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Covid-19 Is Not The Black Death, But From How We’re Acting It May As Well Be

Are we creating an even greater threat than the pandemic itself?

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ASTORIA, New York City- Quarantine is the word of the day in New York City. You can hear the word dozens of times as you walk through the streets. People talking on their phones, people talking to each other, people talking to themselves about the seemingly inevitable fate of soon being quarantined.

“We better stock up before we’re quarantined.”

“Let’s go and do it before we’re quarantined.”

“This is what you need for your quarantine.”

People are wearing surgical gloves on the subway. Sellers on Amazon are selling hand sanitizer for $300 per bottle. Stores are selling out of canned food, toilet paper, and water. Universities are closing down. Airlines are canceling flights. Athletic events are taking place without crowds. Music festivals are being shut down. Entire regions of countries are being quarantined. Billions — perhaps trillions — of dollars are being lost.

It makes you think that a deadly global pandemic is here.

Instead, we’re being hoodwinked.

Covid-19 is not the Black Death. SARS-CoV-2 is not Disease X.

0.6%. That’s the death rate of Covid-19 in South Korea, a country that’s actually doing proper testing.

The death rate in China outside of Hubei province is a mere 0.4%, according to the country’s CDC.

The difference in seemingly high death rate in Hubei (4%) and elsewhere in the country is largely due to the fact that when the disease was new people who were infected weren’t properly being tested or were misdiagnosed, and masses of people who had the disease but only had minor or no symptoms were not added into the statistical pool. According to Chinese data, 80% of people who were confirmed to have Covid-19 only had mild ailments, like this lady in Washington who was infected but didn’t even bother going to a doctor.

So let’s safely figure that there were still many more people in South Korea and outside of Hubei province in China who were infected with Covid-19 who were / are asymptomatic or only symptoms so mild that they don’t receive medical treatment, and our 0.6% and 0.4% death rates drop even farther. My wager is on 0.2-0.3%, which makes Covid-19 slightly more deadly than the average seasonal flu but still in the same ballpark. In the US, according to the CDC the death rate for influenza is 0.1%, and we deal with this each and every year without losing a beat.

Speaking of the normal, seasonal flu, so far this year in the US alone there has been 34 million confirmed infections, 350,000 hospitalizations, and 20,000 deaths, according to the CDC. During the 2017-2018 flu season, nearly a million people were hospitalized and over 80,000 people died in the US. Annually, the number of deaths caused by influenza worldwide is usually between 300,000 and 650,000.

So far, around 4,500 people worldwide have died from Covid-19. 30 of which were in the USA.

What’s interesting is that infectious diseases tend to impact certain age demographics differently. The 1918  Spanish Flu, for example, mainly targeted people in the 18-25 year range. Covid-19, on the other hand, is vastly more dangerous for the elderly and people in otherwise poor health — basically the same people that are impacted most by seasonal influenza. In South Korea, who has the best data, 7.2% of people over the age of 80 who contracted the virus die. For people under 30, the death rate is zero.

The reason that the Covid-19 outbreak appeared so deadly at first is that the only people who were being diagnosed were the ones with severe symptoms. It’s like if we tried to calculate the death rate of the seasonal flu only by including in our figures those who were hospitalized — it really wouldn’t give an accurate picture of the impact the disease really has.

This is basically what’s being done in the USA, a country that’s showing a 2% coronavirus death rate but is only testing those with severe symptoms. I personally know of two people in New York City who had textbook symptoms and had potentially been exposed (one from her husband’s infected co-worker and another who recently came from South Korea) who were outright refused testing by the CDC.

So much for trying to protect at risk populations …

From Rapoza at Forbes:

“The U.S. does not yet have the capacity to test at the levels South Korea is currently testing at, which is over 10,000 patients a day. South Korea’s mortality rate, meanwhile, is just 0.6%, which is on par with influenza, a disease that infects millions each year.”

Over 61,000 people in China that have been infected have already recovered, with tens of thousands more on the way. Many people who get infected by Covid-19 will hardly even know it. Most will just get a little sick. It doesn’t really impact children, teenagers, or healthy working age adults.

So is this really something to tank the global economy over?

Is this illness — which is only slightly worse than influenza in terms of death rate — really bad enough to quarantine entire countries, cancel flights with scorched earth abandon, close the universities (whose students are not even moderately at risk), shut down conferences and athletic events and music festivals, and send everyone into a panic, scurrying to the supermarket to buy up all the toilet paper?

If we keep going the way we are companies are going to go out of business, people are going to lose their jobs and medical insurance — and, by extension, be at a greater risk of, yes, medical problems. I’d take a 0.4-0.6% death rate over that any day.

So I have to ask if we’re creating a much worse “virus” than Covid-19 ever could be — the virus of hysteria.




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Filed under: Epidemics, New York City

About the Author:

I am the founder and editor of Vagabond Journey. I’ve been traveling the world since 1999, through 91 countries. I am the author of the book, Ghost Cities of China and have written for The Guardian, Forbes, Bloomberg, The Diplomat, the South China Morning Post, and other publications. has written 3722 posts on Vagabond Journey. Contact the author.

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VBJ is currently in: New York City

22 comments… add one

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  • Lawrence March 12, 2020, 9:11 pm

    Spot in. This is insanity. I am in the anger phase right now and the fear porn in the media. There has to be some agenda or else why do it. Corporations and governments knew the economy would tank and are trying to launder the failure through a health crisis? I don’t know

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    • Wade Shepard March 12, 2020, 9:32 pm

      It’s pretty nuts. Data analysis isn’t a strong point in most populations and politicians / corporations / the media are experts at exploiting this lack of understanding. When 90% of 80+ year olds who get it recover this is probably not something to worry too much about.

      I take it you canceled your trip to South Asia?

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      • Bloody Larry March 13, 2020, 12:21 am

        Yea, first time I have cancelled with visas in my passport. Damn frustrating. I had a couple of really interesting radio stories lined up, did all the groundwork, had the contacts, distribution to media, everything set up. Boom. Gone like that. I have the worst luck. It is the first time the “fake news” has directly impacted my life and I am pissed. But of course it could be a lot worse. A co worker was in a surfing accident and is now paralysed, so life can be much much worse. And people are dying and it is important to remember that. Hopefully I can get it teed up again in November or something.

        Honestly if I was single I would have gone. My Australian family is very very supportive of all my insane exploits, but this was a bit too much and family is important.If they just reported this as a severe flu season and put out guidelines this would have blown over. I don’t get the fear porn.

        Our trip to USA might even be postponed as my parents can’t even go to church! Unreal.

        Five weeks of making amazing radio down the drain. Oh well, I am going to drink and listen to the Grateful Dead…..hehe

      • Wade Shepard March 14, 2020, 3:42 pm

        Man, that sucks. It’s too stupid. Every couple of years the media gets us riled up about some new viral outbreak: Nile virus, SARS, Bird flu, Swine flu, Ebola virus, Zika virus. This time they seem to have been successful at causing a measurable reaction.

        I was feeling all bad for myself about how I had an entire season of speaking events canceled until I started reading the stories about what other people had shut down. We’re in the same boat as everyone else … which is kind of interesting. We’re all floating in the same boat of bullshit.

      • Trevor March 13, 2020, 10:05 am

        Deaths caused by smoking and drinking also way above virus stats.

        1st case in Kenya. On a person incoming from London wtf.

      • Wade Shepard March 14, 2020, 3:33 pm

        I’m sort of looking forward to when everybody has it and we realize we’ve been duped. This is a colossal hoax. BUT it’s f’ing scary how poorly prepared the world was — what if this was an actual highly deadly disease? The optimist would say that this is good practice … but a smart person would probably say that we never learn.

  • Georgiy Romanov March 13, 2020, 6:51 am

    An interesting point of view. I am now in Japan where there is this disease. They are taking exactly the same measures as before, but now they are talking about the virus everywhere, canceling events and closing public places. March is the sakura season. Foreigners, like people on the street, can be counted on the fingers. Many businessmen talk about falling sales, while in China itself, due to closed borders and hysteria, people are left without sources of income. Against this background, the Russian economy has lost much due to falling oil prices.

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    • Wade Shepard March 14, 2020, 3:35 pm

      It’s nuts as there are downstream economic reactions from canceling events, etc. We probably risk more people dying from the economic downturn from this than from the virus itself.

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  • Rob March 13, 2020, 11:10 am

    Using the S Korea numbers (we ought to hire them to set up testing here) the death rate is 2 or 3 times the normal flu… but I’ve never met anyone who actually died from the flu…
    But all the reactions is real. They are quarantining places, factories in China that provide the bits & pieces that keep the world economy going are closed, folks who die from this are getting publicity and public places, stores and the like are closed.

    The economic damage is real and this new reality has to be dealt with…

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    • Wade Shepard March 14, 2020, 3:30 pm

      Hello Rob,

      Very true — we do need to implement South Korean methods to really get an idea of what risks we’re looking at. It’s being suspected now that massive numbers of people are currently infected in the USA and most don’t even know it.

      True that it’s probably looking as if it’s 2 to 3 times deadlier than the normal flu … but as the death rate from that is pretty low I believe there isn’t much to worry about … except for our own reaction, which I believe have made things far worse than it would have been otherwise — if Covid-19 was never properly identified and we all just thought we were having a particularly bad flu season. Anyway, we’ll see how it plays out. Maybe I’m wrong.

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  • Jaymie March 14, 2020, 1:20 am

    You are 100% correct! Businesses are being destroyed by this foolishness. Basically this is a cold. Very sad to see the masses controlled by fear and totally oblivious to what is happening to the economy due to the closing down of businesses of all types including Disney Parks, Universal Studios etc. The entire thing is ridiculous. Wade you have travelled the world and chose to come back home to New York, I did something similair 20 years ago and returned to my home state of California. I am working on leaving permanently this time, do you have a recommendation as to where to go? I have friends from New York who moved to Brazil 5 years ago and said that yes there are problems but they believe that the problems are only growing pains and that Brazil will be a free Republic. I will check back here with the hope you answer this question. It has been a long time since I have been out of country and genuinely am concerned with what is happening todayin real time all over the planet.

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    • Wade Shepard March 14, 2020, 3:16 pm

      Exactly. It’s pretty absurd, as tens of thousands of people in the USA have already died from the flu this year. For some reason we don’t give a shit about them — they are clearly not worth going out of our way for. But when an 82-year-old lady with a history of lung disease dies from Covid-19 we freak out and close everything. They just closed the school that my cousin works at in Rochester because one of their teachers tested positive for coronavirus. Her symptoms? The sniffles.

      Meanwhile, our media companies are laughing their way to the bank. They created a hysteria but, man, look at those viewership numbers! While our politicians engage in scorched earth campaigns because they don’t want to be held responsible — they know that if they don’t shut down everything their opponents are going to criticize them for not doing everything they could. While our experts are cashing in their “I told you so” cards, doing anything they can to make the outbreak seems more dangerous than what it really is and, by extension, themselves more valuable.

      People get sick, viruses like this are dangerous for at risk populations. This is normal. Tanking an economy and risking mass layoffs to save most people from the sniffles isn’t.

      As for your other question, are you looking to move to one place permanently? I wouldn’t recommend that. NYC is just another stop on the path for us. We didn’t put down roots in any sense here — other than the fact that I bought a stainless steel table to work on, a desktop computer, and two monitors for video editing.

      I’d just go to where the going is good. Work remotely — that seems to be the growing trend these days 😉

      As for places, I wouldn’t recommend Brazil. Too expensive (right?). But Argentina is facing another incident of currency devaluation, so it’s a lot cheaper. I’d recommend going there for the time being.

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      • Wade Shepard March 14, 2020, 3:24 pm

        It’s suspected that a large number of people in Washington state are currently infected with coronavirus … and don’t even know it: https://twitter.com/trvrb/status/1233970271318503426.

      • Jaymie March 16, 2020, 7:56 am

        Wade I just accidentally replied to this post on your next post, Coronavirus in New York part one. I wanted to add that there are doctors in Washington State asking where all the patients are as they are not seeing any. They were told that their hospitals would be full, but its not happening. The article is on State of The Nation. I will keep checking in while investigating Argentina, I’m thinking southern. This blog needs to go viral, don’t stop posting. I’m referring everyone I can. I dont know if you have checked out Jon Rappaport and Dr Sircus and Martin Armstrong but you should do a pod cast with them if you can.

  • Scott March 14, 2020, 10:43 pm

    Buy the dip or dump 😉

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    • Wade Shepard March 15, 2020, 1:51 pm

      Wait then buy. I guess that’s the strategy. Part of this could also be intentional market manipulation. But if it goes down too much buying will become moot. It will all be gone.

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  • Ted March 15, 2020, 1:21 pm

    I couldn’t agree more Wade. The Honk Kong Flu back in 1968 saw around 1 million die globally. In the US 33,800 died. That means about 50 million had the HKF, if we go by the 2% mark. Covid-19 does even come remotely close.

    What appears to have happened is the main stream media have warped this way out of proportion, something that is appearing to happen more and more regardless of the event.
    The hysteria is caused by the main stream media (I reckon on purpose). The question which lies in the background is: Why?

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    • Wade Shepard March 15, 2020, 1:49 pm

      Money, man, money. The bigger their audience the more they can charge advertisers. They are taking this crisis to the bank.

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    • Wade Shepard March 15, 2020, 2:00 pm

      It’s strange that we’ve seem to have forgotten that every once in a while a more deadly strain of flu / coronavirus spreads through the world and kills slightly more at risk people than usual. As of now, the “normal flu” has been way more deadly than Covid-19 but many get upset if we contextualize it like this. So far, the death toll from Covid-19 has been extremely low.

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      • Ted March 15, 2020, 3:04 pm

        While not a medical expert, the main thing I see about flu is that it is airborne and weaken as it spreads. The CV type virus is by ‘droplets’ (however minuscule) and that probably does not weaken until everyone is over it. So longer term isolation sounds like the answer, even though it’ll be a bit of a pain.

        As for the ads and money. Simple solution is a lot of people refuse to buy a company’s product ( and tell them so) that is advertised on a hyped up media report. Getting them to refuse is easier now with social media, so it could possibly work (might be interesting to see if such a thing takes place, hmmmm).

  • Jack April 2, 2020, 8:15 pm

    This post is like a snapshot in the past. Has your feelings changed at all as it has progressed? I’m sure we will all have different feelings about this in the next few weeks……the China and Korea data are based on people who received the BCG vaccination…..Italy represents data without BCG vaccination. We will see how it all shakes out. BCG vaccination seems to only reduce severity, not reduce the number of infections.

    I like to tell people about a group of 100 people. 40 of them won’t show symptoms but 60 of them will. Of those 60, 48 of them will have mild symptoms that don’t need any hospitalization or any other interventions. That leaves that need to be hospitalized. Of those 12, maybe 8 or 9 of them will just need oxygen and they’ll recover. Another 3 or 4 will need a mechanical ventilator. 2 of them will die.

    I hope my numbers grossly overestimate the negative outcomes when I look back on this in a few weeks.

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    • Wade Shepard April 3, 2020, 10:30 pm

      My opinion hasn’t changed at all. The problem is that we have no idea how many people have it. A report came out recently that says that 85% don’t even know they have it. I’d say we should probably multiply the infection number in the USA by ten, as very few are even with disruptive symptoms are even being tested, but we’d have to find out about this later. But that doesn’t really matter because many people are being hospitalized.

      I don’t believe — statistically, at least — that the virus is really that bad. We’re just not prepared for it. Many blame it on presidents or whoever, but nobody in the world was prepared (except for South Korea). We’ve become dependent on fast supply chains and being able to just order from China whenever we need something and, apparently, it wasn’t profitable for companies to produce and stockpile ventilators. We’ve known that a “bad influenza season” could be coming and we knew we had to prepare — there were gov contracts handed out and blah, blah, blah. We just didn’t have capacity or the will to do so.

      So now we all have to sit inside and watch our lives fall apart because of this.

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