Covid-101

Dan O'Heirity

Chinese Virus Facts and Figures

The statistics for the Chinese virus remain staggering. Using my preferred data source – which is updated in real time for the number of new cases and the number of new fatalities with the data being reset at GMT+0 – as of today there have been 11,372,2020 confirmed cases worldwide. The total number of deaths stands at 532,864. Two days ago there were 209,028 new cases and 5,170 new deaths in a single day. Yesterday saw 189,626 new cases and 4,492 deaths in a single day. Whilst the virus is effecting 213 countries and territories around the world, it remains the case that 13 countries are accounting for around 80% of new daily cases. As I have noted on previous occasions, the fact that thirteen countries account for the vast majority of cases and deaths does raise the question of whether Covid-19 is actually a pandemic.

As of today Australia, the country where I live, has recorded a total of 8,443 Chinese virus cases and 104 fatalities from the virus. However, figures for new daily cases have increased significantly just as Australia was preparing to ease lockdown measures. Two days ago on the 3rd July, Australia reported 254 new cases with no new deaths so the number of fatalities remained at 104. Yesterday, 4th July, Australia reported 107 new cases and no new deaths so, again, the number of fatalities remained at 104. I want to be really clear before I interrogate the stories around the the increase in the number daily reported cases of the Chinese virus in Australia. Over a two day period Australia has recorded 361 new cases and no deaths. That’s it. Just 361 new cases. In my view, this figure is utterly insignificant.

News Reporting on the Virus in Australia is Just Irresponsible

As is too often the case with reporting on the Chinese virus, news stories are being alarmist and irresponsible. Consider the following quotation from an Australian news source,

Victoria has endured another horror week of its worsening coronavirus situation, with new case numbers hitting record highs and fears brimming that Melbourne’s outbreak could signal a dreaded second wave.

This is nothing more than an attention grabbing headline that has absolutely no basis in fact. Worse still, the headline manages to trivialize the real horrors that have occurred in Europe, particularly in the United Kingdom, Italy and Spain. Secondly, this “second wave” is essentially confined to Melbourne in the State of Victoria and the source of the “outbreak” has been traced to hotels where travellers returning to Australia were in quarantine. There were breaches in quarantine protocols and, as a result, the virus spread amongst the travellers and the security guards who were in place to ensure that the travellers confirmed to social distancing requirements. The result has been infection “hotspots” in Melbourne with strict quarantine measures being placed on apartment blocks in some areas of Melbourne.

Here’s What’s Really Going on With the Chinese Virus in Australia

According to a government website of 4th July, 2020 the State of Victoria – which includes the city of Melbourne – had recorded just 2,469 cases of the Chinese virus including 108 new cases for the 24 hour period covering the 4th July. The same data source reports 113 new cases for Australia as a whole and so, somewhat obviously, the vast majority of new confirmed cases are in the State of Victoria. If you subtract the figure of 108 new cases in Victoria on the 4th July from the 2,469 recorded cases in Victoria since the outbreak of the pandemic, you get a total number of 2,361 cases. The percentage increase from 2,361 cases to 2,469 cases is just 4.57%. Given this figure, I can only conclude that reporting of a “horror week” and a “dreaded second wave” is nothing more than sensationalism meant to grab the attention of readers.

Technically, a second wave occurs only once the first wave is over and when there is a second peak followed by a “massive decrease” in the number of confirmed cases. If you look at data from the State of Victoria then you will see that there was something of a peak in virus cases from around mid-March through to mid-April, 2020. The number of cases then increases slowly but steadily through to the last week of June when we see a new peak in the number of cases. So, whilst it is the case that we are seeing a second peak, albeit small peak, in cases in the State of Victoria I would maintain that talk of a second wave is nonsense because there has never been a first wave of the virus in the State of Victoria, let alone a second wave. The reason is simple. We have never seen a peak followed by a “massive decrease” in the number of confirmed cases. This fact is as true for Australia as a whole as it is for the State of Victoria.

I would make another point about this so called “second wave” of the virus and it is a point that I have made many times about what happens as a result of targeted testing. An article from “The Independent” reports that Victoria recorded 73 new cases on Tuesday 30th June from 20,682 tests. This increase followed an increase of 75 cases on Monday 29th June. The number of tests for Monday is not provided so let’s go with 20,000 tests again. The figure of 73 new cases means that 0.35% of those tested where confirmed to have the virus. The figure of 75 new confirmed cases means that 0.36% of those tested where confirmed to have the virus. Beyond the fact that the percentage figures are incredibly low, all that has happened here is that Victoria carried out more tests and so, quite naturally, identified more people with the virus. Targeted testing in any region in Victoria would have yielded exactly the same results because there are thousands of people in Australia who have the virus, who are exhibiting only mild symptoms and who have not been tested.

I would offer the following fact in support of my claim that there are thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of Australians who have the Chinese virus whilst not showing up in the statistics for the confirmed number of cases in Australia. The State of Victoria has carried out 906,574 tests for the Chinese virus. As of 31st December 2019, the population of Victoria was 6,651,100 people. This means that Victoria has tested 13.63% of its population. This figure is significantly higher than the figure for testing rates in the early days of the virus – a time when, somewhat ironically, testing was absolutely crucial – but it still means that 86.37% of Victoria’s population have not been tested for the Chinese virus. Given that 86.37% of Victoria’s population have not been tested, the next question concerns the proportion of that population who may have the virus.

What Do We Know About the Way in Which Covid-19 Spreads?

It is notoriously difficult to predict or to model how many people will actually contract the Chinese virus. Two factors that impact on any scenario are the the generation time (the time between one person becoming infected and that person infecting a second person) and the reproduction number (the average number of people an infected person goes on to infect). Possible scenarios here include, but are not limited to, a long generation time and a high reproduction number or a short generation time and a low reproduction number. I would think that the latter scenario would be the preferred scenario because of the low reproduction rate. However, he former scenario – which would be helped by effective social distancing measures – would not be a disaster because although there would be a large number of cases, those cases would be spread over time meaning that, for example, health authorities did not become overwhelmed with a massive number of cases over a short time frame.

Let’s assume that social distancing is effective in Australia and that this means that around 5% of the population in Australia is infected with the Chinese virus. Victoria has recorded 2,469 cases against a population on the State of 6,651,100. This means that 0.037% of the population have been confirmed as having Covid-19. An infection rate of 5% of the population would yield a figure 332,555 infected with the Chinese virus. This figure tends to confirm my view that there are hundreds of thousands of people in Australia, or more specifically in this case in the State of Victoria, who have the virus and who will, for the most part, not show up in the official statistics. I would further say that Australia has no real interest in identifying these individuals because reporting 300,000 or so cases of the Chinese virus would not make for particular good political headlines. Much better to report 8,000 or so cases and to tell the story of how Australia “won the battle” against the virus.

First Published July 5th, 2020

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