Coronavirus: Good News and Vital Statistics Raise Profound Questions
There is good news about the coronavirus. Social distancing and shelter in place policies have saved thousands of lives recently not only from the coronavirus, but also from the regular flu and car accidents as well. Yet what is the cost?
Regarding the seasonal flu, because people are keeping social distance, the number of cases and deaths from the flu in recent months have decreased remarkably both in the U.S. and around the world.
The CDC states that in the U.S. for the regular flu, there have been "between 12,000 and 61,000 deaths annually since 2010," and further "between 291,000 and 646,000 people worldwide die from seasonal influenza-related respiratory illnesses each year." This is equivalent to between 800 and 1,750 deaths per day globally. Yet those numbers have dropped significantly due to social distancing policies implemented around the world in recent months.
Thanks to the shelter in place policy, deaths from traffic accidents have also dropped impressively in this period. According to the U.S. National Safety Council, "In 2019, an estimated 38,800 people lost their lives to car crashes," while the WHO states that worldwide "approximately 1.35 million people die each year as a result of road traffic crashes." That's more than 3,600 deaths a day.
Yet this Los Angeles Times article states that the recent 60% drop in traffic in California due to the shelter in place policy has resulted in a 50% drop in injuries and fatalities on the road. This additionally resulted in a savings of about $1 billion according to this San Francisco Chronicle article. Project those numbers worldwide and the number of lives saved is likely in the tens of thousands or more, while the money saved is likely hundreds of billions of dollars.
Many thousands of lives have been saved in these last months thanks to decreased deaths from both the flu and vehicle accidents as a result of the shelter in place and social distancing policies being implemented around the globe.
This is great news, yet it also raises a serious question. When the coronavirus finally abates, what would happen if governments continued these two policies? If social distancing and shelter in place were implemented permanently, hundreds of thousands of lives could be saved worldwide every year from decreased deaths due to both the seasonal flu and car accidents.
Yet is this really how we want to live our lives?
How much are we willing to sacrifice in order to save one life? How about 100 lives, 10,000 or even a million lives? If driving were banned altogether, over a million lives would be saved every year. But clearly the cost would be too great, as our society could no longer function in anything like it's current state without driving. And we would lose the freedom of mobility. If shelter in place became permanent, hundreds of thousands of lives would be saved every year, yet again, society as we know it would be drastically different and great freedoms would be lost.
The vast majority of people will not likely be comfortable with making these two policies permanent, even if they would save millions of lives. The cost to humanity socially and spiritually would significantly outweigh the cost of those lives. Not to mention the many deaths that would result from these policies due to depression and domestic violence, and how many people's jobs and careers would be ruined or lost.
This raises an important and profound question in these most challenging times. When is it beneficial to implement these policies? How do we weigh the balance between the number of lives saved as a result of these policies and the number of deaths actually caused by the policies in addition to the suffering caused both socially and spiritually?
Even now, what are the costs of these policies being implemented worldwide? A New York Times article titled "Coronavirus Crisis Could Plunge Half a Billion People Into Poverty" states that according to an Oxfam report, "Estimates show that, regardless of the scenario, global poverty could increase for the first time since 1990. This could throw some countries back to poverty levels last seen some three decades ago." And the IMF is now predicting "the worst downturn since the great depression."
Increased poverty brings with it increased death rates. How many thousands of lives will be lost worldwide in the long term from the economic devastation caused by many millions losing their jobs and the huge increase in numbers of bankruptcies?
These factors are being weighed seriously by the few countries not implementing shelter in place and lockdown policies. This despite intense pressure from the major media and governments worldwide. Notable examples are Sweden, the Netherlands, and Japan.
The risk here is great. Not implementing a lockdown will most certainly result in more deaths. The question is: How many more deaths will there be? Is it worth it in the long run if 25% more people die from the virus, but the economy doesn't crash? What if there is a 50% or even a 100% increase in deaths. This certainly seems possible. But will these deaths be outweighed by the great economic losses, which could result in even more deaths in the long run?
I've been following three countries which have not instituted lockdowns to see how they compare with other countries which have. The countries are Sweden, Japan, and the Netherlands.
Sweden's top epidemiologist believes lockdown will do more harm than good. This CNN article relates how "life goes on as usual" there, despite a relative high per capita rate of infection. Here's a quote from the article, dated April 10th:
Restaurants and bars are open in the Nordic country, playgrounds and schools too, and the government is relying on voluntary action to stem the spread of Covid-19. The Swedish government is confident its policy can work. Sweden's actions are about encouraging and recommending, not compulsion. Much of Sweden's focus has been to protect the elderly. Anyone aged 70 or older has been told to stay at home and limit their social contact as much as possible.
Then there is Japan. According to this Washington Post article published on April 10th:
Tokyo’s coronavirus “state of emergency” is as surreal as they come. Though the streets are noticeably quieter than normal, subways and buses are still jammed with commuters. Stock trading goes on as normal. Many bars, restaurants and cafes are abuzz. So are barbershops, beauty salons and home improvement centers.
The Netherlands is calling their policy an "intelligent lockdown" in which, according to this Forbes article, "only the most important sources that may spread the coronavirus are closed."
In my extensive research, I've been following the coronavirus number of deaths closely both globally and in eight countries, includind these three. The number of cases reported is not very reliable, since testing in the U.S. and elsewhere has been woefully inadequate. The numbers of hospitalizations and deaths are a much more accurate measure of how the disease is progressing. As the number of hospitalizations is harder to find, I've been following the number of deaths very closely in these countries.
We would expect these three countries with their more lax policies to experience a greater increase in fatalities than most other countries. Yet strangely, this has not been the case.
For a comparison, here's an informative graph showing deaths per million population from the coronavirus in 10 major European countries plus the US and Japan. Note that Sweden and Netherlands have the sixth and sevent lowest number of deaths, while Japan is doing the best of all 12. Another graph showing deaths per day again puts Sweden and Netherlands in the middle of the pack, with Japan doing better than all the rest except Norway and sometimes Switzerland.
Without lockdown and mandatory social distancing, we would fully expect these three countries to have much higher death rates than those which have implemented lockdowns. They were willing to take the risk of more deaths, feeling that the social and emotional cost of these policies would be too great. And yet surprisingly, their death rates have been similar to or lower than most countries implementing these policies. It doesn't make sense, but there it is. It could be that their death rates will rise in coming weeks. Yet even so, why isn't this being talked about at all in the media? (Possible answer here) And what does this suggest about the effectiveness of the lockdowns?
With the economy crashing, many millions losing their jobs, and the rate of poverty and domestic violence rising all as a result of shelter in place and social distancing policies, how wise is it to lock things down so tightly when the few countries which aren't doing this are showing lower death rates than most of the rest? Not to mention the trillions of dollars being thrown around as a result of the crashing economy (due almost solely to the lockdown), the large majority of which is going into the pockets of the uber rich.
There are many important factors to consider here in addition to the numbers of people dying and being hospitalized by the virus. How much do we give up our freedoms in the name of safety and security? How will the fear of germs and the fear of being close to others play out once the pandemic fades? And then there are the countless small and medium-sized businesses that have gone or will go bankrupt, with a high likelihood that – as in previous recessions – many will eventually be bought out by the wealthy elite for pennies on the dollar.
Many thousands of lives have been saved, yet how many jobs and lives will be damaged and lost in the long run as a result of these policies that infringe on our civil liberties?
May calmer heads prevail as we face these huge challenges. And may we remember that we're all in this together, even when we may disagree sharply about how to go about doing this.
If this information raises questions about how and why all of this is happening, remember that fear is used by many groups, corporations, and even governments to gain greater control and reap immense profits. Explore an excellent two-page essay titled "Creating a New Paradigm," which shows how and why we are controlled through fear, and – more importantly – what we can do about it. By educating ourselves and spreading the word, we can rise above the fear and make a difference in our world. Thanks for caring.
Note: The thought-provoking article at this link explores how the power elite are taking advantage of this shock to the system to forward their agendas of power and control. This penetrating essay explores the long-term implications for humanity of the coronavirus and the choices we have right now. A wealth of excellent information on the coronavirus is also available here and here.
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