Friday, April 17, 2020

Drop the payload

One of the first things I learned about computer viruses was that they have to be understood from two separate angles: payload and mode of transmission. It’s useful to think of the coronavirus pandemic in the same way, especially as I detect efforts in the US media and government to deliberately confuse the public. 

The populist MO tends to involve floodinng the mediasphere with ersatz expertise and faux-stupidities. (My recent favourite example being Kelly Anne Conway’s ‘It’s covid-19 not covid-1 folks!’). More generally the use of covid-19 (payload) to refer to the collective response to the pandemic (mode of transmission) is holding back public understanding of how and when solutions can be applied. 

This in part explains the overnight enthusiasm on the markets (now waning a bit) for experimental drug remdesivir, which apparently shows some promise as a way of alleviating symptoms amongst the critically ill in hospital - a small proportion of the covid-19 payload. 

Yet it surely has to be obvious that this shows very little promise at all in helping us restore normality to our societies as a whole, for it is not the viral payload that is crippling our economies, it’s the mode of transmission. 

Better outcomes for the critically ill are to be welcomed with enthusiasm, but this is still a lengthy hospital treatment. SARS-Cov-2 is affecting 100% of the population in terms of basic freedoms and close to that percentage economically, while covid-19 affects to a serious degree perhaps only 20% of the comparatively small proportion of the total population that are so far infected. 

It’s worth adding that the Chicago remdesivir trial has been conducted without a control group and some of the patients have still died. An equivalent Chinese trial did utilise a control and has not yet found the drug reaches the necessary efficacy threshold vs the placebo. The leak of partial results to the media in this way reflects a pattern of information mis-use in the US.

Collectively, what we need right now is an economically-friendly ‘cure’ for the mode of transmission rather than a potential amelioration of the payload i.e. a testing and control regime and then perhaps a vaccine in due course. 

PS: In my report on ambient speciousness yesterday I neglected to mention one gem that very often appears in tandem with ‘We have no evidence that lockdowns actually work’ and which has cropped up in the recent musings of Gloria Álvarez and articles by slightly more sophisticated libertarians such as Lionel Shriver —  the ‘We’re all going to get it anyway’ prognosis.

They should be careful what they wish for. My suspicion is that near universal infection would result in changes to both individual and collective (i.e. state) behaviours that are longer lasting and more ingrained and unlikely to be welcomed by the Ayn Randers. 

And projected overall mortality levels are only declining because projected infection levels have been revised downwards. 

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