Ten Things You May Not Know About COVID-19

An unmistakable optimism has returned to countries like Australia as lockdown restrictions begin to ease. Even the news cycle has begun to focus on issues other than the coronavirus, to our collective relief.

For several months there was blanket news coverage of the pandemic. Media outlets kept feeding our insatiable appetite to know more about a crisis that so directly impacts our health, our livelihoods, and our loved ones.

“Optimism has returned to countries like Australia.”

I remember seeing early reports suggesting that the death toll could approach 68 million. It is a relief, then, that as infection rates flatten in most countries, the death toll has been only a tiny fraction of what we were warned. My own country of Australia has been especially spared, in what almost seems like a miracle.

It is heartening to see that people the world over have been responsive to warnings about personal hygiene and social distancing—strategies that have clearly helped slow the spread of the virus.

But there’s also the possibility that fear turned out to be a far more contagious virus, and that—as some warned—the cure we’ve applied may ultimately prove worse than the disease.

“Early reports suggested that the death toll could approach 68 million.”

Many have made the mistake of stating their case about COVID-19 with too much certainty, and this has been true of scientific modellers and conspiracy theorists alike. So everything I’ve written below comes with a caveat: check my sources, and do your own research and thinking, too.

But also be encouraged that we can reopen with confidence, so long as we stay vigilant. If you still need convincing—or if you’ve been suspicious of a mass overreaction these last few months—consider these ten things you might not have heard about COVID-19.

1. The virus poses a very small risk to young people

I shouldn’t have to state this, but I know the accusations will fly, so here it is: all people are equally valuable. The elderly deserve our care and concern as much as the young.

But the data is clear that COVID-19 is far more deadly for the elderly and the already-ill than for the general population. For those who are generally healthy and below the age of 65, death is remarkably uncommon, even in pandemic epicentres. The data suggests that for those below 20, the flu is actually more deadly than the novel coronavirus.

“The elderly deserve our care and concern as much as the young.”

For this reason, governments are now turning to strategies that focus on protecting the elderly rather than treating all people as equally at risk. Over a dozen U.S. states have learned this the hard way, after half of their fatalities took place in nursing homes.

2. The virus is far less deadly than first predicted

Antibody tests have been conducted in various places to detect how many people have previously had the virus. In parts of New York, 15% of those tested had coronavirus antibodies. Studies have yielded similar results in California and Germany.

Given that the actual caseload in these places was far lower than 15%, there are apparently many who are contracting the virus but showing very mild symptoms, or none at all.

“The cure we’ve applied may ultimately prove worse than the disease.”

If these antibody tests are accurate—which is still in question—it would mean that the case fatality rate would be more like 0.5%. Indeed, the CDC’s current “best estimate” of the virus death rate is 0.4%, or even 0.3% if asymptomatic cases are included.

This is far less than the 3.4% global death rate originally reported by the World Heath Organisation. (For comparison, the fatality rate of the flu is around 0.1%).

3. Virus antibodies may provide immunity

Scientists have been warning that having antibodies from the virus doesn’t necessarily guarantee immunity. So even if the antibody tests are accurate, they say, we shouldn’t be too quick to celebrate.

But also this week, two studies were released strongly suggesting that COVID-19 antibodies may indeed provide immunity to the virus. This is an area of research worth watching closely.

4. The virus doesn’t easily spread from surfaces

Early research found that the virus could remain detectable on various surfaces for many hours and even days at a time. This was an important justification for “safer at home” messaging and the shuttering of public facilities and businesses worldwide.

The CDC originally issued guidelines in line with this research, but just over a week ago the institute changed its tone. Based on newer epidemiological data, their website now explains that the the virus spreads mainly through person-to-person contact and that it doesn’t easily spread from surfaces.

5. Sunlight and fresh air can protect against the virus

In recent weeks, a UK chief scientific advisor told MPs that sunlight and good ventilation are both “highly protective against transmission of the virus.” Since then, restrictions have been relaxed to allow Brits to exercise outdoors as much as they like.

This aligns with what we already knew about influenza and similar infections. And it suggests that closing beaches and national parks and restricting people’s movement outdoors may not have been wise policy in the first place.

6. Lockdowns may actually be ineffective

The debate over extended lockdowns versus reopening the economy has become highly politicised in the United States especially. Many have been at pains to warn states eager to reopen that if they do so too quickly, an appalling surge of deaths may follow.

But a fascinating study comparing various US states showed that, in fact, there is no relationship between COVID-19 deaths and lockdown policies.

“The debate over lockdowns has become highly politicised.”

Adjusting for variables, the study found that states with strict lockdown policies actually had almost twice as many infections per capita than those without them, and also more deaths per million—the exact opposite of what might be expected. Similar results were seen by comparing European countries with one another.

7. Lockdowns may lead to global famine

It’s widely acknowledged that the lockdowns will have a devastating impact on the world economy. Some have trivialised the desire to reopen as a lust for stock market gains at the cost of lives. But it’s no secret that many who promote the ongoing closures have the luxury of working from home, while countless small businesses permanently close and families go hungry.

“More people could potentially die from the economic impact than from the virus itself.”

What the debate in western countries has largely missed, however, is how lockdowns here will affect food supply chains elsewhere. Many families in developing nations rely heavily on international tourism for survival. Others depend on family members in the West—who are now out of work—sending regular financial support.

All of this has led David Beasley, director of the United Nations World Food Program, to warn that the world could face “multiple famines of biblical proportions within a short few months.” In his assessment, there is “a real danger that more people could potentially die from the economic impact of COVID-19 than from the virus itself.”

8. Lockdowns are causing a spike in suicides

Another story only now beginning to make the news is the adverse affects of lockdowns on mental health and suicide. Following Boris Johnson’s announcement of a lockdown, numbers of people in the UK reporting significant depression and anxiety more than doubled. 

“Doctors report seeing more deaths from suicide than coronavirus since the lockdowns began.”

Studies in the US reveal similar trends there, even suggesting that more lives will ultimately be lost than were saved through lockdowns. Here in Australia, modelling conducted at Sydney University warns that an additional 1,500 suicides may result from the impact of the coronavirus restrictions.

Doctors in California report seeing more deaths from suicide than coronavirus since the lockdowns began. Similar stories are emerging from countries as diverse as India, the UK and Thailand.

9. Reactions to the virus have triggered a health crisis

There is also a broader health crisis developing. 600 American physicians recently sent a letter to the White House warning of patients avoiding routine medical tests and emergency care due to excessive fear of the virus. The cancelling of elective and routine procedures has likewise contributed to the crisis.

“These include 150,000 Americans per month who would have had a new cancer detected through a routine screening that hasn’t happened, millions who have missed routine dental care to fix problems strongly linked to heart disease/death, and preventable cases of stroke, heart attack, and child abuse,” the letter says.

10. People are praying like never before

There is no doubt that we are still facing a global health emergency. Almost 400,000 people have lost their lives to the virus. And while many western nations are experiencing a reprieve, our attention must shift to countries like Brazil, Indonesia and Mexico whose death rates continue to rise. These aren’t mere numbers—they are people with families now grieving.

Without the intervention of governments, this pandemic could have been much more dire. And we must be careful not to expect perfect foresight from our leaders, or judge them using data that is only now emerging.

“We are still facing a global health emergency.”

But we can continue to make our voices heard if we believe they are making misjudgments. As the US Declaration of Independence so simply states, “Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.” Our political leaders govern us, but they do so as our representatives, not our masters.

Most importantly, we can continue making our voices heard to God. There has been a global movement of prayer these last few months that has no comparison in recent memory. Considering even the tamest predictions made back in February, it’s clear to me that God is hearing these prayers and has so far spared us from a much greater catastrophe.

In a time when we too often look to the State for help or for someone to blame, God has shown himself strong and mighty. People may make all sorts of mistakes, but as Psalm 46 declares: “God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble… Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.”

Be brave, don’t self-censor and give into the mob. If you think this article will help others, please hit share. Also, scroll down if you’d like to subscribe. Thanks for reading!

Lockdown and Liberty: Is Australia Still a Free Country?

This is a free country.

It’s a phrase we’ve all used, even from schoolyard days—often to stand up to a bully trying to exert their control over us. “This is a free country” are words I repeated countless times as a child, long before I understood the concept of liberty.

I guessed it had something to do with the opening line of our national anthem, which I knew by heart: Australians all let us rejoice, for we are young and free.

Whatever we know about liberty, the idea of freedom and a free country has certainly been brought into sharp relief over the last month. Because of the covid19 pandemic, previously unheard-of rules now limit our interactions, trade, worship, travel, and much more besides.

“Australians all let us rejoice, for we are young and free.”

We know that these are temporary measures aimed at addressing a public health emergency—and our government has provided a cohesive rationale as to why they are needed.

You might agree wholeheartedly with the restrictions we currently live under; you might be an outspoken critic, like the recent protesters in many American cities. Either way, there is something we can all surely agree on: freedom is precious.

At least I hope we can all agree on this.

If I’m honest, I have been surprised at how quickly Australians have adapted to these stringent new rules with almost unquestioning obedience. In my heart of hearts, I hope this is because of widespread goodwill—the desire to protect the vulnerable among us from the spread of disease.

“Freedom is precious.”

I can’t help but wonder, though, if we might have grown apathetic about our freedoms. Do we actually know which liberties are protected in Australia? And if so, do we value them?

The most fundamental truth for us to grasp is that freedom is not something provided to us by the government. Liberty-loving nations have always understood that individual freedom is part of the very fabric of the universe. In other words, humans are born free, regardless of what any person or parliament decides.

In the words of the American sage Benjamin Franklin, “Freedom is not a gift bestowed upon us by other men, but a right that belongs to us by the laws of God and nature.”

“Humans are born free.”

The idea of individual liberty has a long and rich history in the West. Major movements such as the Renaissance and the Enlightenment made important contributions to this. But Christianity—with its insistence that each person has been made in God’s image—has played a leading role in the West’s emphasis on freedom.

The role of our governments, then, is simply to protect the freedoms that are already ours.

The United States has famously enshrined many freedoms in their Bill of Rights. These first ten amendments to its Constitution include freedom of speech, freedom of the press, the right to bear arms, protection from cruel and unusual punishment, and many others.

In Australia, we have no Bill of Rights. Our Constitution protects a limited number of liberties such as freedom of religion, trial by jury, and the right to vote. As Aussies, many of our freedoms are actually safeguarded by common law—decisions that have been made by the courts in the years since Federation.

“Christianity has played a leading role in the West’s emphasis on freedom.”

Some of our rights are also protected in legal documents, old and new, to which Australia is an heir or signee. The Magna Carta and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights are two examples.

So what are the freedoms that have currently been restricted in Australia due to the pandemic?

Freedom of assembly: With ‘non-essential’ gatherings now limited to two people, the freedom for us to meet together in person to share, discuss and debate our common interests has been severely restrained.

Freedom of movement: The right to freely travel from place to place within Australia and to leave our nation has been temporarily revoked. While returning Aussies are welcomed home, most Australians are not allowed to leave the country or even cross state borders.

“The role of our government is to protect the freedoms that are already ours.”

Freedom of religion: There are aspects to this liberty that have not been affected by current rules, such as the right to freely change our beliefs. But our freedom to gather for communal worship, either publicly or privately, does not exist for the time being.

Freedom to peacefully protest: Under normal circumstances, Australians are free to meet for peaceful, public protest. This freedom has also been suspended for now. To peacefully protest would, in many parts of the country, result in severe fines as the law currently stands.

Freedom from arbitrary detention: This liberty, sometimes referred to as security of the person, normally relates to arrest and punishment. It is presently the case, however, that Australians have been told only to leave their homes under very limited circumstances, regardless of whether they are sick or healthy. This, it could well be argued, is a form of arbitrary detention.

There are many other freedoms that could be listed that are impacted by current restrictions, such as the right to trade freely, the right to work, and the right to self-determination.

“We live in an incredible country, even in the midst of a partial lockdown.”

If you have read through this list of liberties, fearing that I am about to call for a riot in the streets, you can breath a sigh of relief. I am not suggesting that.

But if you have read through this list of freedoms and not once thought, “I am grateful to live in a free nation like Australia,” then you may need to check if your heart is still beating.

We live in an incredible country, even in the midst of a partial lockdown. This can be said by the citizens of most Western nations. What so many of us have forgotten is that freedom, as we understand it, is historically peculiar.

“Will the restrictions we now face will reawaken in us a deep gratitude for liberty?”

Step back and survey the great sweep of history, and you will see that the period of time in which our liberties have been so strongly guarded is little more than a blip. We could measure it in just decades and centuries—though empires have been rising and falling for millennia.

Still today, many of the world’s inhabitants don’t know their rights, and don’t enjoy their freedoms.

Most of the world’s nations pay lip service to liberty, on documents both domestic and global. But “the free world” is a concept as relevant as ever, still limited mostly to the nations that make up North America, Western Europe, and East Asia.

“This is a free country.”

Many forces have caused us to grow apathetic about liberty. Surely a recent one is our culture’s increasing obsession with ‘rights’ and ‘freedoms’ that are unworthy of the name. Biological men competing in women’s sports, and people compelling their peers to address them with new and strange pronouns are several examples that come to mind.

Taking our freedoms for granted, we have become bored with what we had, and enticed by passing fads. The risk is that now, emerging generations can hardly see freedom’s forest for the trees.

The question for all of us then, is this: will the restrictions we now face will reawaken in us a deep gratitude for liberty? Will it wake us up to defend and protect our precious freedoms for future generations?