Covid-19, the calculated risk and side effects. The point of view of science


The World Assembly of Astronomers was held in Prague in August 2006. Nobody remembers that date, but he left us a famous image: the room crowded with raised hands. A vote was underway to decide whether Pluto should be considered a planet in the future.

It is clear that science is not made “by a show of hands”, it is not the method that is called into question. He raises his hand to decide which indicator is worth more than the others, which should become the true unit of measurement.

For the first time since the beginning of the Covid-19 health emergency in Italy, the political decision-maker does not embrace the positions of the scientific community, which has been increasingly skeptical in terms of reopening. The key to understanding the expression “Calculated Risk” used by Giuseppe Conte to justify the reopening of the Italian economy does not have the word “risk” as its focus, but precisely its being “calculated”, a concept that in our mind assumes that the aforementioned risk is not only “known”, but “considered for decision purposes”.

Many rumors are stressing that we don’t know who calculated this risk, and especially how. A sacrosanct objection. Put yourself in the shoes of an epidemiologist: there is no serious statistical evidence that guarantees that things will not get worse, that health systems will not be overwhelmed again, and that there will be no new growth in severe cases and deaths. One fact: Lombardy had over 4,000 new infections in the week of 9-17 May, after two months of lockdown. There is also no evidence that phase two (its transitory part, from May 4) has served anything, since if a person had become infected in full phase 2, say on May 13, probably on May 18 he would begin to feel some symptoms, but his relatives, met – say on May 15 – would probably be enjoying the beetle warmth unaware. The tracking app was supposed to be available, but as of May 21, there is still no news on the horizon.

However here the question is another: the arbitrator is no longer the epidemiologist, or the scientist in general. Any statistical forecast becomes less important when it has been decided that the unit of measurement is the economy of the short term. The Italian state recognizes and protects the right to health in its constitution, but legitimately Saturday chose to guarantee the health of the collective economic system. It is not necessarily a wrong choice, but it must be clear to us that it is an arbitrary choice for a scientist but political in substance.

In politics there are situations in which it is not possible to save goat and cabbage, and the ethical dilemma should not be trivialized. But here it is feared that this great refusal will not save even the cabbages: we know that there is the possibility that things are still going wrong, and in that case we go back and close it again.

It will be the responsibility of citizens to be responsible. The problem is that we have reopened everything without citizens knowing where the risk of contagion is really greater. Aside from nursing homes and hospitals, which we know have been hotbeds of contagion, to date no data has been made available about where people got infected, neither at the beginning of the epidemic, nor during the two months of lockdown, nor in these weeks that we are living, which makes it complex to understand where you are most at risk: at the bar, at the hairdresser, at home or with your relative? Meanwhile, again, abbiamo 4000 cases detected in Lombardy in a week and citizens do not know where and when they are infected. In hindsight, Lombard citizens do not even know how many of the new cases registered in their province, or ATS, refer to the RSA or the territory.

THEthere is a risk, but it is not calculated. If, on the one hand, just significant limits are imposed on commercial establishments (sanitization, gel, distancing), there is no effective, quantitative brake on social gatherings between people in their homes. Here too, it is mathematics: according to which calculation do you say no to the gatherings of 20 people, if then there is full freedom of individual movement? Let’s say that each of us tomorrow sees 2 friends, individually. The next day each of them will see 2 different ones, and each of them still two different ones, and so on for a week. There are 254 people involved, besides me, if I only limit myself to seeing two friends one day only. In the meantime I, however, already on the second day I may have met two other friends in their homes, other than those of the day before, who in turn would have met other people in their home the following days. Not to mention the cohabitants, who in turn could see friends. It is clear that this is a schematic situation, but it gives an idea of ​​what an uncontrolled social network means, and a calculated risk, if physical spacing and hygiene measures are not guaranteed.

Ah, in 2006 he won the no: Pluto has not been a planet for 14 years, it has been downgraded to a “dwarf planet”. But even if removed from the books it always remains there, identical to before.

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