19 OR 22?

Stuart White 12-06-2020 9:15 AM
Categories: HRMC Articles written by Managing Director, Stuart White

Do you ever feel like you are missing something? You know that feeling when things do not add up, something feels off and you simply don’t have the answers? This is probably how doctors felt before they discovered the link between washing hands and spreading germs. Today you have probably internalised the message that the best way to prevent the spread of a virus is to wash your hands. While that’s now common-sense it  wasn’t until the mid-19th century that doctors began to wash their hands before examining patients—and even then, only in certain cases. Up until this time there was no germ theory - the idea that certain diseases and infections are caused by micro-organisms invisible to the naked eye.  Doctors were unknowingly going about their duties sometimes from the operating theatre to patients in other wards without hand washing, thereby spreading disease which ultimately caused many deaths.   So much for ‘First do no harm’!

When this pandemic started I was glued to the TV and other report feeds for information to feed my insatiable hunger for news - worldometers/coronavirus, SKY news, CNN, newspapers anything to monitor the apocalypse day after day, in some instances hour by hour. Being based in France at the height of its crisis I took to the balcony each night at 8 to rattle pots and pans and applaud to acknowledge healthcare workers’ efforts and show solidarity in such difficult times. I lorded the visionary leadership of Macron, Ramaphosa, Masisi and even thought at one instant that this might be the making of Boris Johnson – there is nothing like a crisis to make your mark. ‘Cometh the moment,  cometh the man’ and all that.

It is but natural for the us citizens to expect our leaders, whether business, political, or social to rise to the occasion of a crisis and “do something”  so that we can rest assured we are in “safe hands”. But after a while there are questions, in this instance more than answers and a niggling thought ‘what if we are getting it wrong?’.

Like the doctors who didn’t realise the importance of clean hands there is much we still don’t know about Covid-19 such as how many people have been infected globally?, where precisely it came from?, the role children play in spreading it, will there be a seasonal effect?, why symptoms are more severe in some people?, is immunity possible?, will there be a second wave?...certainly more questions than answers.

Another thing we don’t know is how deadly it really is. What do we know however is that as I write this there are 423,846 reported deaths globally. The median age of people killed by the coronavirus is roughly 80 to 82 (median represents the halfway point – half of all people are older and half younger). For example, as of end May in Italy, one of the worst affected countries, of the 32k killed by the virus about 60% of these were over 80 years of age. In England and Wales as of the middle of May, about 75% of the 41,000 deaths were people over 75. We can conclude that most people who die after becoming infected with Coronavirus are old and reportedly had additional, underlying health issues.

Please don’t think that I am any kind of researcher or epidemiologist - I’m just an enthusiastic armchair commentator adding my tuppence worth, but having a metaphorical foot in both continents and watching with interest, I observe the dramatic differences in the impact on the two continents and I wonder why?  Comparatively, Africa is a very young continent. More than 98% of the population is under the age of 65 where in Europe the population skews older, so that may explain part of it. Early on I opined that maybe it had something to do with the environment, maybe we are just more hardy in Africa and have more resistance to viruses?  

It is well documented that most African countries acted quickly to stop the spread but you can’t help question how we have been spared in a continent where there is poorer healthcare, lower levels of sanitation, public health system shortfalls etc. While I think we may attribute some of this to inaccurate reporting, at the end of the day if the infection was higher – at least those that result in death - we would be seeing or feeling it more. 

Or can it be that reporting is off in other countries? In the US for example and as reported in ‘Unreported truths about COVID-19 and lockdowns’ many reporting states assume that anyone with a positive coronavirus test has died from the disease, no matter the actual cause of death. So “if you were in hospice and already been give a few weeks to live and then you were found to have COVID that would go down as a COVID death. The fact that so many coronavirus deaths happen in nursing homes where  people are frail certainly suggests...and when you start looking at the figures this way and that possible 2/3 of the people would have died anyway the figures start to look quite different.

I watched India with great interest thinking of the sheer volume of the population and how many in India, as in African, live in very close quarters where social distancing is logistically impossible. Add in poor sanitation, rugged living conditions and so on and for some reason, Coronavirus has failed to show up with India having one of the lowest number of deaths per population. 

Our entire response to COVID-19 is about flattening the curve, because if too many people become critically ill, the health system will be overwhelmed – even in Botswana it was something that President Masisi alluded to when he announced the state of emergency; but as a UN World Food Program representative in South Africa said “I don’t know what ‘flattening the curve’ really means in this part of the world, because there is not necessarily the same level of health care services or infrastructure to even overwhelm”, and anyway how can you flatten what is not there?

We have had only one death in Botswana, yet we have taken draconian measures, putting our economy under great strain and threat, not to mention the inconvenience of life at the moment – queuing, masking, registering, distancing...you know how it goes. So here are the questions. Did we have to?  Was the risk too great not to do anything? What happens if it comes back or do we think we are comparing apples and oranges with 1st World and 3rd World?  Is it in fact something completely different?  Or are we missing the most important question of all...WHAT ARE WE MISSING?  Is it yet so simple that we’re missing it because we’re looking too hard?  That’ it’s just another seasonal bug, we’ll all become partially immune and when it comes back it will be as innocuous as catching a cold?  Or is it like the eponymous ‘Catch 22’ which the novel’s hero, Yossarian,  stated was ‘the best catch of all’, because of course it never stayed the same? 

Come to think of it, that’s exactly what the scientists are saying about Covid, so looking for an answer to this one might not be the solution to the next one.  So for now, all I have is ‘Que sera, sera’  - what will be, will be.  That’s an answer but probably not to the right question! 
 

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