Pandemic? It's still early...

Comparing the development of Wuhan Coronavirus and SARS

A little over a week ago, I happened to watch “Explained: The Next Pandemic” on Netflix, which does a great job covering the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (“SARS”) outbreak and discusses the potential for future outbreaks of new diseases. So, when I first saw the early headlines of some mysterious new virus in China, I took particular notice and have followed the story figuring I may eventually end up writing something on this topic.

What has really surprised me however, is the fact that I am writing a post like this so soon. Unlike the early stages of SARS, the number of confirmed cases has grown rapidly. So rapidly in fact, it has already started to impact travel, business plans, the stock market, and just generally add to the already overwhelming burden of the daily existential crises weighing on our collective consciousness.

So, given the relevance to the world of economics and finance, I pulled a bunch of reports from the World Health Organization (“WHO”) to assess the situation thus far to see how the Wuhan Coronavirus compares to SARS:

So, the bottom left is the new virus on the block everyone is in a panic over - the Wuhan Coronavirus. Things are still in the very early phases but there are 2,798 confirmed cases by the WHO and 80 confirmed deaths as of their seventh situation report, which is already significant in comparison to SARS. And, the cases reported by WHO are likely to grow, as BNO News has reported 4,295 cases and 106 fatalities.

There is no way to know just how many cases we will end up with. In the case of SARS, there was an early period of accelerating growth and, eventually, an inflection and tapering.

While the Wuhan Coronavirus is not the same as SARS and there are many unique factors that are still in the process of being discovered, lessons learned during the SARS outbreak do have value. We are better prepared and more knowledgeable.

Unfortunately, it’s still too early to know the trajectory of how the Wuhan flu will develop or how many cases there will be. It’s possible the virus has some properties that put it into a deadly sweet spot for a wider outbreak.

One particular factor I noticed in my comparison between the two viruses is the death rate. Right now, a lot of reporting is saying the Wuhan Coronavirus isn’t as deadly as SARS. Unfortunately, it’s really too early to tell.

Consider the death rate for SARS in the chart above, which started around 3.5% and stayed in that range for several weeks. Right now, the Wuhan Coronavirus is hovering just under 3%. But the death rate for SARS rose to an almost unthinkable 10% when it was all over. We still don’t know who will recover from the Wuhan flu and who will not. So, the death rate could still increase.

Ultimately, it’s a situation to keep a close watch on given the exponential nature of an outbreak. At the same time, there are so many people who have dedicated their lives to helping us be as prepared as possible through their research, experience, and planning. So, read the news and follow things as much as you want but don’t give in to panic or sensationalism and, as always with these terrible situations, continue to hope for the best.


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