We’re all going to be infected

6 May, 2020 at 08:53 | Posted in Politics & Society | 31 Comments

Everyone will be exposed to severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2, and most people will become infected. COVID-19 is spreading like wildfire in all countries, but we do not see it—it almost always spreads from younger people with no or weak symptoms to other people who will also have mild symptoms. This is the real pandemic, but it goes on beneath the surface, and is probably at its peak now in many European countries. There is very little we can do to prevent this spread: a lockdown might delay severe cases for a while, but once restrictions are eased, cases will reappear. I expect that when we count the number of deaths from COVID-19 in each country in 1 year from now, the figures will be similar, regardless of measures taken.

91oezOpVuhL._SL1500_Measures to flatten the curve might have an effect, but a lockdown only pushes the severe cases into the future —it will not prevent them. Admittedly, countries have managed to slow down spread so as not to overburden health-care systems, and, yes, effective drugs that save lives might soon be developed, but this pandemic is swift, and those drugs have to be developed, tested, and marketed quickly. Much hope is put in vaccines, but they will take time, and with the unclear protective immunological response to infection, it is not certain that vaccines will be very effective.

In summary, COVID-19 is a disease that is highly infectious and spreads rapidly through society. It is often quite symptomless and might pass unnoticed, but it also causes severe disease, and even death, in a proportion of the population, and our most important task is not to stop spread, which is all but futile, but to concentrate on giving the unfortunate victims optimal care.

Johan Giesecke / The Lancet

And the good news is — as Giesecke told Swedish news media today — that 98% of us won’t be sick or even notice that we have the disease!


  1. Another reductionist. Naturally the development of optimal care and vaccines can be done without all of the people getting infected. To stop the spread might be futile – its unclear to what degree because such predictions have been used to stop the trying. But not everywhere http://en.granma.cu/cuba/2020-04-28/epidemic-could-peak-in-cuba-next-week

    • And also in Taiwan – six persons dead so far. But they blocked the borders very swiftly. When the virus has reached the country it seems far more impossible to stop contagion. At least if one wants the society to continue running.

      • Much of the extreme methods used in the fight against the covid – 19 pandemi is probably caused by the neccesity to not tell on the neo-liberals. That the larders of all sorts have been emptied in the desperate fight to save capitalism from the consequences from sinking profit quota and the too great productivity. At the same time the number of deaths must not become to great so that figure by itself sparks some sort movement and the cost of keeping the death figures down must not become so big that they cause some revision of the tax-reforms. Sweden was very well preperd for the economic crisis – the nationaldebt was down on zero. The preparedness for the corona-crisis was not so good though. Now the governement has found 750 billions to save the “economy”. https://www.svd.se/krissamarbetet-inifran-behover-ske-grejer–fort
        IIf anything near those money had been used on preparedness in the area health and hospitals the number of dead in Sweden per million peopole would probably been more like in other countries. The Swedish governement can still use the good-will from 100 years of progress and no war. Which is really exceptional. But maby this crisis will be too much. But I doubt that.

  2. Personally, I am happy to be living in a country that has kept cases low, and declining. No guarantee it will stay that way in future, but from here it definitely looks worthwhile to delay infection until treatment or vaccine are available.
    There is also some evidence that more recent variants of the virus are less deadly, a common evolutionary tendency, as diseases that don’t kill the host have more opportunities to reproduce. Another reason to favour delay.

    • What country is that?

      • Australia

  3. The international slogan should still be “physical distancing, social solidarity”- there is no point in catching & spreading the virus prematurely if you enjoy life for yourself or for others. The only positive about the pandemic in my view is that it leads us to be more grateful for the lives that we have had experienced. Going forward, economics must become a more modest & responsible discipline- morphing into an interdisciplinary subject that is adequately influenced by sociology, geography and ecology. If economics continues to be the dismal science by citing fatalist discourses, then it could fail to grasp the opportunity to become more relevant to the multiple disasters of our times.

    • Well put.

  4. There is no reason to think that we will not come up with some effective treatments, if not a vaccine. It is just stupid to give up and say well everyone will get it so we might as well get it over with now. I wish I was in a country like Karey that managed to limit it, at least for now.

    The other huge problem with this is that absolutely nobody knows how much immunity you have once you had it or how long that immunity lasts.

  5. I absolutely agree. And Sweden HAS taken measures to delay the spread so that our health care system doesn’t collapse.

    • I compared the population of Sweden with Ontario where I live. Sweden has 2/3rds the population and twice the deaths. But then perhaps a more robust healthcare system.

      • We have the lowest level of hospital beds in Europe – 2/1000. And we have privatized and slimmed retirement homes down to 19th century levels. Yesterday I heard of a retirement home where one third had died in the epidemic. The city of Stockholm is fighting a legal battle against the staff in a retirement home to avoid providing them with protection equipment. New Public Management is running amuck.

  6. Karey and Jerry,
    Your preferred strategy of locking down the world while we wait for a vaccine is a foolish and reckless gamble.
    – There is a possibility, indeed probability, that a fully effective vaccine may never be found, or that we may have to wait for several years.
    – Absolutely nobody knows how much immunity a vaccine might provide or how long that immunity might last.
    – In the acsence of early discovery of an effective vaccine, billions of lives will be stunted and millions of lives will be lost due to the social and economic catastrophe caused by prolonged lockdowns.
    People are lucky if they live in a country which never locked down, or in a country which is now opening up after lockdown, or in a country which attempted but failed to lockdown effectively.
    As Prof. Giesecke points out, in these countries COVID-19 will soon wither away like other coronaviruses.
    Sweden, Belarus, USA, UK, most of Europe, Africa, Middle-East, South and Central America, India, Japan etc. will recover over a few years with the benefit of herd immunity.
    In contrast, countries which “succeed” temporarily in suppressing the virus have much bleaker mid-term prospects.
    China, Taiwan, Vietnam, S. Korea, Hong Kong, New Zealand and Australia (and maybe also Greece, Singapore, Thialand, Philippines and Indonesia) will continue to live in fear of second and third waves of the virus with renewed lockdowns, travel bans and economic depression.
    But even in the latter category of countries Prof. Giesecke is right – the virus will eventually win in the longer term.

    • Nobody really knows how to manage this pandemic. People like you, who believe they are 100% right and the other side is “foolish” and “reckless” – even though the best experts in the world haven’t reached any kind of consensus and still have a lot to learn -, probably aren’t as smart as they think they are.

    • The really big question is of cause if the economy – in the common definition of the word – is more or less important than human life and health. The lacking preparedness for pandemics is one effect of prioritizing the economy. Another and very much more serious example is the continuing destruction of the niche for human life by climate change. As to widening the definition of the economy i would like to suggest the definition “interaction between nature and society through production…” with “… the labor process as the metabolic relation between humanity and nature.” https://monthlyreview.org/2013/12/01/marx-rift-universal-metabolism-nature/

    • Herd immunity assumes something which is not in evidence: individual immunity. Relying on that assumption is a foolish and reckless gamble.

      The only sure, assumption free, way to beat a virus is to stop it spreading. Everyone should adopt the least disruptive ways that will make that happen and governments should support their economies and citizens to that end.

    • Kingsley, I would call it hedging your bets rather than recklessly gambling. I understand your argument- I am feeling the economic pain of the ‘lock down’ pretty hard myself. I still think it is reasonable to try to pause and delay spread to get a chance to understand the disease more, to develop treatments- and yes possibly a vaccine. That is being ‘fast tracked’ like never before that I am aware of.

      I have a lot of older family that I do not want to let this virus rip through. That is just my personal preference but I am going to do what I can to let people know that. I don’t think that it is reckless to state my views on it and to ask my government representatives to consider them.

      • You are free to lock yourself and your loved ones down and take precautions when going outside, but you have no natural or Constitutional right to force me to obey your feels. This pandemic response is about social control and narrative management, not a virus … (Note that I take precautions, but the idea that being outside is in and of itself dangerous is scientifically ridiculous and says more about government’s desire to exercise extreme social control, than it says about a virus.)

        • “This pandemic response is about social control and narrative management”

          So politicians thought “Yes! Now I have a perfect excuse to lock them all down and control them socially [laughing hysterically]!”? And corrupt scientists all over the world helped them implement their evil plan?

          • “My political beliefs should be your political beliefs, and I will use state violence to enforce my beliefs.”
            If Franklin D Roosevelt had had the technology to enforce home lockdowns against Japanese Americans in World War II, would it have been any more justified?

    • Kingsley,
      You continue to ignore the disproportionate risk to the elderly. It is not clear whether the lockdowns have been stringent enough to protect the elderly.
      It is also not clear whether herd immunity can be achieved given it is unclear that how long lasting individual immunity might be.
      These viruses also mutate. Today’s immunity will be irrelevant (if effective at all).
      The Spanish Flu killed tens of millions at a time when the world population was a fraction of what it is now and travel of all kinds was a deal less prevalent.
      How does the Spanish Flu pandemic fit into Giesecke model of disease progression (a few weeks and it’s all over)? Seems to me not at all.

      We need to buy time until C19 is properly understood. This not a conventional flu virus.
      We may have to ongoingly make the choice between levels of economic activity and levels C19 caused deaths.


  7. An educated idiot, fare too often seen in TV!

  8. Paul Romer has come up with a simple plan to deal with C19:

    [audio src="https://abcmedia.akamaized.net/rn/podcast/2020/05/sea_20200509_0730.mp3" /]

  9. Here’s an alternate view of the Swedish situation:

  10. I am so surprised that Swedish leftists so uncritically accepts what an older white Swedish academic man from the bourgeois class say. Giesecke’s father was head of the employers union in Sweden – his background does not prove him wrong, of course, but can explain the moral compass that guides him, such as that he thinks it is naturally that the ones who run slowest perish and that there is nothing we can do to prevent it. A similar fatalist viewpoint was held by Malthusian “experts” during the Irish famine – there is no point in stopping the famine, it will only be worse in the future by such action. Malthusianism was and is an ideology for the rich to justify why we can’t to anything to help the weak and poor, so that the rich can continue to not share there wealth with others. Modern society later proved Malthusianism wrong. Experts and academics are not a socially neutral group, they have never been in history (just think about Machiarrini, also in Sweden, also at Karolinska institutet, also defended by the whole establishment). Remember also that this virus hits ethnic minorities and poor much harder than the rich that can isolate themselves in their wealthy homes. The Swedish left should maybe do some class analysis here.
    Now, let’s look on the real world, not ideology. Gieseckes continues to say that the death rate is only 0.1-0.2 percent, but there no empirical evidence. It’s only his gut feeling, which he also admits. In the Stockholm region a study finds that 10 percent had antibodies 12 April or earlier, which is around 240,000 people (another study only found 7,5 percent). We should compare that number to the number of reported deaths around 26 days later. It takes on average 18 days from the first symptoms to death, to this should 5 days on average from infection to symptom, and 3 days from death to reporting of the dead. On 8 May there was 1660 reported deaths in the Stockholm region according to Folkhälsomyndigheten. However, acccording to the Folkhälsomyndigheten actual numbers of deaths were 44 percent higher on average in Sweden for weeks 13-16. So we should calculate with around 2400 deaths in the Stockholm region up to 8th May. I.e. the fatality rate is one percent. It is certainly not much below 0,5 percent. A similar rate can be estimated from Wuhan and New York.
    The claim that everybody will get the virus is also weak empirically. Who really thinks that everybody in China will get the virus? A number of countries have already disproved Giesecke. It is possible to combat this virus, as it was possible to combat starvation in the past. The ones who run slowest do not need to perish in this world.

  11. Henry,
    We humans have successfully evolved herd immunities against thousands of viruses, bacteria and fungi over the last several million years.
    Here’s how to beat the new bug, and likewise future bugs.

    • Betel nut juice? 🙂

    • Yeah I think that is how we beat smallpox Kingsley.

  12. Well it doesn’t look like my country, the USA, can find the will to continue the limited measures we tried to do to slow this thing. So the USA will continue to lead the world in a number of categories such as infections and deaths. Being #1 is not always a good thing.
    Maybe this virus is not as bad as some thought it was. We will have to hope so going forward.
    It seems the well off will have a better chance of protecting themselves- that includes people like college professors. Workers are apparently fairly expendable. As well as our elderly. Maybe it has always been such. Not proud to be an American right now.

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