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A cure worse than the disease? Nonsense !

Aktualizováno: 1. 6. 2020

Lidové noviny, Prague

A notion, that the victims of the struggle against the Corona virus are more than the victims of the virus itself, is wrong.

Protests against Corona virus government measures. Law enforcement engages a protester in Berlin last Saturday. PHOTO REUTERS


In early May Stephan Kohn from the German Federal Ministry of Interior published a report – in disapproval with the office's opinion, that collateral victims of the corona virus were more than the victims of the virus itself.

It supports to the argument that is heard in our country as well. The "Flu-ers" claim that Covid is just an episode and that fear of it has done more harm than good.

Since the publishing of William Styron's novel “Sophie’s Choice”, its title phrase is used to describe decisions that lack a good outcome. They can only be bad or worse. No need to read the whole novel. Just imagine, a mother facing her two children and deciding which will live and which – most probably – will not. The essence of hell in one sentence.

There is a serious attempt to pretend that the government has had the opportunity to decide in favor/against one type of victims over another. That reasoning is wrong on more than one ground.

Firstly, the comparison with the alleged numbers of deaths from "common illnesses" due to neglected care and the number of deaths from the Corona virus is misleading. The correct comparison would be how many people die of common diseases normally and then how many more died because Corona occupied health care’a capacities. We don't have even approximate numbers, only anecdotal stories. By the way, Stephan Kohn doesn't have them either. His report contains lines of thought, but mortality data for "routine" diagnoses for the period in question are far from available yet.

Secondly, the current victim numbers of the corona virus are taken into consideration incorrectly. These were kept at bay by government measures. One should compare the number of victims that would have occurred, if government measures had not been taken, or would have arrived late. Countries who would have ignored Corona completely are sparce. But countries of the second kind, which delayed lockdown for weeks, are ample. Let's stay with the often used comparator, Italy. The flu epidemics in four seasons from 2013/14 to 2016/17 caused an excess mortality of 7, 20, 16 and 25 thousand respectively. We are talking of the whole season, from mid-November to mid- April, which is 22 weeks. Covid-19 in Italy "managed" to kill 32,000 in about a third of the time. And it's not over yet. 

Thirdly, thoughts of how much mortality from "common" diseases has risen, stand opposite to likewise theoretical considerations of how many lives were saved during a pandemic due to the improved environment, fewer pollutants in the air, and the likes

Fourthly, the question whether we had any chance of choosing a course of action in the face of exponential growth of the disease, is completely off mark. There was no time for such.

The root of the misunderstanding is that we compare steady and linear phenomena (morbidity from cardiovascular diseases, cancer, etc.) and exponential phenomena (a highly contagious disease, spreading uncontrollably even from asymptomatic carriers). While the former can be tackled calmly and prudently, the latter requires immediate and decisive action. To prevent a fire in a hay stack, one must watch the first burning match. When the first bales of hay are burning, it is usually too late.

The first wave has blessedly passed, but the Corona virus will remain with us for quite some time. We can't turn off the planet for a year or two. For the future it will be a matter of an adequate modus vivendi, how to enable the life of society, the treatment of " linear" diseases and at the same time to guard where any piece of hay may be smoldering and to extinguish it swiftly. The governments should know better now than they did in February.

As a surprising twist, massive protests of the " anti- anti-coronavirus " are taking place in Germany, which is sometimes presented in our country (Czechia) as an example of a moderate approach compared to our "dictatorship of epidemiologists". Well, according to some folks you can never get it right, can you?

Lawsuits against states and governments are in the pipeline. The Czech government will be sued for damages caused by government measures to businesses. The Spanish government will face lawsuits for the insufficient protection of human lives.

After the attack on the Paris club Bataclan on November 13, 2015, the names, faces and stories of people were published, who happened to be in the wrong place at a wrong time. So that the public would not forget the humans behind the numbers. 

Who would want to criticize (any) government for an allegedly poor Sophie's choice, such may try to speak face to face to a Covid-19 patient, or the next of kin for that matter, telling them they aren’t victims, just statistics who ended up in the wrong collumn. It will take a heart of steel.

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