I know it’s bad to obsess about statistics for live issues – whether election results or pandemics – but whilst recognising there are individual people and tragedies behind every number I have to admit it has been fascinating to look at stats on worldometers.info and gov.uk and Nigerian Centre for Disease Control.

One thing is clear – as different countries try different techniques within their own abilities and contexts, not all stats are comparable. So the UK issued ‘recovery’ stats for about a week, 15-22 March, then stopped at 135 recoveries. This does bad things for worldometers.info‘s graph of deaths vs recoveries, which is clearly more meaningful for other countries.

Nigeria rightly (but possibly prematurely) celebrated when the first detected case recovered and for some time the recoveries exceeded deaths, unlike the situation in the UK where deaths have seemed to far exceed recoveries.

There seem to be 2 significant factors at play here:

  1. Even though the UK outbreak started later than South Korea’s and China’s, by now there must be more than 135 people who tested positive for covid-19 at some point and who are now recovered. How many?
  2. Until about now, the UK has mainly been testing people admitted to hospital.
    1. (By the end of March about 1/6 of tests seemed to be positive.)
    2. In the UK context, people with mild symptoms of covid-19 are told to stay at home in self-isolation and only call an ambulance to get to hospital if symptoms become very serious. Thus it is not surprising if by the time someone is tested they may be seriously sick and much less likely to recover than the untested but positive covid-copers who stay at home.

There are 2 ‘recovery’ numbers that we don’t know in the UK at the moment. The true recovery figure is never going to be known (unless mass-scale testing is implemented to detect those who are immune having recovered), but the number of tested positive cases who haven’t died after some reasonable period would also give us a likely approximation to the number of people who have recovered.

Recovery from Covid-19 seems to take around 7–14 days, so I tried several numbers. Here’s a slice of my table, using data from gov.uk

Tot CasesDaily CasesDaily DeathsTot DeathsOfficial recovrd[Model] in treatment[Model] Mort. rateAve.reco-verytime(days)

710111214
Feb 239      –
0
1
      9      9      8      8      4
2413      4
0
5
      9      9      9      8      8
2513      –
0
4
      9      9      9      9      8
2613      –
0
4
      9      9      9      9      8
2713      –
0
4
      9      9      9      9      9
2819      6
0
10
      9      9      9      9      9
Feb 2923401499999
Mar 135     12
0
26
      9      9      9      9      9
240      5
0
31
     13      9      9      9      9
3     5111
0
42
     13      9      9      9      9
4     8534
0
76
     13      9      9      9      9
5    11429
0
105
     13     13      9      9      9
6    16046
0
151
     19     13     13      9      9
7    2064611
193
221212128
Mar 8    2716512
258
331111117
9    3215024
308
3615999
10    3735226
360
45171377
11    4568306
43732%792917137
12    59513928
57235%1063227155
13    802207614
76740%1463726215
14 1,066264721
102653%1856430192
Mar 15  1,396    330    1435
134569%2367950160
16  1,548    152    2055    52146365%2661055930-15
17  1,955    407    1671    65184162%3021358943-20
18  2,631    676    32103
247164%35316810357-18
19  3,274    643    41144    79306870%45117712762-30
20  3,988    714    33177
371765%62519614494-17
21  5,023  1,035    56233    93470273%83322314088-27
Mar 22  5,688    665    48281   135531575%111531417592-10
23  6,655    967    54335
619973%1213467260121-14
24  8,082  1,427    87422
748771%1533644380173-49
25  9,534  1,452    41463
873258%2168933603339-7
26 11,663  2,129   115578
1059754%269697081848817
27 14,548  2,885   181759
1315254%3229119678963743
28 17,094  2,546   2601019
1554666%4004161293652947
29 19,527  2,433   2091228
1757263%446020461403727168
3022,146  2,619   1801408
1951554%5247258018661223140
3125,155  3,009   3811789
2188155%6293323421991485166

Trying to match up the official data with the modelled/speculative data, it appears that somewhere between 11-12 days is the average time in treatment in hospital before either (unreported) recovery or death. Without knowing details of individual cases it seems likely that some people may die sooner than 12 days and some longer.

The key takeaway is that from the end of March, it looks like there’s a 50-50 chance of people admitted to hospital dying or surviving it. I’m not wanting to scaremonger here, but I think this does warrant us taking things seriously.

We don’t like to talk about death too much, and we especially don’t like talking about a risk of death that we have limited ability to do anything about. With covid-19 we have a risk of death which we cannot satisfactorily control, hence all the lockdowns and general panic (or denial) in the Western world.

However, my experience of life in Nigeria and other parts of Africa has been that people are not too surprised by death. Africans might be uncomfortable talking openly about the risk of death, lest they look like a bad-wisher. I think Africans can often handle not being in total control of things, since only possibly presidents could maintain that level of illusion for long.

How do we respond?

  • Amusing videos and entertainment has its place but it’s not a sufficient response.
  • Social distancing and other preventative measures will help, but they don’t guarantee any particular person will be fine.
  • Cutting up onions and placing them around the room may keep you busy, but it’s a distraction and a false hope.
  • Pointing out that most deaths are from at-risk people with underlying health conditions (or old age) may help some feel better, but it dehumanises these people and if you do have underlying health conditions then it won’t make you feel any better.
  • Throwing up our hands and saying “well if it’s for you it won’t go by you” doesn’t really help either.

Really the top priority for anyone right now would be to take Jesus seriously and make sure that whatever happens to our body with coronavirus, we are in good relationship with the real creator God, so that we can have good reason to be confident that we will be in good hands – God’s hands – through death.

That’s a reminder I appreciated from last Sunday’s livestream service at church (Luke’s gospel chapter 12). Perhaps the tricky thing at a time of national panic is to find a way to share this with skeptical neighbours without sounding like some kind of crackpot peddling another questionable conspiracy theory.

Livestream service from The Tron Church, Glasgow, Sunday 29 March.

The good news is that we just need to take Jesus up on his clear offer of eternal life.

In many ways covid-19 changes nothing significantly. The mortality rate for humans is still 100%. It’s just now we have our normal illusions of adequacy and control shattered for a bit. That’s helpful. The psychological crutch of idolatry or atheism (practical or theoretical) does no-one any good really.

And that’s why it’s worth us helping translate the Bible into local languages in Nigeria. What the world needs is not just clear and reliable information on covid-19, but clear and reliable information on sin, death, judgment and God’s solution.

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