Now, where was I?
Oh yes, I was on about this troublesome life we all lead.
Well, you may have noticed that it has just got a lot more troublesome lately. We are, apparently, in the grip of a pandemic so dastardly that we have had to shut down the economy because of it. The climate appears not to be changing anymore or at least, we are not hearing about it if it is. The war-making Yanks have temporarily ceased invading other countries but strangest of all, the pubs are shut. Every red-blooded Irishman knows that the pubs only shut two days a year and we even got that down to just one day by last Easter Friday. But they’ve been shut now for two weeks so something really serious must be going on.
I tend to rely on the numbers when it comes to most things because in theory, the numbers do not lie. As of this morning, 2nd April 2020, we have had 88 deaths in Ireland from the virus since this all began. So there is my first question. When did it all begin? Some say the virus hit China as early as last November but we cannot be sure when the first infection took place in Ireland, making numbers in this regard a tad inaccurate as a result. So as the Indo. says this morning, we can rely on the number of actual deaths because we have bodies to prove it. We know when they died,, what they died of and how many of them there were. That is a hard number.
Another hard number provided by the Central Statistics Office is the annual death rate in Ireland. This has hovered consistently around the 30,000 souls per year for the last several years, meaning that 80 people die every day on average in the State, virus or no virus. That’s a hard (average) number also. The first death from the virus here happened on the 11th March, exactly three weeks ago. In those same 21 days since then, 1,680 people in Ireland also died, (from all causes). I have not asked the CSO and it would be far too early to anyway, but were the 88 virus deaths part of the 1,680 or as well as it? Either way, this virus represents one in every twenty that have died this March.
I would caution of course that this virus seems to run exponentially so the 88 of March could be 20,000 in April, none of us knows for sure. But when you deal in numbers, you take a snapshot in time, lay out the relevant numbers for the time frame and then compare and contrast. So looked at dispassionately for March, this virus is barely even a problem, (yet). The figures for the coming months just aren’t in yet.
The wider picture is confusing also. The overall Covid-19 death toll on the planet is hovering close to 40,000 I’ve read. The problem with that is that we cannot accurately say what the time period was. Could we take that as the number for March alone or do we consider it as 40,000 since the beginning of the year? For example, a source that follows and flags such world statistics has reported on the 25th of March 2020 that Covid-19 deaths stood at 21,297 on that day Mind you, on that very same day they report the deaths from seasonal flu stood at 113,034 and we know that the Corona Virus is a strain of the flu. If you want a really hard number to mull over then the same source reports 9,913,702 worldwide abortions during the same period. Dare I say it but no economies were shut down for those ten million unwanted babies.
But a flu virus is difficult to quantify because victims do not succumb to the flu. It is usually something else that kills, most often pneumonia. The logic though is that the patient/victim would not have got pneumonia if they had not had the flu. However, it makes categorising a cause of death problematic for both the medical team and the hospital. A patient diagnosed with the Corona Virus may have a heart condition and die of a heart attack. Do we attribute that to heart failure of the virus? Suddenly the numbers begin to look unreliable. And there are further variables such as the different natures of this virus. Some have it and don’t know because they have no symptoms, some have a cough and a runny nose and they just plough on and then there are the small minority who get the full blast, deep in the lungs and are in intensive care. It needs to be said that, so far, this is the same story every year with the seasonal flu and it hardly gets a mention.
To add to this confusion we are beginning to hear rumours of, “a second wave”. The story is that it arrived, we beat it, then we got back to normal living and “WHOOSH”, the damned thing came back with a vengeance. So we don’t know where it came from (China?), we are struggling to understand its composition, we’re working on a treatment/cure and we don’t know if it will come back again either. This is one that the numbers won’t nail until it’s all over and the tallies are done. But it is one thing to look at the virus itself and quite another to view the world reaction to it. China strictly quarantined while Sweden continues as if nearly normal. In Ireland, I believe that sensible precautions were taken early enough so that things may not get as bad as they could have been, but of course we’ll never know that for sure. However, the ‘safe not sorry’ principle was probably the best way to react.
But just as a virus kills, an economic depression kills also and we don’t want the cure to end being being worse than the disease. The western world has never so comprehensively shut down its economies like this before and the awkward question now looming in the shadows is, how long can it remain shut without dying completely. The jobless numbers have shot up but this is fine if it is temporary. Businesses are shut and this also is fine if they can re-open again soon. But how soon or more correctly, how long can we remain in shutdown without fatal damage being done to the world economy? There have been major wars for much less.
So I am balancing my worry about this virus with my equally valid worry about what happens after it, (because that time will come to). And I use the word balance advisedly because we need to balance our collective viral fears against our collective economic needs in the long run, bearing in mind that the landscape changes daily on both counts. Our current leader in his speech to the Nation referred to, “flattening the curve,” but if this is not done in a timely manner we may emerge from this virus into an economic contagion whose death toll could dwarf the Corona Virus of 2020.
There’s more to this than just medical concerns.