Matt Ridley is know as a serial and obsessive debunker of false alarms. He says Covid-19 isn’t one*:
So why don’t I think this hobgoblin is imaginary? First, because lethal plagues have a long track record. . .
The second reason is that new diseases are often more dangerous than existing ones and this one has jumped from bats, possibly via pangolins. . .
The third reason for alarm in this case is the speed with which Covid-19 has crossed regional and international boundaries. . .
Then there is the effect of globalisation, and the huge growth in international travel. . .
He says cries of wolf over so many years have left us unprepared.
We should have seen that globalisation would cause such a risk to grow ever larger and taken action to prevent a new virus appearing. We should have worried about things other than climate change. Here are a few of the measures we could and should have taken in recent years instead of going into hysteria about the gradual warming of the temperature mainly at night, in winter and in the north.
We could have pursued an international agreement to ban the sale of live bats in markets. Bats are especially dangerous because they are fellow mammals and share with us a tendency to live in huge aggregations. We could have funded more research and development in antiviral therapies, vaccines and diagnostics. We could have built a better infrastructure to isolate cases in healthcare systems, and at transport hubs. These might have been expensive, yes – but nothing like the money we are spending on precautionary measures against dangerous climate change which is still decades away.
There are already several different strains of the virus, one of which, the L strain, looks to be more lethal than others. I fully expect that the milder strains will eventually prevail and this virus will settle down as a form of seasonal fever. But before it does so, in this first pandemic, it is now likely, though not inevitable, that it will kill hundreds of thousands of people. . .
That’s what we should have done.
Professor Philip Hill, co-director at the Centre for International Health, Department of Preventive and Social Medicine at the Otago Medical School, writes on what we should be doing now:
- A case-finding strategy to maximise the sensitivity of the criteria for testing for disease, with high testing capacity.
- Rapid case contact tracing and isolation, including a large and enabled workforce.
- Enhanced activities at the border with individual person risk-based assessment focused on the virus, more than on country-specific bans.
- Utilisation of modern technologies to enhance case finding and contact management, including mapping, ethical risk profiling, electronic communication with cases and contacts and the general population.
- Active engagement of cases and contacts with respect to the psychological effects of case contact management systems and stigma.
- Investment in face masks and other general personal measures while providing clear guidance on their use.
- Clear criteria for closure of institutions and for what period.
- Continue investment in businesses and other institutions affected by the measures taken.
- Massive influenza vaccine campaign to reduce the incidence of flu symptoms and unnecessary Covid-19 testing.
Back to Matt Ridley:
Donald Trump takes comfort from the fact that it has killed only a handful of Americans so far. He forgets that the chart of an epidemic is exponential, as each person infects several people, and the power of such compound interest is, as Albert Einstein supposedly said, the eighth wonder of the world. The economist Tyler Cowan points out that it’s hard to beat an exponential process once a certain point has passed.
Last week Greta Thunberg was still telling the European Parliament that climate change is the greatest threat humanity faces. This week Extinction Rebellion’s upper-class twits were baring their breasts on Waterloo bridge in protest at the billions of people who they wrongly think may die from global warming in the next decade. These people are demonstrating their insensitivity. They are spooked by a spaniel when there’s a wolf on the loose.
Are we ready for the wolf?
I’m not confident we are.
* Hat tip Kiwiblog