Apocalypse? Not yet.

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It’s hard to pick the fact from fiction and half-truth in media reports on COVID-19.

Social and mass media have combined to create an information overload, and may have difficulty explaining the more extreme predictions they’re making about an epidemic disease whose individual clinical impact and community impact seem grossly out of propotion.  This blog will do nothing to add to the mountain of alarmist reportage.

Rather, this is a place to celebrate the quiet professionalism of specimen collectors and clinical laboratory workers who doggedly push though an unprecedented mountain of clinical specimens to identify people with the virus. Note “with the virus”. Just for once, the phrase ‘diagnosed with’ may be an accurate assessment. As ‘with’ does not always equate to causation, detection of SARS-CoV-2 does not necessarily mean infection or verifiable disease. When a team from the University of Padua who tested everyone in the town of Vo, they found positive test results in asymptomatic individuals. All test-positive people were quarantined. The results have been impressive, in contrast with other locations nearby where infection continues to circulate.

In Australia, the crude mortality rate appears lower than the initial estimates and may even be falling, thanks to an enormous national effort by public health laboratories. Once again, accurate test capability is at the heart of control and containment measures.

So, we have to recognise the backroom team of lab staff that are stretched beyond their normal limits by the current workload. While it is great to have the WHO’s Director General insisting on widespread testing, we have to ask how the labs doing the testing are going to keep this level of output going for several months on end.

And that’s in G20 nations that are able to cover the cost. How are middle and low income countries going to achieve this kind of intensive laboratory-grounded public health response?

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