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  • Writer's picturegraeme

Lockdown Reflections Day 3

It will get worse before it gets better. Much worse. And then better.

Human brains are not wired to understand exponential growth. We battle to understand compound interest for example. So when a disease like Covid-19 has an infection rate that doubles every 2 or 3 days, our brains do not compute how serious that is.

Test yourself. For the sake of an easy maths test, imagine a population of 50 million people, and that the rate of infection from Patient 1 to the whole country happened by doubling everyday. Day 1 only 1 person was infected. Day 2 was 2 people. Day 3 was 4 people. Day 4 was 8 people. How many days would it take to get to 50 million people? Don’t use a calculator, just guess.

The answer is less than a month. 27 days.

If that’s the kind of exponential growth rate the disease has been on, it will be quite difficult to see it slowing down. Again, our brains are not trained for this. To see any form of slow down you would need to be plotting this on a logarithmic chart. If you don’t know what that means you might be a bit upset for the next few weeks, because it is not going to look like anything good is happening.

Watch this video if you want more info on this, and/or are a nerd like me and want to understand logarithmic graphs a bit more: (also watch it to see what happens to countries that implement lockdowns).

Because the incubation period of Covid-19 is somewhere between 4 and 14 days (it differs in different people), we will only see the true effects of lockdown in 2 weeks time. The good news is that when lockdown starts working it works brilliantly. The bad news is that lockdown only works when EVERYONE is locked down.

Because a lot of weekly wage earners were only paid on Friday, and had to go shopping for lockdown on Saturday, South Africa’s real lockdown only starts today (don’t moan about that either if you used a credit card and a private car to go shopping earlier in the week, and are now confined to your multi-bedroom house with WiFi, TV, running water and indoor toilet).

Because many people already have Covid-19 but don’t know it yet, the government’s official numbers are pretty useless to watch at the moment (so please stop obsessing about updating and posting the numbers every few hours).

Lockdown does work. So does testing. So does quarantine for the sick. So does contact tracking. If we do these things, we will beat this disease. Wuhan is back at work. China is opening tourist destinations. South Korea and Singapore are nearing the end of their fight.

But we are only beginning. And America - the powerhouse of the world economy - hasn’t even started yet (it honestly makes little difference if 15 states are on lockdown if the rest aren’t; and I am certain that today, because it is Sunday and a lot of Americans still don’t get how dangerous thus disease is, some American evangelical Christians will demand their “right” to meet at church today and continue to spread Covid-19). For those of us who are locked down, it will take two weeks before we even begin to see the results. And that will initially only mean a slowing in the rate of new infections each day - it still won’t look like we are winning. And then very suddenly, we will win. That is the nature of exponential growth. Nothing happens for a long time, and then everything happens all at once.

So. Hold the line. Don’t be tempted to leave your home. Even one person who does so creates a chain of infection that makes lockdown meaningless.

Remember: Just because it doesn’t start to get better immediately doesn’t mean it isn’t working. Hold the line. Stay at home. It’s going to get worse before it gets better. It will get worse. And then it will get better.

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