COVID-19 more fatal than flu: experts

By GT staff reporters Source:Global Times Published: 2020/3/10 23:53:40 Last Updated: 2020/3/11 6:00:00

West struggles striking balance between containment and economy

Tourists look around at Times Square in New York, the United States, March 5, 2020. (Xinhua/Wang Ying)

Even as the coronavirus continues to spread rapidly across the US, officials including President Donald Trump and some in the public still seek to downplay the risk of the deadly virus in an apparent bid to avoid disruptions to economic activities by arguing the common flu is more fatal than COVID-19. 

Their response underscores the US' and some other Western countries' systemic flaws in pursuing economic interests at all costs, including public health, and raises questions about whether the epidemic can be contained effectively.

The US leader's tweet also came after the US stock markets experienced a steep decline and triggered a temporary trading halt for the first time in nearly a dozen years on Monday.

Trump's choice of words, can been seen as a makeshift decision amid the grim stock market and a move to seek an advantage in the US presidential election, Chinese experts noted, which is self-deception and irresponsible for public health security.   

They also warned that the COVID-19 would cause more deaths if the US government fails to tame the epidemic and allows it to reach a similar infection scale as influenza, given the current analysis showing the COVID-19 having a higher fatality rate and larger proportion among severely sickened people.

By downplaying the COVID-19, Chinese analysts believe, Trump is only trying to boost confidence in the financial market. 

It is a behavior irresponsible to public health security, Diao Daming, a US studies expert at Renmin University of China, noted, suggesting the US should mobilize nationwide efforts to curb the spread of the virus. 

It seems as if Trump is trying to satisfy the interests of the elites, who benefit the most from the stock market, while putting public concerns over the COVID-19 aside, Diao said. 

His downplaying also came amid the US president election. If COVID-19 cannot be defeated in October, it would be a blow to Trump, which explains why he tries to assure Americans by displaying his control over the epidemic, Li Haidong, a professor at the China Foreign Affairs University, told the Global Times. 

Trump wants the American people to maintain confidence in his government's success in overcoming or effectively responding to the COVID-19, just like the "bonus" he offered to US voters, such as "more jobs and more welfare," Li noted.

"But Trump won't be consistent. If COVID-19 in the US spreads further and causes a huge impact on the lives of Americans, Trump would adjust his words accordingly," Li said. 

The novel coronavirus and influenza virus belong to different virus families, with fundamental differences in genes and characteristics. COVID-19 could directly harm the lungs and affect oxygen exchange, which means it's more lethal than influenza, Yang Zhanqiu, deputy director of the pathogen biology department at Wuhan University, told the Global Times. 

Yang believes the actual mortality rate of the COVID-19 should be between 2-3 percent, not 0.5 percent as some foreign experts said, which is much higher than the mortality rate of influenza, which is less than 1 percent. 

A World Health Organization report released in early March also backed this up, saying that the mortality rate of COVID-19 is about 3.4 percent, while the seasonal flu's mortality rate is usually less than 0.1 percent. 

Data also shows 80 percent of those infected with COVID-19 are mild and asymptomatic, 15 percent are severely infected and 5 percent are extremely severe.

The larger proportion of severe infections of COVID-19 would also suggest that if COVID-19 is not controlled and reaches the same scale as influenza, it will lead to more deaths, said Wang Guangfa, a leading Chinese respiratory expert at Peking University First Hospital in Beijing. 

"COVID-19 may eventually evolve into a generic flu, but it is too early to equate it with flu. We should not relax our vigilance," Wang told the Global Times on Tuesday. 

However, German professor Christian Drosten, head of the Institute for Virology at the Charité - Universitätsmedizin Berlin claimed in an interview with German broadcaster Norddeutscher Rundfunk (NDR) that people don't need to panic over COVID-19, since he said there were very few young adults infected and the second-generation transmission of the COVID-19 is far less than that of influenza, asserting the coronavirus risks remain low. 

"Imagine that the probability of the COVID-19 death rate will be about 5 or 10 percent of the death rate of the normal population. As long as this rate has exactly the same age characteristics as overall deaths, we would hardly even notice it," Drosten was quoted as saying in the reports. 

However, such an estimate, considered as aggressive with few human factors, was not accepted by Chinese medical experts, with some of them emphasizing that the disease is susceptible to all age groups. 

"One of the reasons why the COVID-19 should be taken seriously is that, unlike the influenza, the virus would contaminate a large portion of the population in a very short time, which poses a threat to the local medical system," Wang Peiyu, associate dean of the School of Public Health at Peking University, told the Global Times on Tuesday. 

While some Western countries strive to avoid causing panic over the epidemic, they have been struggling to strike a balance between epidemic containment and maintaining economic activities, as completely shutting down the flow of people and goods are unlikely in places like Europe, analysts said. 

In addition, with an aging population in Europe, demographics is also part of the factors shaping the perspective of medical treatment in countries like Italy, with more elderly people overwhelming its health care system, analysts noted. 

Many people suffering from severe and extremely severe infections of COVID-19 died because they failed to receive timely treatment, Wang noted. 

Chen Xi, an assistant professor of public health at Yale University, said international efforts are in urgent need to prevent the COVID-19 from further spreading across the globe and re-emerging in China.

Without worldwide collaboration, even a WHO declaration that the COVID-19 is a pandemic won't stop the spread of the disease, Chen said.

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