Covid-19: Opinions are like assholes, everyone has one...but listen to the qualified one (weekend rant)

March 08, 2020 | Ollie O’DonoghuePhil Fersht

First of all, we are not epidemiologists, healthcare professionals or medical experts. Sadly, in our industry right now, this important distinction is moving into a grey area as everyone chimes in with their opinion.

Opinions are like assholes, everyone has one... especially when you can back them up with fake data

This post is a disillusioned response to the materials, opinions, and general wonderings now prolific on social media from people who, like us, don’t know anything outside of what their favorite newspaper columnist or news channel is telling them. If you want genuine medical advice about Coronavirus/Covid-19, please consult your local medical experts and healthcare practitioners – you won’t find much use in the musings of the technology analyst community, regardless of how passionately they pepper their opinions over social media.

As an employer where the health and safety of our employees, clients, families, and friends are paramount, we have been just as glued to the rapidly changing and seemingly unpredictable situation we find ourselves in. We were one of the first to postpone our flagship event out of an ‘abundance of caution’ – a new phrase that has entered our lexicon as we awkwardly feel the need to justify and apologize for recognizing the increased risk to public health that this virus represents.

Many friends in our much-loved community have responded to the initiative we have taken positively – most expressing relief that we not only postponed our summit and 10-year anniversary party three weeks in advance, but we also announced the rescheduled date later in June when we hope this situation is easing up. And - as more extreme measures sweep across the globe – including the recent move from a liberal western democracy to quarantine a quarter of its population – we have seen the rise of two distinct groups of commentators. Those that reaffirm everyone’s commitment to public health and safety – keen to keep their businesses running without endangering staff or clients. And those who continue to downplay the risk the virus and this rapidly changing situation brings.

We need to face up to my reality – this could get really bad 

It reminds us of a small investment firm, made popular in the book and film The Big Short, which had a simple strategy: because most people optimistically avoid worst-case scenarios when making decisions, they could find a high statistical probability of success by betting on the worst-case scenarios. While this approach may seem cynical to all of us who haven’t made a living professionally gambling billions of dollars, it did see the firm survive and profit from the housing crisis – while everyone else lost out. The cognitive dissonance many of us employ is useful for us as we navigate a complex and hostile world – otherwise, we would never leave the house. But every now and again it’s important to recognize that, actually, things might be pretty bad. And we might need to prepare and alter our lives for the greater good.

Fatality rates – we just don’t know right now, so let’s hold off on speculating

Take, for example, the frequently cited case-fatality rates associated with Covid-19. Many of us are running to these numbers for reassurance – 1% to 4% seems like good odds to many of us. Especially those of us who don’t fall into the categories with higher mortality rates. The trouble with this, of course, is it’s an impossible number to calculate right now. The mortality rate overall could be much lower, nerfed by undiagnosed milder cases. Or it could be much higher, with even well-funded modern healthcare systems in impacted areas advising they are struggling to differentiate deceased patients from those that have died as a result of the virus. It’s also relatively new, and while recovery rates are high, our assumption that mortality rates in the first month of an outbreak will hold true for the rest of the virus’s lifecycle seems disingenuous. But as we caveated at the start, we’re not medical experts, and we’ll leave this part of the conversation to medical experts.

We can cover our kids’ eyes, but we must keep ours’ open

Where we will focus our discussion, instead, is on what we can do to help. First of all, while downplaying the extent of the virus and the societal and economic impact to children makes sense, doing so with adults who make decisions off the back of that advice is woefully irresponsible. We all have an obligation to follow government guidelines. And while the situation may be confusing in the US – where the president frequently misleads with diatribes indicative of him personally attacking and defeating the virus-like something from Homer’s The Odyssey – in regions that are taking real action to stop the outbreak and limit the impact on citizens, guidelines are nominally focused on limiting your exposure to the virus.

By taking preventative steps, we’re helping our healthcare systems cope with the potential onslaught

You are doing this not just for your own personal safety, but also for that of those around you, and to help already beleaguered healthcare systems cope with their normal burden by limiting this extraordinary one. While it may seem more in-tune with that dissonance plucky investment bankers exploited in 2008 to follow the advice of industry analysts with no track-record of handling a global pandemic who tell you it’s all an over-reaction, we would recommend you follow the health experts who, across the world are taking more and more extreme measures to contain a lethal virus. Presumably, and we’ll have to rely on the conspiracy theorists to correct us here, they aren’t doing so without good reason.

 Analysts and pundits: focus where you specialize and leave it at that

We appreciate reassuring the public is important – in a world where panic-buying toilet paper seems to be a more immediate threat than the virus, it seems like reassurance would be a more effective salve. But the reality is, reassuring people with information on how they can take practical steps to control what they can control – as many healthcare providers are doing – is far more effective and responsible in the long-term. Listening to ill-informed analysts and self-proclaimed “experts” who by day track hyperscale cloud, or laptops-as-a-service, and by night are telling people to carry on as normal because Coronavirus is over-hyped, are misleading the public, and while many aren’t doing so out of maliciousness, they must realize that they have a voice and in some instances a powerful one. So, if we may be so bold, we would offer them some advice – focus on what you specialize in and leave it at that.

Bottom-line: Stay safe and stay in touch with each other

So, you won’t hear medical advice from us here at HFS, we won’t tell you it will all be fine, or that it won’t be. Out of respect, and frankly, common sense, we will leave that to the people who are qualified. We may analyze how it impacts the markets we cover, we may tell stories of how it impacted us, but that’s where we’ll leave it. As we covered in a previous blog, this is a new world for many of us – it may stick. Or we may return to normal in a few weeks or a month’s time. Who can say, but for now we ask you to stay safe out there, stay in touch with us and each other, and let’s do all we can to support the healthcare workers, government officials and real experts who are working to tirelessly protect us from this virus.

Posted in: Policy and Regulations

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