Screw the economy; stop fudging COVID19 numbers to suit it

Just today I came across multiple articles and posts that seemed to express the same thing. The COVID19 virus seem to have spread into large number of people and it is a good news. Why? Because that means its mortality rate is pretty low. The more people we can show in numbers as effected compared to the ones who have dies the lower is the killing ability of the virus and hence provides space for us to reopen the economy so all can go to work. Well screw the economy. As bad as it sounds the numbers that show are not as good as they make it sound.

This is not going to be about the technique and tricks of how the statistics of a progressing pandemic is calculated but on a very narrow and niche area on how governments and manipulate the perspective of those numbers to suit their needs as they go.

I will try and bring to you two perspectives of the COVID19 pandemic numbers so that you get an idea of what is happening and how it is made to look like.

The less is better

As the corona virus infected patient numbers are soaring countries and communities are fast running out of facilities and resources to help those that need them urgently. Everything from ventilators, to medicines and medical personnel is running out.

As the cases increased most countries and govts have been running in and out to prove that they are not that effected and lesser resources need to be allocated to the medical institutions as much as possible.

For this they project a very conservative figures often equivalent to the number of tested and confirmed positive cases that come up. They dictate almost all their expenses, investment and support systems for patients and better testing based on this figures. (exceptions exist).

India for one has been hiding the actual sample number from ICMR data published every day. They publish the number of samples collected and tests done and the positive numbers. This prevents anyone from creating a calculation and graph projecting the actual number of cases in population normalized for the testing numbers.

The way mortality rate for a disease is calculated is as

$$ Rate = (\text{Total deaths from disease}) / (\text{Total number of cases}) $$

Now as we are in middle of a pandemic it is not easy to get the total number of cases very easily.The numerator is easier but that too for countries where the health care system is good enough and can track all the deaths that is happening and trace it to possible deaths from the disease.

As of when this article is being written,

Total confirmed cases = 1,484,811 Total number of reported case = 88,538 (Source : https://gisanddata.maps.arcgis.com/apps/opsdashboard/index.htm 09:29 IST)

Which would mean the death rate is at : 5.9%

Another interesting metrics is the ratio of “Cured” Vs “Deceased”, or what is the number of people who walked out cured compared to who were dead.

As of when writing this the number of people recovered is : 329,876

Which means the total case = Dead + Recovered = 418,414 Hence making the % of death to be = 21.16% of closed cases. (Source : https://gisanddata.maps.arcgis.com/apps/opsdashboard/index.htm 09:29 IST)

Both these numbers are pretty disturbing and are above what was estimated when the pandemic began the spread. The idea is to compare this numbers with other diseases so that we can see how dangerous it is.

If you would like to compare a much more stable situation we could use data from China where the pandemic is considered to have ceased its progression and is stable.

China with 81,865 cases, and 3,335 deaths the mortality rate is at 4.07% again higher than the initial estimate.

While one can consider this larger ratios as a result of not enough testing to help detect the actual numbers (if known cases increase the ratio reduces), we also have to know that in some countries the even the deaths are not well tracked and people could die of COVID19 and never be tested. India for example are not currently testing all patients dying of symptoms of COVID19.

The governments then project these small number of reported cases (due to lack of testing and other factors) and use them to say that they are slowly winning the fight against this monstrous disease.

The more is better

Weeks into the lock downs implemented by different governments to help prevent this disease from spreading, both governments and businesses are feeling the harsh bite in terms of huge losses in revenue and both cant wish enough for everything to go back to normal as soon as possible.

To this regard the governments and businesses have a need to project the disease a as a less serious one than it is and show the death ratio is much smaller so as to tell people that it is ok for us to risk some lives to open up the economy as soon as possible.

For this the pull out a another trick. While govts try their best to show the spread as small as possible to its citizens they then use a statistics method to project the disease numbers among the unconfirmed and untested population.

For example if the a government has 50 deaths on its hand and thousand cases of the ten thousand tests they did, they say there is just 5% death rate among the affected ones, until they need to show smaller numbers to make people feel safer so they can contemplate opening the economy.

For this they bring out the statistics they never took into account when arranging health benefits, running tests and providing assistance. They say that these thousand cases came out of ten thousand tested persons and hence the spread of disease is 10% of the population.

Hence projecting this to the total population of hundred thousand we get 50/100000 or just 0.005% death rate and its not much of a risk.

The troubling reality

The people we trust with keeping us safe are selecting statistics that serve their purpose of illusion and using the same to push perspectives down peoples throats.

Economic magazines are going buzz with how studies are showing lower death rates when unconfirmed cases are considered.

Guess what. We are in middle of a pandemic of a disease we are not yet fully sure of. We do not know enough about the disease to even know if we are safe from another wave.

Yet the greatest concern is about failing to open the economy. Well screw the economy. The economy is there to serve the people and not the other way around. So if the current situation shows that our economic system has a severe vulnerability of being useless when a pandemic hits probably we should re-design it at the earliest to make sure it never again stops serving the people when something like this hits.

We should give ourselves ample time to actually observe and confirm the situation and its numbers before using a projection that would never find its use when it came to governments helping people out to help the government put people back to work.