Coronavirus (254) The harms of exaggerated information and non-evidence-based measures (2)

29 March, 2020

The paper by John P. A. Ioannidis I circulated this afternoon noted that

- Even major peer-reviewed journals have already published wrong, sensationalist items

- Early estimates of the projected proportion of global population that will be infected seem markedly exaggerated

- Early estimates of case fatality rate may be markedly exaggerated

An example of this is one poorly chosen word - 'expected' - in a leaked document from Public Health England.

The document was reportedly seen by The Guardian newspaper, which quoted from it: 'As many as 80% of the population are expected to be infected with Covid-19 in the next 12 months, and up to 15% (7.9 million people) may require hospitalisation.'

This rapidly disseminated in the mass media and general medical journals:

'80 per cent of the population are expected to be infected', reported the Daily Mail

'8 million Britons to be hospitalised - secret Government document claims', The Express

'The model showed the disease infecting 80% of the British population in three to four months... Using a conservative 0.9% for Britain, the model put the death toll [in the UK] by the end of the summer at over half a million.' The Economist.

'The covid-19 outbreak is expected to last around one year (until spring 2021), with around 80% of the population infected and up to 15% of people (7.9 million) requiring hospitalisation in the UK, a briefing document produced by Public Health England for the government has said.' The BMJ

'Expected' to most readers implies 'likely'. And yet such a scenario is by no means likely. As The Guardian notes: 'Prof Chris Whitty, the government’s chief medical adviser, has previously described that figure as the worst-case scenario and suggested that the real number would turn out to be less than that.' Looking at the numbers in China, Italy, Spain, we are seeing tragic loss of life, but nowhere near as much as the wost case scenario described.

Seldom has a single word caused so much anxiety.

Best wishes, Neil

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HIFA profile: Neil Pakenham-Walsh is coordinator of the HIFA global health campaign (Healthcare Information For All - www.hifa.org ), a global community with more than 19,000 members in 177 countries, interacting on six global forums in four languages. Twitter: @hifa_org FB: facebook.com/HIFAdotORG neil@hifa.org