Antibody testing the key to restart economy

15 APR, 2020

Herald Sun, Melbourne

AUTHOR: Terry McCrann

Source: Isentia, Item ID: 1261544479

A switch in testing from trying to find people who have the virus to finding out how many people have the virus antibodies is the absolute key to the “exit strategy” from the economically crippling nationwide lockdown.

It is also, not exactly incidentally, the key to now dealing most effectively with the virus itself — as both the overall incidence of officially defined “new cases” and the high-profile “imported infections”, whether irresponsible Aspen jetsetters or disastrous Ruby Princess bureaucratic stuff-ups, fade.

It is astonishing and a damning condemnation of the so-called “experts” — of both the medical and the economic policy variety — there has been virtually no discussion about the critical importance of switching to antibody testing. Far less, any actual active switch at both the state and federal levels to a properly structured, randomised antibody testing sample regimen so we can accurately estimate how many people have actually had the virus.

In a stunning and idiotic contradiction, the Victorian government is expanding testing for the virus.

With so few cases now presenting each day — crucially, in official terms after testing — this is at best an exercise in looking for single needles in hundreds if not thousands of haystacks. But worse, it’s actually even more an exercise in looking for needles in those haystacks which can no longer be found, because it will involve at least some testing of people who have had the virus and could no longer test positive for it.

What policymakers have to get their minds around is that the key to exiting from the lockdown is not discovering people who’ve got the virus but finding out what percentage of the population has had the virus and got over it.

That’s what antibody testing tells you; it identifies the presence of antibodies — the cells our body produces to kill the virus, as opposed to the testing we do now to discover and discover only the active virus.

It is a simple matter of both virus-logic and statistical-logic that there will be far, far more people walking around out there who have antibodies — and so, are at least for a time immune to getting the virus and also from passing it on — than there are people with the virus and a danger for infecting others.

The only effective targeted testing for antibodies, that I am aware of, has just taken place in the (relatively small) German town of Gangelt.

This tested around 80 per cent of the population and discovered that 14 per cent had antibodies while only 2 per cent had been found by the positive test to actually have the virus.

That meant seven times as many people had had the virus and recovered — in most cases without even knowing they had had it — than were officially listed as “virus cases”.

This goes importantly to what the real death rate is — the deaths compared with actual cases, not the one that is quoted by everyone including the government and the so- called “experts”, of deaths compared with only those officially tested and found. The Gangelt numbers pointed to a real death rate of just 0.37 per cent compared with the horror numbers of around 10 per cent seemingly for places like Italy, Spain, the UK and New York.

But finding out what percentage of the population has antibodies — and where they are prevalent or not — is even more critical for structuring and then triggering an exit strategy from the lockdown.

Let me present the most obvious case: if we tested all 25 million of us and discovered 97 per cent of us had antibodies, continuation of the lockdown would be utterly pointless and utterly destructive. It would be “protecting” us from a disease we couldn’t get.

Well, we can’t test all 25 million and even if we did, we obviously wouldn’t find 97 per cent had antibodies. But what we need to find out is what percentage do. Is it 2 per cent? Or 5 per cent? Or maybe 25 per cent?

There is a percentage at which continuation of the lockdown would clearly become destructive and even counter-productive in terms of best combating the virus itself, far less what it is doing to the economy and to the lives of millions.

The key point out of this is that we can “find” out via properly structured randomised samples that tested only, perhaps, 25,000 people — something that could easily be done and indeed repeated, say, weekly.

While it has been critically important to have been doing the positive test, to find the people who had the virus, continuation of that strategy is clearly now a low-return one.

It certainly doesn’t mean you stop the positive testing but it is now far more important to find out what percentage of the population has actually had the virus. And their ages and where they are.

Then we can embark on a structured exit from the lockdown, while continuing to isolate and protect the most vulnerable cohorts in the population. And put to use all those medical resources standing empty and unused.

Ask yourself this: if you were in an aged-care facility or with serious medical problems, what would you prefer to know?

That the medical and other staff around you only possibly did not have the virus? That they’d either tested negative at some previous point or they didn’t have obvious symptoms (hmm)? Or that they all had had the virus and got over it?

Exactly the same answer now applies to the country at large.