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Coronavirus lockdown: Justifiable for some, unworthy for others?

As the Covid-19 virus spreads, it has become clear that some categories of people have a substantially higher risk of experiencing severe symptoms. Thus, people over 65 years of age form a high-risk group, especially if they also suffer from one or more of the following medical conditions: chronic lung disease or asthma, serious heart conditions, conditions that cause a person to be immunocompromised, severe obesity, diabetes and chronic kidney or liver disease. In addition, preliminary research suggests that people would react differently to the Covid-19 virus depending on the blood group they belong to.

These risk factors appear to be the same for all countries. Taking the example of Italy, the country’s own data shows that the median age of those contracting the virus is 62 years, while the median age of persons dying from the virus is 78 years. Of the people who died, 51,2% already suffered from three or more comorbidities while another 46,1% suffered from one or two comorbidities. According to professor Walter Ricciardi, scientific advisor to Italy’s minister of health, demographics (the average life expectancy in Italy is 84 years) and the manner in which hospitals record deaths may explain why Italy’s mortality rate is much higher than in other countries. He explains that only 12% of death certificates show a direct causality from coronavirus, while 88% of patients who have died have at least one pre-morbidity.

With the world economy collapsing due to the draconian lockdown measures taken to combat the spread, voices that wonder whether the virus actually warrants such measures are becoming louder. German professor Sucharit Bhakdi is prominent among them. Calling the nationwide lockdowns a “collective suicide”, he called on German chancellor Angela Merkel to answer a number of questions in a now-viral video message. His questions centre around the differentiation between dying from and dying with corona. His message hints at the Italian authorities violating a basic principle in the medical field, by stating that “only when it is certain that an agent has played a significant role in the disease or death may a diagnosis be made”. Bhakdi also refers to preliminary research such as Sars-CoV-2: Fear versus Data which suggests that the Covid-19 virus is not more dangerous than a traditional corona virus.

Very interestingly, Bhakdi also refers to external factors which may make certain regions particularly vulnerable. Air pollution in northern Italy has been extensively reported and Bhakdi notes that air pollution greatly increases the risk of viral lung diseases in very young and elderly people. The multi-generational households in Italy (27,4%) and Spain (33,5%) also make the elderly more susceptible to the virus than for example Germany (7%). Moreover, prior to Covid-19, media had already reported on the presence of a pneumonia-causing virus in the water supply of the city of Brescia, Lombardy.

The situation in northern Italy therefore at least hints at previous viral related pneumonia outbreaks in the past as well as high susceptibility due to external factors. From that perspective, it is not surprising that a relatively small number of other countries, most notably Sweden, have opted for a more relaxed approach by allowing schools and non-essential businesses to stay open in an effort to save the economy. As countries are torn between prioritizing the health of their populations and the economy, the debate on finding the right balance will inevitably become grimmer in the coming weeks.

Edited by Dr. Olivier Vonk

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