By Christopher Monckton of Brenchley
Though the daily rate of growth in cumulative Chinese-virus cases continues to fall, the daily rate of growth in cumulative deaths seems to have reached a plateau. Unfortunately, in the world as a whole deaths are still increasing at 6% per day, compound. If that rate were to persist, deaths from the virus would double in just 12 days.
In the United States, the growth rate in deaths is 10.3% compound per day: in Canada, 12.9%. If those rates were to persist, deaths in these countries would double in six or seven days. In Britain, where the daily death-growth rate is 7.2%, make that ten days. That is why attempts to compare the present cumulative deaths with a typical flu season are misconceived. Deaths from the Chinese virus are still rising far too fast for comfort.
Which is why Mr Trump’s tweets telling Democrat governors of states maintaining lockdowns may yet prove inappropriate. The President is in a difficult corner: he wants to restart the economy, because the cost of lockdowns is prodigious, but, like Mr Johnson in London, he is vulnerable to the charge that he did too little too late. Because the spread of a new infection is always near-perfectly exponential, there is a premium on acting very early, as South Korea and Taiwan did, and as Messrs. Trump and Johnson did not.
Unfortunately, there are still too many unknown unknowns to assist governments in taking sound decisions, which is why most of them have, in the end, opted for caution, though it comes at a heavy economic cost.
Fig. 1. Mean compound daily growth rates in cumulative confirmed cases of COVID-19 for the world excluding China (red) and for several individual nations averaged over the successive seven-day periods ending on all dates from March 28 to April 17, 2020.
Fig. 2. Mean compound daily growth rates in cumulative COVID-19 deaths for the world excluding China (red) and for several individual nations averaged over the successive seven-day periods ending on all dates from April 4 to April 17, 2020.
Sweden, for instance, has been the poster-child for doing without lockdowns. At first, this was a strategy that seemed to be working well. Indeed, as our graphs here show, Sweden – the bright blue line – has case-growth and death-growth rates only a little above the global mean, and it has achieved those rates without lockdown.
However, Sweden’s 1400 cumulative deaths are more than twice the combined totals in Finland, Norway and Denmark (which is by far the most populous country in Scandinavia), and the infection has spread to several retirement homes because the Public Health Agency had not ensured that staff had, and wore, masks, gloves and gowns to protect patients. We do not yet know, therefore, whether no-lockdown strategies work even in countries which, like Sweden, have high social cohesion and low population density.
To try to find out whether Sweden’s strategy of not locking down the country is likely to work, Dr Björn Olsen, Professor of infectious medicine at Uppsala University, recently asked the Swedish Public Health Agency for access to the data on the basis of which it opted against lockdown. He has had no reply. Some 22 experts recently put their names to a very critical op-ed in the Dagens Nyheter, calling for a reappraisal of the policy.
Perhaps the most important question to which we do not yet have an answer is whether those who have recovered the infection are or will remain immune. The World Health Organization (admittedly the least reliable source of information on this infection) now says that immunity among those who have recovered cannot be taken for granted. If that is true, then antibody testing will be a lot less useful than it might have been.
Nor do we know when a vaccine may be found. But let us end with some good news. Researchers at Oxford University are so confident that they have found a workable vaccine that they are producing a million shots even before it has been subjected to clinical trial or approved. They are taking the risk, because they think they have the answer. Let us pray that their confidence is justified.