The village idiot of the National Party, the Beetrooter (Barnaby Joyce), has stated, on Sky News (I don’t subscribe because I am not a moron), that we need a ‘reality check’1 about the SARS-CoV-2 (coronavirus herein)2, because it poses less of a threat to Australians than snakes. Believe it or not, he said “we’ve had over 3,000 deaths globally, but you’d need about 30 to 40 times that number to equate to the deaths from snakebites”1.
It almost goes without saying that Barnaby is largely talking equine ordure. Each year, across the planet, between 81,00 and 138,000 people die from snakebite3, so in that regard Joyce has his arithmetic about right. However, in Australia, the number of snakebite deaths averages about 2 per annum (i.e. 35 deaths from January 2000 to December 2016)4. So far, in Australia, three people have already died from COVID-19 (the illness caused by coronavirus). By the evening of March 8th, 2020, there were 79 confirmed cases in Australia5. So, if you were one of the Beetrooter’s gullibles, you’d probably think: ‘OK, Barney is right’, but that is based mostly on ignorance of what we face. Currently, Australia has had more deaths from COVID-19 in about 10 weeks, than you’d expect from snakebite in a whole year.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) defines an epidemic is defined as “a regional outbreak of an illness that spreads unexpectedly”, and a pandemic as “the worldwide spread of a new disease” that affects large numbers of people. The WHO has not yet declared a pandemic, but its Director General, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, stated that assessments were continuing and that while it isn’t there yet, it certainly has “pandemic potential”. So far, most of the observed cases, clusters and outbreaks have been traceable, meaning health officials have not seen evidence of widespread community transmission. Some countries have even slowed or stopped transmission6. This seems to be the case in China, where the transmission rate has fallen below 1 (i.e. each new confirmed patient has transmitted the virus to less than one person on average). Indeed, China reported that Friday March 6 was the first day without any new cases of COVID-19 in the province of Hubei, where the outbreak began7.
Worldwide, there are now over 107,000 cases of COVID-19 and 3,648 deaths are linked to the virus, while 60,637 people have recovered. On the surface, that would indicate a death rate of about 6%, but the calculations are much more convoluted than that, and according to the WHO, the global mortality rate is 3.4%.7
Whether this ‘epidemic’ can be controlled is not yet clear, although the results from China suggest it is possible. However, on March 2, WHO increased its assessment of the risk of global spread of the coronavirus outbreak from “high” to “very high”.6
While comparing the coronavirus outbreak to the Spanish Flu of 1918-1919 is comparing apples and oranges, mostly because 1919 was the medical dark ages compared to the medical technology available today. Indeed, it was not until 1933 that it was realised the Spanish Flu was caused by a virus. From the very start of the COVID-19 outbreak, scientists suspected it was caused by a virus, and within two weeks they had sequenced its genome and realised that the most likely animal hosts were bats. In addition, the Spanish Flu occurred in the days before antibiotics, and many of the deaths from the pandemic were caused by secondary bacterial infections8. The death rate of the Spanish Flu has been estimated to be between 2% and 3% and it mostly affected young adults. It is reported to have killed between 20 and 50 million across the world, more than were killed in the Great War of 1914-1918.9 In Australia, it is suspected that up to 33% (i.e. about 1.6 million people) of the population was infected by Spanish Flu and 15,000 died. Therefore, in Australia, the death rate was apparently about 1%.10 This is in part because the Commonwealth Serum Laboratories developed a partly effective vaccine for the most common bacteria that infected sufferers’ lungs11.
So, despite all the supreme medical technology we have available, when compared to 1919, the death rate for coronavirus is greater than that of the Spanish Flu. While Joyce is fond of uttering baseless stupidities12,13,14, for him to compare coronavirus to the danger from snakes simply boggles the mind. It is yet another illustration of his unsuitability for parliament. In Australia, we are 10 weeks in to this coronavirus ‘epidemic’ and it is impossible to tell how long it will last. However, Joyce is not known for engaging his brain before he opens his gob. In Australia, the first cases of Spanish Flu were detected in January 1919 and it was over by the end of that year. If this epidemic takes as long as that, many more will die. For Joyce to say that we needn’t worry is an appalling dereliction of his position as a parliamentarian. He is a deeply stupid man.