Governments have an enormous amount of work to do – Leaders Feb 27th 2020 edition

In public health, honesty is worth a lot more than hope. It has become clear in the past week that the new viral disease, covid-19, which struck China at the start of December will spread around the world. Many governments have been signalling that they will stop the disease. Instead, they need to start preparing people for the onslaught (see article). Officials will have to act when they do not have all the facts, because much about the virus is unknown. A broad guess is that 25-70% of the population of any infected country may catch the disease. China’s experience suggests that, of the cases that are detected, roughly 80% will be mild, 15% will need treatment in hospital and 5% will require intensive care. Experts say that the virus may be five to ten times as lethal as seasonal flu, which, with a fatality rate of 0.1%, kills 60,000 Americans in a bad year. Across the world, the death toll could be in the millions.