COVID-19, so what is the big deal?

Looks like lock-down is extended (almost indefinitely for now) in most of the countries. Wondering, how long will the people, business and economy will continue to lockdown?

And why are we in lockdown?

Let us start with looking at a few data points

  • Total deaths in India per year is around: 98 Lakhs (9,800,000) [for the year 2019]

So, COVID has claimed just 0.002 % of yearly death in India up till now.

Similarly, if we compare with some of the data on other countries, for example, the USA.

  • Total deaths in the USA per year is around 28 Lakhs (2,800,000) [for the year 2019]

COVID has claimed 0.7 % of yearly death in the USA up till now.

Ok now, we know what is the percentage of deaths, do we need this unprecedented lockdown?

A clear question is, does the call for the kind of lockdown, seal down and loss of livelihood for thousands of people is essential?

Migrant workers make the journey to their villages due to loss of livelihood [courtesy Human Rights Watch]

What makes COVID-19 different

Well, I do not make conclusive remarks lock-down and seal-down. I want to bring the following key parameters that make COVID different form what we have seen so far.

Mortality Rate

The mortality rate (or death rate) defines how many confirmed cases end up fatally, i.e die. The COVID-19 mortality rate is currently estimated at 3.4%. This means, of the 100 people infected, less than 4 meets a fatal end.

Compare this to other infections

  • COVID-19 mortality — 3.4%

Much less than SARS, but much higher than H1N1 flu. Something to keep in mind.

The deadly spread

Like any other communicable disease, COVID-19 spreads from one person to other, some of the research suggests it spreads via respiratory fluids. But question is, how many new people get infected by a single infected person? This measure (how many get infected) is defined as R0.

  • If R0 is less than 1, each existing infected person can infect less than one new person.

COVID-19 has an R0 of 2.28. Which means, an infected person can infect more than 2 people. In contrast, common flu has an R0 of 1.3.

Well, 1.3 to 2.28 do not look very big deal?

Let us assume if one person infects a new person we can call it the primary level. If the newly infected person infects again, we can call it the secondary level. Now consider we start with a single person. At level 5, we would see 5 common flu infections. And at the same level, we would see 140 COVID-19 infections. The plots below, show the graph at level 5 and level 10.

Number of COVID infected people vs Common Flu at level 5
Number of COVID infected people vs Common Flu at level 10

Ok, now we know why this can so much dangerous!

The incubation period

Added to this is a fairly long incubation period. When a person get infected, he/she may not show the signs of infection up 14 days, and in some case up to 28 days. However, the mean incubation period is around 5 days.

What this means, a healthy-looking person may continue to spread the infection, without being aware. The current global number maybe 14 days behind!

So, as can be seen, it is R0 of 2.28, that is so deadly, which is forcing the lockdown. Global lockdown/seal down, loss of livelihood is justifiable? When there is life, we can figure out the livelihood.

Where will this all end

I am no medical practitioner or pathologist. However I can assure, there are lots of research going on, how COVID-19 affects our body, blood, and immune systems. There are some encouraging results on how malarial drugs and BCG vaccination works positively. [ref https://chemrxiv.org/articles/COVID-19_Disease_ORF8_and_Surface_Glycoprotein_Inhibit_Heme_Metabolism_by_Binding_to_Porphyrin/11938173?fbclid=IwAR3yZwPK4jL-2HV0xCSLPhwu9-ojjpQdIxp6ptzgOd3xMPcQEpM5XO7lpAo and https://www.medrxiv.org/content/10.1101/2020.04.05.20054163v1] Please note, these are research papers and not cure. Few of these papers explain what exactly happens with infection and it can be controlled.

The cure

I am quite optimistic there will be a cure, in the next 6 to 8 weeks. The vaccine will take at least 12 to 18 months, to be available for the general public for mass inoculation.

S Chetan Kumar is the co-founder and C.E.O of Aikaan Labs (www.aikaan.io), an Edge computing company. We help in performance management of edge app and infra.