December 14, 2020:
Covid19 is turning out to be more panic than pandemic, and that can be seen in the growing popular opposition to government quarantine efforts that cripple the economy. In most of the world covid19 is seen as a disease doing much less damage than earlier killer influenza and similar disease outbreaks. For example, the 1957/58 Asian Flu (H2N2) killed at least 116,000 Americans. Adjusted for larger current population, that comes to 223,000 in 2020 and a worldwide total over two million. Covid19 deaths so far are 1.6 million worldwide. The U.S. claims nearly 19 percent of worldwide covid19 deaths for a country that has 4.2 percent of the global population and one of the most advanced and pervasive health care systems on the planet. This is due to an American history, since colonial times, of aggressive medicine. This has led to all sorts of odd behavior and in the 20
century it led to hypersensitivity of unexpected medical threats and highest spending per capital on medical care in the world. This also gave politicians an opportunity to do whatever they could to this cultural approval of extreme measure to deal with sickness.
For example, covid19 is often described as the worst epidemic since the 1918-19 Spanish Flu. Adjusted for population size, the 1918 Spanish Flu killed over a hundred times more people than covid19, even in the United States. Spanish Flu was easier to identify because it concentrated on the young and healthy, the one segment of the population you can least afford to lose. Covid concentrates on the elderly and sick and many nations did the math early on and implements quarantine rules and advice for the most vulnerable, while leaving the children and working age population to go about their business.
By mid-2020 epidemiologists in many nations realized that, overall, covid19 was not a major (in the top three) causes of death. In the United States this can be seen in the government (CDC) weekly total of deaths. These numbers are remarkably stable in the short term (the last decade) and you can see those years where there is a larger number of deaths. This is normal and unusual increases in weekly deaths are usually caused by a bad strain of influenza, which is another covid type disease. Influenza appears every year and is considered a major cause of death. Some years, like 2018 and 2020, these covid type flu strains are particularly bad and there are a larger number of weekly deaths during the “flu season” (October through May). So far covid19 has caused deaths per million population in the U.S. similar to what the annual flu did in 1957-58 and 1968-69. Covid19 has caused nearly three times as many deaths as the last “dangerous” flu strain that hit in 2017-18.
While the medical statisticians did not see covid19 as anything exceptional, politicians worldwide did. Some suspected covid19 could be something similar to the 1918-19 “Spanish Flu” that killed so many more people per million population in the U.S. than covid19. In other nations, politicians sought to highlight the covid19 threat by attributing more deaths to covid19 that was warranted by the medical facts. This was particularly the case in the United States. When a researcher at Johns Hopkins recently published a report showing that many deaths were being incorrectly blamed on covid10, the report was ordered withdrawn. Not because it was inaccurate, which it wasn’t, but because it might be misinterpreted and cause confusion. In the past influenza deaths were always estimates, based on weekly “excess deaths” during the flu season. The pattern of causes of death did not change because if was always recognize that the flu was most dangerous for people who were already sick. The Johns Hopkins report simply pointed that out as efforts were made to attribute specific deaths to covid19.
What generated the covid19 panic in many parts of the industrialized world was a unique aspect of covid19. This disease had less impact on those up to age 60. But those older than 60 were much more likely to die from covid19 than previous flu-like diseases. Most of the politicians and senior officials worldwide are older than 60 and feared covid19 more than the general population. The reaction in many nations was to shut down most businesses to deal with the epidemic and that reduced economic activity to crises levels. Quarantine-related financial losses created problems that could not be ignored. Despite that growing popular anger, elderly military and political leaders in many nations saw covid19 as a personal threat. The younger population did not and that has been generating a lot of friction or, in many parts of the world, ignoring the quarantine demands in order to avoid starvation and sliding into extreme poverty.