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Politically Incorrect Facts about the Covid Pandemic
Articles written before 2022


  • (january 2022) Politically Incorrect Facts about the Covid Pandemic
    • Two simple and obvious facts have made this pandemic worse than any other pandemic of the last century. Firstly, the high number of old people. In 1957, when a similar pandemic shook the world, male life expectancy in the USA was 66: nobody worried too much about people in their 80s dying of the flu. In 2021 the average age of a covid death in the USA is 67 but about 16% of the US population is 67 and older. At one point (in May 2020) the average age in Italy of covid deaths was 80. If covid had happened in 1957, when Italy had fewer people over 80, the death rate would have been much more tolerable. The covid pandemic is fundamentally a pandemic of the old. We have many more old people than in the past, and they are more vulnerable to new viruses, and therefore we have high death rates.
      Secondly, the more effective medical treatments: you are much less likely to die today than in 1957 of any kind of disease because of the stunning progress of medicine. But this also means that, when you get sick of a serious disease, you are more likely to spend a longer amount of time in a hospital. In 1957 you would have either recovered or died within a few days. In 2021 medicine can keep you alive for much longer. After a couple of months of disarray, the medical community came up with effective treatments also for covid, and this fact alone brought down significantly the probability of dying of covid. Unfortunately, it also means that patients spend a longer amount of time in hospitals.
      I am not advocating the extermination of seniors, nor to abandon covid patients to their destiny. I am just stating two obvious facts: if people lived the shorter lives of the 1950s and medicine were still the one of the 1950s, there would be fewer deaths and hospitals would not be overcrowded, i.e. the covid pandemic would not have such devastating consequences. Covid would still be a serious disease because of the many "long covid" cases, but probably wouldn't require draconian measures like lockdowns.
      What i am getting to is not a prescription for dealing with this pandemic but a warning that this will become the norm: the human population is becoming more vulnerable to infectious diseases because of its growing population of seniors, and the health-care system is becoming more prone to congestion precisely because of the success of medicine in preventing deaths. Paradoxically, if better health care allows people to live longer lives, a pandemic is likely to kill more people. Paradoxically, if better medicine prevents more deaths from infectious diseases, a pandemic is likely to cause more congestion in hospitals. This is a future for which a longer-living humanity has to prepare.
      Since the 1960s, increases in longevity have been achieved mainly by extending the lives of people over 60. Before 1960, increases in longevity were mainly due to vaccines, antibiotics, and better health care that saved more children and young people from premature death. The future of medicine is, likewise, a future of older people, perhaps into their 100s, who will be vulnerable to viruses that today kill very few people and so don't create "pandemics".
    • Implicitly, all governments are waiting for one of these events to happen: 1. Covid disappears by itself; 2. A new improved vaccine protects better and slows the spread of the virus; 3. An antiviral drug makes covid less lethal and/or inhibits viral replication. The funny thing is that very few governments are investing in 2. and 3, and most of their funding goes to private companies. The EU has funded research in many companies (and one paid off: BioNTech) but, if you look at the break down of this report, most of the money goes to producing and distributing a vaccine, not to actual scientific research.

      And, given the damage caused to trillion-dollar economies, the total amount of investment is tiny compared with the $21.7 trillion globally spent on supporting economies (business, schools), purchasing vaccines, and health care in general.
    • From the beginning, we never had a plan B for worst-case scenario (covid remains endemic for 1000 years and no new vaccine and no significant antiviral medication appear for 1000 years). We'll all be happy if covid disappears or if a new improved vaccine is introduced or if we finally discover the universal antiviral drug, the equivalent of antibiotics, but it would be nice to know what we do while we wait for one of these magic events to happen. In the distant past, the "plagues" caused by viruses disappeared only when they had killed all the vulnerable people. In the recent past, polio (almost) disappeared thanks to a very effective vaccine (measles and chickenpox have de facto disappeared from the West also due to vaccines) but there is no guarantee that we'll be as lucky with all future viruses, starting with this one. We still don't have a vaccine for HIV (although i must say that HIV is a much harder virus to tackle than covid, which is actually relatively easy to neutralize with vaccines). What is the endgame if nothing stops the pandemic? Do we keep restrictions on everybody to save lives (mostly the lives of very old people)? Do we decide that people over 65 should just take care of themselves, thereby reducing everybody's life expectancy?
    • The profits of most publicly traded companies (i.e. large corporations) have been much larger in 2020 than before covid and still larger in 2021, with about 100 enjoying a 50% increase in profits. One would deduct that the covid pandemic was an incredible business opportunity for large corporations. The first beneficiary has been the high-tech world. Secondly, the health care world. Even covid tests (theoretically a tool to save lives) have become big business. A covid test at a US airport can cost as much as $300. It is one of the most expensive items "sold" in airports. In particular, Covid has simply been an excuse for a gigantic reduction in customer service, which was becoming a huge cost for corporations. It is now common to get a recording that says "Due to covid, we are experiencing longer waits". In most cases covid has nothing to do with the trimming of customer support staff. The cause is greed, not covid. Even restaurants have taken advantage of covid to cut back on service. It is shocking how many restaurants have switched to single-use plastic, thus saving on silverware and dishwashers; and so many restaurants now require the customer to place the order electronically, which removes the need for the waiter (you are also expected to clean up your table before leaving, which also removes the need for the cleaners).
    • The covid pandemic has been politicized like no other pandemic and it helped to consolidate and radicalize the populist right in both Europe and the USA. In the past, the right and the left wings of the USA have always come together when faced with a common enemy, whether the Great Depression, World War II, the Cold War, Islamic terrorism in 2001 or the financial crisis of 2007. Not this time.
    • The pandemic has highlighted the ambiguity in the word "heroic". For some it is "heroic" to get vaccinated in order to help save lives. For others it is "heroic" not to wear masks and not to get vaccinated in order to defend the freedom of citizens from the "totalitarian" state.
    • The anti-vaxx and anti-lockdown movement is clearly attractive to young people, who see their lifestyle penalized in order to save the lives of older people. In fact, far-right and far-left have marched together in the streets of Europe, perhaps for the first time ever.
    • Two years into the pandemic, it is still difficult and expensive to get tested for covid, and almost impossible to get tested for antibodies, especially in the USA. Covid tests that take two or more days to return a result are ridiculous. It is grotesque that they exist: during those two or more days the infected person can infect dozens of others. It means nothing that two days ago i didn't have covid: i want to know whether i have it now. It is also ridiculous that some countries accept covid tests taken three days before arrival: obviously the odds that one catches covid after a covid test is proportional to time, and in three days those odds are high; but passengers get tested three days earlier because it's too expensive to get tested at the last minute. To find a center that provides rapid covid tests for free is a full-time job and often requires traveling to another city. It is simply disgusting that covid tests have become a business. There are companies offering rapid covid tests at airports for fees that are higher than air tickets: that business is more profitable than flying airplanes. And so even those citizens who are responsible, and want to get tested when they feel they may have been infected, have all the time to spread covid to their community. Two years into the pandemic, one is entitled to suspect that such gross incompetence and disorganization might be by design, on purpose. Perhaps some governments are secretly pleased that the virus is spreading and killing, especially since it is mostly killing elderly citizens who happen to be a burden for the national finances.
    • This is also a pandemic of disinformation. The pandemic wouldn't be so bad in the USA without Fox News' constant and incessant flow of disinformation (covid is just the flu, covid is an invention of the Left, covid is not deadly at all, covid can be cured with malaria pills, wearing a mask is useless and even unhealthy, and so on). When i was growing up, it was the Left that didn't believe in science and was coming up with all sorts of crazy conspiracy theories (that the US never landed on the Moon, that the HIV was made by the CIA, etc). Now it's mostly the Right. The Joe Rogan Experience, the most popular podcast in the world, has hosted many discredited physicians and academics who have spun all sort of conspiracy theories to 11 million listeners. The pandemic wouldn't be so bad without the disinformation overload on social media, without all the independent bloggers who "do their own research" (as a woman said on YouTube after arguing that covid is a collective hallucination).
    • There is a parallel pandemic of skepticism and distrust. In every country a large percentage of people do not take covid seriously. In the age of science and technology, an incredible number of people doubt that covid exists and that it is a dangerous disease. Everybody took polio seriously in the 1940s, everybody took AIDS seriously in the 1980s, but, in the 2020s, so many don't take covid seriously. Fox News-style disinformation is certainly a factor, but there are other, subtler, factors at work, and they may last longer than Fox News: 1. An Indian friend noticed that in rural India, where people are extremely superstitious and mostly illiterate, people do believe in science. They are eager to hear from learned people. Maybe there's a problem with education: if you know nothing, you trust experts; if you know something, you assume that you "are" the expert. The more you know, the more likely that you will dispute the science.
      2. In poor countries people don't expect science to solve all their problems: they accept natural disasters and diseases, and don't consider them a failure of science. In rich countries we expect science to prevent natural disasters and diseases: since they still happen, it means that the scientists are incompetent (they are as good as me and you at preventing floods, fires, earthquakes and pandemics).
      3. Democracy is another factor. When you have two parties vying for power, it makes no political sense that they agree on important issues, hence if one agrees with science the other one has to disagree, so any scientific discussion gets politicized. If the ruling party listens to the science, the opposition party is motivated to discredit the science in order to show that the ruling party is incompetent.
    • Religion has been one of the top super-spreaders. See How did it spread in so many places? Religion has also been destabilizing force at a time of crisis: multiple churches doubted the science, in a repeat of centuries of battles between religion and science
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