All we had to do was wear a mask

It really should not be this way. We have a virus that can easily be limited by social distancing, mask wearing and good hygene – but somehow, as a nation, we have let the virus proliferate longer than it should

Lessons forgotten from 1918

By the time it abated in 1920, the Spanish flu had killed 675,000 Americans and left hundreds of thousands of children orphaned. Not only did more Americans die of the Spanish flu than in World War I, more died than in all the wars of the 20th century combined

As of December 28th 2020, the US at 330,000 deaths due to COVID 19. That’s half of those who died in the 1918 pandemic. Granted the 1918 flu was more severe – and the population of the US was about 100m at the time (about 1/3rd of our population today)

So far in December 2020 over 65,000 people in the US have died – making it more than any month in the pandemic so far – and likely any month in US history – since Oct 1918. Over 5.7m new COVID cases were diagnosed in December.

5.7m COVID cases in December; 65,000 deaths

Well over 3 million americans have recently tested positive for COVID (within the last 2 weeks). At a 1% fatality rate – that means another 30,000 deaths – even if we stop the spread immediately. And that’s before we take into account the asymptomatic. With record hospitalization rates for the US as a whole – the January fatality rate is likely to be higher than December.

US Caseload – currently 3m Americans recently tested positive

Take a look at the caseload chart – approximately 6x as many people are coping with COVID (diagnosed in the past month) as was the case in October.

UK Data is alarming

The news of the new COVID-19 variant in the UK is very alarming. The chart below shows the substantial increase in daily average number of cases.

The media is reporting that the new strain is more spreadable – but likely not more lethal. That said – if more people come into contact with the virsus then more will die.

For the UK December is the highest month on record for new COVID cases. That points to a grim opening for 2021 in relation to fatalities.

Back to 1918

Back in 1918 the people then did not know what they were dealing with. Only in 2005, 87 years later, was the sequencing of material from the 1918 pandemic successfully completed – revealing that the source of the pandemic was Bird Flu.

The 1918 pandemic was more lethal than the current COVID-19 variant today at around 2% to 5% fatality rate – versus less than 1% for COVID-19. It was the first time that humans (in our recoreded history) experienced a H1N1 virus – and so we were ill equipped to deal with it. The virus turned the body’s defence system against itself.

We should thank ourselves very fortunate that COVID 19 is not as lethal as the 1918 pandemic – but we must ask ourselves why have we let this linger?

Countries with more recent history have performed better

Ok – so perhaps it’s not fair to compare China (pop. 1.4billion) with the US. We in the Western World have more personal freedoms. But you can’t help but notice that across the whole of China – only 3,000 COVID cases in December.

  • Japan – population 100 million has had 73,000 cases in December and 1100 deaths
  • Korea – population 52 million has had 23,000 cases in December and 293 deaths
  • Australia – population 25 million, has had 419 cases in December and 1 death

Memories of 1997 Bird Flu H5N1

The 1997 bird flu was known as H5N1. It was one of the most lethal viruses in history. 30% – 50% of people infected died. Only through the swift action of culling of millions of chickens in Hong Kong did that outbreak get under control. Fast forward to 2004 – and H5N1 had mutated and was spreading in Asia again – impacting birds, animals and pets. In Thailand’s largest tiger zoo more than 100 big cats were killed.

The risk of future pandemics is actually getting worse. More to come on this (its driven by a global drive to mass slaughter of animals kept in confined conditions that allow viruses to propagate and mutate). We need to learn every lesson from this pandemic and apply this for the benefit of our children and ourselves. Pandemics are not once in a century event.

Closing thought

We all know it, but its worth repeating… Not only were we shockingly poorly equipped to handle a pandemic – but we have let complacency repeatedly propel this virus to new heights. We have collectively failed each other.

We are fortunate that we are NOT dealing with H5N1 or a new variant with shocking lethality. But the high death numbers in April of 55,000 seemingly did nothing to deepen our resolve to beat this virus.

If many countries like China, Japan, Singapore, Australia can do this, then why can’t we. The answer lies partially in our lack of experience.

The next time there’s a potential pandemic – how quickly will you put on your facemask? Will you start wearing one after 50,000 people have died? For me – it will be instantaneous. Why take an unnecessary risk with an unknown enemy?

How long will you practice social distancing? Will you still travel across the country when millions of people are known infected and when hospital capacity is at its limits?

We are also fortunate that a vaccine has come to our rescue in record time. But think about it. At best today it takes 8 months to safely identify and prepare a vaccine – and many more months to vaccinate a population of our size. In that time well over 300,000 people have died in the US. Prevention is far and away the best approach.

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