No new surge and it's safe to fly, says Nobel scientist

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The Nobel Prize-winning scientist who predicted, by analysing raw data, that Ireland’s death and infection rate would “burn itself out” over the last two weeks is back with more good news.

Professor Michael Levitt of Stanford University says Ireland should not fear a second surge of the coronavirus and backs Michael O’Leary’s claim it is safe to fly. The real worry now, according to Prof Levitt, is trying to save Ireland’s economy from the biggest recession in its history.

Asked if we should fear a second surge of the virus, he said yesterday: “Ireland is fine. If you have a very low death rate, then there is a lot of uninfected people in your country and if you have a higher death rate then you are probably fine.

“Ireland didn’t lock down early. That’s my view from looking at the numbers. The countries that didn’t lock down early have around 300 deaths per million of population – and Ireland has around 300 deaths per million. So you might have thought you locked down but you left a crack, let people travel and didn’t take temperatures.

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Prof Michael Levitt

Prof Michael Levitt

Prof Michael Levitt

Prof Michael Levitt

“Ireland has managed to get enough people infected.”

Prof Levitt went on to explain there may be more cases of infection in the coming months, but no second surge in deaths.

“We are getting very good at finding cases but what matters is the death rate. You might keep finding new cases and all that means is that the cases are very mild, but they won’t lead to deaths,” he said.

“Most people who were vulnerable have either got the disease or have died. Most people survive. So it looks to me that Ireland is going to be fine. Now your government should do whatever it can to get the economy going as quickly as possible again.”

Asked if his data has shown lockdowns were effective in the fight against the disease, he said: “No. They definitely did more damage than good. I have been saying this repeatedly over the last month. And we still don’t know how bad the damage will be.

“Any country that can get its act together quickly will be at an advantage.”

Meanwhile, giving his take on air travel, Prof Levitt believes Europe’s infection rate is high enough to enable people to holiday again.

“Let everyone onto the plane and just don’t make a big deal of it,” he says.

Although not an epidemiologist, Prof Levitt won the 2013 Nobel Prize for chemistry after developing accurate computer models of chemical reactions able to use features of classical physics and quantum mechanics.

“My skill in chemistry is not bench work but to analyse very complicated systems in order to understand what is going on,” he told the Sunday Independent earlier this month.

Having amassed millions of followers on social media, Prof Levitt has now become committed to analysing the infection spread and the Nobel Laureate says what people really need going forward is reassurance.

“Let people fly, it is no extra risk,” he said. “Ask them to wear some kind of face covering. It doesn’t even have to be a surgical mask, or an M95 mask, it can be a cloth mask, perhaps even handed out by stewards advertising the airline. I predict that very quickly people will realise that it is okay to travel – and that is the important thing.”

Prof Levitt believes new measures will be put in place to enable people to feel comfortable, akin to what we saw post-9/11.

“The disruption caused to air travel after 9/11 was massive,” he says. “Why do they still test if you have a water bottle when getting on a plane when the chances of someone carrying a bomb that is liquid is so tiny? They do it to give people jobs and to make passengers feel secure. When people can’t take little things like cigarette lighters on board they feel happy that nothing will happen, but I don’t think it makes much difference.”

He believes a similar trend will take hold after the Covid-19 pandemic.

“Maybe now they will take your temperature and it will be kind of funny and not a big deal. They have been doing this in China for the last 15 years, since Sars.”

On whether it is safe for people to take holidays as early as this summer, Prof Levitt says the figures on Europe’s infection rates give the green light: “Yes and I would go to places that have had lots of coronavirus already.”

Prof Levitt originally came to the world’s attention when he correctly predicted the initial scale of the pandemic and calculated the reduction of China’s spread, long before most health experts. In early February, as many scientists warned of exponential growth, Levitt forecast the total number of confirmed Covid-19 cases in China would taper out at around 80,000, with 3,250 deaths. Four months on, China has a total of 82,999 cases and 4,634 deaths – in a population of 1.4 billion.

Asked if epidemiologists should be held to account if their predictions prove incorrect in the long run, leading to the knock-on effects of economic and social damage, Prof Levitt disagreed: “The people who are ultimately responsible is the government. And for whatever reason they panicked. It’s very easy to blame epidemiologists but ultimately the government is responsible for the way things are run and no one else. It is all very well to say ‘gee, he told me to shoot’ but that’s no excuse, you must use your common sense.”

Source: Irish News