Thursday, April 23, 2020


The evidence is overwhelming that government policies reduce the spread of the COVID-19 virus. Like most Canadians, I follow the recommended policies, leave home only to buy necessities and keep the proper distance from others on my one-hour daily walk to stay fit.

Most Canadians and I followed these government policies after having read and become scared by the daily media reports of the number of infections and deaths caused by the virus. However, these reports also caused me to worry and become anxious about the risk of infection and death of my loved ones and myself (I am in my eighties). 

To deal with this anxiety I ration my exposure to the news, replace the CBC and Trudeau specials with music and entertainment on TV and only skim newspapers and magazine articles. But I also reduce my anxiety by considering some statistics that put my personal risks in perspective, using data from April 15. Here is what I found.

On that day, out of 35.5 million Canadians 27 thousand equal to 0.076 percent were infected and 898 or 0.0025 percent died. It helped my anxiety to know that my chances of getting infected are really very, very small. They are very likely to remain thus even if the number of infections and deaths continues to grow at their recent levels for some time.
However, it is known that the number of infections is much higher than the official data indicate. Around 18 percent or 80 percent of the population are asymptotic carriers of the virus. Does this fact imply that I should worry after all? The answer is no. While the asymptotic carriers pass on the virus and increase the number of infected, this effect is reflected in the above numbers.

Another source of worry for many is that their elderly relatives and friends are more likely to die if they catch the virus. In New York City as of April 14th, of the total 6,839 deaths caused by the virus, 25 percent were of patients between the ages of 65-74 and 48 percent were of those over 75 years old. Nearly one half of all Corona deaths in Canada are linked to long-term care facilities.

These statistics about the age of Canadians who died from the virus implies that the chances of individuals below the age of 65 dying from the infection is one half of the 0.0025 percent presented above.

However, there is another interesting aspect about the high death rates of the elderly. Almost all have one or more life-ending diseases, which in Canada every month in 2018 killed 7,072 aged 80 to 89 and 5,034 over the age of 90. These numbers are obviously much larger than the 898 Canadians of all ages who have died at the time of writing during the entire epidemic from COVID-19. This statistic should reduce the worry of some with elderly relatives of friends, though our sympathies should remain with those who lost loved ones earlier than they had expected.

A final source of worry and anxiety is that the epidemic could last a long time and cause many more infections and deaths. Unfortunately, it is not possible to predict how long the epidemic will last in Canada. However, it is possible to get a realistic assessment of these events by considering the experience of some countries at different stages of the spread of the virus.

Singapore has used very effective containment policies and ended the epidemic quickly. Its infections were equal to 0.058 percent and deaths equal to 0.0002 per cent (a total of 10) of the population of 5.6 million.  South Korea’s effective containment policies also ended the epidemic quickly. Its infected were 0.021 per cent and deaths 0.00044 per cent of the population of 51.2 million. Even if these countries will suffer a second wave of infections and deaths, they will have the experience to limit it effectively and keep the numbers small.

Italy for some time had the distinction of having the largest number of infections and deaths in the world. At the time of writing its infection rate is 0.27 per cent and death rate is 0.035 per cent in a population of 60 million.

The difference in the numbers for the three countries is explained by the timing and effectiveness of their governments’ policies used to limit the spread of the virus by encouraging or mandating social distancing and self-isolation, all backed by varying degrees of testing of individuals.

Canada’s containment policies resemble those of Singapore and South Korea more than those of Italy. There is therefore hope that the spread of virus will be stopped before too long and the ultimate infection and death rates will remain very low. However, even if the effectiveness of Canada’s policies is more like those of Italy and the ultimate rate of infection and deaths are double the present level, only 0.15 per cent would be infected and 0.005 per cent would die.

By all means, let us all keep social distance and self-isolate as long as is necessary, but stop worrying about the risk we face individually. It is very similar to that from catching the flu and much smaller than getting involved in a vehicle accident, which in 2018 injured 419 and killed 5 Canadians EVERY DAY.

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