Wednesday, February 24, 2021

Covid is the 9th deadliest pandemic in human history

According to Covid has now passed 2,500,000 deaths. The Wikipedia/John Hopkins number is still about 12,000 deaths away from this number, but is gaining about 5K-10K deaths a day. I've used the worldmeters number for one reason and one reason only: I wanted to get this post out sooner rather than later (for a reason that I make clear at the end of this post). The more trusted Hopkins number will pass this mark in a day or two.

You may have seen this table before, as I've been posting and updating it on twitter. I wanted to address that table in a more full context on the blog, where I can explain things that are difficult to explain in 280 characters. 

As you may know, I built this with data from this Wikipedia page. You will note that the page includes a share of population lost, but, that I've not included that data in my table. Why? Simply, I want to work with uniform figures. As such I'd need all 10 of the pandemics listed to include world, and not local, population shares. Additionally, that brings up a good point; not all of these pandemics were worldwide. The Plague (in particular, the black death) was, more or less, worldwide. The Spanish Flu was as well. As is AIDS. There's a reason I bring them up. 

They are terrifying. AIDS? Spanish Flu? The freaking Plague!?

Covid can, in a way, be added to the list. 

The whole "point" of the table, all this time, was never to "compare deaths". It was to compare the psychological impact that Covid will have, on us (humans), vs the way previous pandemics (like SARS) had. 

In that respect, I feel this table does a somewhat good job of explaining exactly where Covid is going to end up in our collective memory. One important datapoint that is not on the table is the case fatality rate. That means, if you get sick, what are the chances you will die. Covid seems to have a rate of around 1% to 2%. The Asian Flu, which had a similar death toll as the Hong Kong Flu, had, as far as I can tell, a rate of closer to 0.3%. AIDS is difficult to quantify as it kills slowly. Spanish Flu seems to have had a rate somewhere around 4%. The Plague's rate is much closer to 33% from what I can find. 

I said when all of this started that we are very lucky that Covid seems to kill so "few" people. I still maintain that a 2% death rate is better than a 33% death rate. I also said that we are very lucky that Covid seems to spread poorly; and while I can't find exact figures, it would seem a good 2/3rds of the world was impacted by Plague, and  maintain that under 125 Million cases is better than 5.5 billion. Had this been "it", "the" "one", we could have lost 3 billion people in the past year. 

That this could happen - a pandemic happen in the modern era that kills 3 billion - is far less likely. In fact that - the idea that a massive pandemic killing 3 billion people is now less likely - has been the entire point of this exercise. 


Covid is the 9th deadliest pandemic in human history.

Look at how it compares to past world pandemics, it is 9th. Look at how many people it infected. How many it killed. Look how we reacted to it. Both in countries with lockdowns, and those without. And look what happened in those without, and how many more people died VS how much less money was lost from the economy. Do you want to be the one literally putting a price on lives? I certainly don't. 

This is going to stay with us. Humans. Around the world. In our collective psyche. Sure, it will impact those of us in the more globalized part of the world more - IE, the impact in much of Africa, and parts of Asia - but this impact is going to stick around much longer than, for example, the Asian Flu did.

Weather or not we reach Spanish Flu levels of impact are unclear. Covid didn't kill anywhere near as many as the Spanish Flu, but, the Spanish Flu came in the context of the end of WW1 and all the various chaos that this causes. The world of 2021 is far more stable than the world of 1919, there is simply less to focus on, except Covid. 

On a side-note, this is the 1000th post on this blog! I find it fitting that our 1000th post focuses so heavily on numbers and what they mean. It's also an important milestone! As such I should remind people that we have a patreon, that I've started streaming gaming on twitch (where I am always happy to answer questions about politics) and that I have a twitter where I shout my opinions into the void. 

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