IN February 1957, a new influenza virus emerged in East Asia which doctors named A (H2N2) and which was known to the world, in the days before political correctness, as Asian Flu.
It is estimated that Asian Flu killed 1.1million around the world and 116,000 in the United States which then had a population just over half what it is today.
Researchers estimate that about 25 per cent of Americans were infected. Nevertheless, in 1957 life in the USA and elsewhere went on pretty much as normal. There was no lockdown. Is a global lockdown necessary in the face of Covid-19?
If Covid-19 is the pandemic that governments have feared for decades, which can kill a large proportion of the world’s population unless checked, then the answer is yes, but is it?
There are a fair number of reasons to suggest that we have panicked unnecessarily but, on the other hand, why are the hospitals in Lombardy and Spain in chaos?
It might be partly because the winter was so mild. There’s an old saying in England: ‘A green winter makes a full churchyard.’ What that folk wisdom means is that germs which a severe winter kills off supposedly flourish in a mild winter and kill off lots of elderly people.
This winter in Italy the flu was very mild because of the unusually warm weather and killed many fewer older Italians than average, according to a report by the Italian Ministry of Health. The report argued that old people with chronic diseases who survived until February and March then became victims of Covid-19.
This partly explains why many people over 65 have suddenly died in Lombardy, but there are other factors. Italy’s 12,000-plus deaths have happened mostly in northern cities and towns, but there overall mortality among people age 65 and over was 6 per cent below an average of previous years. In fact, total number of deaths throughout Europe in March 2020 is less than the total number in March 2019.
Large numbers of old and frail people, who were going to die anyway, will die of the coronavirus, as well as a few younger and healthy people. Far more old and frail people will die in hospital with, not of, the virus and those deaths will also be added to the death toll in the media, in most countries at any rate.
On the other hand, the deaths of many in Italy who die with the virus at home or in nursing homes will go unreported. In Bergamo and nearby towns, deaths in March were many times more than last year, which would strongly suggest that Covid-19 is responsible, but in fact most are not assigned to Covid-19.
What is going on?
The fear throughout Europe is that the breakdown in hospital care in Lombardy and in Spain will happen throughout Europe, especially in poor countries such as Romania.
What then is causing the disaster reported from Lombardy?
This message from an anonymous observer in Italy suggests the deaths and health crisis in Lombardy are due to far more than just the virus. The writer describes the genesis and evolution of a panic-led crisis.
‘In recent weeks, most of the Eastern European nurses who worked 24 hours a day, 7 days a week supporting people in need of care in Italy have left the country in a hurry. This is not least because of the panic-mongering and the curfews and border closures threatened by the “emergency governments”. As a result, old people in need of care and disabled people, some without relatives, were left helpless by their carers.
‘Many of these abandoned people then ended up after a few days in the hospitals, which had been permanently overloaded for years, because they were dehydrated, among other things. Unfortunately, the hospitals lacked the personnel who had to look after the children locked up in their apartments because schools and kindergartens had been closed. This led to the complete collapse of the care for the disabled and the elderly, especially in those areas where even harder “measures” were ordered, and to chaotic conditions.
‘The nursing emergency, which was caused by the panic, temporarily led to many deaths among those in need of care and increasingly among younger patients in the hospitals. These fatalities then served to cause even more panic among those in charge and the media, who reported, for example, “another 475 fatalities”, “the dead are being removed from hospitals by the army”, accompanied by pictures of coffins and army trucks lined up.
‘However, this was the result of the funeral directors’ fear of the “killer virus”, who therefore refused their services. Moreover, on the one hand there were too many deaths at once and on the other hand the government passed a law that the corpses carrying the coronavirus had to be cremated. In Catholic Italy, few cremations had been carried out in the past. Therefore there were only a few small crematoria, which very quickly reached their limits. Therefore the deceased had to be laid out in different churches.
‘In principle, this development is the same in all countries. However, the quality of the health system has a considerable influence on the effects. Therefore, there are fewer problems in Germany, Austria or Switzerland than in Italy, Spain or the USA. However, as can be seen in the official figures, there is no significant increase in the mortality rate. Just a small mountain that came from this tragedy.’
So much is unclear, but one thing is clear. We need good data and we shall soon have it from reputable countries.
The data will show whether, as indicated by the research of Dr Gupta of Oxford University, large proportions of populations have the virus without symptoms.
If so, the stock markets of the word will rise, ‘herd immunity’ will be the goal of governments, lockdowns will be discontinued and the world will come out of a short V-shaped recession. Those people who said ‘It’s just a flu’ will feel vindicated, even though we know that Covid-19 is not a flu but an ILI (influenza-like illness) with some nasty attributes.
If not, things look much less cheerful, but we can still hope that drugs such as hydroxychloroquine, azithromycin and zinc sulphate, all of which are in frequent use and whose side effects are well known, can protect the world while scientists try to find a vaccine.