Good news: of all countries with more than 1500 confirmed cases of coronavirus, only Israel has a lower mortality rate than Australia. This suggests we are doing a lot that’s right – but does not mean we should not now change tactics, urgently, to prevent great suffering.
On latest figures, just 0.385 per cent of Australians with the virus have so far died. Our figures are probably more reliable than most other countries since we also test more than most.
That suggests the rates of other countries may be overstated, since many mild infections are not reported or tested. It’s for that reason that we should treat all comparisons with caution.
Our own figures suggest Australia has done a lot that works, and we have a first-class medical system that is coping well. We may also be helped by living more spread out than, say, Italy, being 10 years younger than Italy and smoking one third fewer cigarettes, per person, than Italy.
This does not mean that everything done here was done well, or that everything done here was necessary.
We closed our borders too late, temperature-tested at airports too late, super-charged vaccine research too late and still monitor home isolation too weakly. We must also do far more to help the vulnerable – anyone frail or over 65 – to stay at home or at aged care centres in more safety.
And, critically, we have smashed our economy by putting all Australians into virtual isolation when we could and should be switching to isolating only the vulnerable and potentially infectious.
In contrast, Taiwan has imposed strict controls on people who are potentially infectious while allowing the economy to keep going. It has a similar population to Australia, yet has recorded fewer than 300 cases and just two deaths.
But our figures also tell us something else: this virus is, yes, dangerous and highly infectious, but seems far less deadly than first claimed.
In fact, Dr Anthony Fauci, the top health expert in Donald Trump’s tax force on the virus has just co-authored a study in the New England Journal of Medicine making this very point- that it may turn out to be not much deadlier than a very severe flu:
If one assumes that the number of asymptomatic or minimally symptomatic cases is several times as high as the number of reported cases, the case fatality rate may be considerably less than 1%. This suggests that the overall clinical consequences of Covid-19 may ultimately be more akin to those of a severe seasonal influenza (which has a case fatality rate of approximately 0.1%) or a pandemic influenza (similar to those in 1957 and 1968) rather than a disease similar to SARS or MERS, which have had case fatality rates of 9 to 10% and 36%, respectively.
All the more reason, then, that we protect the vulnerable, but let the rest of us get back to work. The cost of a blunderbuss approach – quarantining all of us and shutting thousands of businesses will be tragic. So many people losing their jobs. So many Australians losing their savings. So many Australians under severe stress. We are already seeing reports of sky-rocketing domestic violence, and suicides are expected.