For those still not convinced that Covid-19 is a dangerous disease

Olivia Miller
Picture by Unsplash

Professor Martin Michaelis and Dr Mark Wass of the School of Biosciences have explained how confirmation bias can prevent people from seeing the obvious impact of the Covid-19 pandemic. They said:

‘Although Covid-19 has caused devastation around the globe and not least in the UK, some voices still argue that all the measures are not worth the fuss for a disease that predominantly affects the elderly. This seems surprising if you have a look at the data. In the UK, already more than one in a thousand people have died, and there is no end in sight. Currently, hundreds of people die each day (1,041 deaths were documented in the UK on 6 January 2021) and these numbers will grow further as long as the number of infections continue to increase. We are on a path that will inevitably cost tens of thousands of further lives. Covid-19 is also not solely a disease of the elderly. In fact, in the US, Covid-19 has overtaken unintentional drug overdosing as the number one cause of death among 25- to 44-year olds.

‘Unfortunately, there is no natural end to Covid-19 deaths, at least not soon. Data indicate that at least 70% to 80% of the population will become infected in the absence of measures. At a death rate of 0.5%, this means about 240,000 to 270,000 deaths in the UK. Actually, the Covid-19 death rate has been 0.9% so far in the UK, which would result in about 430,000 to 490,000 deaths. For those who wonder why has this not happened yet, the answer is quite simple – we have reduced the spread by lockdowns, distancing measures, and the tier system restrictions.

‘Of course, there are those who will say that the measures are far worse than the disease. Without doubt, the Covid-19 restrictions cause their own damage but there is no evidence that this damage would exceed the damage caused by Covid-19 itself. Unhindered Covid-19 spread could soon overwhelm hospitals (many already are), resulting in a breakdown of health care that would relegate us for a while to a time before a modern health system. There is no imaginable scenario under which unhindered Covid-19 spread would cause fewer deaths than with restrictions.

‘But are we unnecessarily harming our economy? Evidence suggests that no, we are not. In fact, there is much evidence to suggest that the best way to protect the economy is to suppress Covid-19 first. The economy of Taiwan has grown this year, because Taiwan has kept cases so low that the country could ease restrictions. This and other evidence tell us that protecting the economy and saving lives are the same thing.

‘”If this is all so clear, why am I finding so much information that tells me otherwise?” This is a question we have all heard at various stages during the pandemic. The first answer is that unfortunately nothing is so absurd that it would not be propagandised by someone. Some attention seekers will claim everything that gives them attention and recognition. Social media can quickly give members the impression of being part of a large group, although their views may only be shared by a tiny minority.

‘The second answer is that we are all subject to confirmation bias. We tend to accept everything that supports our world view and ignore everything that does not. Since Covid-19 research currently happens in real-time in the public eye, you can find support for even the craziest ideas in research articles in respected journals (including that Covid-19 reached the earth from outer space). Solid evidence is supported by multiple studies using different approaches.

‘However, if you are desperate to find a certain piece of evidence that supports your world view, you will find it and can use it, even though it may be an outlier that is contradicted by the vast majority of available evidence. Therefore, we all have to remain open and also consider information that we do not like to hear.’

Professor Michaelis and Dr Wass run a joint computational/ wet laboratory.  Dr Wass is a computational biologist with expertise in structural biology and big data analysis. Prof Michaelis’ research is focused on the identification and investigation of drugs and their mechanisms of action, with a focus on cancer and viruses. With regard to viruses, Prof Michaelis and Dr Wass work on virus-host cell interactions and antiviral drug targets. In the cancer field, they investigate drug resistance in cancer. In collaboration with Professor Jindrich Cinatl (Goethe-University, Frankfurt am Main), they manage and develop the Resistant Cancer Cell Line (RCCL) Collection, a unique collection of 2,000 cancer cell lines with acquired resistance to anti-cancer drugs. They are also interested in meta-research that investigates research practices in the life sciences.

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