In two minds about Wuhan flu

No one can doubt, writes Dalrymple, that the China virus

is dangerous to many people — a sufficient number that our hospitals have experienced something they have not experienced in recent memory — and that many people have died a horrible death because of it.

On the other hand,

as such terrible things as epidemics go, this is very far from the worst in human history, and the overall mortality of whole populations has not increased as a result of it by very much, if at all.

He says:

I still can’t make up my mind whether we are over- or underreacting to the epidemic. I am prey to many doubts.

The doctor-writer asks:

  • In the absence of knowledge of the prevalence of asymptomatic cases, how can we know its true death rate?
  • Is the infection contagious before it manifests itself clinically, in which case isolation short of universal will not entirely contain its spread?
  • Have some of the dead died with the infection rather than of it?
  • Is this winter epidemic worse in point of mortality than other winter epidemics? If the figures from China are to be believed, the epidemic there is on the wane and has so far killed fewer people than the deaths attributed to a ‘normal’ flu epidemic in Britain alone, with a population one-twentieth the size.
  • Have the measures so far taken saved countless lives?
  • Are my questions a manifestation of blindness caused by wishful thinking?

He quips:

Underreaction would be fatal. Overreaction could be disastrous. I advocate getting things just right.

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