A Driving Instructor's Blog

Virus imageHouston, we have a problem!

I only wrote this a couple of days ago, but I’m having to update it already. The problem I was referring to was that not many driving instructors understand statistics or come from scientific backgrounds. They are concerned about Coronavirus on the one hand, but trying hard to persuade themselves they’re not on the other because there are obvious financial implications if they cannot work.

I noticed that there is a Coronavirus infographic doing the rounds. It’s from China, and it reports that 80.9% of cases are mild, 13.8% are severe, and 4.7% are critical. It also points out that ‘the majority of people’ recover. The latter two percentages require hospitalisation and intensive care, respectively. The originator of this infographic on Facebook – not the original Chinese source, I believe – who goes under the Facebook name of Information Is Beautiful, concludes “the majority of… infections are mild”.

Let’s put this into a more real-world perspective. I’ll start with the bottom line: if the entire population of a care home were infected, the ‘mild’ and ‘severe’/‘critical’ number would flip, and the vast majority of those infected would be at great risk. The same would perhaps be true if, say, a special school with a high population of Down Syndrome pupils were infected, since those with Down’s frequently have breathing issues in the first place. In a hospital, where people may already be ill, it would likely wreak havoc.

Information may well be ‘Beautiful’, but Understanding Information In Context is a hundred times better. And since the original version of this article less than a week ago, the situation has changed dramatically – as anyone with any sense at all would have known would happen.

I have elderly parents, both of whom have COPD. If they were to catch Coronavirus, they would probably die. I have a pupil who has a baby son with Down’s. If he caught it, it would be a serious issue for him and his son. I have another pupil whose partner is pregnant (I quite possibly have several in that position without being aware). If they caught it, there would be an increased risk for them as a family.

People are still trying to liken COVID-19 to seasonal flu as a comparison. Coronavirus/COVID-19 is not flu, you idiots. Trust me, it isn’t. Flu can be prevented if you have an annual vaccination (and they picked the correct strains for it), whereas Coronavirus cannot. Coronavirus appears to be more easily transmitted than flu. But most significantly, the annual mortality rate from flu is about 0.1% of the population, whereas with Coronavirus it is anywhere between over 1% and 6.5% (the latter is the figure in Italy). In the UK, which arguably has the most precise count of infections than anywhere else, we currently have a death rate of about 4.5% based on the number of known infections (it was 1.8% when I first wrote this, and the number of deaths has gone from 10 to 177 in that time). It is far more deadly than flu – and there is no current protection.

As much as 70% of the population could be infected by Easter or during Spring – that would be around 40 million people. The death rate, assuming it stays relatively uniform, would mean that as many as 700,000 could die in the UK alone. And if the infection peaks again next year, this would put the current pandemic right up there with the Bubonic Plague in Mediaeval times when considered across Eurasia as a whole.

This. Is. Not. Flu.

Flu makes you feel lousy, but it only leads to serious complications in some people with underlying health issues, usually (though not exclusively) connected to pneumonia. Coronavirus can send the immune system into overdrive, and the body starts attacking its own cells, leading to multiple organ failure. People with diabetes and heart conditions are vulnerable, as well as those with lung problems (since pneumonia is also an issue). Basically, anyone with a weak immune system in the first place.

I had begun discussing with pupils the possibility of cancellations, and the precautions they should take. I am now stopping lessons completely after one Pass Plus course, which starts tomorrow and finishes Tuesday.

I had a near miss on Thursday. I texted a pupil to remind him of his lesson late Wednesday, and his mum texted back that they had ‘forgotten’ to tell me but they were self-isolating because she had a fever. Shit. I gave him a lesson the week before. Fortunately, having checked again, she just has normal flu and I’m safe. But imagine if it had been Coronavirus.

This pandemic is what you could call ‘serious shit’, and attitudes like ‘there’s nothing to worry about’ and ‘it’s just flu’ are a sure fire way of helping it be so – especially if money is the motivator for feeling that way. This isn’t just about you – it’s about a lot of other people’s lives out there. Literally, their lives.

Any vaccine is at least 12-18 months away from being available, since likely candidates are only now going into trials. The current infection is expected to peak within the next month (though no one can be certain), but it is also expected to peak even higher next winter (also, no one can be sure).

But as I have already said, those with underlying health issues are likely to die from it whenever they get it.

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