What Are The Odds?

Posted On January 14, 2021

What Are The Odds?

Trips to the silly aisles permitted, but wise?

Last week my newspaper’s front page headline screamed at me that one in 50 people in the UK currently have Coronavirus. I don’t know about you, but that scared me. I mean, I was pretty scared already, to be honest. When out doing my hunter-gatherer duties, foraging for nuts and berries in Tesco Express, I find it scary when people breeze in off the street and, unchallenged, stroll through the shop unmasked. Or, indeed, with their mask low-slung, jauntily allowing their noses to droop over the cloth and provoking me to conjure up uncharitable images of oversized proboscis monkeys. 

Momentarily, I am moved towards asking them what part of their fizzog they believe they inhale and (more importantly from a selfish point of view) exhale through. But I have viewed comparable exchanges recently and they do not end well. What I would consider reasonable attempts at conscience-prickings are met with disproportionately vitriolic responses and, unsurprisingly, full-blown aisle rage is about as productive as its highway counterpart.

I find it increasingly scary when folk (masked or unmasked) decide that they cannot wait another nanosecond to duck down in front of me to occupy the 6 inches previously between us and the cheese chiller, potentially endangering their lives and (forgive the selfishness) mine to claim that vital 320g of Davidstow Extra Mature. 

Further, I find it scary that, despite all the mask-wearing, distance-keeping, hand-sanitising and non-face-touching, I seem to have developed a touch of the sniffles. 

Now, I am not for a moment claiming any kind of equivalence with those suffering from what is a deadly disease. More that, if I have gone to all these lengths to avoid this devious, mutating virus, (and the primates in our local shops doing their best to pass it on) how comes it that the comparatively innocuous common cold may have cunningly crafted a way through my best defences? Because, if it has, then what has been the point of all my efforts to repel would-be viral or bacterial invaders that have much more sinister parasitical designs upon my frail biology? And, specifically, does this mean that my body’s immune doors are, like pre-Brexit border controls, wide open to Covid?

Of course, the answer to all this is that I don’t know. And I find that scary.

‘But come on’, you might say, ‘on the headline business, what are the chances of you bumping in to the one person in fifty who is carrying the virus?’ ‘Well,’ I would probably counter, ‘I suppose those chances are literally the number of people I bump into divided by 50.’

But how can I know how many people that actually is? I don’t know about you, but I have honestly never counted the number of people I bump into of a day. It could very well be less than 50, which means I am only going to meet a fraction of an infected person, however that works in the real world.

‘But, if you did bump into your local representative of our population’s deadly 2%,’ you may further press, ‘what are the chances of that contact being sufficiently intimate for the unwitting host’s tricksy viral marauder to leap from their hapless vessel to yours? And even if your fragile defences were breached, there is then the matter of viral load to consider in assessing the seriousness and effect…’

In case you didn’t realise, I have stopped listening at this point. There are so many ifs, buts, hows and other interrogatives, ponderables and imponderables, what’s a boy to think?

But, okay, just for a moment, without in any way playing down the mortal seriousness of this virus and its straining to be even more catchy (but because, hey, who likes being more scared than they need to be?) perhaps I could adopt the glass half-full approach. If one in 50 have Covid, that means 49 in 50 don’t. To put it in accounting terms (turf accounting, that is) a 50-1 bet on a horse would indicate a punt on a real outsider and so odds of 50-49 represent a massive improvement on my chances of getting through all this.

Well, that’s all much more optimistic, isn’t it? Imagine viewing that headline over your Corn Flakes and PG Tips. (Other breakfasts are, I would have thought, available.) That would certainly start your day on a brighter note. The theme could be developed by the experts who do the in-depth analysis in these publications. They could extrapolate this statistic to a national level and reveal that, with the UK population currently at 67,886,004 (as Google, I hope reliably, informs me), that means that around 66.5m are entirely Covid-free and pose no threat to my (or your) continued existence on this planet. Not from a fatal transmission aspect anyway. Well, that’s good, isn’t it? I mean, it sounds good. Certainly better than that one in 50 headline. 

However, for now I spy a flaw in your thinking, (or is it mine?) if I who am scared by the virus’s lethal potential (I did mention that, didn’t I?) am encouraged by this new interpretation of statistics, how much more blasé would those who currently, plainly don’t give a fig, be emboldened to become? How much worse will the flouting of facial covering etiquette get? Would the erosion of social distancing proceed at a rate to vie with the worst effects of global warming? It is surely a given that such a view would lead to ducking and diving in the dairy department extending to equal encroaching on personal space in other aisles. It’s the inevitable love-child of careless fools and conspiracy theorists or to put it another way, another unholy urchin of the Cummings effect. 

Folks, one in 50 people have the virus. In London, it’s one in 30. None of them will look like they do, some of them don’t even know and quite a lot of them, to judge from my supermarket field studies, don’t appear to care. 

So, sorry, but I’m staying scared. And indoors.