckons may have 10 000 or more undiagnosed cases). But for those of us who’s understand of epidemiology mostly comes from playing Pandemic Legacy there’s a couple of unanswered questions which are really starting to niggle.
Firstly, what’s the endgame for “social distancing”, is the Earth just closed for business until a cure is discovered? And secondly, when does the cure become more deadly than the disease? After all, Germany has a fatality rate of just 0.3%, and one of the most comprehensive testing programs around – there must be a point where the economic and social damage outweighs the risk of contracting the disease.
The single most comprehensive and understandable answer to these questions is Tomas Pueyo’s Coronavirus: The Hammer and the Dance. He goes into great depth, using familiar curve-flattened charts and a great epidemiology tool to explain why “The Hammer” of social distancing is needed (it’s about hospital beds as much as it is about death), and what it can achieve if done well. He posits that the more targetted these measures are, the shorter they need to be – reducing global closure from months to mere weeks.
In passing, he talks about the difference between mitigation and suppression and takes in how Singapore and South Korea managed to contain the virus in exactly that kind of timeframe without closing down schools and public spaces – something that seems utterly astounding to those of us who live elsewhere. The answer – rapid deployment of massive testing programs, in exactly the way the UK, US and other wealthy nations failed to do (and South Africa is trying, but struggling with resources).
I still don’t know whether Pueyo is right or not (Pandemic Legacy, folks), but if you read one coronastory today make it this one.
The US (and presumably the UK) are about to go to war without armor.
We have masks for just two weeks, few personal protective equipments (“PPE”), not enough ventilators, not enough ICU beds, not enough ECMOs (blood oxygenation machines)… This is why the fatality rate would be so high in a mitigation strategy.
But if we buy ourselves some time, we can turn this around: