The coronavirus beatup

OK, well that heading and graphic were linkbait.

I’m a firm believer in my own and everyone else’s ignorance. But here’s some correspondence from someone for whom I have great respect that I received this morning you may wish to ponder and/or respond to.

Using various resources I calculated some infection rates to see for myself to what extent Australia is facing a realistic threat.  What I learned from this analysis is that the message the government and media should be putting out is that provided we all stick to sensible precautions, (routine hygiene, quarantine where needed, special care for closed communities e.g. hospitals, indigenous people, the aged), we all should be getting on with life as usual.
Here is my reasoning.  
1.  Even if all of Hubei’s cases are Wuhan (pop 11.9 million), the infection rate would only be 0.6%.  Tellingly, other populous ‘virgin’ centres in China are recording rates considerably less than this, presumably because they have launched credible public health measures.  Given this, and given that Wuhan is where it started and where an overwhelming preponderance of cases have occurred so far, 0.6% is arguably an upper bound to be experienced in any urban area which has the capacity to organise itself.  
2.  The rates in South Korea support this conclusion.  Daegu has around 4300 cases for a population of 2.2 million – an infection rate of 0.2%. But this includes roughly 3500 cases which occurred in the hot house of a religious sect.  For Seoul, as of today, the infection rate is is about 0.005%. It is also reported today (by the BBC I think) that South Korea may have reached its peak.
3.  I’ve not looked at the Italian and Iranian cases.
4. I acknowledge that it may not be as easy for cities in Europe to hunker down – however they have had a head start in getting procedures into place.
5.  The last chart shows that new cases in China are rapidly declining – all in 6 weeks.  The situation outside of China is showing signs of levelling.  Provided sensible public health measures are followed, this should continue, the upshot being that it is difficult to see how infection rates could rise much beyond current experience.  
6.  Based on the above, the maximum number of infections I would expect in Australia would be roughly 0.03% for 13mil (being Syd/Melb/Bris) and 0.01 for the balance of 12 mil = 4,800 with a max of 160 deaths (assuming @3.4% death rate) – the largest proportion of these over 60 years of age.
7.  Interestingly in Australia deaths due to influenza in 2016 were 464 deaths, and in 2017 the number was 1,255 deaths.  For flu the death rate may be lower than for coronavirus by the infection rate is much higher.


This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

10 Responses to The coronavirus beatup

  1. Kien Choong says:

    Perhaps the rates reported in China would have been higher if the Chinese government and the people had simply been “getting on with life as usual”. That said, if “getting on with life as usual” in Australia means taking sensible precautions like washing hands habitually, I’m willing to believe that the effect of Covid-19 in Australia will not be worse than in China.

  2. paul frijters says:

    totally agreed with whomever sent you this. This virus is less of a threat than it initially seemed, particularly for us in the West. In Italy and SK the rates are also leveling off.
    Mind you, if this virus hits very poor and unorganised places, like the slums of India and Afghanistan, we might see a real escalation.

  3. Nicholas a question for your corespondent
    I’ve been wondering is it possible that a mild variety of this virus might have been lurking in the population for sometime and that late last year it mutated enough to become noticeable?

  4. Nicholas Gruen says:

    Here’s the latest data. If you look at this spreadsheet which is updated daily, The only country where infections are over 100 per day that the virus is still clearly on a really nasty exponential curve upwards is Italy which has begun imposing quite strong lock-downs.

    I reproduced the numbers below and coded them as an html table, but WordPress decided that I was on the IDW and not to be trusted. So I’ve deleted. Here’s the graphic for growth over time for the world.

  5. paul frijters says:

    well, this thing is spreading faster again than when this post was put up. Seems this thing has spread underground, with probably far more cases undetected. There are sightings in Afghanistan, India, Pakistan, etc., so a major spread now seems very likely again. This thing will have plenty more leg in it.

    There are some interesting winners and losers from this. The elderly and the unhealthy are the big group at risk. The health system is being inundated so anyone who is unhealthy gets less treatment as the hordes go for tests as soon as they sense something.
    Economically, this is a disaster for the tourism and conference sector, plus all their suppliers (like airlines and catering). Universities are also losers. A long-run winner is the whole health sector and anything to do with working at home. No cuts to them anytime soon.

    Politically, it seems Trump is a likely big loser from this because of his blase attitude. If thousands of old Americans start dying from this, he is going to seem heartless in a way that nothing else before has. Otherwise, this thing is an opportunity for any incumbent to seem stately. It is also a prime opportunity for major corruption to be pushed through parliaments and other systems, since no-one will be noticing.

  6. murph the surf says:

    Paul Frijters post of March 6 says everything anyone needs to know about him.
    Supercilious yet profoundly ignorant.

    • Nicholas Gruen says:


      This is not 2006. I have no stomach for you handing out abuse to whomever you feel like on the site.

      We provide a service here. If you don’t like what Paul writes, don’t read it.

      You’re also most welcome to tackle Paul on the issues. Indeed, if you showed any appetite for that, you’d be given licence to lean in with a bit of aggro.

      You should apologise.

    • Kien Choong says:

      We can reasonably have different views about how serious/threatening Covid-19 is. The important thing is to understand (and give) good reasons for our views.

      (warning: the following remarks are possibly supercilious and profoundly ignorant!)

      The “novel” aspect of Covid-19 seems to be that it is not “sufficiently fatal” (like SARS), and so can spread more easily than if it were a more fatal disease. Yet it is not as “benign” as the common cold.

      Arguably it is a matter of time before humanity faces a virus that is neither “too fatal”, nor “too benign”, and so how does humanity now adapt to this new kind of disease? We have learnt to live with AIDS, and perhaps we need to learn to live with Covid-19 and similar kinds of diseases.

      Another thought. If the world as a whole were to treat Covid-19 as an alien invasion, and we respond with determination by spending big on our health defences, we would both: (i) save lives, and (ii) put an end to “secular stagnation”. Why not spend big on health? The ultimate win-win!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Notify me of followup comments via e-mail. You can also subscribe without commenting.