The European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) have been monitoring the pandemic globally since 31st December 2019. They even have a dedicated page showing the data they’ve been receiving from multiple sources (typically ministries and public health authorities around the world). This page is updated daily (around 13:00hrs) and it shows, amongst other things, how the virus has progressed around the globe and how effective some countries have been at fighting it, where others appear to be lagging.
The ECDC data showed that reported cases in China stayed mainly in single digit figures for almost 3 weeks (between 31st December 2019 and 18th January 2020) but then shot up to 136 cases on the 19th January. By the 28th January that had increased to 1,755 reported cases and by 5th February (just over 2 weeks later) it peaked at 3,873 reported case. With the exception of an unusual spike on the 13th February that hit 15,141, the figures from China show a marked decline in reported cases over the following 6 weeks and, in fact, over the last 3 weeks the Chinese have maintained daily figures of well below 200.
By contrast, the ECDC data also shows that the first reported case outside of China was on 13th January and figures remained more or less in single digits for 2 weeks (with the odd exception). In fact, figures actually stayed below 50 until the 10th February (for almost 4 weeks) and didn’t exceed 100 cases until 18th February, after which it started to surge with big jumps almost daily over the last 5 weeks. In fact, today’s figures show that we’ve reached 32,869 reported cases outside China while China only reported 162 new cases today.
Naturally, the question we have to ask is how have the Chinese managed to reduce figures so dramatically, in such a short time and keep them down? I don’t imagine it’s entirely down to restricting freedom of movement and hand washing, as we should also be seeing the benefits of that in Europe and elsewhere? The good news is that the Chinese have been sharing data with the rest of the world. In fact, I first stumbled across the “Chinese Clinical Guidance for COVID-19 Pneumonia Diagnosis and Treatment.” document, published by The Chinese National Health Commission, while I was browsing through information on the American College of Cardiology website. It’s a fairly extensive document and I’m no medical expert but the key thing to note is that they’re not just talking about how to diagnose and manage a condition, they’re actually talking about how to treat it. I assume they might be talking about how to treat symptoms, rather than how to cure the disease but there is one thing that jumps off the page, not least because I’d recently read something about it in a Skwawkbox article.
The Chinese Clinical Guidance for COVID-19 Pneumonia Diagnosis and Treatment document covers everything from information on the Virus, how it’s passed on, its incubation period, the symptoms people exhibit, what it does to multiple organs, how to diagnose and collect data and treatment (amongst other things). While ‘Treatment’ is a broad category and includes things like bed rest, hydration, monitoring the electrolyte balance and oxygen levels, conducting various blood tests, and possibly providing antibacterial drugs if necessary, it also stipulates an ‘anti-viral therapy’ regime that includes Interferon Alpha (or Alfa) 2b, as well as a number of other drugs and even breaks down the dosage and how it should be administered…
The Skwawkbox article describes Interferon Alpha 2b as a..
“Antiviral medication that was used by China in its successful fight against the virus. It does not prevent infection or cure the disease, but it attacks the multiplication of the virus within cells and combats the complications that can cause viral sufferers to become critically ill and die – reducing both death rates and the burden on intensive care units.”
Skwawkbox also reference a Yale University press article by Helen Yaffe in which she explains that Interferon Alpha 2b has been produced in China since 2003 by “the enterprise ChangHeber, a Cuban/Chinese joint venture” and has multiple applications, including treatment for a number of other deadly diseases such as dengue, Hepatitis B and C, shingles, HIV-AIDS and even certain types of carcinomas. Skwawkbox explain that Interferon Alpha 2b is actually already licensed for use in the UK but the Department of Health and the NHS are ignoring calls to build up stockpiles of the drug and are putting potentially millions of lives at risk.
We can only speculate as to the reasons why the British government and perhaps other western governments might wish to avoid buying in stocks of Interferon Alpha 2b. I would speculate that key amongst their reasons might be because of pressure from big Pharma. The mainstream press and news channels keep repeating the line that all these various organisations from around the world are working collaboratively to find a cure but, let’s be frank here, certain private sponsors would love nothing more than to be the first to find a cure for a life threatening global pandemic and some governments might well be prepared to hold out for a cure rather than pay for a treatment that manages the disease and allows patients to recover naturally, even if that means some people might have to die in the meantime. Some of you might recall that a little over a week ago, Spotlight reported on US manoeuvres to secure exclusive rights to possible COVID-19 vaccine. German government sources had reported that the U.S. administration were bidding for exclusive access to a potential COVID-19 vaccine that was being developed by German firm, CureVac. While the US claimed the drug would still be shared with the world, having the rights to a COVID-19 vaccine would of course literally allow them to name their price.
Being the cynic that I am I dare say there might be some in this pro-austerity Tory government who might secretly be rather relieved at the prospect of the most vulnerable in society (the elderly, the disabled, those who are unable to work due to illness, the homeless etc) just dying off so they don’t have to worry about spending more money on the NHS, or on Social care, or on building houses, or on benefits etc. Perhaps that’s what Boris Johnson meant when he said we should all just “take it on the chin”, except, I suspect the likes of Johnson and his ilk who tend to have private health care and access to treatments not widely available on the NHS don’t actually include themselves in that number. I imagine they see us as frontline soldiers and themselves as the ‘officer class’ sitting as far away from the action as is humanly possible (as always).