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Covid19 – Is our fear misdirected? Part-1

We are being bombarded with all kinds of information and misinformation on COVID19. I see a lots of people are living in a state of anxiety, fear and panic. People are terrified of this ‘beast’. There are reports coming in of lynching and vigilante squads linked to Corona fear. People who test positive and their families are being ostracized by many housing societies. Tenants being thrown out because their job in essential services involves going out during lockdown. Even many cases of health workers being harassed and forced out due to fear they may be virus carriers, are emerging from some cities. People from all walks of life seem to be more worried and scared of dying from Covid19 than from a heart attack or TB or cancer or diabetes.

How can we protect ourselves from it? But more importantly how can we regain our lost health and boost our immunity which is the ultimate guarantor not only against Covid19 but all kinds of diseases – infectious and chronic. These are the questions I want to address here.

Is Covid19 as deadly as its being made out to be?

First let’s look at some, largely undisputed, facts here.

Its infectious

Covid19 has been spreading rather rapidly and has now covered almost the whole world. So, its undoubtedly highly infectious

As of April 20th, the Covid19 worldwide count, according to ‘Worldometer’ was 2,407,339 cases and 165,069 deaths. i.e. 0.029% of global population has been infected, with a global average mortality rate of ~6.8% of the infected, which is rather high. But is it really so?

Asymptomatic & mild cases

It’s a fact, on which most experts agree and data on the ground corroborates, that ~90 to 95% of the Covid19 infections are either asymptomatic or mild. Its only 5% or so, mostly elderly – with several underlying complications and highly compromised immunity – where hospitalization is required, complications occur and amongst whom most of the deaths happen.

As per, 99.8% of the infected people under 40 years and 99.6% under 50 will recover fully. Even among those over 80 years, 85% are recovering from the infection. These numbers will only increase, if untested cases are added to the total tally.

Low testing

It is widely assumed, and correctly so, that a vast majority of people who are infected are never diagnosed as they are not tested, either because they are asymptomatic or have only mild symptoms and also due to shortage and high cost of test kits.

The estimates of undiagnosed positive cases varies from a low of twice to 7-8 times the diagnosed cases, a significant number by any standards.

Misleading death counts

Hence the death rate of 6% of the infected is highly misleading. The real death rate, taking into account the positive but undiagnosed cases, is likely to be sub 1%. The data shows that higher the testing lower the mortality rate.

In countries where testing has been more extensive, the mortality rate (as a percentage of infected) ranges from 0.46% in Iceland (tested @ 109,558/million people), 0.6% in UAE (77,550/million), to 2% in Luxembourg (49,080/million), 2.2% in Norway (24,020/million) and 2.8% in Germany (20,629/million).

The best-case study for this hypothesis is Diamond Princess case study. The cruise ship had 3,711 people on board — 1,045 crew (average age 36) and 2,666 passengers (average age 69). The ship was a text book case for pandemic spread; People living in close quarters with lots of elderly and vulnerable people. 100% of the people on board were tested. And the outcome? Out of 3,711 people, 696 (~19%) were infected and 12 died (i.e. a mortality rate of .1.7% of the infected and .3% of the total population. All fatalities were among the elderly passenger with underlying conditions

Classification of deaths holds the key

Even these rates are likely to be inflated if you take into account how Covid19 deaths are classified and counted. If person who comes in with several serious life-threatening conditions like cancer, heart disease, diabetes, pneumonia and is also diagnosed with Covid19 and dies – it’s counted as a Covid19 death. Is it really correct? Many experts are now beginning to question this and are asking for a reclassification

Take the case of US currently the worst affected country. As per CDC, the death count in New York, the epicenter of Covid19, was 6,589, out of which only 133 did not have preexisting conditions. IHME estimates 68,841 COVID-19 deaths in the US by August 4, 2020. Comparatively there were a total of 2.8 million deaths in the US in 2017 out of which 61,000 were due to Influenza.

The median age of the Covid19 deceased in most countries is over 80 years, and only about 1% of the deceased had no serious previous illnesses

Total death count is a giveaway

Another important factor to be considered to decide whether Covid19 is really as deadly, is to look at the average vs current total death count in a given country for the period in question. If the current death rate for the same period is significantly higher then it’s certainly a Covid19 effect. But if it’s in the same range then it’s just a matter of how deaths are counted.

In Sweden, a global outlier not following the herd in imposing harsh containment measures like lockdowns, (despite the claims that its Covid19 death rate per million is much higher as compared to its Scandinavian peers due to its lenient containment policies), the total death count as compared to last 5-year average has not changed at all.

Italy, with the worst mortality rate of over 13% (22,170 dead) is another good example. In a comprehensive study, Italy’s national health authority has found that 99% of the coronavirus patients who died had pre-existing medical conditions. Its interesting to note that as per the International Journal of Infectious Diseases, 24,981 people died of flu in Italy in 2016-17 season

The regional disparity

The Covid19 impact – both in terms of infection and mortality rate – seems to be much harsher in China and Western Countries but rather mild in most parts of Asia, Africa and South America. Why? Is it because these are two different strains (it’s unlikely in the current highly globalized environment); or because of Malaria induced or BCG vaccination induced immunity, as is being suggested by some; or difference is genetic makeup? O higher immunity? We do not know. But the fact remains that in these regions the impact is much milder.

So, when you look at all the above facts dispassionately, it’s clear that Covid19 does not seem to be as deadly a virus as some others that have preceded it, like the Spanish flu of 1918, SARS or Ebola.

I am not for a minute saying that we ignore Covid19 or that it’s not a threat. It’s a highly infectious disease which currently has neither a vaccination nor herd immunity and hence needs to be guarded against.

Who needs to worry about Covid19?

It’s certainly the elderly, and, most importantly people with compromised immunity.

Who has compromised immunity? Its people with underlying conditions like diabetes, cancer, heart disease, kidney disease, respiratory diseases – in short chronic lifestyle diseases.

So, their immunity is compromised because of these diseases.

And unlike Covid19, these are not one-time diseases, but lifelong afflictions which will keep weakening your immunity making you susceptible to any viral or bacterial infections lifelong.

Need to focus on the root cause

So, shouldn’t our primary focus be on containing and reversing these underlying root causes and thus building a solid long-term immunity-based defense?

Instead our current approach is like taking all the precautions while driving a car (wearing a seat belt, having air bags, …) – without fixing the overheated engine, defective tires and brakes of the car, the root causes of our problem.

While precautions certainly need to be taken in the middle of a pandemic or even otherwise, the real focus has to be on boosting the immunity by focusing on the underlying conditions that are weakening it.

Be paranoid, but not about Covid19

We need to be really paranoid about these root causes rather than about Covid19, which is just an immediate and temporary threat and may not be as deadly as projected.

But unfortunately, people, many of whom I know personally, with severe chronic diseases and health issues are so paranoid about the danger of dying from Covid19, but continue to be totally complacent about their real threats; continuing to live their usual way – consuming an extremely unhealthy diet, living a sedentary lifestyle, consuming excessive alcohol, exposing themselves to toxic chemicals – in short continuing to do the very same things that have ruined their health, damaged their immunity and caused their chronic diseases.

Instead of trying to strengthen their immunity, they are, by their very actions, further weakening it, thus making themselves even more vulnerable to Covid19 as well as 100s of other viral and bacterial infections. Many think, mistakenly, that by gulping down Vitamin C or B12 or D tablets (along with their daily dose of 10-20 pills) or consuming immune boosting super herbs like turmeric, ginger, amla, etc., they will somehow magically restore their immunity and reverse damage of ages of abuse and unhealthy habits, without making a drastic course correction in their diet and lifestyle.

That’s the sad part of our current reality. If Covid19 doesn’t help us to realise this and drastically change how we eat and live, we would have learnt nothing from this tragedy

Please check the below links for more details on the subject matter

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