The infected population count has exceeded 1 million, the death rate is at around 5% and the recovery rate is about 20% – but STILL, nobody is talking about that! PM Johnson has been hospitalised, Trump has yet to take back his baseless prediction that this will all be over by Easter, and almost everyone has backtracked on their advice about facemasks.
Many have been predicting that this will be over by the summer but the reality is very different.
Much has been learned about the virus since it first appeared, attitudes and responses have changed, and the magnitude of the situation has now been acknowledged on an increasing scale. We have been on a learning curve and everyone has had to adapt accordingly. The only sad side to this is that many still seem to be ‘fire fighting’ and completely ignoring the long term view (politicians and ‘leaders’ take note). We need to continue learning but at a much faster rate.
We now know that Covid-19 is the most virulent virus to emerge since the Spanish Flu epidemic between 1918 and 1920. The Spanish Flu infected approximately one-quarter of the world’s population, and it was given a value of R0 = 1.4 to 2.8 (this means that each infected person will infect a further 1.4 to 2.8 people). Some estimates give Covid-19 an R0 as high as 5, while the average of epidemiological studies place it at a minimum of R0 = 3.
So what is there still left to learn and consider? Many things as we are still on the low end of the learning curve. Much is going change in the coming 2 to 3 months.
Before we explore our response there is one thing we need to keep in mind at all times – viruses are not intelligent life forms. They are not saddled with the same emotional baggage that human beings are blessed with such as morals, ethics and principles. They are organisms with one instinct and one instinct alone – survival. Viruses, therefore, do not consider social status, colour, religion, ethnicity, borders or any other man-made barriers. We should reserve our shock and awe when we see the broad range of individuals infected compared against the above mentioned emotional baggage.
The response is based on what we know so far and what we have learned by studying the spread of the virus since it was recognised. Originally we believed that social distancing was enough. The actual point of social distancing, to put it another way, is prevention; prevention is better than cure (particularly given that we don’t actually have a cure yet).
We have now learned that this can spread via ‘microdroplets’ which is alarming. What this means (that wasn’t known at the beginning) is that this virus can hang around in the air for a few hours, maybe even longer if certain conditions prevail. Imagine walking through the same space a few minutes or hours after an infected person has coughed or sneezed. To deal with this we have now been advised to wear face masks – even if they are homemade from a material that has the highest thread count we can find (the higher the thread count, the smaller the holes).
Self-isolation is another matter. This is for those who have been unlucky enough to have symptoms or have been officially tested positive. In cases such as these, social distancing is not enough and the patient must go into quarantine. If the quarantine is at home then the term ‘self-isolation’ applies. In cases such as these, the patient must literally lock themselves alone in a room and avoid all contact with everyone including members of the same household and ensure constant and clean airflow (at time of writing the advice is that opening a window is enough). If symptoms deteriorate then refer to professional medical practitioners as soon as possible.
The truth is that there isn’t one… yet. There are many estimates about how far away a vaccine is, but we can all see that the closest vaccine at time of writing is about 1 year away.
Until there is a cure we must continue all efforts to contain the spread. The hope is that containment will see a fall in the rate of spread of infection. This can only happen when the rate of recovery consistently exceeds the R0 value.
All we can do is slow the rate of spread for now and exercise best efforts to avoid infection.
A Realistic Timeline
Given that we are at least 1 year away from a vaccine when we finally have one we will need at least 6 months minimum – with an aggressively accelerated plan- to roll it out:
- Front line healthcare workers (doctors, physicians, nurses, porters, nursing aides, community support staff and carers);
- Patients who have tested positive regardless of isolation status (quarantine or self-isolation) – all suspected cases must be tested;
- Support health workers (administrators, clinical staff, non-medical and non-clinical support staff such as cleaners and kitchen staff at health facilities);
- Civil servants (armed forces, police, fire, administrators);
- Vulnerable groups;
- General population;
- Politicians, diplomats, political party members.
What can we conclude?
What we need to understand about this situation, is that there is no quick fix. We have to abandon our short term views and opinions, our ‘fast food’ approach to life and plan for the long haul. The cure is a long way away, and so our current way of life is on hold until that happens. This may even prove to be an apocalyptic event as the need to find alternative solutions to current lifestyles is increasing by the day (eg. remote working in almost every sector, and remote schooling).
However, as is very often the case, it is still going to take an event of a huge visible impact (eg. a political leader, a business leader, a ruler, a pop icon et al) before everyone realises the truth we are faced with.
By bringing the virus under control and seeing the numbers of infected people fall is not enough and may dupe us into believing that we can all move out of social distancing and isolation measures. But in doing this before a vaccine is developed means that we will only be putting ourselves in harm’s way again, and we will again see a rise in the spread of the virus. We cannot drop the containment measures until we have a cure. Dropping the only guard we have right now is naive, to say the least.
PLEASE TAKE THE ADVICE AND GUIDELINES SERIOUSLY. This does not mean that you have to be scared, that you have to panic and become paranoid. Taking the advice seriously means that you understand the need and requirement and that you implement and adhere to the advice given. We are still allowed to be long-term optimistic and comfortable, if not happy, in our situations.
It is very unfortunate that many ignored the advice and are now suffering the consequences, and they have selfishly infected many who were following the guidelines.
So which approach do you think is appropriate? Long-term planning and measures, or short-term optimism? Whatever you decide for yourself and your family, the hope is that it’s right and that you all stay safe and healthy.
Happy Social Distancing everyone – and please follow the advice and guidelines for everyone’s sake until we have a cure.