Intended for healthcare professionals

Rapid Response:

Covid-19: Are we the victims of mass panic?

Case-fatality rates for respiratory virus infections are highly uncertain. Many mild infections pass unnoticed, and if an elderly frail patient with serious heart disease is pushed over the edge by an infection, was it then a virus death or a cardiac death?

I have suspected for a long time that we are the victims of mass panic. Two days ago, I read in a newspaper that the average age of those who died after coronavirus infection was 81 and that they also often had comorbidity.

What if the Chinese had not tested their patients for coronavirus or there had not been any test? Would we have carried on with our lives, without restrictions, not worrying about some deaths here and there among old people, which we see every winter? I think so.

The estimate for the case-fatality rate for coronavirus infections is around 2% (1). For the mild influenza pandemic in 2009, and the following years, the median case-fatality rate in the studies was around 1% for laboratory confirmed influenza (2, figure 3).

WHO estimates that seasonal influenza may result in 290,000 to 650,000 deaths each year due to respiratory diseases alone (3). About 4,000 have died so far from coronavirus.

Why all the panic? Is it evidence-based healthcare to close schools and universities, cancel flights and meetings, forbid travel, and to isolate people wherever they happen to fall ill? In Denmark, the government recommends cancellation of events with over 1000 participants. When some organisers crept just below 1000, they were attacked by professors in virology and microbiology. But if it is wrong to invite 990 people, it should also be wrong to invite 980, and so forth. Where does this stop? And should big shopping centres be closed, too? (4)

1 Razai MS, Doerholt K, Ladhani S, Oakeshott P. Coronavirus disease 2019 (covid-19): a guide for UK GPs. BMJ 2020;368:m800.

2 Wong JY1 Kelly H, Ip DK, Wu JT, Leung GM, Cowling BJ. Case fatality risk of influenza A (H1N1pdm09): a systematic review. Epidemiology 2013;24:830-41.

3 WHO. Burden of disease.

4 Vibjerg T. Læger kritiserer underholdningsindustrien for ikke at tage corona-situationen alvorligt. Jyllands-Posten 2020; 8. marts:10. [Doctors criticise the entertainment industry for not taking the Corona situation seriously]

Competing interests: No competing interests

08 March 2020
Peter C Gøtzsche
Institute for Scientific Freedom, Copenhagen