Into Perspective: A View of Coronavirus
I am having trouble getting into perspective—from both a personal angle and globally—the impact of coronavirus. Each evening, I check the latest stats (while Husband mutters in the background about my having a new fixation) and I look to see how many people have died in the UK. Which I realise is somewhat morbid, but it helps me to understand a little about the impact that the virus is having. Or does it? I am not checking rates of death by other causes, so can a daily update on one cause, in one country, really indicate anything? I decided to look a little wider, and was shocked by what I found.
There are many different ways of collecting and presenting stats, but for the sake of comparison, I used one site, worldometers.info and compared several different statistics. I am writing this article a few days before I post it, so all the data will be slightly out of date by the time you read, but it gives you some idea. As I write, there are 2,753,385 coronavirus cases globally, and there have been 192,301 deaths. In the UK, as I write, there have been 19,506 deaths from the virus, which is frankly scary. The deaths were (until lockdown) increasing exponentially, which means the increase each day is more than previously (more on this later). Given these rather scary numbers, what should my reaction be? Should I be taking action to prevent catching the virus, to prevent my family catching the virus? Should I be campaigning for more resources for the NHS? Should I be trying to source a ventilator? And oxygen tank? My overwhelming feeling is that I want to protect my family.
Before I fill my garage with medical supplies and kidnap a nurse, let’s look at some other statistics. How many people die from other things each year? If we look at just this year, there have been 152,707 deaths from seasonal flu; 13,343,461 abortions; 527,656 deaths from HIV/AIDS; 2,577, 889 deaths from cancer; 336,591 suicides; 423,708 deaths from traffic accidents; and a horrible 3,510,459 deaths due to hunger. Hunger. A little shocking, isn’t it?
Now, obviously we are in unknown territory with the coronavirus, and potentially those numbers could rocket in the next few months, overtaking everything else. But when we look at where we are now, and compare them with other factors, it makes me question whether my perceived reaction is correct. (Maybe I shouldn’t kidnap the nurse, after all.) We also need to take into account the effect of the lockdown. The government needed to juggle our mental health, and the economy, with the consequences of letting too many people catch the virus all at once, and overrunning the capabilities of the NHS. We all know this, because ‘Save the NHS’ has become our new catch-phrase. However, there is more to consider than simply whether we have enough beds. As soon as the lockdown was put in place, the exponential curve charting the increase in deaths began to flatten, the increases became less big, and in some cases started to decrease. At the same time, the chart plotting the decline in economy started to increase. As the coronavirus curve dropped, the fall in economy started to rise—except no one was plotting that one in neat little stats, like the deaths of people in hospital, because it’s not so easy to chart.
What are the implications of a drop in economy? Well, obviously some companies will go out of business, leading to unemployment. Even people with jobs are likely to have reduced opportunities for promotions and pay rises. The stock markets will fall, which impacts pensions. People with less money will spend less, so more companies are impacted. Less earnings mean less tax, so investment in things like the NHS will decrease. And so on. All rather depressing, and of course, depression is a big factor too—are we protecting people’s physical health at the expense of their mental health?
So, what can governments do? One possibility is to borrow money to cover the current debt. Where will they borrow it from? The future. This has happened for generations, governments overspend, and save the debt for the next generation—which is why we had ‘austerity’ in the first place. Are we comfortable spending now, so that our grandchildren can pay later?
In some places, such as Sweden, there has been no legal lockdown, and although many people are practising social distancing, schools and pubs etc are all still open. Will the number of deaths in Sweden overtake other countries? Or will they develop a ‘herd immunity’ and their economy survive intact while ours plummets? And is ‘herd immunity’ even a thing? I have read reports from Asia showing that people who have recovered from the virus, and had two negative tests, have then tested positive again. Is coronavirus something you can only catch once? (At the moment, scientists are investigating whether they can extract cultures from these recovered patients, to grow in a lab. At the moment, they can’t, which suggests that the virus has possibly been dormant and flared up again, but not enough to infect someone else; but who knows?)
It all looks very gloomy, and I have asked a lot of questions, and have no real answers to offer. I guess my conclusion is this: Coronavirus is horrible, but so are all the other causes of death that impact the world. And how can so many people be dying of hunger in our modern world? Hunger for goodness sake!
While our scientists are learning about the disease, we need to be cautious, and therefore things like lockdowns are sensible. But they need to be balanced with both the economy and people’s mental health. This takes wisdom—more than I possess. People talk about the NHS as the new religion of England, the one thing that brings the population together, something we all think is good. The NHS is great, and worth protecting, but perhaps it’s time we looked back to something bigger, perhaps it’s time we again considered God, and the possibility that we, as mere humans, need more wisdom than we’re capable of. Perhaps it’s time to admit that we do not have all the answers, and there are some problems too big for us. Perhaps the most important question you should think about is: when did you last pray?
I hope that you are safe, whatever the problems you face this week. Take care.
Love, Anne x
Another chapter from Invisible Jane will be posted tomorrow.