Italy 2020

In Italy, the proportion of infected people dying from the novel coronavirus — 10 percent according to the latest figures — seems through the roof. Unsurprisingly, there is more to this terrifying figure than meets the eye.

You do not need to be an expert to calculate the mortality rate. It is one number divided by another — the number of people who have died from the virus divided by the total number of confirmed cases. In the case of Italy, 7,503 dead divided by 74,386 infected gives a mortality rate of roughly 10 percent. But that does not mean that one in ten people who contract the virus will die, despite what the scaremongering media would have you believe.

The first reason why is that the first, smaller number — the number of deaths from Covid-19 — is impossible to underestimate. People are either alive or dead, and usually as soon as a person dies they will quickly find their way into the national statistics.

But the larger number, the confirmed cases, must by definition be an underestimate. It would be impossible for every person in a country positive for the coronavirus to have been already tested and added to the confirmed cases. The virus can be dormant in people for up to two weeks, and young people can experience very mild or even no symptoms at all, and still be positive for the virus. Since that figure is by definition too low, the mortality rates being reported are by definition too high.

Many have pointed to Italy’s elderly population as the catch-all reason for their unnaturally high death rates. But that idea is a non-starter. Germany has the next oldest population in Europe, and Germans are not as healthy as Italians (who live long lives precisely because they are healthy), and yet Germany has the lowest death rate of the ten worst affected countries. Age cannot explain away the disparity.

Another factor is doubtless the unpreparedness of Italy’s health system, and the dearth of beds and equipment that is now spawning rumors about doctors being forced to jettison some patients to make room for others. Germany is better equipped, but may not have been put to the test yet, as the virus is yet to explode there as it has in northern Italy.

Crisis around the corner?

Experts are still saying that the reason for all of these disparities is simply that some countries are further along the epidemic curve than others. This could explain why so many more have died in China and Italy and so few in Germany and the UK, for example, but it cannot explain the wild fluctuations in the mortality rates.

None of this is meant to take away from the severity of the crisis in Italy, or that which may be just around the corner for the rest of the world. But the key point to take away from this is that the 10 percent mortality rate being reported from Italy is grossly misleading. It is being waved around by the mainstream media as a bit of old-fashioned sensationalism at best, and a calculated tool of propaganda at worst. A figure like 0.3 percent – barely higher than the common flu – simply does not have the same power in getting people to swallow unprecedented legislation that gives the state tremendous new powers in a host of new areas… all in the name of public health of course.

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