What is the big deal about the new coronavirus, COVID-19?

Mudassir Ali
Mar 04, 2020 11:23 AM 0 Answers
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Mudassir Ali
- Mar 04, 2020 11:24 AM

Originally Answered: Why is the corona virus such a big deal? Hasn’t it affected a tiny fraction of the flu routinely infects and has similarly mild symptoms?

Let’s start with the Spanish flu. The Spanish flu was your regular seasonal outbreak of the flu, just a little bit nastier, that happened in 1918–1919. It was the H1N1 variant.

The Spanish flu had a lethality of 10%. At least 500 million people were infected. At least 50 million died. For comparison, in World War I that preceeded the flu outbreak, around 20 million people were killed.

When the flu broke out, censors minimized death counts to avoid panic and boost morale.

We know another epidemic like the Spanish flu is “just a matter of time”, since viruses and bacteria are changing all the time and coming up with medicines to kill new strains takes time.

Now let’s get back to Coronavirus. Officially, there are now 1200 cases and 41 deaths. Since infection precedes death by some time, a 5% mortality rate seems to be a conservative estimate.

Unofficially you have video from a hospital in Wuhan showing a bunch of dead bodies on the floor, mixed with crowds of patients, which may suggest “41 deaths” is not the true figure.

As to the number of infected at the moment – if you have 10 people infected with a very contagious disease on Monday, you’ll have 100 Tuesday, 1000 on Wednesday, 10000 on Thursday, 100 000 on Friday, 1 000 000 on Saturday and 10 000 000 on Sunday. So current number of cases is much less important than the dynamic. If there is a rapid increase in a week, we’ll know there is a problem. If not, it’s probably not a big deal.

If the Spanish flu broke out again today, estimates put the death toll at 250 million people.


5 days after I wrote this post, 1200 cases turned into 8000, and 40 deaths turned into 170. This 2-day old graph shows why the situation is alarming:

Today, the red line (Coronavirus in China) outpaced the yellow line (SARS in China). The number, however, is not as worrying as the trend. There are two scenarios to watch for in the next week or so. Either the increase of new cases will be 1 000–3 000 a day, meaning the situation is contained for now, or the number of new cases will increase to 5000, and then 10000+ per day, meaning the situation is escalating out of control and I will buy a supply of face masks for my family for the next couple of months. Before there is a rush.


14 days after I wrote the original post, We are up to 60 000 reported cases. Going from 1000 to 60000 in 14 days is an extreme increase, especially given China’s aggressive measures to contain the virus. I am very impressed by China’s effort and it is hard to say what more they could be doing; unfortunately it seems to be insufficient.

While it seemed like the disease was being contained for a few days (number of new cases in the 2000–3000 per day range), today, after Wuhan changed it’s method of counting if someone is infected, the number of new cases was 15 000. Please note the rest of China is still using the “old” method of counting if someone is infected, which suggests the actual number is higher still.

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