From vaccine triumphs to leadership learning curves, we can finally dare to hope for a breakthrough
Like the old seafarer, the virus refuses to leave us alone. Revival in Blackburn, Spain and America, it will still be here when winter comes. If we go inside, there will be another dreaded second wave that is hidden amidst a multitude of colds and fluff. Nevertheless, I am now optimistic that the nightmare will end this year or at least until spring. Here are five reasons.
First, vaccine trials have been promising. Oxford University's vaccine, developed in collaboration with Astrazeneca and proven to be safe and able to elicit both a T-cell and an antibody response, is now more successful than failing as long as its side effects are manageable in the elderly are. And behind that comes a stream of other vaccines, some of which will surely work.
The second reason for hope is that as The epidemiologist at Oxford University, Sunetra Gupta has argued that herd immunity is easier to achieve than we first thought. Given that infections have continued to decline despite less social distance, herd immunity is likely to have been reached, at least in London. Half of the population may already be immune to the recent exposure to coronavirus colds, while children appear to resist catching, let alone passing on, Covid-19. As Chief Medical Officer Chris Whitty admitted, the epidemic was on the decline before the blockade began. This is because the virus is heavily dependent on some superspreaders and the pre-lockdown measures taken in March are remarkably effective: no handshake, frequent hand washing, no large gatherings, and so on.
So the third reason for optimism is that as long as we continue to do so, this virus will have difficulty spreading throughout the community. The only place where the virus spread with terrible ease was nursing homes and hospitals. Why was that? T cell senescence is a problem so older people's immune systems can not deal with this type of infection as well, and terrible political mistakes have been made, such as stopping tests, deleting patients from hospitals in nursing homes without tests, and assuming that there is no asymptomatic transmission. The staff in the health and nursing home were not adequately protected and were allowed to go from place to place. Many were infected and became carriers.
The fourth reason to celebrate is that we now know about it asymptomatic transmissionIf we have more protective gear and a better, if still incomplete, ability to test, track, and isolate cases, it is likely that the spring epidemic acquired in the hospital will not repeat itself.
My fifth excuse for hope is that we now know better how to treat people who become seriously ill. Ventilation isn't necessarily the answer, blood clotting is a real threat, letting patients lie face down is helpful, dexamethasone can save lives, and some antiviral drugs are promising.
These are reasons why even if many people contract the virus this winter, fewer will die. Colds and flu viruses usually appear in the middle of winter when we're inside. Viruses survive longer in colder and drier conditions and centrally heated air dries out our protective mucous membranes. Covid-19 will certainly hope for a high point. But Australia offers a hint of reassurance. It is winter there now and this turns out to be the weakest flu season in the country ever recorded. From January to late June, 21,000 Australians were diagnosed with flu. Last year, over 132,000 people were diagnosed in the same period. Social distancing is probably the main reason. If this is repeated here, not only will Covid have fewer rivers and colds to hide behind, but it will also have difficulty reaching a seasonal high. And fewer people will die of flu.
If we can defeat this virus, we can defeat most of the airways. The ridiculous way we tolerate cold spreaders, mock them for taking a day off, and praise them for trudging to work while feeling miserable. It should be socially unacceptable to go to a party with a cold, let alone kiss the host on the cheek when you get there. Our children's running noses do not have to be inevitable.
I assume that in ten years we have not only defeated Covid-19 but also made colds less common.
Our bigger challenge this winter will be to remove the backlog in treating cancer and other medical issues delayed by Covid. And unleash economic growth to help those who have lost their jobs.