There is a massive gap between reported and real numbers of infected people (with millions potentially infected), but the upside is that this will likely mean fatality rates eventually prove to be much smaller than currently feared.
The true impact of the novel coronavirus COVID-19 is likely to be vastly different from the projections reported in the press each day.
According to Andrew Bishop, Global Head of Policy Research at Signum Global Advisors, an independent policy and financial advisory, the gap between reported and real numbers of infected people is due to the lack of widespread testing.
Testing kits are in limited supply and many people who contract the disease will be a-symptomatic, essentially carriers of the disease who do not experience its flu-like high temperatures and persistent coughing.
‘The result is that we are hearing different things,’ says Bishop. ‘Some politicians are talking about the reported numbers, while others are making estimates about the reality of the situation.’
The truth, he says, is not somewhere in the middle. The truth will turn out to be somewhat paradoxical at first glance: ‘The real number of infected people will be in the millions, but that will also mean that as a percentage, deaths will be far smaller than feared.’
Demographics are an important indicator of the potential impact and fatality rate of COVID-19.
Current estimates show a fatality rate between 0.6 and 3.5 percent, with most developed countries coming in at one percent or less.
However, Bishop reports that deaths are close to zero for people below the age of 50. However above 70 years of age, rates can shoot up to fifteen percent. There is also vulnerability for people with pre-existing medical conditions.
Medical capacity and the quality of medical institutions are important indicators of the disease’s potential impact, as is population density. Observers have also noted that populous regions have fared worse than more sparsely inhabited areas.
Exposure to China, tourism and the commodities market are also considered important factors in assessing the vulnerability of populations as the disease travels globally.
Hotter temperatures and weather are also considered relevant, though this is contested. Bishop points out that the crux of the matter is not whether the virus can or cannot survive at all in warm temperatures (it certainly can), but rather whether hot weather can help ease the virus’s virulence.
When it comes to rebounding from the crisis, Bishop favours consumer-driven societies over others because, as he notes, ‘consumer and service economies are easier to reboot than factories.’
He also lists social cohesion as an important factor in the speed of recovery, with communities able to band together having a huge impact on returning life to normal.
He calls for a modicum of restraint when considering what might be the ultimate death toll of the disease.
‘Given that roughly 40 percent of the European population is expected to be infected, some might believe it follows logically that between two and four million people may die as a result of COVID-19,’ says Bishop.
However, he raises the example of the swine flu epidemic of 2009-10, which was projected to have a one percent death rate at the time. In reality it was much lower, at roughly 0.02 percent.
‘Medical estimates are to be taken seriously,’ says Bishop. ‘But we can be fairly certain that more cases of COVID-19 do not necessarily lead to more deaths as a percentage.’
Andrew Bishop, Global Head of Policy Research at Signum Global Advisors, was a guest speaker at the French Chamber’s webinar: COVID-19: Update on the global response and 5 business tips on navigating the crisis held on 18 March 2020.