Fear as an instrument of power

Published in Expansión

The terrible drip of death and suffering we have experienced with the pandemic has created a collective trauma aggravated by the cruel lockdown and depressing hammering of media sensationalism, which has created a distorted image of SARS-CoV-2. Likewise, some specialists’ opinions have translated into unnecessary levels of uncertainty by discrediting, with excessive empiricism, that which was not “proven” (almost everything in a new disease) and constantly equating, perhaps due to statistical ineptitude, the possible – even with a remote probability of occurrance- with the probable. These factors have consolidated the worst fear of all: the fear of the unknown, which has become an instrument of power. In fact, a terrified population is a submissive population, so there is a political interest in maintaining a state of psychosis that justifies the dictatorial power the government enjoys under the cover of the epidemic and with which it scares the opposition with a hypothetical second wave, unheard of until now in countries that have eased lockdowns[1]. Emerson said that the antidote to fear is knowledge, so let’s get to know the plethora of hopeful data on a dwindling Covid-19 (all sources can be found at www.fpcs.es).

Under normal circumstances, it is unlikely that the coronavirus will be transmitted outdoors (I am not referring to mass, static, yelling events such as demonstrations, as experts say that mass gatherings in which people shout or sing can become superspreading events[2]). One study in Japan found that people are 19 times more likely to get Covid-19 indoors than outdoors[3], while other studies suggest that almost all infections occur indoors[4], in homes (80%), nursing homes, public transportation and hospitals[5]. This explains why lockdowns have failed from a public health perspective (with enormous mortality) in negligent, incompetent and late-reacting countries such as Spain. It also calls into question the unscientific requirement to wear masks in open spaces. In fact, medical literature abounds that is critical of the widespread use of masks because of their ineffectiveness, misuse and contraindications[6] [7], including health risks – not to mention the mandatory purchase of millions of units per day. Therefore, the sudden obligation to wear masks on the street when the virus is clearly fading away (and not before) can only be explained from the willingness to artificially sustain a collective paranoia. It is a striking exercise in cynicism that the high priests of lockdown, the same ones who prohibited families already locked down together from walking together and who now force the masks on, defend that the March 8th Women’s Day demonstration with tens of thousands of people crowded together and shouting does not pose a danger to public health just because it would make the Spanish government potentially responsible of worsening the outbreak.

 

Doubts about the immunization of those who overcome a viral disease like Covid-19, incongruent with having confidence in a possible vaccine, have been resolved: virtually all those who overcome the disease develop antibodies[8]. Immunization is likely to last for years[9], and although it cannot be extrapolated, it is encouraging that those who survived SARS-CoV-1 still have antibodies 17 years later[10].

The existence of patients who continued to test positive after passing Covid-19 seemed to be a mystery. Not really. In the words of an American virologist, “it is not only possible but common to detect viral RNA without there being any infectious virus present, since recovered patients can continue to produce viral RNA without actually making infectious virus particles”[11]. After monitoring these patients, the South Korean health authorities have confirmed this: PCR tests “falsely identified dead viral matter as active Covid-19 infection”[12], i.e. they do not distinguish between infectious virus and non-infectious RNA[13], and those who fully recover from Covid-19 “do not transmit the disease to others”[14]: they cannot infect or be infected.

Contact with infected surfaces is a possible but ineffective route of transmission[15], which clashes with the media sensationalism that distorted the conclusions of a single study[16] that showed that, in a protected laboratory environment, SARS-CoV-2 (like other viruses) had a half-life of several hours on certain surfaces. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has always maintained that although “it may be possible that a person can get Covid-19 by touching a surface or object that has a virus on it and then touching their own mouth, nose, or possibly their eyes, this is not thought to be the main way the virus spreads, but we are still learning more about how this virus spreads”[17], and “because of poor survivability of these coronaviruses on surfaces, there is likely very low risk of spread from food products or packaging”[18]. The European equivalent organism (ECDC) is similarly calm: “the amount of viable virus declines over time [on surfaces] and may not always be present in sufficient numbers to cause infection”[19]. Sensible hygiene measures such as hand washing are essential (reinforced for at-risk populations), but without falling into eccentric behaviour that leads to obsessive-compulsive disorders. Remember the hoax about the danger of contagion from contact with the pavement of the streets, which was at the time scorned by Italian virologists because it had no scientific basis[20].

Another source of hope is the seasonality of the coronavirus. Scientists knew that “enveloped viruses  [such as SARS-CoV-2] have a very, very definite seasonality”[21], and the viral load has been decreasing as the season progressed[22]: according to an Italian virologist, “the coronavirus has lost a lot of strength, the infections today are much more attenuated and there are even elderly patients with very mild symptoms”[23]. Italy, whose government says it no longer wants to keep its citizens “prisoners” (unlike the Spanish government), has decided to reopen the country completely.

Regarding reports of children affected by a syndrome similar to Kawasaki disease, the UK’s Kawasaki Disease Foundation has criticized “sensationalist press”[24], claiming that there are only 3 cases per million children. Although research into a hypothetical causal relationship with the coronavirus continues, the ECDC itself has issued a cautious but reassuring note[25].

Statistically, Covid-19 is not one disease but two: for a majority of the population (healthy people under a certain age) it is a disease that is mostly asymptomatic (in up to 80% of cases[26]) or mild, with a very low mortality (IFR), perhaps in the order of 0.05%-0.1%[27] [28]. For a minority of the population, defined by risk factors that increase after age 60, it is a potentially serious disease with much higher mortality rates and requires caution. Given this marked difference (a very high dispersion), the “average” lethality of Covid-19 is not very representative, but according to Stanford epidemiologist John Ioannidis it should be less than 0.4%[29], although it may be exceeded in local clusters (as we have seen) because of the saturation of the health system and “the very unfortunate measure of returning infected patients to nursing homes”[30]. The Spanish government’s opaque interim seroprevalence study suggests that the average mortality rate (IFR) in Spain would be around 1.5%. The laudable mass tests carried out by some city councils will probably end up concluding that the real figure is significantly lower.

Indiscriminate lockdowns (a “very blunt and medieval” measure, according to Nobel Prize winner Michael Levitt)[31], has isolated those who did not need to be isolated while abandoning the weakest. Contrary to propaganda, and although any judgment is necessarily premature, it is doubtful that in the long term and on a global basis it will have saved lives (perhaps costing lives instead), but it is certain that it has been a psychological, social and economic disaster and I believe it will be considered a historical mistake. One of its poisonous effects has been the absolutely fascist dictatorial power created under the alibi of public health concerns. However, its most regrettable consequence has been to condemn our elders to die alone and in anguish, deprived by legal imperative of emotional or spiritual comfort and the company of their loved ones. This act of barbarism unbecoming of civilized societies exemplifies the intolerable limits crossed by the government under the cover of fear. We should not allow this to happen ever again.

 

Fernando del Pino Calvo-Sotelo

www.fpcs.es

 

[1] https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2020/05/30/warm-weather-may-help-europe-avoid-second-wave-coronavirus/          and           https://www.express.co.uk/news/world/1287242/coronavirus-second-wave-latest-world-health-organization-breakthrough-who-lockdown-UK

[2] https://www.sciencemag.org/news/2020/05/why-do-some-covid-19-patients-infect-many-others-whereas-most-don-t-spread-virus-all

[3] https://www.medrxiv.org/content/10.1101/2020.02.28.20029272v2.full.pdf

[4] https://www.medrxiv.org/content/10.1101/2020.04.04.20053058v1.full.pdf

[5] https://www.who.int/docs/default-source/coronaviruse/who-china-joint-mission-on-covid-19-final-report.pdf

[6] https://vixra.org/pdf/2006.0044v1.pdf

[7] https://www.cidrap.umn.edu/news-perspective/2020/04/commentary-masks-all-covid-19-not-based-sound-data

[8] https://www.nature.com/articles/s41591-020-0897-1             and https://www.medrxiv.org/content/10.1101/2020.04.30.20085613v1.full.pdf

[9] https://www.elmundo.es/ciencia-y-salud/salud/2020/04/14/5e960c2d21efa0543b8b4633.html

[10] https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/22221751.2020.1761267             and https://www.medrxiv.org/content/10.1101/2020.02.12.20021386v1

[11] https://www.forbes.com/sites/coronavirusfrontlines/2020/04/07/a-virologist-explains-why-hyped-studies-tell-us-very-little-about-the-likelihood-of-covid-19-coronavirus-transmission/#741161831abe

[12] https://www.forbes.com/sites/alexandrasternlicht/2020/05/18/south-korea-says-patients-who-re-tested-positive-after-recovering-were-no-longer-infectious/#3868d2a970a6

[13] https://www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140-6736(20)30868-0/fulltext

[14] http://www.koreaherald.com/view.php?ud=20200518000772

[15] https://www.isglobal.org/es/coronavirus

[16] https://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJMc2004973

[17] https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/prevent-getting-sick/how-covid-spreads.html

[18] https://www.cdc.gov/foodsafety/newsletter/food-safety-and-Coronavirus.html

[19] https://www.ecdc.europa.eu/en/covid-19/questions-answers

[20] https://www.umbria24.it/attualita/coronavirus-usare-solo-un-paio-di-scarpe-il-virologo-e-una-bufala

[21] https://www.sciencemag.org/news/2020/03/why-do-dozens-diseases-wax-and-wane-seasons-and-will-covid-19

[22] https://www.hmhospitales.com/coronavirus/parte-diario/covid-19-25-abril-2020

[23] https://www.elmundo.es/ciencia-y-salud/salud/2020/05/28/5ecfedd9fc6c83ce408b462a.html

[24] https://www.societi.org.uk/kawasaki-disease-covid-19/pims-ts/

[25] https://www.ecdc.europa.eu/en/publications-data/paediatric-inflammatory-multisystem-syndrome-and-sars-cov-2-rapid-risk-assessment

[26] https://www.bmj.com/content/369/bmj.m1375

[27] https://www.medrxiv.org/content/10.1101/2020.04.18.20070912v1.full.pdf

[28] https://www.thelancet.com/action/showPdf?pii=S1473-3099%2820%2930243-7

[29] https://www.medrxiv.org/content/10.1101/2020.05.13.20101253v1

[30] https://www.medrxiv.org/content/10.1101/2020.05.13.20101253v1.full.pdf

[31] https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2020/05/23/lockdown-saved-no-lives-may-have-cost-nobel-prize-winner-believes/

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