Covid-19. Are we killing the patient to cure the disease?

Main image by Sangga Rima Roman Selia on Unsplash

Today’s chart compares the growth in daily new cases in Italy and the UK from the respective dates each country hit double figures.

What we’re looking at is the rate of progression of diagnoses over a given time period starting from the same numerical starting point.

For the first three weeks of February, the UK had more confirmed cases than Italy – nine vs. three. Then daily positive tests for coronavirus in Italy reached double figures (17) on 21 February. Eighteen days later, the Italians were recording nearly 1,800 new cases every day.

The UK, the first recorded a two-digit daily increase (12 cases) on 1 March. Yesterday, eighteen days later, it recorded 676 new cases.

Two-and-a-half weeks on from its double-digit-day for new cases, daily new cases in Italy were arriving 100 times faster. (And that was on 9 March: yesterday it was 250 times as many).

Two and half weeks after double-digit-day in the UK – i.e. yesterday – we diagnosed 50 times as many new cases.

That suggests that the UK is not only lagging Italy by a week (the difference between Italy’s double-digit-day and ours) but our outbreak is proceeding much more slowly despite the UK government’s allegedly too-relaxed initial response.

Dr Phil Hammond, writing as ‘M.D.’ in the latest issue of Private Eye, reckons the UK’s hand-washing campaign has helped hold back the rise in cases.

“Early figures suggest it may have delayed the surge of Covid-19, and is likely to have reduced the incidence of seasonal influenza, food poisoning, hepatitis A, threadworm and pubic hair in Caesar salad.”

Along with precautionary self-isolation and a clampdown on international travel, it’s possible that the UK’s approach could have delivered the slow burn spread, leading to herd immunity, the government originally wanted to try.

Instead, and with only 20 diagnosed Britons in a serious or critical condition, today the government will pass legislation effectively putting the country under martial law, locking down the capital city and putting troops on the streets within days.

That’s on top of crashing the economy, of course. I accept the very real threat that this strain of coronavirus presents to elderly and already-ill people, but surely continuing with commonsense precautions would be almost as effective and far less damaging to wider society.

I’ll leave the final word to Dr Phil:

“One solution comes from Graham Medley, Professor of Infectious Disease Modelling at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. We should all assume we already have the virus and behave as if we’re infectious until further notice. Wash your hands and keep your distance from the elderly (unless they need help getting on and off the commode. Then wash your hands again)”

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