Key takeaways from Michael Levitt Interview

Biophysicist Michael Levitt, recipient of 2013 Nobel Prize in Chemistry, injected optimism with his take on Covid-19 pandemic.

According to him, the fast-spreading disease is likely to come to a gradual halt. Since he is not a specialist in epidemiology, not many seem inclined to support his hypothesis.

The fundamental premise of his observation is based on the slowing rate of increase in the number of deaths in China. This is where the problem lies.

Structuring it on the trends emerging from China does carry inherent flaws.  There is ample distrust regarding Chinese figures as the dictatorial regime does not enjoy high credibility in the international community. Critics argue that Levitt invested excessive faith in what the Chinese authorities are releasing in the public domain.

Levitt goes on to say that the US will also get through the worst of Corona virus outbreak sooner than many specialists expect. Going by the exponential rise in the number of cases in the US, this is likely to convince only those people expecting miracles at this stage.

Levitt clarifies he has been studying global trends early in January. The world needs to avoid panic and abide by the reasonable social distancing measures to prevent the spread of Covid-19.

Given the strict adoption of these measures including lockdown now, these are proving effective in controlling the contagion. But it does not show Levitt has said anything exceptional. Many other experts have voiced similar preventive steps.   

However, what goes to his credit is the statistical findings. In February, Levitt anticipated around 80,000 confirmed cases with about 3,250 deaths. This forecast turned out to be almost correct with the actual figures in close proximity. China recorded 80,298 cases and 3,245 deaths by mid-February.

Despite the peaking in China, there have been fewer diagnosed patients since mid-March.  According to him, there is no indication of months or years of social disruption or millions of deaths from the corona virus. 

Analysing data from 78 countries that reported over 50 new cases of virus every day, Levitt found signs of recovery. He did not focus on the cumulative figure, but on the number of new cases identified every day and the change in that number from one day to the next. This offers clear signs of slowed growth.

Another observation deserves attention. Levitt talked about how the anti-vaccine movement in virus-crippled Italy was a key factor in the upsurge of cases. It increased the chances of corona virus going undetected. He raised other concerns that over-reaction could lead to another crisis such as slowing economies and high suicide rate.

Levitt ends the interview on a positive note by saying it is not the end of the world and the real situation is not as terrible as it is made out to be. Even though the corona virus has a high mortality rate, it cannot kill our spirit to bounce back.


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