Covid-19: your questions about coronavirus, answered | The Economist

published on July 2, 2020


hi I'm middle Carm The Economist's

deputy editor and I'm Alec John the

economist science correspondent the new

coronavirus has come to dominate all our

journalism over the past few weeks

astonishingly quickly we have

correspondents around the world who are

reporting on how it touches them our

people based in London have all been

dispersed away from the office and are

now practicing social distancing and

really every area that we report on has

been affected by the corona virus and

we've received many many questions from

you and we're going to try and answer

some of them right now

well you know the the virus has already

triggered a financial crisis something

like 23 trillion dollars has been wiped

off the value of shares since

mid-february other asset markets have

glued up in spite of enormous

unprecedented amounts of money put into

the economy by central governments by

central banks and promised by

governments share prices and asset

markets are still really in trouble so

whether it's an overreaction or not I

think is still too soon to say but

clearly even though we saw the first

signs of this crisis a long time ago

back in January when it finally kind of

hit the rest of the world it took

everybody by shock and people were

really shocked at the consequences for

the economy


all industries are affected because this

is a strange kind of shock it's a both a

shock to supply because supply chains

are interrupted and it's a shock to

demand because people are staying at

home so you know just to go through some

industries in let's say the oil price

the old price has fallen to sort of in

mid twenties and the best estimate is

that the typically costs fifty dollars

to produce an average barrel of oil at

the moment so that's an interesting

that's in real trouble obviously we see

Airlines grounded and calling for help

we've seen hotels cinemas restaurants

all in really bad trouble I'd say as a

kind of rule of thumb the industries

that produce things that can't be

consumed in future I for instance if we

don't go out for a meal today you're not

going to go out for extra meals in two

or three months time those are the guys

you've got it really hard there are

other people who produce things that are

solid and that might be bought later on

like cars where you could imagine people

postponing their purchases and perhaps

catching up a little bit later but at

the moment I say it's it's really

unclear how long this goes on for what

governments do whether governments and

people lose patience but it looks pretty


the people I think we will see suffering

most as is so often in these cases is

going to be the developing world

I mean imagine trying to practice social

distancing in a slum in Mumbai imagine

if you're an African country that relies

on commodity exports when you've seen

the price of commodities collapse all

the old prices down in the mid twenties

when tourism has dried up when you're a

Kenyan flower seller who no longer can

sell flowers and vegetables to Europe

all of this is incredibly worrying and

you don't have health systems there that

are able to you know don't have

ventilators don't have intensive care

beds so I think you know we could not

only see the disease spreading in in

cities in developing countries but you

could see their economies being hit

reasonably hard too


there's a history of emergencies being

an opportunity for governments getting a

bigger role you know in wars in the

depression and this doesn't have to be

malign you know sometimes as in the

depression in in the us although it's

still a subjective that libertarians get

very steamed up about actually you know

the us introduced a basic safety net

and that was that was a good thing and

we might well see public health care in

the United States improve as people

realize that actually the health of the

person next to them isn't just that

person's interest is everybody's

interest however there is also a risk

that the state grabs power and doesn't

give it up and you know people at the

moment are quite worried about Hungary

for instance where they're about to pass

emergency legislation which would give

the government emergency powers that it

wouldn't let have to give up at all it

hasn't given up emergency powers who

took on during the migrant crisis for

instance and it now needs an 80%

approval in Parliament to get these laws

through there are worries in the Middle

East of governments using this as an

excuse to grab power and in Africa and

certainly there are worries in China

that the surveillance of social media as

a means of trying to track people who

have the disease and to get a kind of

social better social distancing that

those powers won't lightly be given up


this is a bit of a difficult question to

answer the US and the UK and a bunch of

other countries had decided to take a

very different strategy to places like

South Korea and China where in the

latter countries there's been lots and

lots of testing repeatedly and they got

a decent idea of how many people might

be infected and as random testing and so

on in the UK they decided not to do that

they were testing people who come in

hospital to come to hospitals and not

testing people outside that partly this

is down to the nature of the testing

itself so the tests available right now

try and detect the genetics of the

genetic remnants of the virus itself so

it detects the virus replicating in

cells they can tell you whether you have

an infection it can't tell you if you've

had an infection in the past and as we

know the vast majority of people who get

this virus won't have any symptoms all

will have mild symptoms they could

confuse for something else and so we

don't have a way of testing for that yet

those blood tests that so will test for

antibodies which will tell you tell you

whether someone's had missed an

infection in the past they're on the way

haven't been approved yet and but

they're going to be the things that are

really really important to actually give

you this solid number of how many people

in the community have this without any

condition any problems whatsoever

in South Korea they've done a lot of

tests and and so really they found that

in most cases in South Korea people

recover and the number people who die

are quite low something like 1% so 15%

is there is the mortality rate we're

finally higher mortality rates in other

places simply because we actually aren't

testing that many people and the people

who do test other ones are worried sick

and there's a couple of other things as

well out there that you know the the

death rates are a picture of where the

infection rate was two weeks ago because

it takes a while to die of the disease

so countries that are just very early on

the curve might not have very high death

rates those that have already started

accelerating up the curve as Italy has

their death rates start catching up with

the cake rate rates of new cases and I

guess there's one other thing which is

where a health systems been really

swamped then you don't get the

interventions that you might have in say

Singapore where the health systems very

well-equipped for these kinds of events

and so you've always been able to give

people the best treatment available


the answer to a question about whether

we're that when the peak is gonna happen

depends on a few things one how

infectious this disease is in other

words if you're infectious how many

people will you likely give it to it

also depends on the model you are using

and the country and the strategy you're

employing and all of that is changing

all the time it's a bit like trying to

trying to land a drone on a sort of

zigzagging speed boat in the sea

somewhere it's really really hard what

we've seen is that different countries

have got predictions of different times

you might be seeing the peak in China

already we know that the peak in Italy

and in Europe is probably a little bit

ahead of where the US is going to be so

we're talking with sometime around us at

the next few months but being any more

specific than that is difficult because

every week they update the models and I

guess the other the other thing to bear

in mind is you know what if there's a

second wave so you know China's looks as

if it's kind of beyond the peak of the

first wave there are now very few

actually some days have been no new

cases apart from those have been brought

in from outside but there will be cases

brought in from outside for for many

months yet and the question is whether

those take off when you get a second

peak so you know in order to be a

pessimist but Spanish Flu the second

wave was worse than the first it's worth

saying that if you are in lockdown in

various countries which many places are

now once you release the gates there

will be more infections of course from

that as well so the strategy that a

government uses can't be in place


until you'll see wave after wave you've

got to basically wait until some sort of

immunity builds or there's a vaccine to

really stop this thing from getting you

know keep coming back


so I think a vaccine is the optimal

solution because it's something you can

get in one shot to somebody or two shots

and then in there they're protected and

it means that if they get the infection

they can't and spread it and that's what

you really need so that is the optimal

long-term solution however there are

some drugs you might be able to use to

reduce the number of days that

somebody's sick and infectious we don't

have any that are approved for current

this particular strain of point of virus

because again the disease is so new but

a clinical trial started just last week

and coordinated by the World Health

Organization and one of the biggest

clinical trials ever coordinated and

they're trying out three or four

different potential already approved

drugs drugs approved for other things so

there was an antiviral drug approved for

Ebola in 2019 we know it can be

tolerated by people so perhaps it can be

used a couple of doctors in China and

France tried this out on patients we've

covered 19 and it seemed to reduce the

number of days that they were sick

another trial is looking at chloroquine

the treatment that people might have

already tried for a malaria again it's

one or two cases in France where it

seems to show some effect I think is

seen but you know again we don't know if

that was just chance and then there's

another third arm to this trial which is

looking at an t retroviral drug which is

used to treat and HIV in combination

with a something called a beta

interferon which reduces inflammation

again one or two cases case studies in

America which show that you know it

might reduce the amount you're

infectious but all of these things might

just make people less infectious and for

a slightly less time but it's not going

to stop them from getting infected or

spreading it and it is worth just adding

that imagine you have one of these drugs

that reduces the time that people spend

in hospital if they get severely

affected by the disease from let's say

two weeks to ten days well that might

not sound like much to that particular

patient but for the Health Service it

frees up beds and equipment

and then therefore means that you can

kind of deal with the very large number

of cases that are likely to come so it's

it is valuable and it's worth doing big

tests to pick up these marginal

improvements because they make they make

the system able to cope a lot better how

long we get back to our daily life is

entirely a function of how government's

intend to deal with this you know if you

try and have a strategy of suppressing

the disease but Li which leaves a large

proportion of the population vulnerable

then it'll take longer one thing you can

do I think is through a system of really

a widespread testing so that you can

identify who's had the disease and who

has resistance to it you can then put in

place rather more finely grained and

discriminating systems and social

distancing that allow life to be a

little bit more normal if you combine

those with sort of past sporting systems

on mobile phones that say you know if

you want to get into a nightclub you

have to show that you know you either

haven't got the disease or you're immune

to the disease there are all sorts of

things like that can that may may make

this sort of less burdensome but at the

moment until you get a vaccine the

choices are pretty pretty stark you know

you either accept large numbers of

deaths or you accept a system where you

snuff it out and then what should come

back and try and hit every cluster and

that might not be you know half as

intrusive as the thing that many which

countries are going through now but

distillers have changed to the way we

live what we might see I think is a sort

of oscillating response which is that

you have lock down and then things go

looser for a bit and then you have to

lock down again so they won't this is

the new normal to some extent

and I don't mean like will ever go back

to complete normal until yes there's a

vaccine this is what vaccines do to

society they make

be able to live and travel without

rethinking about it the only thing I'd

add is that you know people are

amazingly adaptable things that seem

very strange become you know people have

workarounds they become normal people


I think it already has hasn't it yes

look at the way we're doing this

interview I think it already has

accelerated he moved to online learning

video conferencing and so far things do

we seem to be standing up fairly well

you know so I think it's quite um it's

interesting it's a good job this this

pandemic waited for cloud computing to

be invented before before it's struck

because you know the shift we've seen on

to online working and watching Netflix

and all these other things we're never

impossible without that technology um

and I think we would have been in a

different place ten years ago in dealing

this was predicted multiple times before

so I suppose what can we learn and maybe

actually have a strategy in place rather

than building it when you see when it

comes turns up I'm so surprised that

Western governments didn't have

something ready in January or February

because it's their scientists along with

the Chinese and others who have been

predicting this for a long time they

knew and in fact there were stories of

like the Trump administration even the

UK government go through war games of

these sorts of things and maybe

politicians have thought these are war

games that will never happen and they

just exercise but the reasons why they

knew what would happen in those war

games is because because we had these

predictions and so I just hope that they

take most seriously you have a plan

actually in place because this a lot of

this stuff is is preventable to some

extent so as you can see Alec and I are

both working from home like all of our

colleagues at the moment but we're

dedicated to bringing you the best

reporting we can with the best analysis

of this phenomenal story as it changes

from one day to the next and if you want

to keep up with what we're doing all of

our coverage is available if you just

click on the link you can see and thanks

for watching

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