Thoughts on COVID-19

Thoughts on COVID-19

update: Quick description of the plan.

Three weeks ago I started writing pre-corona next to dates on postcards (I was late with sending postcards). After chatting with some friends of mine it seemed obvious – this will be a crucial point in time.

Since I’ve been getting involved in Effective Altruism I started reading and discussing about Existential Risks — a thing which didn’t cross my mind before. It is a bizarre idea. When attending the EAGx Nordics conference in April 2019 I listened to a talk about Biorisks — one of the existential risks. It struck me. Once you heard about it, it seems so obvious and for some reason nobody is working on it? Well, just another case of bad institutions.


So what’s my take on the current pandemic? Glad you asked.

I’ve been trying not to follow the news closely every single day. Instead reading summaries and analyzing trends. Nonetheless some evenings I did some reading to get an overview and keep my mind sane. I would like to highlight my favorite resources:

Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19) – Statistics and Research
This is our overview of the early research and data on the outbreak. We update this page daily.
Our World in Data, again doing a wonderful job. Summarizing data visually but also giving background information.
Strong coronavirus measures today should only last a few weeks, there shouldn’t be a big peak of infections afterwards, and it can all be done for a reasonable cost to society, saving millions of lives along the way. If we don’t take these measures, tens of millions will be infected, many will die, along with anybody else that requires intensive care, because the healthcare system will have collapsed.
Coronavirus: The Hammer and the Dance
This article follows Coronavirus: Why You Must Act Now, with over 40 million views and 30 translations. If you agree with this article, consider signing the corresponding White House petition…
Tomas Pueyo on the near future and what we should learn from countries like South Korea, Taiwan and Singapore.

  • The most recent report from the Imperial College COVID-19 Response Team.
Mitigation strategies focussing on shielding the elderly (60% reduction in social contacts) and slowing but not interrupting transmission (40% reduction in social contacts for wider population) could reduce this burden by half, saving 20million lives, but we predict that even in this scenario, healthsystems in all countries will be quickly overwhelmed.


In my decent understanding this sums up to the following.

The current measures of interventions are right, necessary and justified. They are a key ingredient to achieving an exponential decay which buys us time to actually use science and evidence to come up with the next plan.

Once we have a grasp of the situation, slowly weaken the lockdown and do:

  1. Testing — rigorous testing.
  2. Quarantine — enforce quarantine directly and do contact tracing (where technology might become handy).

To keep cases to a bare minimum until we have a vaccine – yes this might take 18 months.

There will be a new normal, but I won't be like the current situation – it will be better.

Things which make me worry

  • A second wave similar to the one of the Spanish flu
  • Mutation and escaping the vaccines
  • Long term lung damage of survivors
  • The situation and impact in low-income countries
  • The recession of the world economy
  • Losing track of other pressing problems (Climate Change, Global Health, etc.)

I'm pessimistic on the longterm effects. The only benefit might be a better preparation for the next pandemic.

All the other pressing problems (also those on which we already started working) will be deprioritized while the world will be trying to get back on track.


All of this represents my humble opinion on the current state of affairs at the moment of writing (26th March 2020).

Interventions and the next steps might change – and they have to – as we get more data and more evidence.

This is hard for all of us. I just moved to a new city and from a high of socializing to a new low.  Keep yourself busy and use this time – make the best out of it. For example 40 Meaningful Things to do when stuck at home in a pandemic.


What's next? Well there are a couple of more risks which are actually existential. If you’re really curios about things which have the potential to wipe out all of humanity and how to stop them – watch the following introduction:

There is more to come.

Medium-Term COVID-19 Forecast
Researchers from the Oxford Future of Humanity Institute have created country-specific predictions of the current and future spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic using GLEAMviz epidemic modeling software and a database of mitigation and control measures in effect around the world.
Forecasts of Oxfords Future of Humanity Institute
Outbreak
A playable disease simulation
How epidemics unfold
Don’t “Flatten the Curve,” stop it!
These suggestions are dangerously wrong, and if implemented, will lead to incredible suffering and hardship. Let’s try to understand this by putting some numbers on the axes. This is a difficult…
Why flattening the curve is a delusion.

Bill Gates told us in 2015.

And in addition to this Against Against Billionaire Philanthropy. A couple of billionaires, but also companies seem to be doing a better job now than some governments.

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