I’m seeing a bit of that phrase in my social media feeds at the moment, in relation to covid-19.
In practice, this would mean that if everyone in New Zealand were to catch the virus eventually, that would be 50,000 people dead. The ‘normal’ annual all-cause mortality in this country is around 33,000.
It’s been argued that we just need to isolate/quarantine the vulnerable, and the rest of us would get through just fine. However, as others have pointed out, that “vulnerable” cohort is extensive, & it’s not only the elderly who are at increased risk (though, as Siouxsie Wiles has noted, they are at high risk): those who are obese, or living with high-blood pressure, cardiovascular issues, or diabetes also have an elevated risk of death, as Jin Russell points out in this measured opinion piece. That’s a large proportion of our population to remove from society and from employment. (Because, of course, these health issues don’t automatically preclude people from employment or from making other valuable contributions to society. It’s often older folk who deliver meals on wheels, drive for the Cancer Society, & so on.)
That phrase also carries the implication that the only outcomes here are death, and recovery. But that’s not correct.
For each death there are (on average) around 19 hospital admissions. In the NZ context that would be ~950,000, for an unconstrained outbreak. As Rod Jackson says, the outcome would be chaos. And the scientific & medical evidence is showing us that many of those hospitalised have serious long-term negative health impacts on the heart, the kidneys, the cardiovascular system, the brain (there’s an early, thoroughly-referenced discussion here).
But there are things that all of us can do to reduce these risks, regardless of whether we live in Auckland or somewhere else in the country: wear a mask, especially on public transport or in indoor public spaces ; keep up the hand-washing; practice physical distancing. Think of others, as well as of ourselves. Because the interactions between this particular virus, ourselves, and our environment really do mean that no person is an island during a pandemic.