That Elusive ‘Second Wave’

At the beginning of this Wuhan virus crisis the predictions about the deaths it would cause were dire.  ‘Millions will die’, we were told, and reacted accordingly. Well, hasn’t happened, particularly in Australia, where it appears we now have it firmly under control.

But wait, we are now told, we must not get ahead of ourselves.  We can’t afford to ease ‘social distancing’ until we are totally prepared for a second wave, such as has occurred in other countries.  I have argued here that no country has experienced as second wave, yet Singapore continues to be cited as one such example.  Andrew Bolt referred to it twice in recent programs.  This is not Andrew’s claim, I hasten to add.  He is merely quoting the claim of one of our vaunted  ‘experts’.

The indications are that this virus will take its course no matter what individual countries do.  Every country, regardless of the nature of its response, has seen a steep rise in infections at some point along the horizontal time axis, followed by significant decline to a steady low daily rate.  No country has experienced a ‘second wave’ ie,  a significant and sustained increase in  cases following the decline. Here is the daily infections graph for Singapore:

Yes, they delayed the onset of the steep curve longer than many, if not most, other countries, but they are now right in the middle of that phase, i.e. their first wave.

As reported in The Australian:

Now an outbreak in the crowded dormitories of its migrant labour­er underclass has blown out its caseload and exposed an epidem­iological and social blind spot that threatens to push the city-state’s health system to the brink of its capacity. 

Of the 9125 COVID-19 cases confirmed in Singapore, 7066 are foreign migrant workers living cheek to jowl — as many as 20 to a room — in mass worker dormitories that a good number of Singaporeans never knew existed.

Significantly, however, from over 9,000 infections, they have had only 12 deaths, which surely is the most important metric.  So they must be doing something right.  But their situation is by no means analogous to that of Australia.

Taiwan has probably been the most successful country at containing infections, a tally currently running at just over 400 cases and six deaths.  Here’s the graph, which also shows the ‘curve’ or first wave:

I have examined the daily infection rate graphs for the 78 most affected countries (except China because no figures emerging from the Middle Kingdom can trusted), i.e. those which have recorded more than 1,000 cases.  I reiterate that not one of them has experienced a ‘second wave’.  I categorized those countries roughly as ‘rate of infection still increasing’ – 18; ‘rate of infection stalled at peak’ – 29; and ‘rate of infection declining’ – 26. Only Australia, Austria, South Korea, Iceland, New Zealand, Hong Kong and, of course, Taiwan could be said to exhibit a sustained flattening of the curve.

So, if we are to have a ‘second wave’, it won’t echo the experience of any other country to date.  But where might it come from?  Is there a large pool of unsuspected asymptomatic cases ready to unleash itself upon us sometime in the future if we let our guard down?

As recently as April 16, CMO Brendan Murphy stated that ‘Australia’s effective reproduction rate at the moment is about two and half, and that it needs to drop below one’.  A couple of days ago, PM Scott Morrison stated, in his press conference, that one of the conditions for an easing of restrictions was that the reproduction rate needed to come down to one.   Both are being disingenuous.  If our reproduction rate (termed R0) were above one we would still be seeing an increasing infection rate, either linear if 1, or exponential if >1.   Right now our R0 is well below 1 which hardly presages a ‘second wave’

I have argued that the stage one restrictions imposed on March 18 would have been sufficient to achieve the success Australia has enjoyed in containing Wuhan, since our decline in the rate of infection commenced within less than a week after they were imposed.

It is, of course, possible that the rate of infection might increase again sometime in the near future but probably only in one or two hotspots, not across the country.  If relaxation of restrictions leads to an increase in infections it will start as a trickle and be eminently manageable.  It won’t be an uncontrollable wave — and it won’t be all that disastrous, other than to impose an additional burden on our now well-resourced hospital system.  What it definitely won’t do is send the Grim Reaper rampaging through our vulnerable population, who are now very well prepared and accustomed to protecting themselves from the Wuhan virus.  The few deaths that may occur will be overshadowed by the normal death rate from flu.

And now that the hospital system is well prepared to treat infection, isn’t prevention of unnecessary  death the only other imperative that would justify prolonging these oppressive and economy destroying restrictions?   Other, of course, than to prolong the crisis long enough to blunt the perfectly valid criticism that governments at all levels in this country massively over-reacted to a threat they didn’t take the time to methodically assess.

Finally, let me hammer home the point: it is prevention of deaths, not infections per se, that has caused us to cripple our economy.

19 thoughts on “That Elusive ‘Second Wave’

  • Rob Brighton says:

    The Korean professor I keep harping on about dealt with this 2nd wave issue partially.
    Apparently there are two possible conditions, reinfection or relapse.
    None of the testing systems available can detect the virus under a certain level so cases, where a recovered patient found symptoms reappearing, is due to the undetectable volume of germs breeding up their numbers again. Apparently they have a number of cases but are still trying to get sufficient data to provide a rate.
    The patient remains infectious when this happens.

  • Stephen Due says:

    This is the toilet-paper pandemic. The cause of the world-wide response to the new corona virus is exactly the same i.e. media-fueled global hysteria. There is some evidence that the correct advice was given to most governments by epidemiologists at the beginning, but was over-ridden by other ‘experts’ in response to mass panic. The remorseless escalation of control measures far beyond what was reasonable is precisely consistent with the panic response that is known to occur in pandemics. The correct conclusion is that the global connectivity provided by the Internet is actually the vector of a deadlier virus than has ever been seen in any laboratory. That is the virus of fear.

  • pgang says:

    Note that South Dakota did… NOTHING… to stop the virus spread. Result? The stats are no different to anywhere else.
    No business closures, no social distancing, no stay at home orders.
    They currently have 60 people in hospital (not in ICU’s). Yes, read that again, 60 people in hospital with the Wuhan. The equivalent in Australia would be 1,880 or so. We are currently treating 6,600 cases.
    And they did nothing.
    So all of our tyranny has amounted to absolutely.. NOTHING. It has made NO DIFFERENCE whatsoever to the outcome.

  • Peter OBrien says:

    Rob, whether re-infection or relapse, this would only represent a very small percentage of cases and would be immediately detected, unless totally asymptomatic, because having once suffered from the virus, presumably the subject would be super vigilant. I can’t see how this would represent a second wave.

  • Rob Brighton says:

    Peter, That’s the point, they are asymptomatic and infectious, they also can’t know how many cases as they cant measure the infection level down to zero.
    So I am reluctant to draw the assumption that the subsequent cases will be low. We just do not know that.
    As to the vigilance you are likely right I imagine, but I do know my Sister-in-law who was infected on the Ruby Princess once cleared by testing visited her kids and grandkids and shopped for herself after being locked up for the required period. She even was given a bit of paper to state she tested negative to the virus.

  • Peter OBrien says:

    Rob, I must be missing your point. South Korea has not had a second wave.

  • lloveday says:

    “Significantly, however, from over 9,000 infections, they have had only 12 deaths, which surely is the most important metric. So they must be doing something right.”
    Maybe rather than because they are “doing something right”, the death figure is low because almost 80% of infections are of migrant workers, presumably young and generally without pre-existing health problems.

  • Peter OBrien says:

    lloveday, quite possibly

  • Michael Fry says:

    Thanks Peter. This just confirms what I have been saying for the last two weeks, including in response to our ill-informed MP, Dave Sharma.

    There is NO second wave that has occurred in other countries due to relaxation of restrictions.

    Yet, two nights ago James Patterson on Bolt repeated the Singapore myth, as did Andrew Clenelle on Bolt this evening.

    How long will it take to eradicate this government sponsored lie?

  • Peter Smith says:

    Please don’t mention James Patterson, Michael Fry. I cringe every time I see him on Bolt. He can’t give a straight answer to anything; he deals in weasel words. What a dreadful lot of politicians we have. pgang mentioned South Dakota operating without restrictions. Have a look, if you get a chance, at the Republican Governor Kristi Noem – she left it to businesses and people in her State to make good choices. If only we had the likes of her here. Instead of the mediocrities, panic merchants, little despots in waiting, that we have.

  • Peter OBrien says:

    Michael and Peter, yes I wanted to throw something at the TV when Clennell mentioned the second wave in Singapore and I pretty well tune out whenever Patterson talks. What a disappointment he’s been.

  • pgang says:

    Wasn’t Patterson one of those IPA blokes? They’re a bit of a joke, like our version of the RINO’s. They talk the talk but they never walk the walk. Let’s not forget that other guy who came from their ranks, Tim somebody-or-other.

  • Richard H says:

    pgang: The number of people in Australian hospitals being treated for Covid-19 is 152, not 6,600.

  • pgang says:

    In Australia only about 1.5% of the population has been infected. 6600 known cases divided by 0.02 = 330,000 infections.
    Therefore there is most likely going to be a lot more over the course of the year, but as we know this is not a nation-stopping problem that we can’t deal with. Second wave – sheesh, who comes up with this stuff?
    But what is going to happen with the cowards and tyranny cheer squad as this drags out during the winter? I think that is the only question of any significance. How much longer will they exert control over us and what will be the result? Will we ever have our freedom of movement returned? I watched a minute of PM last night and Bishop was her usual superb self, with a dire warning about mission creep.
    Nolte has pointed out that the media has already moved on from ‘flatten the curve’ to ‘eliminate the virus’ as their excuse to destroy us.
    I’d also like to know what’s going on with the USA mortality stats. Why do we have a 1% mortality rate from known cases and theirs is 5%? I doubt that this can be explained with demographics. They are surely fiddling the numbers, just like Italy, and reporting deaths to Wuhan that shouldn’t be.

  • pgang says:

    152? Is that all??!!

    This is why we’ve given up everything??? How do I migrate to South Dakota?

  • en passant says:

    I told the cruise liner I was going on (that was not allowed to dock) to just come close enough for me to swim out to them, but the police thought that was a unessential travel so I am stuck in Victoriastan for the foreseeable future.

  • tbeath says:

    I have examined the daily infection rate graphs for the 78 most affected countries (except China because no figures emerging from the Middle Kingdom can trusted)
    And you trust the USA figures? The sampling is terribly biased. Here in Australia, the stratification of the sampling means that the bulk of the population has yet to have a thing stuck up their nose. Some of you might need one stuck somewhere else.

  • rosross says:

    Taiwan and South Korea did not do lockdowns. And the difference is? Zip.

  • rosross says:

    Re: the Americans. Hospitals are paid extra money if they register Covid-19 patients. So, guess what? They are paid even more if they put people on ventilators. So, guess what?

    the corrupt American medical system is skewing data which is already skewed because the tests are virtually meaningless because whatever this ‘virus’ might be, it has not been purified and they are using a concocted version of SARS, which Covid is a NOT, as the test.

    Smoke, mirrors, snake oil in abundance.

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