What's the Big Deal?
Last Updated: 14th May 2020
The spread of COVID-19 has the daily attention of the entire globe. The consensus of most governments has been to take unprecedented steps in restricting movement and social interactions. The extent of these changes has been so drastic, and occurred so rapidly, that populations and economies have been left reeling. What's left are collections of the population isolated in their homes and sitting along a spectrum of:
'Our health system will crumble and millions will die if we don't carefully and perfectly adhere to a long list of do's and don'ts. Anyone that doesn't conform should be fined, jailed, or not permitted healthcare in the impending apocalypse.'
'This is martial law, we've been stripped of our rights over a disease that isn't serious and probably doesn't even exist. Our leaders are ignorant and the world order is conspiring against us. Anyone who doesn't speak up now against the unfolding insanity deserves to fall into the dictatorial socialist precipice our societies stand at the edge of.'
Of course, most people sit in the middle, and whilst the extremes are a curious mix of entertaining and frustrating, with so many opinions, news articles and conspiracy theories flying around - how do we make sense of it all? Is it a big deal? Or are governments and the media over-reacting?
It's important to recognise that COVID-19 is a virus that only jumped into the human population at the end of last year    so there's a lot we don't know. By January 12, modern disease surveillance systems meant the genome sequence was online and available for all to study - but good science often takes time. Can we achieve immunity from COVID-19? If we can, how long will it last? How quickly does COVID-19 mutate and evolve? Is a vaccine possible? Do we need a vaccine or are there existing drugs or vitamins that work? Experts from around the world are working on these questions.
Because of this, a good answer to the question 'is COVID-19 a big deal' will evolve. Scenes from Wuhan, Lombardy, Madrid and New York show COVID-19 certainly has the potential to be a big deal. On the other hand, scenes from Australia, South Korea, and even China outside of Hubei Province allay some of our fears and show the disease can be controlled and fatalities reduced.
Is it a big deal?
Whilst much remains unknown, there are a few things we've observed so far:
- COVID-19 is not the most deadly disease, if those who experience severe symptoms can get a hospital bed to help them recover.
- COVID-19 can be resource intense to treat, especially for those elderly and with pre-existing conditions.
- COVID-19 is more infectious than most things we're used to, and if left to spread undeterred would result in high social and economic cost.
- To optimise economic outcomes, countries will take different approaches based on trying to either eradicate or live with COVID-19. The degree to which countries can optimise their economies will be largely influenced by their level of resource, population sentiment and cultural values.
- There's still a lot we don't know about how to treat COVID-19 or what the long term health or economic impacts will be, but countries, economists, policy makers, scientists, physicians, nurses and epidemiologists across the world are working actively together and we are learning more every day.
To answer the question in more detail, we need to explore four questions: