A very learned friend of mine said to me the other day: “Isn’t Covid-19 just like flu?”
In as much as they present similar symptoms, such as a high temperature, persistent cough and fever, and sometimes aches and fatigue, leading in some cases to pneumonia and death, it is a fair comparison.
But no, it is not just like flu. The problem is how contagious it is, how long its incubation period is, its mortality rate and, of course, the fact that at present there is no known cure. If it were just like flu, we wouldn’t be in lockdown right now.
But my friend went on: “Wouldn’t those dying from Covid-19 have died anyway?”
Well, not all at once, came my flippant reply. As leading voices in global public health have made patently clear, just because someone has a pre-existing health issue, it does not mean they would have died this month, this year, or this decade in normal circumstances. When we speak of underlying health issues, we are talking about conditions such as high blood pressure, obesity, diabetes and asthma, none of which are immediately life threatening when treated.
When looking at dependency prior to admission to acute hospital, this icnarc report (p8) found that ninety-three percent of COVID-19 critical care patients were able to live without assistance from others in their daily activities. We are led to believe, as my friend’s question indicated, that the underlying health conditions of patients would have led to their imminent death anyway, but this is not what the evidence suggests at all.
The line of questioning of my friend, I think, reflects a growing sense of discontent with the inconvenience of lock down. Everyone just wants to get back on with their lives and have this over with. Let the old and infirm just die anyway, and let the rest of us get on with our lives. Perhaps that will happen in the end, and those of us with underlying health conditions — whether asthma or high blood pressure — will just become statistics. It’s just like flu, and you would have died anyway.