Coronavirus: More Lives Saved Than Lost Due To Lower Air Pollution

coronavirus: COVID-19 and coal power

The coronavirus, or COVID-19 as all the cool epidemiologists are calling it these days, has at time of writing killed over 2,600 people in China and quarantine measures taken to slow its spread have led to the greatest economic downturn that country has seen since the Global Financial Crisis of 2008.

But in the wake of all this suffering and disruption, there is a silver lining saving many more lives than the virus is taking.  With power stations consuming half the coal they were at this time last year and road travel way down, lives saved from reduced air pollution should easily exceed those lost to the virus.

Despite the benefits of reduced air pollution, I’m not suggesting China try a new deadly contagion each year.  It’s not the most efficient way to make China’s brown skies blue.  But it really rubs in how dangerous burning coal and oil is when the response to deadliest new disease since SARS saves more lives through a reduction in air pollution than COVID-19 takes.

Positive News About The Virus

Before I tell you about how deadly air pollution is in China, I’ll give some good news about COVID-19.  I think it’s important to do this because I’m at my parents now and I’ve seen them watch hours of TV reports on the outbreak while learning less than if they spent 5 minutes skimming the Wikipedia article.  It’s almost as if the TV news doesn’t even want to calmly and rationally educate people.

While large numbers of people are still contracting COVID-19, the number of new infections per confirmed case is decreasing.  This means instead of shooting upwards exponentially like the number of bacteria in a bucket of body temperature soup:

Bacteria reproduction

(Image: Mathsteacher.com)

The graph of total cases instead looks like this:

The number of new reported cases per day looks like this:

The daily number of new cases is down from its peak and this suggests China and the rest of the world is getting the disease under control.

Things are bad in Hubei Province, where the virus first crossed over into humans, because it was able to spread itself around before health professionals knew what was going on — and for a while after that due to the Chinese government’s incompetence.  But China appears able to control new outbreaks in other provinces now they are neither surprised nor too scared to point out the Emperor’s new clothes are coated with an infectious pathogen.

Other good news is the warmer and more humid the weather, the harder it is for the virus to spread.1  With the precautions they already have in place2 and the country heading into spring, the odds look good we will soon see a rapid reduction in the number of new cases.

While the coronavirus has turned up around the world and has the potential to spread widely, richer countries have lots of resources they can throw at the problem.  This means the virus is likely to be contained when it shows up in Tokyo or, ooh la la, Paris.3  For example, we’re sticking it all in Darwin and on Christmas Island.

The real danger is serious outbreaks in developing countries that may lack the money, medical personal, and organizational ability to stem its spread.  On the bright side, the world’s poorer countries tend to be warm and often humid as well.  Also, they have younger populations and the young appear far more able to survive infection:

Age of coronavirus, or COVID-19, deaths

(Image: Worldometer)

Pointing out only a tiny portion of the population will die in your country if there’s an uncontrolled outbreak may not seem like much of a consolation, but it’s a hell of a lot better than a large portion dying.

Or Maybe I’m Really Wrong

If you think my take is way too hopeful and you need something depressing to prevent you being overwhelmed by a crushing sense of optimism, all you need do is read this quote from an actual epidemiologist:

coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic

I think he’s wrong about our chances of a globe-spanning pandemic, but I have to admit his medical training does exceed my own, which mostly consists of watching reruns of M.A.S.H..4  Fortunately, there are experts who are more positive, so if we only pay attention to them I’m sure everything will turn out fine.

We Can Trust Chinese Figures

Some suspicious people think official figures from China can’t be trusted, but I think they can — now.  Initially China was slow to react and take appropriate measures.  This was probably because no one wanted to give Uncle Xi bad news.  But now the cat’s out of the bag5 and the virus is bursting out of cell nuclei all over Hubei, China has no incentive to deliberately mislead the rest of the world.  It’s hard to hide the truth and would make it more difficult for international medical experts to help.6

China’s Air Pollution Is Horrific

Now I’ve established COVID-19 isn’t the Black Death7 I’m going to tell you how terrible China’s air pollution problem is.8

In their State Of The Air 2019 report, the US Health Effects Institute said in 2017 China suffered around 1.2 million deaths from air pollution.  This was mostly due to particulates, but an estimated 178,000 deaths also occurred due to ground level ozone.9  That’s a whole heap of lost lives.  Air pollution kills so many Chinese people it’s the Chairman Mao of the 21st century.

This map from the report shows China and India are world leaders in fatal breathing:

Air pollution deaths

China has been working hard to reduce air pollution, but they still have a long way to go before the majority of the population is breathing air that could be described as reasonably safe.

Coal Is The Main Culprit

Air pollution in China comes from a variety of sources, but if you guessed coal was public enemy number one you’d be right.  The State Of The Air report states:

China coal power air pollution

That makes coal the main source of air pollution followed by road transport, as boats and planes and trains are only bit players when it comes to the tear gas flavored fart pretending to be air in the majority of China’s cities.

China’s Coal Generation Has Halved

Government enforced lockdowns and voluntary10 reductions in activity have resulted in a massive decrease in China’s coal consumption.  This graph from the Guardian puts it at around 50% what it was this time last year:

China coal power generation during coronavirus COVID-19 period

The graph only shows coal used to generate electricity, but the large decline in economic activity in China means coal use by industry, which is mainly used for process heat and steel smelting, will also be down.

China’s oil consumption this time last year was around 13.5 million barrels a day, but they have now cut imports by 1.1 million barrels per day.  This may not seem like much of a decrease given how dead many Chinese cities seem at the moment, but China also normally produces around 4 million barrels of oil a day and — if my understanding of how China works is correct — this will have been cut back to limit disruption to international oil supply chains and to leave more in the ground to increase future oil independence.

Wuhan’s Air Quality

Wuhan was ground zero for the virus.  (The now deceased Doctor Li Wenliang was one of the first to raise the alarm about the disease, so I guess he was ground hero.)  The city has horrible air pollution even by China’s standards, but apparently it’s often left off Government lists of most polluted cities because its population is below 10 million.  The entire Hubei province, which is the main centre of infection, normally suffers from severe air pollution.

The level of air pollution in a city on any particular day is very dependent on local weather so it’s not possible to look a current pollution levels and draw any strong conclusions about the effects of reduced coal and oil consumption, but let’s have a look anyway.  This graph shows air quality in Wuhan city over the past month.  The lower the line, the cleaner the air:

Wuhan air quality

(Image: World Air Map)

Going by the decrease in coal consumption, air pollution should have started falling a few days before Chinese New Year on the 25th of January and we can see that happening.  But then it climbs back into the red before becoming extremely clear by Wuhan standards for two weeks in February.  On average the city only has 40 days a year where the severity of air pollution is “orange” or less:

The graph shows air pollution heading up after the 18th.  This could be because China is restarting industries or it could just be because the wind died down.  But even at the point where the graph ends, the air pollution index is at 81 while the annual average is 102.  An air quality index of 81 is horrible by our standards, but still better than what people in Wuhan normally have to put up with.

Estimating Lives Saved

To determine how many lives have been saved by reduced pollution caused by the response to the coronavirus involves going through a lot of detailed information and making careful statistical calculations.  And I’m not going to do that.  I’ll just take a stab at a rough estimate.  To do that I’ll need to assume:

  • How many deaths would have occurred if there were no outbreak.
  • How much air pollution reduction has occurred thanks to the outbreak.

Expected Air Pollution Deaths

The estimate for China’s air pollution deaths in 2017 was 1.2 million.  While China has continued to work at reducing air pollution since then, these efforts will have been partially countered by coal consumption increasing in 2018 and again in 2019.  But to make things simple, I’ll assume with no outbreak annual air pollution deaths would have declined by 17% to one million.

Air Pollution Reduction Due To Coronavirus

With coal use for electricity generation cut by half and the empty streets of many Chinese cities making them look like ghost towns, a simple assumption would be the response to the coronavirus has halved air pollution.  But while solar, wind, hydro, and nuclear power can all substitute for coal generation, coal burned by industry for process heat and steel making probably won’t have been reduced by as much.  It’s also hard to be certain how much oil use has declined, as a much smaller portion of oil is used for private transportation than here and a vast number of the two and three wheeled vehicles that normally clog the streets of Chinese cities are already electric.

To keep things simple, I’ll assume the coronavirus has resulted in a temporary one-third reduction in China’s air pollution.

Lives Saved

Deaths due to particulates and ozone appear to be linear with respect to concentration and time.  Or at least close enough to linear to be used as a rule of thumb for my estimate.  In other words, halving the amount of air pollution halves the deaths it will cause.11

If one million deaths would have occurred without the coronavirus over a year that’s an average of 2,700 a day.  If the response to the virus has reduced air pollution by one-third that would save around 900 lives per day.  This means just three days of reduced pollution, which has lasted for weeks so far, is enough to save more lives than China’s current total death toll from the coronavirus, while equaling the current world death toll at the time of writing of around 2,700.

Coronavirus Effects:  Lives Saved Vs. Lives Lost

Looking at daily deaths from coronavirus, almost all of which occur in China, they now come to around 120 a day:

 

This means reduced air pollution resulting from efforts to prevent the spread of the virus is saving more than 7 times as many lives as the virus takes.

Deaths May Be Comparable But Suffering Is Not

Normally it’s not the young who succumb to air pollution.  It usually takes decades of exposure before the Grim Reaper comes a-knocking on your rib cage.  But as the coronavirus disproportionately kills the elderly, the two sources of mortality may be reasonably comparable.  But the suffering they cause is not.

While coronavirus infection can be absolutely horrible, in around 80% of cases it is mild and even in serious cases whether you live or die is usually determined inside two or three weeks.  But air pollution causes long term suffering for nearly all of China, ranging from mild irritation to years of crippling illness.  One death from air pollution represents a far greater burden of additional human misery than one from the coronavirus.

Lessons

If this article has a moral it is this:  While we need to protect ourselves from new threats — such as COVID-19 — as they appear, we shouldn’t allow familiarity or stupidity to blind us to potentially greater familiar threats that kill people every day.  If we do, we’ll continue to have faintly ludicrous situations where the response to a virus outbreak saves far more lives than the virus takes because we ease off poisoning the air we breathe for a couple of months.

Our Prime Minister has taken a cautious approach to the coronavirus.  He says we should err on the side of safety and decisions on how to protect Australia are made after extensive consultation with medical experts.  But I am unable to recall any member of our current government, at any time, discussing the need to cut this country’s air pollution and reduce the estimated 3,000 Australian lives it takes each year.  Instead we have a Prime Minister and government which has opposed fuel efficiency standards for vehicles and wants to build more coal power stations.  It’s enough to make you weep.  Especially if bushfire smoke gets in your eye.

I would offer China my thoughts and prayers in these difficult times, but I’m not that big an arsehole.  Instead I’ll just hope their hard work and sacrifice turns the tide on the coronavirus soon.  And I’ll cross my fingers for the world and hope no uncontrolled outbreaks take off anywhere.  (Okay, I’ll uncross my fingers now.  It took me about 10 minutes to type that last sentence.)

We are fortunate here in Australia.  Unless there are special circumstances there’s no need to take precautions, but if you are traveling overseas please be sure to wash your hands frequently and thoroughly.

While it’s not really necessary, I’ve started taken some personal precautions, just in case.  I’ve adopted the Japanese habit of bowing when I meet someone instead of licking their face.  I’ve also put an earplug in one nostril so I should only catch the coronavirus in one lung.  If there is an outbreak here and I contract the virus I hope I’ll be one of the asymptomatic cases so I’ll have enough strength to sing My Corona.

Ooh, my poor little lungs, my little lungs,

When you gonna give me some respite, Corona?

Ooh you make my nostrils run, my mucus run,

Dripping down my lip in a line, Corona.

 

Never gonna stop, hacking cough, such a dirty trick,

I cough it up, making lots of other people sick,

My, my, aye-aye, whurg!

M-m-m-my Corona!

 

Come any closer, hur, oh will ya, hur?

Close enough to catch a strain of Corona,

Keeping it just to me, is not easy,

Coughing it across the room – Corona!

 

Broke quarantine, big mistake, now I’m gonna pay,

Never should have gone, to Hubei the other day,

My, my, my, aye-aye, whurg!

M-m-m-my Corona!

M-m-m-my Corona!

 

When you gonna give to me, immunity,

Is it just a matter of time, Corona?

Are there any antibodies, antibodies,

Or perhaps a vaccine in time, Corona?

 

Never giving in, not giving up, gonna make it stop,

Fighting on, like Li Wenliang the hero doc,

My, my, my, aye-aye, whurg!

M-m-m-m-m-m-m-my, my, aye-aye, whurg!

M-m-m-my Corona!

M-m-m-my Corona!

M-m-m-my Corona!

M-m-m-my Corona!

 

Ooooooo-ohhh, stop Corona!

Ooooooo-ohhh, stop Corona!

Ooooooo-ohhh, stop Corona!12

Footnotes

  1. Warmer temperatures makes the virus break down faster while dry air causes water in the tiny droplets of spit and snot blown out by coughs and sneezes to evaporate, making the droplets lighter.  This allows them to fly to infinity and beyond, which for a virus is all the way to the front of the bus.  It’s not currently clear how long COVID-19 can survive on surfaces or how easy it can be contracted by touch, so it’s a good idea to wash your hands in airports and refrain from tasting furniture.
  2. Just to be clear, I am in favor of stopping the virus from spreading, but I’m not necessarily in favor of everything that is being done in China to stop its spread.
  3. The French are deeply ashamed of Paris’s twin city — Ooh La La Paris.  Whenever I mention it to them they turn their faces away in disgust.
  4. And about 4 episodes of Quincy.  Does anyone remember Quincy?  No, no one remembers Quincy.
  5. Actually, it’s much more likely to be a bat than a cat, as you’ll see if you scroll down to “Selection in an animal host” in this paper.
  6. While I doubt the Chinese government is deliberately lying to the rest of the world, chances are they are not getting accurate information themselves because their society is not one that, in practice, encourages telling truth to power.
  7. I’m willing to bet 50 cents official deaths will be under 10,000 by the end of the year.
  8. China’s air pollution problem is big.  Really big. You just won’t believe how vastly, hugely, mindbogglingly big it is. I mean, you may think sitting behind a diesel truck on the road to the chemist is bad, but that’s just peanuts compared to China.
  9. Ozone that is 25 kilometers straight up protects us from ultraviolet radiation, but at ground level ozone is a dangerous pollutant.  It’s bad for anything with lungs and potentially worse for things without them.  It damages plants and reduces crop yields.
  10. Feel free to add as many quotation marks around the word “voluntary” as you like.
  11. I expected the relationship to be non-linear, with a doubling of pollution resulting in more than double the deaths, but apparently that’s mostly not the case.
  12. I changed the words so it’s about a disease that’s killed thousands and it’s still less disturbing than the original lyrics.
About Ronald Brakels

Many years ago now, Ronald Brakels was born in Toowoomba. He first rose to international prominence when his township took up a collection to send him to Japan, which was the furthest they could manage with the money they raised. He became passionately interested in environmental matters upon his return to Australia when the local Mayor met him at the airport and explained it was far too dangerous for him to return to Toowoomba on account of climate change and mutant attack goats. Ronald then moved to a property in the Adelaide Hills where he now lives with his horse, Tonto 23.

Comments

  1. Good info, thanks!

  2. Love it!! Good to have this perspective, offered with good humour and common sense.

  3. Whilst very unpleasant for the victims, so far the actual death rate per contactee is said to be only about 2%, which is less than the annual flu epidemic but has been seized on by the press for a good old ratings generating beat up which will no doubt last until an inoculation is produced by a lab.
    As you say the victims while cooped up in their little apartments will have a wonderfully clear view of their surroundings many will have not seen before, that is when they are well enough to look out of the window.

    • Actually the death rate from Coronavirus is MUCH more than the flu. Death rate from the flu is only 0.05%. Compare that to 2% for coronavirus! That is 40 times higher!!

      The other danger factor is how far it spreads measured by the R0 number. The flu has an R0 number of 1.3 which means each person roughly infects 1 other person. Coronavius has an R0 number of maybe 2.2.

      Ref : https://www.livescience.com/new-coronavirus-compare-with-flu.html

      So whatever way you look at it, suggesting that the flu is more dangerous than Coronavirus is a bit jumping the gun. Sure there are a lot of unknowns, and breathless, sensation click bait headlines. And sure there are a lot of unknowns. And maybe it will be contained before these numbers can have their full effect. But don’t dismiss it as being less dangerous than the flu, as if this becomes wide spread this will make the flu look like nothing.

      • As of the time of this post less then 4000 people died from coronavirus .I”m willing to bet that it saved 10 times that in flu deaths. with less spreading do to travel and face masks china will see 40000 less flu deaths this year. We will see after stats are in for the year.

        • I suspect you are likely right now given the fear and associated changes of behavior well beyond the affected regions that is likely to reduce the spread of flu. But this thing is more contagious and deadly than flu, so as it gets out there, the death toll is likely to rise and that might or might not get to the point of dwarfing the flu deaths. It is obvious, with tight quarantine, and heavy travel restrictions and shutting everything down, I recon it is more than likely there will be a reduced rate of spread of all sort of things that spread person to person including the flu (if people with weakened immune systems and congregating at places like hospitals don’t make it worse). But there will be swings and roundabouts with this sort of thing. ie it is almost certain that deaths from other unrelated medical conditions will go up because of the extra strain on the medical systems and the lack of resources due to them being overwhelmed with COVID-19.

          I think people need to be careful about thinking COVID-19 might be in some way a good thing. I am sure that is not what Ronald was wanting to imply. Just that there is there can be the occasional “silver lining”. I am sure it was more a post highlighting the massive and hidden cost of pollution from coal mining. After all, to put this in prospective, the improvement in pollution has no doubt come from closing down industry, but at some point that will not be sustainable, and they will need to reopen that when people start starving and essential services start failing apart.

          I recon anyone who thinks COVID-19 is nothing to worry about is missing the point. Yes, with very harsh restrictions and quarantines, it does look like we can slow the rate of spread. But, despite this, we have not been able to stop the spread. And the truth is the level of restrictions that are being used to slow the spread, will not be sustainable in the long term. At some point the “cure is likely to be worse than the disease” and people will be allowed to go back to work and restart the schools and factories and the rate of spread is likely to increase again at that time. But hopefully by then we will have a vaccine and/or or better resources, infrastructure and processes to manage it and diagnose it and deal with it when people do get it.

          I have faith that man is very adaptable and resilient when he needs to be, and we all pull together for a common purpose. And I am sure we will some how beat or learn to live with and manage it. But that will only happen by taking the risks seriously and not dismissing it as “nothing to worry about”. Governments will always have conflicting objectives, so will not always do it perfectly. ie a lot of the time they will want to spin it to not undermine their own credibility to run the country, so they will want to down play it. There are also perfectly good reasons to down play it, to reduce the level of irrational panic. But even with the best intentions it is probably impossible to be truly prepared for something like this. At the same time, you probably wan to be escalating the systems and individual peoples awareness, so everyone is getting ready for this thing that is in all likelihood coming. But not over react and unnecessarily alarm people so they are over reacting and doing irrational things like panic buying toilet paper etc. Getting that balance right is almost impossible to achieve, and knowing whether you got it right is often something you can often know with the benefit of hindsight. Should people be planning to be a little more self reliant if we are encouraged to increase social separation to help manage this thing? I recon that is pretty sensible. Should people in Australia be panic buying and fighting with each other to pick up the last 1000 roles of toilet paper at their local super market? Absolutely not!! But It is not unreasonable and I doubt the supply chain would have any issue if people just brought 1 extra pack when there is stock available and they need it. But toilet paper is the classic example why a little self reliance is important rather than blind faith the “system” will always look after you. As near as I can tell, there is absolutely no disruption yet to the supply chain, but still we have a shortage and those that live toilet roll to toilet roll likely to be inconvenience no matter how much winging there is on Facebook or call for calm from the pollies. No matter how irrational you think panic buying toilet paper is, you are likely to be one of those people at least picking up a little more than you need immediately the first time you hit the shops and are left short. It just became “real” even that there might be no COVID-19 anywhere near you.

          Let keep balance. This thing is serious, and should be taken very seriously. And definitely more serious than the regular flu (it is by all accounts, more contagious, and more deadly and clearly we do not have as many of the reliable tests and capability to scale testing or vaccines to vaccinate which should have us concerned). But lets not panic and go overboard, as that is not going to help anyone.

          • 100 percent false

          • How is yours your “100% false” quip looking now?? And we are only at the beginning of this things. I doubt you will see any sensible medical professionals claiming that the regular flu has ever caused anything like the overloading of the medical systems as seen in China before the lock down, Italy, Spain, US etc etc.

            Sure, if people social distance better, there should be a reduction in communicable diseases all other things being equal. But any savings in flu deaths because of this, likely to be massively overwhelmed by deaths from the flu and other things because of overwhelmed health systems if we don’t take significant measures to contain this thing.

            Sorry to dismiss Coronavirus as no worse than the flu is absolute rubbish and flies in the face of all evidence.

      • Sylvia Jones says

        Shakepeare had the first and final word on the virus issue:- “Much Ado About Nothing.”
        Even the Spanish Flu pandemic (much worse than the current threat) didn’t kill as many as WWI that preceded it; and those responsible for the tens of millions of deaths there (including our ANZACS) were lauded as heroes.
        Moreover, a few years later the world stepped up and killed about three times that many (WW2) ~ and is still bragging about it! Coronavirus?? pishtosh!
        Incidentally, for perspective, keep in mind that the MOST LETHAL element in existence ~ with a kill-rate of 100%! ~ is the egg/sperm evolvement called ‘Conception’. (even of the immaculate kind!)
        But few care about those human-engineered ‘pandemics’ because they don’t cause idiots to try to corner the dunny-paper market.

        • Geoff Miell says

          Sylvia Jones,
          You state:
          “Even the Spanish Flu pandemic (much worse than the current threat) didn’t kill as many as WWI that preceded it; and those responsible for the tens of millions of deaths there (including our ANZACS) were lauded as heroes.”

          In this age of information, people still ignore available facts and make things up.

          From Wikipedia, on WW1 casualties and deaths:
          “The total number of military and civilian casualties in World War I is estimated to be about 40 million: estimates range from 20.5 to 22 million deaths and about 20 to 22 million wounded military personnel, ranking it among the deadliest conflicts in human history.”
          See: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/World_War_I_casualties

          From Wikipedia, on the infection and death rate of the Spanish Flu pandemic:
          “The 1918 influenza pandemic (January 1918 – December 1920; colloquially known as Spanish flu) was an unusually deadly influenza pandemic, the first of the two pandemics involving H1N1 influenza virus, with the second being the swine flu in 2009.[1] It infected 500 million people around the world,[2] or about 27% of the then world population of between 1.8 and 1.9 billion, including people on isolated Pacific islands and in the Arctic. The death toll is estimated to have been anywhere from 17 million[3] to 50 million, and possibly as high as 100 million, making it one of the deadliest epidemics in human history.[4][5] Historical and epidemiological data are inadequate to identify with certainty the pandemic’s geographic origin.[2]”
          See: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spanish_flu

          The CDC suggests:
          “The number of deaths was estimated to be at least 50 million worldwide with about 675,000 occurring in the United States.”
          See: https://www.cdc.gov/flu/pandemic-resources/1918-pandemic-h1n1.html

          So, it seems to me the Spanish Flu was likely a bigger killer than WW1.

          As for COVID-19, it’s still early days. It may be a significant killer, or it may not – we will only know in hindsight. What risk do you want to take?

          • Sylvia Jones says

            “Seems” and “estimates” can be parlayed into anything one wishes. I, for one, would not include the ‘Swine flu’ numbers…..unless you also count WW1 as being consequentially responsible or WW2, which killed (an ‘estimated’) ‘up to 85 million’. etc etc etc. Then the numbers can be confused by applying terms-and-conditions/percentages (eg as a % of population).

            The point is that NONE of us get out of here alive ~ and we got here by chance in the first place. We, irrationally, place too high a value on life. To cite Shakespeare again:-
            “Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player
            That frets and struts its hour on the stage
            And then is heard no more. It is a tale
            Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
            Signifying nothing.”
            …..even if it is a lot of fun!
            Personally, I have an instinctive ‘sense’ that sooner or later Ma Nature will find a way of enforcing the natural Evolutionary Laws upon us no matter how clever and devious we become. You know, the Laws that brought us here over billions of years, and which we’ve overwhelmed… in the best traditions of any uber-virulent cancer-growth. Probably with a whimper rather than a bang.

  4. Timothy M Grafton says

    Eddy is wrong, the death rate for flu is around 0.1 percentage.

  5. Yes, you’ve covered the issue well, Ronald.

    Our perceptions about the ‘pros and cons’ of such contagion may tell us a great deal about belief systems… .

    Prior to this possible pandemic, I recall a dinner conversation with close friends in their early eighties, when they argued a pessimistic proposition that it’s all too late… it’s all about global over-population. In that perception, technology can’t save us… in fact, _nothing_ can.

    I took a counter-position, reminding them they have eight descendants (to our two). Which of their eight were surplus? Does their belief system justify them continuing to drive a diesel? Isn’t it possible that new technologies might help us limit the future damage? Did they really still believe that we should ‘gate’ our own highly-desirable town with a “We’re full up!” sign?

    I’m grateful for the optimistic perceptions you’ve offered about this virus, Ron. While we are both in the second highest-risk group… and have a quite long stopover planned for HK soon… your big-picture analysis really helps put the issues in perspective… .

  6. As a sometimes cyclist I drool with envy seeing all those empty freeways and live in hope that this experience might encourage Wuhan to rediscover cycling for transport

    One figure that could be added would be the reduction in road deaths.

  7. Erik Christiansen says

    Visited to the doctor here in outer suburban Melbourne today, and was surprised to see that both waiting rooms had been stripped of magazines, and the (Chinese) doctor wore a facemask. Have to admit that both are cheap insurance, though. (“A stitch in time …” and all that.)

    Now we just need to adopt similar forward thinking on climate change mitigation … well, OK, belated action, but still in advance of the worst consequences.

    My neighbours operate two coin laundries, and their recently installed solar arrays have cut power bills by 38%, and there’s now less CO2 belching just to make hot air to dry clothes. Every bit helps.

  8. Ross Pfitzner says

    According to the latest from Bloomberg today 25th Feb total deaths world wide has exceeded 2600 deaths and manufacturers are from a downturn in sales.World trade will suffer dramatically from the virus as the stock market is already experiencing and will continue well into next month. If you are a trader sell sell sell as i am. almost doubled my account this month.

  9. I heard a Prof. at Griffith Uni. speaking on ABC radio Brisbane/Queensland today 25th saying that it would take a month for the Wuhan corona virus to reach Australia. Normal winter flu season in northern hemisphere kills approx. 60,000 in the US alone, why this panic re corona virus? https://www.globalresearch.ca/selected-articles-bioweapons-weapons-modern-warfare/5704581

    • “Normal winter flu season in northern hemisphere kills approx. 60,000 in the US alone, why this panic re corona virus?”

      That is a really easy question to answer for anyone who knows anything about this (ignoring the word panic that does not seem to be happening mostly with the exception of places that are battling confirmed outbreaks which is understandable). And from what I am reading it is 4 different things :-
      1. Mortality looks to be about 40 times higher than higher than flu.

      2. rate of spread is roughly 2 times the rate of flu. (so above 2 things alone means it appears to be both significantly more deadly than the flu AND will spread much faster all other things being equal, and if these things are true it is not unreasonable to multiply the mortality from the flu by at least 40 times, and possibly more.

      3. we have no resistance in the population, and no antivirus medication for coronavirus and neither of these issues apply to the flu.

      4. the containment measures that are being used to contain this thing are looking devastating. Hospitals totally overwhelmed. City’s and work places in lock down effectively closing all industry, travel bans etc.This has a huge cost, but also potentially impacts the very basic services we rely on day to day.

      Here is reference I am using https://www.livescience.com/new-coronavirus-compare-with-flu.html . There are other references giving somewhat similar numbers, so in the absence of anything better I suspect these numbers are in the ballpark of the best we have at this stage unless someone has a more reputable source of information that significantly changes this.

      If you don’t understand why we need to be concerned and preparing, you probably need to read a bit more to understand it.

      These are the best “facts” as the expects are telling us now. And if a epidemiologist saying if it becomes a pandemic, he is expecting a 40-70% infection rate, even at the low end of this forecast and putting together than mortality rate of 2%, that is 150 million deaths, or comparing to US flu, that is 6.6 million deaths. But I recon the death toll will be minor compared to the economic and wider disruption to society. Note : I acknowledge that I might be putting 1 and 1 together and coming up with 11, as I suspect that the 40-70% infection rate might not align with 2% mortality, and even Ronald’s small snip-it of a quote gives some clue to that in the acknowledgement that he does not know what % will be asymptomatic (see comments below).

      Now to bring balance, all the experts are saying there are a lot of unknowns out there, and these things could push this thing one way or the other. I personally (with no expert qualification other than trying to read and educate myself on the issue from google) believe it is likely the number of cases out there are an order of magnitude higher than reported. It is clear there are lots of cases of people infected with no symptoms and in all likelihood spreading the disease without knowing it, and these people would not be appearing in the stats. But this is a double edge sword as if this is the case, it is also likely the mortality rate is likely to be much lower than is being reported (unreported people are probably mostly not that sick and not dying). If you are an optimist, you can look at just the optimistic factors and ignoring the pessimistic factors, and bury your head in the sand and risk getting hit with the full force of the freight train that might or might not be coming your way. If you are a pessimist, you are probably already living in your doomsday bunker and have probably already closed the blast doors. For the rest of us, I suspect it is sensible for us to take the treat seriously and to monitor the situation and start taking sensible measures to be prepare for what might be coming. And I certainly hope that is what the health department, and other providers of essential services are doing. Hell, because my economic prosperity is largely linked to everyone else’s economic prosperity, I hope that all companies are approaching this is the same balanced way. And hell, if we discover an antivirus or learn how to more reasonable contain this virus and the treat blows over, we should be better prepared for the next 1 that will no doubt in the fullness of time come to raise the whole risk again.

      But interestingly I find the diversity of thoughts about coronavirus strangely similar to the debate in the community about climate change (or all sorts of other things). There is a lot of people who seem to favour the intuitions of their own “gut feeling” or maybe self interest or conspiracy theory over the advice from the experts in the area who have spent a lifetime studying the issue. And when you do that, you can do the reading to find ample “evidence” to support any particular viewpoint you subscribe to. Further, you can use this to totally ignore any dissenting view point, even if the dissenting view point actually has the vast majority of credible subject matter experts. Unfortunately critical thinking can fly out the window, and the world would be a MUCH better place if everyone had the skills to apply critical thinking, because this alone is usually enough to pretty easily and give people a good idea about there the truth likely lies.

      As someone who :-
      – has just traveled overseas, and been in contact with people who might be carry coronavirus, and
      – shortly after arriving back in Australia, coming down with symptoms that are aligned with Coronavirus symptoms, and
      – had a crack at raising the hygiene bar and trying to self isolate a bit, and
      – also having to make decisions about the risks of overseas travel in the immediate future,

      I am watching developments with a more than cursory interest. But none of this googling and reading reputable news sources (which are sometimes exaggerated and even incorrect) makes me an expert. For me I am always going to look to the qualified experts, working in the field. And if they are concerned, I am going to be concerned, looking to their advice, and making sure I can be as prepared as possible.

      • Most of the deaths are in China in heavily polluted cities in a population with a culture of heavy tobacco smoking in the past. What is missing from the information provided is the relationship between pack-years, AQI over the years, gender, age and any other chronic and acute respiratory risk factors. And how many had co-existent flu viruses?

  10. Some climate scientist say there would be a swift global temp increase of 1 degree or so if we stopped particulate pollution altogether. Be interesting to see if there is any confirmation of this with temps in China now.

  11. Richard Mahony says

    ‘The coronavirus, or COVID-19 as all the cool epidemiologists are calling it these days, …’

    For the record, WHO has given the name COVID-19 to the disease caused by the corona virus that has been named SARS-CoV-2 by the International Committee on Taxonomy of Viruses’ Coronavirus Study Group.

    Hence, all the cool epidemiologists are using two different names to differentiate between the disease and the aetiological agent, thus:

    ‘Naming the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) and the virus that causes it
    Official names have been announced for the virus responsible for COVID-19 (previously known as “2019 novel coronavirus”) and the disease it causes. The official names are:

    Disease

    coronavirus disease
    (COVID-19)

    Virus

    severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2
    (SARS-CoV-2)

    Why do the virus and the disease have different names?

    Viruses, and the diseases they cause, often have different names. For example, HIV is the virus that causes AIDS. People often know the name of a disease, such as measles, but not the name of the virus that causes it (rubeola).

    There are different processes, and purposes, for naming viruses and diseases.
    Viruses are named based on their genetic structure to facilitate the development of diagnostic tests, vaccines and medicines. Virologists and the wider scientific community do this work, so viruses are named by the International Committee on Taxonomy of Viruses (ICTV).

    Diseases are named to enable discussion on disease prevention, spread, transmissibility, severity and treatment. Human disease preparedness and response is WHO’s role, so diseases are officially named by WHO in the International Classification of Diseases (ICD).

    ICTV announced “severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2)” as the name of the new virus on 11 February 2020. This name was chosen because the virus is genetically related to the coronavirus responsible for the SARS outbreak of 2003. While related, the two viruses are different.

    WHO announced “COVID-19” as the name of this new disease on 11 February 2020, following guidelines previously developed with the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO).

    * WHO Director-General’s remarks at the media on 11 February 2020
    * WHO Situation Report on 11 February 2020

    WHO and ICTV were in communication about the naming of both the virus and the disease.

    What name does WHO use for the virus?

    From a risk communications perspective, using the name SARS can have unintended consequences in terms of creating unnecessary fear for some populations, especially in Asia which was worst affected by the SARS outbreak in 2003.

    For that reason and others, WHO has begun referring to the virus as “the virus responsible for COVID-19” or “the COVID-19 virus” when communicating with the public. Neither of these designations are intended as replacements for the official name of the virus as agreed by the ICTV.

    Material published before the virus was officially named will not be updated unless necessary in order to avoid confusion.

    More information:

    * How are new infectious diseases named?
    * More about coronavirus disease (COVID-2019)
    * WHO press briefings on the coronavirus disease (COVID-2019)
    * International classification of diseases
    * International Committee on Taxonomy of Viruses’

    1. https://www.who.int/emergencies/diseases/novel-coronavirus-2019/technical-guidance/naming-the-coronavirus-disease-(covid-2019)-and-the-virus-that-causes-it

    2. https://www.biorxiv.org/content/10.1101/2020.02.07.937862v1

    • er…. (“Why do the virus and the disease have different names?”) Perhaps for the same reason you and your parents have different names? Such considerations and events like the toilet-paper frenzy keep us from dying of boredom.

  12. Maybe the deaths are not caused by a virus maybe by pollution.
    do you have any actual evidence that the illness and death is caused by a virus please present it

    • So not one of you can present any evidence that anyone has died due to novel virus?? Do you know what evidence is required? It requires not just blindly accepting news reports. It requires evidence identifying the pathogen. Requires accurate test. Requires causation of virus causing illness and not some other cause.

  13. Stats from the World Health Organisation are collected from government heath bodies around the world. They may be understated. There is no reason to doubt these numbers as realistic.

    “There is now a total of 90,893 reported cases of COVID-19 globally, and 3110 deaths.”

    https://www.who.int/dg/speeches/detail/who-director-general-s-opening-remarks-at-the-media-briefing-on-covid-19—3-march-2020

    • Sylvia Jones says

      Hardly worth a mention. One shitfight at the Somme killed more than 1,000,000 (not counting injured), was deliberate, and is stilled revered today. Six million (mostly women and kids) were killed during the Vietnam years…. and PSD is an ongoing issue….Or is that PMS?? Whatever.

  14. There are zero deaths due to coronavirus unless Evidence is produced.
    Not sure what’s so hard about this concept

    • Sylvia Jones says

      On the other hand, medical science has proven that conception alone carries a 100% death rate.

      • Sylvia Jones says

        Sorry!… Please don’t tamper with what I have to say. If you don’t wish to publish my comment as is, don’t publish any of it. Apart from anything else there is a legal principle involved as well as the moral perspective.

  15. I suppose that is clever in some circles.

    All you geniuses and not one of you can provide any evidence from any source that anyone has died due to coronavirus.

    Pretty strange for something that is bringing the world to a standstill.

    Hm I wonder if the CDC wants it that way.

    I wonder if the CDC and the medical cartel is enjoying the trust and faith people put in their moronic pronouncements of so called viral pandemic.

    • Ronald Brakels says

      Yep, it’s just a hoax made up to make Trump look bad. I mean, look at the names — Wuhan city, Hubei province… Obviously made up. They sound like they came from a Dr Seuss children’s book. When you get down to it, do we have any evidence that China is a real country at all? I mean, a tonal language? How likely is that?

      • Erik Christiansen says

        Ronald, I admire the optimistic use of humour to appeal to the positive intelligence of a challenging interlocutor – but a troll lacks that humanity. Any direct responses serve only as food for the negative cunning applied to mischievous provocation. A troll can outlast and outdo the tantrums of a two year old, with an identical inability to comprehend reason.

        May I suggest that in the interest of restoring a measure of adult interaction here, it is probably best to allow any troll to have the last (irrelevant) word, as total lack of response is the only way to contain that tedious contagion.

  16. I gave you a chance. You failed.

    People dying does not mean virus causation.

    Get it?

    Cui Bono.

  17. Ronald, I think you might be into something there. I think you should start the “China is not a real place society” to help get the truth out there. You could join with the “flat earth society”, and the “climate change is a global conspiracy” societies to help get the truth out there on some of the other global conspiracies.

    • And not just the Chinese! I recall when the Irish announced they were going to outdo the moon landings by sending a spaceship to the Sun! Someone pointed out that they’d burn to a cinder before they got to within 50 million miles of the Sun’s fiery heat. But they said they’d thought of that…. and were going at night.

  18. Can we close this rubbish?

  19. Reg Watson says

    All I know is the Australian population can’t buy masks but they have plenty in China. Whilst we were all quietly reading the news about the spread in China over our cornflakes the daigous, relatives and friends of Chinese nationals were quietly buying up every mask in Australia they could find – and our stocks were already depleted after the bushfires.

    Now when the virus hits the authorities are only going to hand out scarce masks to the medical professionals. The rest of us don’t get a lifeboat. Instead they have been spreading b/s that you don’t need a mask, all you need to do is wash your hands. The fact that medical studies have shown that the wearing of masks can reduce the incidence of catching flu viruses by as much as 80 per cent has been overlooked by the Government propaganda. No, masks won’t protect everyone but any form of barrier is better than none.

    All I can say is if the mortality rate of this virus was 25% instead of 2 to 3% we’d be worrying about a lot more than toilet paper. It would be Mad Max time and I’d be dusting off my black Ford Interceptor..

    • Ronald Brakels says

      Reg, you can make your own masks. Whatever you make, it won’t be as good as a N95 mask approved for medical use, but it can reduce your risk of being infected. But the main benefit is likely to be is reducing how much people with the virus spread it. It’s basically a snot catcher.

  20. Ronald Brakels says

    Oops! My optimistic prediction on the number of official deaths this year was, tragically, way off and it turned out the epidemiologist with years of training was right. Who could have predicted that? But still, no one took me up on my offer of a 50 cent bet, so I’m sitting here safe and pretty with my money. All alone with 300 rolls of toilet paper. (I’ve had this 50 cent coin for over a month now, so I’m pretty confident it doesn’t have any Coronavirus on it.)

  21. Ronald, thanks for being more rational than many people at the moment. I never had empathy for people ruining their lives by smoking, drinking alcohol, eating a lot of meat, not doing sports, and all this for decades. Looking at the data, these are the people dying now. Their long term suicide is somewhat accelerated. Why should I have empathy now? Innocent kids, like those starving to death in Africa, are not dying from coronavirus. People in the third world will not die from it, not enough fat available to accumulate. People born with chronic diseases and struggling now, doing their best to survive, should receive all the medical attention now. These are the people I care about.

  22. Unfortunately this is based on the incorrect assumption that coronavirus only kills people who are “smoking, drinking alcohol, eating a lot of meat, not doing sports”. But that is incorrect. Coronavirus is killing people of all ages and health statuses. Sure, the elderly and unwell have greater risk factors, but no surprises here, as that is true from most diseases.

    But even if you are 100% healthy, young and have a magic wand that protects you from coronavirus, and have absolutely no empathy for anyone else, you still should care, because it still affects you in many ways. eg :-
    1. economic consequences of this will be massive.
    2. if you need medical health for anything else (eg accident), in a world where medical resources are overwhelmed, there will be hand choices to be made my medical staff, and it is not unlikely that people will die from all sorts of other things, simply because there is not the medical resources available to give everything the care that would be needed.

    The danger here is complacency. We are about to hit the numbers of new reported infections at which China went total lock down (400 new cases a day). The lock down worked but there is a lag due to the people already infected, but not identified. So the rate of infections appeared to sky rocket up to about 4000 new cases a day, despite the lock down being very effective. So unless we act more decisively very soon, I would be very surprised if our infection rate and mortality rate is heading for what was seen in China and Italy or worse.

    Complacency is the enemy. We all need to be acting decisively. Everyone needs to get that message, because I would rather not live in a country where people have to be locked up for the greater good because they are in denial, or too selfish to care about the consequences for anyone else.

  23. Be careful not to compare bacteria and virus. They are two totally different things.

    Bacteria does not need a host to survive.
    Virus needs a host in order to survive. If the hosts dies, then the virus dies.

    Which is why deadlier virus don’t kill as many people because in doing so, the virus eradicates itself. While a less lethal virus can infect millions but not kill them so that it can replicate.

    Bacteria require antibiotics.
    Virus require vaccine.
    There’s a key difference… antibiotics clear the bacteria, not prevent it. No point taking antibiotics if one does not have the bacterial infection.
    Vaccines prevents one getting a virus, in general. LIke the flu shot.

    Which is why it will take a while for a vaccine to be available for Covid-19. But viruses mutate which influenza does so well making it harder to develop vaccines that can last a long time.

    Anyway, don’t know why Covid-19 is so overblown.
    2017 – USA – flu season killed 77,000 people. Did they panic?
    2019 – USA – flu season killed about 12,000 people. Did they panic?
    USA – more than 26,000 people die each year because they had no money for medical attention. Anything done for them?
    2019 – Australia – 400+ people died from the flu. Did they panic? So far only 12 people died from Covid-19. Mostly, the older age group. But this may not matter given the chance of dying for the older age group is higher. Whether the older age group died from Covid-19, something else would get them. So, it skews the results.

    In the grand scheme of things, Covid-19 is a drop in the ocean compared to everything else that is happening.

    Percentages don’t give a real picture of what’s happening.
    1% of people infected is different for each country. Can’t really put percentages on each country. It needs to be looked at globally.
    In this context, about 25,000 died so far. There’s 7.7 billion people. That’s only 0.00000324% of the population. Pfft… there are way worse things the causes death and much higher numbers.

    The Spanish flu – estimated at 50 million minimum, World Pop about 1.1 Billion in 1918. That’s 0.04545% dead from the flu. That’s 14,000x more than Covid-19 rate today.

    Needs to be put in perspective.

    The panic is more about economic fallout rather than health fallout.

    Notice, that all the major western governments in power are right wingers (USA – Trump, Australia – Morrison, Canada – Trudeau, UK – Johnson, France – Macron, Germany – Merkel) and they are all reacting badly to it because of the impact on their business cronies and affects their core political ideology of being little government (not interfering with everyday life and big on business, low on welfare). This Covid-19 is a just an example how Liberal/Conservatives governments should be behaving – looking after the welfare of people – not business.

    IMO, the reaction to the Covid-19 situation is really more political and business related rather than the actual welfare and health of people.
    It was even commented that what Covid-19 did to China was better than Trump’s attempt to impose tariffs on imported goods to bend China to US will. Who knows, that the USA planted the virus just to achieve that effect. It wouldn’t surprise me in the least. In fact, to a lot of people’s dismay, Trump’s approval rating is at highest during the Covid-19 pandemic. Co-incidence? One can only wonder what the upper echelons of governments get up to and what their real goals are during the Covid-19 situation.

    • I think your analysis diminishing coronavirus on the current number fails to understand 1 important fact. That is math, and exponential math in particular.

      To help you understand this, as of the 26th, the US had about 82,000 people infected (even this is out of date and 1 day later and that number is over 100,000 people), with the medical system completely overwhelmed in many states. At current rates, that will be 1,055,955 – 2,769,248 in just 10 days time. It is the same math that has taken them from less than 3000 people to over a hundred thousand people in 2 weeks. And without drastic measures to contain it, this is just the beginning, and this exponential rise continues. Predictions are for 20 – 60% of the population to get this if not brought under control. If anything remotely like this happens the death rate from a bad flu season will look like nothing, even at the very lowest end of the mortality scale. But in such an outbreak, we are very unlikely to be at the lowest end of the scale, because there will be a lot of people dying that could be saved in the medical system was not overwhelmed.

      But of course you are right, a lot of this is about economics, and there is no escaping that. We know we can fix this problem if we want to. China is classic example. There draconian lock down, social distancing, guaranteeing and contact tracing has been successful in taking the epicenter from being out of control, to now no new infections for many days. So, there is no doubt that works (not a cure, but certainly managing it till a vaccine can be found). But of course it is pretty hard on the economy. But if this thing is let go as some idiots are proposing and 20-60% of our population infected, and the flow on effects of meltdown of our medical systems as seen in Italy, Spain, and US, and the associated death rate then that will also be economy destroying.

      China and the US have both politically tried to talk this thing away. Other people are making the same mistake. But the coronavirus does not care and political spin just aids it. Once politicians understand exponential math, they will have to listen. They listened in China, did what was needed, and are now starting to reopen things. Someone came up with a term which I think is a good description called “The Hammer and the dance”. I suspect this is what the economics that come out of this the best will have to do. If you are interested, read :-

      https://medium.com/@tomaspueyo/coronavirus-the-hammer-and-the-dance-be9337092b56

  24. Timothy M Grafton says

    Let’s do some simple maths, if 20% of the US population gets this virus and 1% die, then that is a 680,000 people dead. But actually a lot more because people getting critically sick from other causes such as heart attack, stroke etc won’t be able to get treatment because all the ICU beds are taken by Covid19 cases. Oh and because the hospital system is overwhelmed, the death rate will climb even higher, not enough ICU beds, doctors, nurses, ventilators. So really 2 million US residents could die.

    The US currently has 10 times the case rate of Australia as of 27th March 2020. In Australia we are doing a much better job of managing this crisis.

    So really SolarQuotes should close this rubbish blog to prevent idiots from posting their rubbish.

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