A National Random Testing is Essential to Determine the True Infection and Mortality Rate of Coronavirus

Commentary, COVID-19, Government, Edgar Simpson, Tom Harris

In the war to defeat the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic afflicting the world, Canada has been in a virtual economic shutdown and self-isolation of its citizens for the past month.

The World Health Organization (WHO) and the Government of Canada are predicting a death rate of 3-5% of those infected by the virus – 10,000 to 20,000 in Canada and millions more around the world.

As of April 22, 2020, the Federal Government coronavirus website cited just over 600,000 Canadians have been tested for COVID-19, with 40,170 testing positive and 1,974 deaths attributed to the virus. The mortality rate of the virus is therefore presently 4.9% of those known to be infected, based on April 22nd numbers. This rate reflects the WHO’s pandemic model predictions and is the reason that our Federal Government and its provincial counterparts followed the WHO’s recommendations to shut down our economy except for essential services, and self-isolate its citizens. The objective is to flatten the curve, or in layman’s terms, prevent it from infecting more people, and thereby burn or bottom out before hospital emergency departments are overwhelmed.

We are warned that, without such self-isolation and economic shutdown, the virus will continue to infect hundreds of thousands of Canadians and potentially cause the deaths of a hundred thousand or more in the worst scenarios.

What have been the results of our various governments’ actions to date? Over a million Canadians unemployed, financial ruin for thousands of businesses across Canada, and the future bankruptcies of many of our towns and cities due to lost revenue streams. Our federal and provincial governments are financing the economic shutdown on the backs of future generations of taxpayers – our children and grandchildren.

Have our sacrifices really been necessary to stop the spread of COVID-19 and its dreadful projections of coming death across Canada?

THE ANSWER MAY VERY WELL BE ‘NO!’ 

New studies and statistics gathered from around the world indicate that the WHO’s projections of the pandemic have been vastly overstated, with their projected infection and mortality rates based on faulty assumptions and misleading data.

The Government’s dire predictions are based on the annual influenza affecting over 3 million Canadians and killing 3,500 people, a death rate of 1/10th of 1 percent. If COVID-19 infected an equal number, over 100,000 Canadians could die based on the projected death rate of COVID-19 at between 3 and 5% of those infected. With such high death rates, it is no wonder that our governments have decided that the spread of the virus must be stopped at all costs.

If our governments’ and health departments’ actions are based on scientific models using the data from all those tested; how can their conclusions be wrong? The answer is simple – they are not testing the right population. Here are the facts.   

In Canada, as in most other countries around the world, we are desperately short of PCR test kits that are used to identify those infected with the virus. Consequently, we have been rationing their use by testing only those people with the coronavirus symptoms. Over the last few weeks, we have added our health professionals, first responders, and senior home staff to those being tested.

In total, only 1.6% of Canadians have been tested to date and those people had to have the virus or its symptoms to be tested. If 98.4% of Canadians have not been tested, and not even a representative sample of those without symptoms have been tested, the rest of the Canadian population could be virus free, we could all be infected or, more likely, some have had a mild dose without knowing and have recovered and are now carrying the antibodies of the virus. We haven’t a clue. How can governments make sensible policy decisions in such a situation? It is increasingly difficult for Canadians to respect and obey government authorities and institutions when they are clearly flying blind. 

All we really know is that, out of the 40,170 Canadians known to have been actively infected with the virus, 1,974 have died. With a population of 37,590,000, that is an infection rate of 0.1069% and a mortality rate of 0.0053%—not substantially different from our annual influenza rates.

The public is justified to ask if shutting down our economy, causing millions of Canadians to lose their jobs, for a virus that has killed fewer people than the common flu makes sense. But hold on, the health experts would say, because we have done so few tests, and until we test millions more, or indeed the whole population, we won’t know how virulent the virus really is – we must put caution first and foremost.  

We agree that caution is prudent when it comes to the health of thousands of Canadians – but at the rate our governments are testing citizens, it will take many months to test enough people to determine the virus’s true infection and mortality rates across the whole population – not mere model projections.

What if we continue our social and economic shutdown for months more, only to find out that the coronavirus is really the equivalent of our annual flu? We would have put Canada into an economic depression with millions unemployed that could take years to emerge from based on bad COVID-19 projections. 

More testing must be done. But our federal government is not proposing to ramp up the testing of Canadians to determine the real extent of COVID-19 across the country – and how dangerous it really is. Our leaders instead say sit tight, we will only defeat the virus by flattening the curve, while a vaccine is developed – a vaccine, many experts say, which is a year or two away.

Canada cannot afford a shutdown beyond May. Leading economists William Watson and Philip Cross, among many others, state irrevocably, that an economic meltdown is imminent if we do not quickly return to normality. Canadians cannot remain self-isolated indefinitely – our financial, physical, and mental health is at stake.  

So, what is the solution? It’s certainly not just continuing to test the already sick or those showing symptoms of the virus, as we have done to the present. All that shows is the incidence and mortality of the virus in that tiny population. After all, people with symptoms of the COVID-19 virus are far more likely to be infected with it, and die from the disease, than a Canadian chosen at random.

Scientists around the world are concluding that random testing across entire populations should be used to get a clear picture of the overall infection and death rate of the virus in a nation. By randomly testing a large enough number of people across a city, province, or country, it is possible to get a sample group whose test results would reflect the demographics of the whole city, province, and country. This is not rocket science. It is how regional and national scientific surveys and polls are done all the time.

If random testing is done properly, the infection and case fatality rates in the random sample should be very close to the actual rates in the whole country, province, or city. This will allow hot spots to be identified allowing local governments to enable appropriate quarantining procedures. A regular sample of 1,000 random people has a margin of error of 3%. According to experts, if 10,000 random individuals across Canada were tested for the virus, the margin of error for the virus’s infection and mortality rate becomes 1% or less – which is an acceptable number in health testing.

Ontario, for example, is said to be carrying out 10,000 tests per day, so 10,000 tests across Canada would not be a problem. If a national random sample was carried out immediately, epidemiologists would be able to learn much more than just the total number of coronavirus cases and the virus’s fatality rate in Canada. They would also determine the number of people who are infected but not sick, revealing the real rate of asymptomatic cases and the number of people with the virus antibodies. This would allow a meaningful calculation of a herd immunity percentage across Canada. Random testing would also illuminate trends of higher infection rates due to geography, ethnicity, and other demographic variables.  

Random testing is starting in Ohio and California. In two weeks, Germany is to begin a nationwide random sampling of 15,000 people. They will be testing for both the virus infection as well as the virus antibodies. German studies are showing that most people infected with the virus are asymptomatic – with a herd immunity well underway in the 

German population. In sampling done in the town of Gangelt (population 12,000), one of Germany’s virus hot spots, it was found that the virus had a death rate similar to that of the annual flu of 1/10th of 1% – as opposed to the COVID-19 3 – 5% projections of the World Health Organization.

Similarly, a recent random testing of 3,200 inhabitants of Santa Clara County, California (population ~2 million) by Dr. Jay Bhattacharya, showed the death rate was similar to the annual flu rate, and that a large number of residents probably carry the virus antibodies.

Studies carried out by Stanford University’s Professor of Medicine Dr. John Ioannidis, an epidemiologist specializing in analyzing data and recognized as a leading expert in the field, have demonstrated that the WHO has overestimated the fatality rate of the COVID-19 virus. As evidence, he cites three cases of entire populations tested after an outbreak – the Diamond Princess cruise ship, the Italian town of Vo Euoaneo, and San Miguel County, Colorado. In all these places, the fatality rate was found to be similar to the seasonal flu. Data from Iceland and Denmark, two countries which have done the best random sampling, also point to the seasonal flu rate – not the WHO’s high fatality projections.

Our governments have shut down the nation’s economy and ordered the self-isolation of millions of Canadian based on the output of unreliable models of worst-case scenarios with woefully incomplete data. An undergraduate biostatistics student would be failed for advocating such an approach in a term paper. Surely, the federal and provincial governments, with access to the best minds Canada has to offer in epidemiology, medicine, and polling, can get this right before yet more damage is done. 

We call on the federal government to immediately commission a nationwide random testing for the coronavirus. A 10,000 – 15,000 random testing will provide the government an accurate appreciation of the real COVID-19 infection and death rate in Canada. Only once they have done this, can they start to make decisions that actually reflect the danger of COVID-19 to Canadians.

 

 

Submitted by POGG Canada Public Affairs Fellowship Inc., an Ottawa based think-tank founded in 2004 that explores the important public affairs issues affecting Canada and the World. 

This paper was researched and written by Edgar Simpson, President and Tom Harris, member. For more information about POGG Canada or this article contact gecsimpson@bell.net