Editorial – 26 Feb 2020

So Italy has put two regions into ‘lockdown’ and quarantined 50,000 people. Stock markets around the world fell yesterday fearing the effects of a pandemic. In contrast Iran tells us it doesn’t really have a problem with the Coronavirus, and that quarantine is such an ‘old way’ of doing things. However many of their neighbouring states have closed their borders with Iran. So what are we to believe? Is the panic justified or is it overblown?

I guess the answer to that hypothetical question is: ‘it is too early to tell.’ Everyone is wrestling with incomplete data. In fact the only thing we can all assume is that the data being reported isn’t what is actually happening on the ground. In all likelihood we can assume that everything is being under reported. However, on balance, even though for most of us catching this disease will result in a mild illness I do support quarantining and crucially emphasising the need for good personal hygiene. I’ve just invested in 5 litres of handwash for the family. Nothing like being prepared!

Two years ago we had a series of experiments in the UK attempting to determine how a novel virus would spread here. The experiment was run with the BBC who made a program about it under the name ‘Contagion’ – it is available on iPlayer now. Dr Hannah Fry was the presenter and for some of the experiments was ‘patient zero.’ The experiments used mobile phones and an app to mimic the spread of a virus. When two phones with the app were in close proximity, if one ‘had’ the virus whether the virus spread to the other would depend on how long and how close the phones were and some element of chance. The statisticians then modelled a reasonable potential ‘death rate’ for the virus. In the experiments they predicted some 60% of the country would become infected and that there would be some 800,000+ deaths in the UK. Incidentally the modelling for Covid-19 suggests 400,000 deaths in the UK.

The statisticians then modelled the effect of encouraging people to stay at home. Importantly that step limited the spread of the virus, markedly reduced the number of deaths and perhaps more importantly and perhaps the most overlooked element of this crisis it gave the health services more of an opportunity to cope – with the overall demand curve being flattened and extended.

For some people seasonal flu can be fatal. In 2017-18 some 15,000 deaths in the UK were attributed to that year’s flu – one where the flu vaccine was not very effective. This was twice the usual rate. Interestingly this year’s seasonal flu appears to be mild and is not causing undue strain on the NHS. Flu vaccination rates are reasonably good amongst vulnerable groups – perhaps learning from 2017-18.

My wife is a nurse and would no-doubt be called on to administer to the sick in the event of an epidemic or pandemic. She was put on standby to do this during the swine-flu outbreak but was never called on to act. During that episode I was kind enough to offer her the opportunity of a tent either in the front garden, or if she preferred in the rear garden. Its good to know my instincts were sound then! I’m ready to unpack the tent.

Andrew W Dawson
Solicitor and Director
Brunswicks Law Limited

%d bloggers like this: