Thursday, March 12, 2020

Italy and the Coronavirus

Nick Tomko emails:
Hi Robert,

I subscribe to the EPJ Daily Alert and also follow your blogs. I am definitely more on the side of thinking this panic is way overblown, but the Italy situation does give me pause. If this virus is similar to the flu then why do you think the Italian outbreak got so out of hand so quickly? And how did their health services get so overwhelmed? Doesn’t this provide some evidence of this being much different than the flu? Or is it just that Italy was a perfect storm  of a variety of factors including demographic , weather and a potentially mismanaged health care system?

Thank you for the continued sound advice, I have had to stop reading the news because I can’t figure out what is true and what is not and rely on your updates for me virus info.

 RW response:

At present, there are 12,462 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Italy and 827 reported deaths.

This needs to be put into perspective. The population of Italy is roughly 60 million which means somewhere around 5.6 million in Italy will catch the flu this season and, of those, around 5,600 will die.

The high percentage of COVID-19 deaths relative to the number of confirmed cases (6.6%) in Italy could very likely be because many who are walking around with milder cases aren't being tested.

As for why the virus spread so quickly in Italy, if indeed that is the case, it could be the result of a super spreader being infected early in Italy.

For example, if a grandmother was first infected in China and introduced the disease in Italy, she may be someone who basically stays at home other than short trips where she interacts with very few. There would be very little opportunity for her to spread the disease rapidly.

On the other hand, if patient zero or someone who caught the virus soon after patient zero, was, say, something equivalent to, in the United States, a Greyhound bus driver, who is in contact with a group of people for two hours or more and does four trips a day, then you have someone who could spread the disease far and wide very rapidly and lots of people would suddenly start showing symptoms at the same time.

This is just one scenario to explain what might be going on. It will only be much research and study down the road that will provide more evidence of what occurred.

The point is that just because there is what appears to be a high death rate from the disease in one area or that the virus expanded very rapidly in that area doesn't mean it isn't in the greater context of a much lower death rate when all factors are known and taken into account.


  1. Excellent graphics on COVID-19 with comparisons to other diseases including media coverage:

  2. Another factor, which is apparently backed up by reports on the ground, is that Italy's health system is overloaded and they do not have the staff or equipment to serve all the cases. That means higher death rates than in places where the health systems are not as heavily taxed. You are probably right that the fatality rate, under optimal conditions, is low and not far from that of the flu, but if there are a significant number of hospitalizations, then that rate will climb.

  3. Italy Is Second Country With Coronavirus Outbreak Preceded By A Tuberculosis Epidemic

    Ummm, maybe there's a hidden cost for open borders.
    No, perish the thought.
    That would be politically incorreckt.
    Muy bad

  4. From Italy: It depends on how you count deathes. The large numbers in Italy are due to people with serious and cronic pathologies and positive to the test, counted as "coronavirus" deaths. It is not hospitals that are overwhelmed (they are actually quite empty those days) but intensive care units, which are small and get overwhelmed also in normal years over the flu.
    It is all a matter of perception and fear propaganda. Since we have descended now in a sort of police state situation (even parks are closed and you need to justify the reason for not being at home) you would think we had at least, let's guess, one million dead perhaps? No, it's one thousand people in several weeks, mostly old, with underlying serious conditions, labeled "coronavirus" simply for a test.
    When several British members of parliament and even ministers (same in Italy) are found positive to a test, it means that a large slice of the population would test positive. But there is no increase in the death rate, nothing special is happening, nobody has one in the family.
    Really crazy times