Is Covid-19 a Hoax?

The short answer is No. It is not a hoax. However there seem to be a lot of people who consider the whole coronavirus thing to be imaginary, a media generated hype or a conspiracy by governments and powerful people to somehow control humanity. Many sensible people too hold this opinion. Why do these people think the way they do?

The answer lies in the numbers. I had said right in the beginning, in April 2020, that Covid-19 will not be a people’s epidemic but that it will remain a pandemic only for the authorities ( The Corona (Mis)Communication. Suggestions for making more effective… | by Salil Shukla | Medium). And the numbers bear me out after one year. Let us see these numbers to understand why a lot of people think of coronavirus as a hoax.

In the past year we have seen that this pandemic comes in waves that may last for about 2 to 6 months. A wave can be said to begin when cases start to rise from a base level to a high and then reduce till it returns to the plateau of a base level. How many people in a particular region or country/province get infected with the Coronavirus during one wave? I would put that number to about 15 to 20% of the population. You may not immediately agree with this number but bear with me for the moment. You would soon see that this number is close to actuals. We also know from anecdotal evidence and sero-surveys that about 90% of infected people do not become aware of their infection. They would be exposed, get infected and maybe spread the virus to other people too, and they will get cured in a span of 2 to 3 weeks without knowing. Only 1 out of 10 infected people would develop some symptoms, who will come forward to get tested and will be certified to have had the coronavirus. In other words, about 2% of the entire population will have confirmed Covid-19 infection during one wave. This number maybe a little high in countries where testing rate is higher or where contact tracing is better managed, but we can take about 2% as the average number for most of the countries and communities.

Before going any further, let us compare this number with actual numbers seen during 2020. During one wave in UK (from Sep 2020 to Nov 2020), 1.82% of the entire population had confirmed infections. USA’s second wave (Jun 2020 through Aug 2020) resulted in 1.22% of its population being confirmed as coronavirus infected. India was a sparsely affected country where this number was 0.7% during the wave lasting from July 2020 to December 2020. So, 2% infection rate for the population is a representative number, albeit on the higher side of the world average.

We have also seen that just about 1 out of 5 infected people will develop complications and will need to go to the hospital. The rest will probably quarantine themselves and get cured at home itself without any medical intervention. That brings us to the figure of 0.4% hospitalization due to Covid-19. Out of the people who go to the hospital probably 1 out of 10 may die because of their complications. It means that in a particular wave in a country or city or state 0.04% of the population is likely to die from complications due to coronavirus.

For clarity, I will tabulate these numbers once again

  • Total infections during one wave — 20% of the population.
  • Confirmed cases of infection during one wave — 2% of the population.
  • Hospitalisations during one wave — 0.4% of the population.
  • Deaths due to coronavirus during one wave — 0.04% of the population.

But this these numbers are for the whole population. Let us apply these numbers to an individual.

Whatever be the population of the city or country that person lives in, the personal population of that person is quite smaller than that. How many people do we know, and we are in touch with at any point of time? In the earlier times the number would have been something like 100 to 200. But in this age of social media, we are in touch with a lot of people — childhood friends, mates from school/college, colleagues from work (previous and present), as well as people from various other interest groups and communities that we form around us. Add that to our own immediate and extended family and we may be looking at a figure of about 1000 people with whom we are in touch at a given time. We can add the immediate families of these 1000 too, which brings us to an extended network of about 4000.

If we apply the percentages from above to this personal population of 4000, we get the following numbers.

  • Total infections during one wave — 800
  • Confirmed cases of infection during one wave — 80.
  • Hospitalisations during one wave — 8.
  • Deaths due to coronavirus during one wave — Less than 1.

In other words, a person may personally know less than 10 people who visited the hospital due to coronavirus and probably one who passed away! We also agreed that these numbers are a bit on the higher side and for most people, they would be even less.

In fact, most people I interviewed in India (which has been relatively less affected), conceded to knowing less than 10 people who got the infection, none of which had to go to the hospital, and no one died!

For such a person, the figures of hundreds and thousands being touted in media are nothing but a statistic. And since he or she does not personally see hundreds and thousands around being affected, it is easy to become a Covid-sceptic. The bigger picture often eludes the people in the absence of commensurate personal experience.

However, applying the same figures to the actual population would paint a completely different picture. If 0.4% of India’s population of 1390 million need hospitalisation during one wave, it translates to 5.6 million in about 6 months. Considering average hospitalisation period of 2 weeks for each patient, about 470 thousand would need medical care at one time. This number could be as high as 1 million during the peak of the wave! All this time, an individual would only see less than 10 hospitalisations in his own personal universe. This is the reason I had predicted long back that “Covid-19 is a ‘government problem’, not so much a ‘people problem’.”

In several geographies, the second (or third) wave has been more severe than before. The number of confirmed cases has gone up by a factor of 4 to 6, but the number of deaths has not increased in the same proportion. So, in their personal universe, an individual would see a lot more confirmed cases, but few deaths and the individual will continue to remain a Covid-sceptic. I suspect though, that after the second and third waves, their numbers would have gone down.

Originally published at https://salilshukla.wordpress.com on April 15, 2021.