Calming down about COVID-19

Michael Fumento wrote a great book years ago called Science Under Siege, which looked at health scares and green hysteria in a very careful and rational manner, so I take him seriously on coronavirus. He’s not so worried about it, which is good news:

China is the origin of the virus and still accounts for over 80 percent of cases and deaths. But its cases peaked and began ­declining more than a month ago, according to data presented by the Canadian epidemiologist who spearheaded the World Health Organization’s coronavirus mission to China. Fewer than 200 new cases are reported daily, down from a peak of 4,000.


Subsequent countries will follow this same pattern, in what’s called Farr’s Law. First formulated in 1840 and ignored in ­every epidemic hysteria since, the law states that epidemics tend to rise and fall in a roughly symmetrical pattern or bell-shaped curve. AIDS, SARS, Ebola — they all followed that pattern. So does seasonal flu each year.

In the UK dozens, maybe hundreds, of old people will die, which is awful (hoping none of my readers are affected), but it’s not going to bring down Western civilisation or crash the economy (unless we choose to do that).

We’re going to need to divert some money into emergency care, though.

Update: Found some relevant graphs on this page about the decline of COVID-19 in China:



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8 thoughts on “Calming down about COVID-19

  1. As I commented on another blog (edited):

    Here are the views of My Source in Singapore based on his conversations with expat Chinese and Japanese and with native Chinese Singaporeans.

    (0) It probably goes without saying but they all think the Singapore government and people are doing a grand job.
    (i) Nobody believes the figures from China.
    (ii) They all think that the figures from South Korea are probably the best quality available from countries with lots of patients. (They also think the S Koreans are doing a grand job.)
    (iii) Because of the Olympics the Japanese figures are not to be trusted.

    Singapore has had no deaths but seems now to be subject to a second wave of infections, says he.

  2. Will warmer weather make a difference? Assuming that spring actually arrives that is. I don’t actually understand the reasons why colds and flu bugs occur more in winter but they generally do. So will the onset of spring help or just postpone the problem until next winter?

  3. It looks like South Korea might be close to peaking too. 100-odd new cases yesterday compared with 1000 just over a week ago. And just 35 so far today, according to the site you linked to.

  4. The Lancet reported there are typically 84,200 to 92,000 flu deaths in China each year. Compare that to the ~3,000 Chinese deaths from the coronavirus. And keep in mind that, with its massive population, about 25,000 people die every day in China.

    For whatever reason, China’s rulers decided to react very forcefully to this outbreak. That has had the effect of shutting down the Workshop of the World. It takes time for the supply chains to empty, and then for them to restart. And things we don’t think of as depending on China turn out to have Chinese components. Thus we see car factories in South Korea and Serbia shutting down, and Airbus cutting back. The effects on service industries in the West — travel, tourism, restaurants — are already noticeable.

    There is a significant probability that the economic consequences of disrupted supply chains are going to far outweigh (and outlast) the health impacts — especially with Western politicians now trying to out-Chinese the Chinese in their reactions to the outbreak. “Calming Down” would be a very good step to take.

  5. “Compare that to the ~3,000 Chinese deaths from the coronavirus” versus my “Nobody believes the figures from China”.

    Take your pick.

  6. What numbers to believe? It is worth taking a look at a reasonably well defined sample — the famous Diamond Princess cruise ship where passengers & crew were held on the ship in Japan, in conditions which many observers say promoted the spread of the virus.

    Round numbers — about 4,000 people on board; about 700 tested positive for the virus; less than 10 died — most of whom seem to have been very old with pre-existing medical problems.

    ~80% of people exposed to the virus do not catch the disease. ~99.8% of those exposed to the virus survive, with that survival rate being significantly higher for those who are middle-aged or younger and currently healthy.

    The death of any human being is a sad event. But the Diamond Princess case suggests we should focus our attention on protecting the well-defined ‘at risk’ subset of the population, and avoid unnecessary panic.

  7. “the Diamond Princess case suggests we should focus our attention on protecting the well-defined ‘at risk’ subset of the population”: agreed.

    If we close the universities it should be to protect the dons and other employees, not the undergraduates. Mind you, if lots of the dons are going to go on strike at every opportunity (except weekends and vacations, presumably) then maybe there’s no need to close the universities.

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