Besting coronavirus requires mass-testing

A medical staff member in protective gear uses a swab to take samples from a visitor at 'drive-thru' testing center for the novel coronavirus disease of COVID-19 in Yeungnam University Medical Center in Daegu, South Korea, 3 March 2020 (Photo: REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon).

Author: Kim Sawyer, University of Melbourne

As the coronavirus contagion unfolds, we are seeing patterns that should be emphasised. The novel coronavirus is now affecting 192 countries and there are nearly 425,000 cases. More than 295,000 cases are active and this means there are probably more than a million infections. Yet the news is not all bad. The data reveals how to fight the virus.

The data across 192 countries raises two issues. First, is there is a uniform curve of contagion or does each country have a different curve? In other words, are there country-specific factors that are affecting the spread of this virus? The data suggests there are.

Second, the data shows the virus is more successful than other viruses because it hides better. Those without symptoms or with mild symptoms are driving the virus: 95 per cent of current active cases have mild symptoms or none at all. The virus has power because it is unobservable. SARS, too, was asymptomatic in many people, but not as many as in the case of COVID-19.

When we examine cross-country data, country-specific factors are visible. Within Europe, four countries are prominent: Italy with 69,000 cases, 6800 deaths and more than 3400 in critical care; Spain with 42,000 cases, 2990 deaths, and 2600 in critical care; France with 22,300 cases, 1100 deaths, and 1700 in critical care; and Germany with 33,400 cases, but only 159 deaths and none in critical care.

It is possible that Germany is on an earlier part of the curve and that the contagion in that country had different types of clustering. It is also possible that country-specific factors are in play. For example, demographic factors like the proportion of elderly; environmental factors such as air quality; and social customs relating to how individuals interact.

The most important factor, however, seems to be …continue reading