Errare humanum est, perseverare diabolicum

By Kaarle Parikka, PhD in Viral Microbiology and Nina Wauters, PhD in Environmental Ecology

We present here three major scientific errors committed during the taking of measures to contain the coronavirus epidemic, which allow everyone to understand the media, citizen and political hype that we are facing today. The scientific data presented here is based on a report written by a multidisciplinary group including scientists, public health managers, journalists, etc.(1). As this report was published in June 2020, an audit and update based on the scientific literature published since then was performed.

1. We must not forget the existing scientific literature, this virus is not that unknown

The first step, which every student knows, is bibliographic research, which in this case means reading existing scientific reports and publications. From the beginning, the  » new coronavirus  » was referred to as causing  » new and unknown  » symptoms. However, the name of this virus, « SARS-CoV‑2 » (meaning  » severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2  » in English) should have been a warning to us. This is not the first coronavirus infecting humans that causes acute respiratory complications.

Neglecting literature research is like starting a horror movie series in the middle. How to deal with the monsters of the Alien series if the heroine, Ellen Ripley, did not discover until thesecond episode that they lay eggs in human bodies and that their blood is made of acid? The first episodes would show that the coronaviridae family includes several viruses that not only infect animals, but at least 7 of which also infect humans. Among these, there are 4 that cause upper respiratory infections manifesting as « colds » and 3 others that induce in some individuals acute respiratory syndromes: SARS-CoV‑1 (SARS that occurred from 2002 to 2004 in Southeast Asia), MERS (Middle East outbreak in 2012) and now SARS-CoV‑2.

The numerous articles already published on the other coronaviruses bring us precious information about the very probable functioning of the virus: its mode of transmission (which is not only by droplets, but also by the air to a large extent), its origin (the « animal reservoirs »: the virus circulates therefore currently also via wild and domestic animals) and thus its molecular aspect (its size of the order of 100 nanometers, that is to say one tenth of a millionth of a meter, its genome and its mode of replication in the cells) The scientific publications published since then on SARS-CoV‑2 confirm these working hypotheses. This means that from the beginning, understanding that the virus circulates through air and animal reservoirs would have avoided the major mistake of trying to « block » the transmission of the virus, especially by controlling the movement of people.

2. Knowing the actual mortality of SARS-CoV‑2, i.e. the danger it poses to the population, is a necessity for crisis management. After 10 months, it’s about time!

The second approach is to observe the data. The scientific method is mainly based on observation, the emission of hypotheses, then prediction and finally the verification of these hypotheses. Here we come to the second major mistake made by many governments. To decide what measures to take against an epidemic, it seems logical to us to know its origin (by bibliography), but especially its behavior (by epidemiological observation).

For this, it is necessary to know and differentiate :

  1. the number of people who carry (and therefore can potentially transmit) the virus;
  2. Among the latter, the number of people who are ill (i.e. those with symptoms, minor or major);
  3. among the sick, those who die. It is also a question of determining what exactly these patients die of. Over time, it is also possible to identify the categories of people who are most at risk. In other words, it is a matter of defining the  » prevalence  » of the disease, the number of sick « cases » in the population during a given period. However, since the beginning of this crisis, the statistics have obviously not only been badly presented and based on incomplete and sometimes totally false data, but they have also been abused by the media without providing the general public with a clear understanding of the situation, and always from a catastrophist perspective.

From the beginning, there has been confusion between the mortality rate per infected person (tested positive) and the mortality of people who are critically ill or in the Intensive Care Unit. The first figure is relatively low (in the range of 0.2–0.4%) if one takes the trouble to do the calculation based on existing, but apparently unused, public data. Any medical student and person with common sense can understand this. The mortality rate of severely affected people is logically higher (at least 10 times). Does it make sense then that this fallacious reasoning was published by the prestigious scientific journal The New England Journal of Medicine on February 28, 2020(2)? From then on, all mortality models calculated on an incorrect data led to absolutely catastrophic scenarios and led states to confine their population and to take undemocratic measures, unjustified if one is based on scientific practices.

That this fundamental error has never been corrected or even admitted is questionable. Even today, we compare the positive tests from the peak of the epidemic in March-April, when only severely ill people were tested, and the positive tests now, which are mostly asymptomatic, and of course very numerous since we test much more. It’s like comparing apples and pears to count bananas! Statistics are easily manipulated: one could even demonstrate in a very perverse way that there is 100% mortality in dead people! The current diagnostic tool (PCR) is limited to confirming a diagnosis of SARS-CoV‑2 among those who have a cold or flu caused by another virus. On the other hand, tests based on immunology (such as serological tests) can detect the presence of the virus in the body of people, including asymptomatic people.

All the mortality models calculated on an incorrect data have led to absolutely catastrophic scenarios and have led states to confine their population and to take undemocratic measures, unjustified if one is based on scientific practices

On the other hand, the observation of the virus has also made it possible to understand that it has specificities: it acts very quickly and can go deep into the bronchi. However, it does not kill alone. Most coronavirus deaths were victims of bacterial pneumonia (therefore curable by antibiotics) treated too late. Delaying care for the sick and quarantining yourself at home until you are finally admitted to the ICU when it is too late is nonsense.

3. We must move from the impossible management of fear to a management of risk which is perfectly possible and desirable

This brings us to the third mistake: disproportionate measures. By reacting with a strict containment of the population, the intention was to « flatten » the curve of the epidemic. This only makes sense if the virus is limited to infecting human hosts. Sweden has, since the first cases that could not be explained by direct contact, chosen the only scientifically logical policy: to focus on people and not on containing the virus. A short lockdown might have been justified in order to organize our health care system, but creating panic and de facto paralyzing front-line medicine was not really justified. Once this infernal machine has been set in motion, the whole litany of measures has only served to generate a panic fear that will end up killing more than the virus itself.

Sweden has, since the first cases that could not be explained by direct contact, chosen the only scientifically logical policy: to focus on people and not on containing the virus

In all public health measures, it is always essential to make a  » cost-benefit  » calculation (called a risk analysis). As for the benefit, given the low mortality of this epidemic and the highly variable effectiveness of these measures, it is likely to be low. Clearly, during an Ebola outbreak, all of these measures would make a difference. But would we take these against a cold outbreak? SARS-CoV‑2 is certainly neither, but why not focus on proper care, which would decrease the real danger of mortality, for example, by more widespread use of antibiotics to avoid secondary bacterial infections.

The societal cost of these measures, on the other hand, was first ignored and then systematically underestimated. The health (due to the many untreated or unscreened people), economic, social, psychological and educational impacts promise to be gigantic. The waves of bankruptcies, infant mortality (Unicef estimates that 6,000 children die every day from preventable causes due to lack of care, partly because of the impoverishment of their families), malnutrition (the activity of many farmers has come to a halt), cancers that are too advanced because they have not been detected, domestic violence burn-outs, depressions and suicides, are only beginning to happen.

The  » precautionary principle  » cannot be used over and over again to justify everything, especially when it is misunderstood. This principle recommends taking proactive risk management measures. When experts present hypotheses that are more alarming than the others, they take the authorities hostage by playing on the fear of the citizens. It is no longer about science. As a precautionary measure, the cost and benefit of each measure should have been evaluated, including the containment measures, the restrictions on individual freedoms and the wearing of masks! Wearing the mask  » in case it saves someone  » is not a good scientific reason. Since the beginning of the crisis, many authorities (including our Minister of Health), had rightly explained that they were only useful against wet contamination, i.e. drops emitted when coughing, and not against contamination by aerosols. Why this change of opinion if not because it is a management of Fear and not a management of risks?

This extremely divisive and topical subject of masks, as reported in numerous white cards and open letters from hundreds of doctors and scientists(3), does not stand up to an extensive reading of the scientific bibliography. Science tells us that the imposition of these is only useful in hospitals (which is, by definition, a place of concentration of sick people), when it is worn by professionals following a strict protocol, which is not the case for the general public. Viral particles are approximately the size of aerosolized tobacco particles. Just like tobacco smoke, the virus will circulate no matter what, through the mask and on the sides, suspended in the air sometimes for several hours… On the other hand, the generalized wearing of masks, proposed in spite of scientific evidence, has had two major destructive effects: the reinforcement of panic within the population (including the medical profession) and the politicization of this tool which has become a symbol.

Science tells us that the imposition of masks is only useful in hospitals, when worn by professionals following a strict protocol, which is not the case for the general public

Vaccines will probably soon be the object of a similar struggle. It is not a question of being for or against vaccination, but, as with other measures, of establishing a cost/benefit ratio. Not all vaccines are created equal. Some viral diseases such as polio and smallpox have been controlled by vaccines because they are only transmitted by humans and by direct contact. SARS-CoV‑2 is a virus that is not only airborne and animal-borne, but mutates at a very high rate. In this case, finding a vaccine that actually works is a challenge. It is very likely that a vaccine against SARS-CoV‑2, like seasonal influenza vaccines (which rarely exceed 50% efficacy), will show low efficacy, and moreover will need to be continually updated as the virus mutates.

We therefore question the measures taken by our government, knowing that the information on which this crisis management is based is incorrect and incomplete, and has led to conclusions that are just as incorrect. We therefore demand, as do many physicians and health care personnel who have signed white cards and manifestos (Docs 4 open debate, Belgium Beyond Covid, Corona Manifest, Transparency Coronavirus, see note 3), correct and proportionate measures, which take into account the negative impacts that this crisis has already caused

* To err is human, to persevere is diabolical 

Notes et références
  1. http://corona-report-2020-mz.s3-website-us-west‑2.amazonaws.com, aussi disponible sur https://mznet.info. Les deux auteurs du résumé publié ici ont eu l’appui des auteurs de l’étude parue en juin.
  2. Brown, R. (2020). Public Health Lessons Learned From Biases in Coronavirus Mortality Overestimation. Disaster Medicine and Public Health Preparedness, 1–8. doi:10.1017/dmp.2020.298
  3. Références au 30/09/2020:
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