Guest Notes

Corona notes

18 April 2020

9:00 AM

18 April 2020

9:00 AM

Heads Trump wins, tails CNN loses

Remember back when that Imperial College in London modelling came out saying that this coronavirus could kill as many as two million Americans and 500,000 Brits? It was that modelling that scared politicians around the world into the sort of incredibly heavy-handed responses we are now witnessing – no, not witnessing so much as having rammed down our throats by politicians who seem to be enjoying themselves far, far too much, to say nothing of their not bearing many (if any) of the costs of their heavy-handedness. Anyway, take away that sort of apocalyptic Imperial College modelling, or predictions of carnage of Spanish Flu-type proportions, and we might well be seeing a lot more countries travelling down Sweden’s route of isolating those at risk and leaving everyone else to get on with life – as in allowing restaurants and bars to stay open, people to go to work and relying on people keeping their distance and having brains in their heads.

Readers interested can check the ‘worldometer’ website that gives up-to-the-hour statistics on the coronavirus but at the time of writing Sweden has 91 deaths per million population, the US has 71, the UK 167, France 229, Canada 20, Italy 338, Germany 37, and Australia 2. In other words, Sweden is in the middle somewhere, but with much less of a future hit on its economy, thereby saving all the lives that would come with a largely in ruins economy.

Now unlike the PVOs of the world, readers of this esteemed and venerable publication are no doubt numerate and sceptical. They are aware that when calculating deaths per million of population and likewise deaths per infected person, the numbers are plain out dodgy. For the latter, no one knows the denominator because there are clearly somewhere between a modicum and loads of people who have contracted the virus, had few to no symptoms, not gone to a doctor and so aren’t part of the measured results. And as for deaths, the numerator, even that number is wonky. How do you measure who dies because of the virus as opposed to with it? That’s a serious question. Two years ago some 80,000 Americans died of the flu. But when they calculated that, if you happened to be in a hospice with terminal cancer and caught the flu a week before you died you were not counted as a flu death. Today in the US, if you were in the same situation and caught coronavirus a week before your death you would be counted as a corona death. In fact, most countries are in effect over-counting corona deaths in this way – and it is an over-count because otherwise as corona spread through the population ‘all deaths’ and ‘corona deaths’ would approach being the same number.  All that implies that the lethality of this virus is less, probably a lot less, than what the figures you’re seeing are saying. This is worse than a bad flu for sure, but it’s not 1918’s Spanish Flu, not close, and it’s nothing like the Black Death of the Middle Ages.

But let’s go back to Mr Trump and that original Imperial College modelling. Let’s assume that when it was announced it was completely accurate. That means that all the measures taken by Mr Trump, from being the first country in the world to close the borders to China and then Italy, to ramping up ventilator production to world best proportions and the rest, have saved near on two million deaths. If the modelling was only off because politicians reacted to it, then now that corona deaths in the US (dodgy numbers and all) look to be finishing at under 100,000 – and two years ago 80,000 died of the flu in the US – it follows that Mr Trump and his policies must have saved 1.9 million lives. Were he a Democrat he’d win a Nobel Prize.

Or, like me, you can disparage those original Imperial College predictions. But it seems to me what you can’t do is be the CNN, or for that matter ‘their’ ABC in this country, and think the apocalyptic modelling was correct while at the same time thinking Mr Trump has been a disaster in handling it. You can’t have it both ways. Either we were never looking at two million US deaths due to coronavirus, or we were and all the steps taken in the US have saved 1.9 million of them. What a delightful dilemma to thrust down the throats of all the Trump Derangement Syndrome (‘TDS’) outlets. They are falling over themselves to paint this coronavirus outbreak as a second coming of the Black Death and yet, with a mere fraction of a soupçon of the number of deaths now eventuating (we haven’t even come close to 100 of them yet in Australia), they are painting Mr Trump and his policies as woefully misguided.

On what basis are they misguided?, I ask. On the deaths per million of population the US looks much better than France, Britain and chunks of Europe. So why don’t CNN and ‘their’ ABC run daily attacks on President Macron? (Sorry, that was a purely rhetorical question. To ask is to know the answer, as it were.) And leaving that sort of bog standard criterion to one side, on the either-or query I asked above, the CNNs of the world should either have to concede Trump’s been one of the best handlers of a crisis in human history (which is not going to happen) or they have to join me in saying there has been a massive over-reaction to this from Day One. It’s bad, yes, but not near bad enough to justify the sort of non-Swedish heavy-handedness we’ve seen just about everywhere. In fact, Mr Trump has been better than almost all other leaders (Sweden’s, Taiwan’s and Hong Kong’s excepted) in consistently saying the economy matters too and that a ruined economy can cause more deaths than this virus – that the cure can be worse than the disease.

Of course CNN and ‘their’ ABC get around the horns of this dilemma simply by ignoring it and trusting their viewers are so infected by TDS that they don’t notice, which is a fair likelihood. Meantime, and as has been said many times in other contexts, I prefer the Swedish model.

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