How Did the World Miss Covid-19’s Silent Unfold? – Slashdot


Long-time Slashdot reader hankwang writes: The New York Times has an article on how the transmission of Covid-19 by seemingly healthy individuals was discovered in Germany on January 27, but the report was discredited because of a quibble over whether it was really asymptomatic or rather presymptomatic or oligosymptomatic transmission. Oligosymptomatic means that the symptoms are so mild that they are not recognized as symptoms… It took until March before asymptomatic transmission was publicly acknowledged as playing a significant role.

From the article. (Alternate source here):
Dr. Rothe, an infectious disease specialist at Munich University Hospital, and her colleagues were among the first to warn the world [on January 30]. But even as evidence accumulated from other scientists, leading health officials expressed unwavering confidence that symptomless spreading was not important. In the days and weeks to come, politicians, public health officials and rival academics disparaged or ignored the Munich team. Some actively worked to undermine the warnings at a crucial moment, as the disease was spreading unnoticed…

It is now widely accepted that seemingly healthy people can spread the virus, though uncertainty remains over how much they have contributed to the pandemic. Though estimates vary, models using data from Hong Kong, Singapore and China suggest that 30 to 60 percent of spreading occurs when people have no symptoms… The Chinese health authorities had explicitly cautioned that patients were contagious before showing symptoms. A Japanese bus driver was infected while transporting seemingly healthy tourists from Wuhan. And by the middle of February, 355 people aboard the Diamond Princess cruise ship had tested positive. About a third of the infected passengers and staff had no symptoms…

[P]ublic health officials saw danger in promoting the risk of silent spreaders. If quarantining sick people and tracing their contacts could not reliably contain the disease, governments might abandon those efforts altogether… Plus, preventing silent spreading required aggressive, widespread testing that was then impossible for most countries. “It’s not like we had some easy alternative,” said Dr. Libman, the Canadian doctor. “The message was basically: ‘If this is true, we’re in trouble.'” European health officials say they were reluctant to acknowledge silent spreading because the evidence was trickling in and the consequences of a false alarm would have been severe…

As the research coalesced in March, European health officials were convinced. “OK, this is really a big issue,” Dr. Agoritsa Baka, a senior European Union doctor, recalled thinking. “It plays a big role in the transmission…” Since then, the C.D.C., governments around the world and, finally, the World Health Organization have recommended that people wear masks in public.

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