Nobel laureate Michael Levitt, a us-British-Israeli biophysicist, teaching structural biology at Stanford University and conducts most of his time in tel Aviv, suddenly became a household name in China, offering the public calm during the peak of the epidemic of the coronavirus Covid-19 in the country. About it writes “Lech”.
Levitt found no treatment, no meds, and just did what he does best: analyze the numbers. Statistics led him to the conclusion that, despite the gloomy predictions, the spread of the virus will be stopped. Soothing messages that Levitt sent to my friends in China were translated into Chinese and passed down from person to person, which made him popular.
His predictions proved correct: since February 7, the number of new cases registered every day, began to fall. In a week the death rate began to fall. Perhaps he is not an expert in epidemiology, but in a telephone interview with “Calcalist” he confirmed his calculations and statistics.
Originally an interview was planned in the trendy complex of “sarona” in tel Aviv, where she currently resides Levitt. But after he caught a cold “don coronavirus” – in jest he said, the interview turned into a phone. Despite the fact that he believes that the pandemic will take place, Levitt emphasizes that you must comply with all security measures being taken at present.
Levitt received the Nobel prize in chemistry in 2013 for “development of multiscale models for complex chemical systems”. There was no way he was going to be a prophet, predicting the end of the plague; it happened by accident.
His wife Shoshan Brosh – researcher of Chinese art and curated by local photographers. This means that the couple the whole day between the US, Israel and China. When the pandemic Brosh wrote to his friends in China to support them.
“When they told us, describing how difficult their situation was, I decided to look more closely at the numbers, hoping to come to a conclusion, explained Levitt. — The level of infection in Hubei province increased by 30% each day — is a terrible statistic. I’m no expert on influenza, but I can analyze the numbers, and exponential growth”.
According to him, at this rate the whole world had to be exposed for 90 days. But then the trend has changed.
When February 1, Levitt began to analyze the data in Hubei were 1800 new cases each day and for six days this number has reached 4700.
“And then, on 7 February, the number of new cases beginning to decline linearly and the reduction continued. A week later the same thing happened with the death toll. This abrupt change of the curve marked the middle point and allowed to better predict when to end the pandemic. Based on this, I came to the conclusion that the situation in China will improve in the next two weeks. And really, there are very few new infections,” says Levitt.
Levitt compared the situation with the Bank interest – if on the first day the person receives a 30% interest rate on their savings, on the following day – 29% etc: “You realize that ultimately you don’t really earn a lot”.
The message, translated his friends, quickly spread to China, and people who wanted to make sure he really wrote the information attributed to him, began to contact Levitt.
“That’s what I realized that I need to continue, he said. — I could say “Yes, that’s what I said”, and leave everything as is.”
Every day various organizations such as the world health organization (who), according to new figures. Levitt began to regularly send reports to their Chinese friends.
According to him, in connection with the reduction in the incidence of infection and mortality, the virus is likely to disappear from China by the end of March. Originally, according to Levitt, every patient with a coronavirus in China were infected in an average of 2.2 persons per day — that’s exponential growth, which can lead only to disaster.
“But then the growth rate began to fall, and the number of new daily infections now close to zero.” Again he compared this with interest rates: “even if the interest rate continues to fall, you still earn. The amount you have invested is not reduced, and slower growing. When it comes to diseases, it’s very intimidating to people because they constantly hear about new cases every day. But the fact that the rate of infection is slowing down, means the end of a pandemic is at hand.”
According to Levitt, this is true for several reasons.
“In models of exponential growth you assume that new people can get every day because you continue to meet new people. But when you consider your own circle of friends, you mostly every day you meet the same people. You can meet new people in public transport, but even in the bus after some time most of the passengers will be either infected or immune,” says Levitt.
Another reason why the rate of infection has slowed, associated with recommendations on physical distancing.
“Now you don’t hug everyone you meet on the street and avoid meeting face-to-face with a cold man, as was the case – said Levitt. — The more you stick to this rule, the more you can control the infection. Thus, in these conditions the virus will infect only 1.5 people every three days, and the rate of infection will continue to decline.”
According to Levitt, quarantine is important, but there are other factors.
“We know that China was nearly full quarantine, people were going out of the house only to make important purchases, and avoided contact with other people. In Wuhan, where the largest number of cases in Hubei province, everyone had a chance to get infected, but only 3% were infected, he explained. Even on the cruise liner Diamond Princess, the infection rate did not exceed 20%”.
Based on these statistics, he came to the conclusion that many people are just naturally immune to the virus.
As stressed by Levitt, a surge of cases in Italy is very worrying, but, according to his estimates, this is the result of a higher percentage of elderly people among the Italian population than China, France or Spain.
“In addition, Italian culture is very open, and the Italians are a very rich social life. For these reasons, it is important to isolate people and keep sick people from healthy,” the man explained.
According to Levitt, China has done a great job and managed to get full control over the virus.
“Currently, my biggest concern is that the US should isolate as many people as possible to gain time for preparation. Otherwise, it could lead to a situation where 20000 people infected at the same time will be taken to nearby hospitals, and the health care system will collapse,” says Levitt.
According to Levitt, is currently in Israel there is a sufficient number of cases to provide the data necessary for evaluations, but from what he can tell the Ministry of health is currently pandemic is correct, a positive way: “the more stringent protective measures are taken, the more they will have time to prepare for necessary treatment and for vaccine development”.
Levitt avoids making global predictions. In China, he said, the number of new infections will soon reach zero, and South Korea have already passed the middle point and can already see the end of the epidemic. Relative to the rest of the world, it’s still hard to say.
“It will end when all patients will only meet with those they have infected. The goal is not to reach a situation that happened on a cruise ship,” he says.
According to Levitt, Diamond Princess was the worst scenario.
“If you compare a ship with a country – we say that 250,000 people crowded into one square kilometer, which is horribly crowded. This is four times greater than the crowding in Hong Kong. It looks as if all the people of Israel were squeezed into 30 square kilometers,” says Levitt.
In addition, according to him, the ship was Central air conditioning and heating, and a shared dining room. “This is an extremely comfortable environment for the virus, and infected only 20%. That’s a lot, but very similar to the level of contamination of conventional flu.”
According to Levitt, most people die from coronavirus, more than 70 years.
“It is a known fact that flu mostly kills the elderly – about three-quarters of deaths from influenza occur in people older than 65 years,” says Levitt.
“There are years when the flu is raging in the U.S. in 2017, when the mortality rate was three times higher than the usual rate. And yet we didn’t panic. Here is my message: you need to think about the coronavirus as the severe flu. It is four to eight times stronger than ordinary flu, yet most people remain healthy, but humanity will survive,” said Levitt.