Will the Wuhan coronavirus kill fifty-three million people?
According to an AI-powered simulation, it could infect as many as 2.5 billion people within forty-five days and kill as many as 52.9 million of them.
That’s the horrible news.
Here’s the better news: the computer doesn’t know all that we know.
The technologist who built the predictive model used mortality rate statistics as they have been reported. But medical professionals say the actual mortality rate from the Wuhan virus is much lower than first reports would indicate.
A professor explains: “If a high proportion of infected persons are asymptomatic, or develop only mild symptoms, these patients may not be reported and the actual number of persons infected in China may be much higher than reported. This may mean that the mortality rate (currently estimated at 2% of infected persons) may be much lower.”
In addition, containment of the outbreak in China and prevention of its spread to other countries is expected to result in a much lower number of infections and deaths than initial reports would suggest. The model’s predictions also seem much too high given other medical experience. For example, the flu infected about 8 percent of the population over seven to eight months last year; the AI model making news has one-third of the world’s population being infected in six weeks.
Experts now believe that the coronavirus is likely to spread around the world but it is unlikely to be as deadly as predicted. We should also note that the common flu, blamed for killing fifty million people after World War I, is still around. So far this season, it has infected nineteen million people, causing 180,000 hospitalizations and killing 10,000 people.
And yet we are not nearly as alarmed about it as we are about the Wuhan virus.
The problem of predictions and power of providence
Two facts follow.
One: Our predictions about the future are based on our assumptions about the present. But finite humans (and the technology we invent and use) can never know all that can be known. And we interpret the world through our own biases and premises. As a result, we cannot predict the future with accuracy because we cannot interpret the present with accuracy.
Two: The best way to handle fears about the future is to prepare as best we can while trusting the power and providence of God. He sees tomorrow better than we can see today. His plan is always better than ours (Isaiah 55:8–9; Romans 12:2).
Like Noah building an ark for a storm whose arrival he could not predict, we are called to do all we can while trusting the Lord to do all he can. When he calls us to step with Joshua into the flooded Jordan river, we can know that he will respond to our faith with his faithfulness (Joshua 3). When we pray for our Peter in prison, we can know that he hears us and will do whatever is best (Acts 12).
What fears about the future are you facing today?