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‘Network Effects’ Multiply a Viral Threat

Niall Ferguson
 

By Niall Ferguson (original source The Wall Street Journal) 

“‘The coronavirus panic is dumb.’ I hesitate to disagree with Elon Musk, but here goes.

The wrong way to think about the rapid spread around the world of the novel coronavirus, 2019-nCoV, and the disease it causes, Covid-19, is to say—as another smart and wealthy man put it to me last Monday—’Remember the H1N1-A virus of 2009? Neither do I. It infected a significant chunk of the globe, killed 20,000 U.S. citizens and we got over it pretty quickly.’ He might have added that 20,000 is less than half the number of Americans who died of influenza and pneumonia in 2017.

H1N1, also known as swine flu, was a form of influenza. The reproductive number—the number of people a carrier typically infected, R0 for short—was 1.75. In the U.S., the CDC estimates that H1N1 infected 60.8 million people and killed 12,469, for a mortality rate of 0.02%

This new coronavirus—which is not influenza—appears to have a higher R0 and a much higher mortality rate. That rate is almost certainly lower than the World Health Organization suggested last week (3.4%), but it is still much higher than for H1N1. South Korea, which probably has the most accurate data given its aggressive testing regime, reports 50 deaths from 7,313 infections, a mortality rate of 0.68%. If as many Americans catch Covid-19 as caught swine flu, the death toll could exceed 440,000.”

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