Updated: Mar 14, 2020
WARNING: This article discuses the hypothetical "worst case scenario". Some readers may find it disturbing.
Of all the questions I am asked, those about "how bad" Covid-19/coronavirus is, are the most common. People want to know what the worst case scenario looks like. Answering that question is not as simple as throwing out a number though. Context is vital in understanding the dangers involved and it's important to understand that the mortality rate of the virus is not the only factor in answering the question.
Please note: If you have not yet read "What you need to know about Coronavirus" please do so first here.
First of all we need to define a few things. The mortality rate, infection rate, the healthcare system and the supply chain. These things go together when understanding the situation. It is not a simple matter of just the virus all by itself. Large scale infection effects all aspects of an area's way of life.
Mortality rate is the percentage of infected individuals that die due to the virus. At this time the mortality rate is calculated to be around 2-3% of the total infected individuals and about 15% of recovered vs dead outcomes. We won't have a clear number until enough time has gone by for us to see the outcomes of those currently sick. The virus can take several weeks to kill so our numbers run a few weeks behind.
The infection rate, much like the mortality rate is just an estimate at this time but after seeing the infection on the cruise ship The Diamond Princess skyrocket over the last several days, some experts predict up to 60-80%. This is the percentage of individuals exposed to the virus that are expected to become infected if no precautions are taken.
The healthcare system includes doctors offices, hospitals, medications and those that work in the system itself. Having access to a good healthcare system greatly effects the outcome of an infected individual. As 15-20% of those are critical and 5% require treatment in an ICU, getting treatment makes a big difference on mortality rates for a given area or scenario.
The supply chain is all the steps that need to happen for things like food and medicine to arrive at your store so you can buy them. For example: A farmer growing food is a link in the supply chain. Then the truck driver who picks that food up and brings it to a distribution center is another. The workers in the distribution center who inspect and sort the food for pick up, the truck driver who picks up the food from the distribution center and brings it to your store, and the person who unloads the truck and puts it on the shelf are all links in the supply chain. If any link in the supply chain fails, the food never arrives and you aren't able to buy it. The more complicated a society is, the more links in the supply chain. The more links there are in a supply chain, the more delicate it is.
So lets look at that worst case scenario that people ask about. In the worst case scenario there is uncontrolled global infection, a pandemic. Due to covid-19's high infection rate, in a global pandemic we can expect to see as much as 60% of the world population infected, 4.2 billion people according to experts in infectious disease. Of those you can expect 15% to need care in a hospital in order to survive, which is 630 million people worldwide. Of those 15% who get hospital care, 84 million will die.
Now imagine that there are 4.2 billion people sick. Think about the supply chain. If any one of the links is broken the supply chain breaks and supplies are no longer delivered. The reason that the director of W.H.O. said that Ebola was lousy compared to covid-19 is because it has the capacity to break that supply chain and over run healthcare. Imagine what you would do if you could no longer buy food and medicine. Imagine what the people in your town or city would do. The lack of vital supplies can cause violence which can lead to deaths and a shortage of food that would eventually lead to deaths
Imagine 630 million people needing care in a hospital. Covid-19 has the ability to completely overrun any country's healthcare system. Even if every person who needed one could get a bed, there are not enough medical staff and supplies to treat them all. Remember that the supply chain also applies to medical equipment and medicine. If the healthcare system is overrun, many of those 15% who need treatment will die, raising the number of people who die from the disease greatly. Then you have to remember that just because there is a Covid-19 pandemic, it does not mean that regular injuries and illness don't still occur. If every healthcare provider and medical bed is taken up with those infected with the virus, those with life threatening injuries or illnesses will die from lack of proper care and medicine.
Uncontrolled, covid-19 has the potential to wreck havoc on the world the likes of which no one has ever seen. We are not like our ancestors. Our food supply is far away and we no longer know how to get food for ourselves. If we do not control the spread of this disease we could be looking at destruction on a global scale of massive proportions. It's easy to say that it's impossible but the numbers don't lie. It is vital that we all work together to make sure that this never happens. Each and every one of us has the power in our hands to stop the spread of covid-19. By taking extra sanitary precautions and having some extra supplies to allow any problems in the supply chain to be fixed, you help ensure that the nightmare above does not occur.
This problem is not just going to go away. This is not a situation that will just blow over. It is going to require an effort on everyone's part to make sure that this nightmare does not become a reality. This is why those who understand Covid-19's potential are working night and day, from across all disciplines, to find a vaccine, a cure, to raise awareness and write articles like this one, to help stop anything like this from happening to our world. Now that you understand the risks, please use the instructions on this site to help stop covid-19 in it's tracks. The world is counting on you, so don't let it down.