Covid-19: Press Conferences held to self-congratulate

di Joe Volpe del 6 April 2020

TORONTO - Like a naïve waif, I too waited with bated breath, for the drama to unfold in yesterday’s press conferences. We had been alerted to the “big reveal”, the model upon which both the Provincial and Federal governments of Canada have been relying as they develop strategies to combat the Corona virus. The “model”, we were told risked throwing us into a panic.

Because I want to be positive and polite, I bit my tongue. The Schulich School of Business was commissioned to design the “model”. It’s findings and message: if the “government(s)” had not taken the measures now in place, we might have been facing a fatality rate of between 3,000 and 15,000 deaths. In a typical flu season, we can expect 1,500 deaths in Ontario alone. We are at 277 in Canada, 119 in Ontario at time of writing, 23 of them in a Bobcaygeon nursing home.

But the “experts” told us that Covid-19 is ten times worse than the flu with which we are “familiar”. So, should we anticipate fatalities in the range of 3,000 and 15,000? Well… not necessarily. These are “projections” based on speculative assessments of “available data”. For reasons which speak to governance and oversight, there is “not much available” in Ontario, or Canada for that matter.

In Milan, Italy, the presumed epicenter, originally, of the Covid-19 outbreak, the medical system rightfully asked why the number of fatalities from corona viruses had increase by 240% relative to the previous year.

In an effort to understand the behavior of this Novel Corona virus, they developed a reliable testing method and reporting mechanism that allowed them probe a broad enough demographic sample to “validate” scientific hypotheses, beginning with those who appeared to be most in need. Secondly, they reported their findings in the most transparent of manners so that public office holders could execute the appropriate preventative mitigations in the interim.

In simple terms: avoid getting the disease. How? Stay away from people, always, and wash your hands, frequently. The “wet lab” medical scientist would work on solutions (at least three months away) while the mathematical scientists (engineers) developed tracking models. The reliability (utility) of those models depend on the coherence, rigor, quality and frequency the data input.

Unhappy with the information provided by the actors in the Press Conference, I turned, once again, to organizations that have been providing such data for two months without concern for the fear that they might generate: the Johns Hopkins (CSSE) model, the World Health Organization and three (3) Italian Dailies – la Repubblica, Sole 24 Ore, Corriere Della Sera - which also relied on the data provided, daily, by their National Health Agencies to both organizations. In real time, I might add.

The first issue to appreciate is the number of people per 1,000 inhabitants at risk of contracting Covid-19 or confirmed as having contracted the virus.

Keeping in mind there is a lag time of up to two weeks that may impact the ratios among a broad sample of European countries, their data suggests that, so far, the incidence rate of infection is somewhere between 0.9 per 1,000 and 2.50 per thousand.

Here’s the sample expressed as number per/1,000: Netherlands, 0.9; Portugal, 0.98; Germany, 1.09; France, 1.28; Italy, 2.0; Switzerland, 2.2; Spain, 2.5. For the “Anglo Saxon” countries, that ratio is Canada, 0.34; Britain, 0.58 and the USA, 0.84. These last three had not been conducting any significant testing until very recently.

According to the World Population Review (USA), Italy has the 2nd best Health Care System in the world, Britain ranks 18th, Canada 30th and the USA 37th. Where did the Schulich designers go for their “model”?

All three Italian Dailies produced graphics and real time data, breaking down the numbers into, (1) confirmed cases (where and when); (2) fatalities; (3) still under observation (homestay or intensive care);(4) released/recovered and (5) a total to reconcile the first four.

With respect to the deceased, the number is further broken down by age, gender and the number of preexisting pathologies.

Most people do recover once infected, over 90%; but it is early yet to extrapolate with any level of comfort the ratio of infected to recovered; again, because of the lack of reliability of the data input.

If Premier Ford and/or Prime Minister Trudeau want to scare the beejeezus out of the population, they can cite this data: Bobcaygeon Nursing home, 65 residents, 23 deaths (35% death rate). Or, if they want to be responsible, simply note that the health care system, using the Italian model, is capable of keep elderly people alive if they have three pre-existing conditions or less.

Nothing beats prevention. Until the e§ective pharmaceutical treatments become available, Press Conferences are worth holding only if they tell us what mitigating circumstances (i.e., availability and distribution of Personal Protective Equipment or ventilators in Intensive Care Units), the governments are prepared to defend.

Stay home and Wash your hands.


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