Politics: Going Viral – Covid-19

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BELGIAN HEALTH

The list of EU actions is very long indeed, but to give you an idea it has included funding through an EU Healthy Gateways to improve capacities at entry points, such as ports; measures to help laboratory preparedness: €114m to support the WHO; €15m for rapid diagnosis and surveillance in Africa; €90m to the EU’s Innovative Medicines Initiative to support urgently needed research on diagnostics, therapeutics and prevention; €3m to repatriate EU citizens from Wuhan, China; the examination of joint procurement of protective equipment as well as support to find a vaccine.

In the EU, health services and public health are primarily the responsibility of national governments, but as this coronavirus epidemic has illustrated, the EU is there to support, complement and supplement national action; in doing so it pools resources and expertise.

Known knowns, known unknowns, unknown unknowns
Scientists are data-crunching as I write, but at this moment China’s quarantine, social distancing and isolation of infected populations appear to show that an epidemic can be contained. Data show us that young people and those under 50 are very resilient. However, there are many areas where there is uncertainty.

For those saying that COVID is just like annual influenza (I have a certain orange person in mind), the case fatality rate (CFR) is estimated at about 0.3 – 1%. This is much higher than for a moderate influenza season, which is usually of the order of 0.1% CFR. This figure is likely to fluctuate with wider testing and more positive, but non-fatal, results. Nevertheless, fatality does appear to be much higher than for influenza. COVID-19 is also infectious for around 10 days, which is much longer than typical influenza, thus placing a heavier burden on health systems. While influenza’s transmission is reduced in the warmer summer months, we don’t yet know if this will reduce the transmission of this virus.

Studies already seem to show that COVID-19 can be transmitted one to two days before the onset of symptoms. This is problematic as it means that the virus is passed on before the need to quarantine or self-isolate may be recognized. As many people have a mild or asymptomatic response to the virus they could unknowingly be spreading the virus, meaning that wider quarantines like those in Italy may be applied more widely.

Measures can help to flatten the epidemic’s curve, slowing down the spread of the disease while the health services can scale up making it more manageable and while a vaccine is developed, but this could take from a year to 18 months. In the meantime, beware of wacky alternative treatments – rinsing your mouth with saline solution, elderberry syrup or raw garlic just won’t cut it!