THE PERUVIAN BEAR=IANT
Coronavirus is running rampant around the world! Experts have been talking about likely herd immunity since the pandemic started. I remember about 2/3 of the population was the figure we were going for either through vaccinations or natural infection, both of which build up antibodies for disease resistance. But right now the daily case toll keeps on setting new records and new variants have been detected all around the globe, each one more feared than the next – will they prove vaccine-resistant, do they spread more rapidly, is there a higher mortality rate? As some poorer countries are desperate for stocks, others have been able to begin the vaccination of their citizens and the mantra is ‘no-one is safe till we’re all safe’.
With that background we might be thinking where we go from there, when will this all end and when can we expect that to happen? This appears to be a difficult question to answer. If we are to trying to predict where we are going with COVID it might be interesting to look at what is happening in the UK although it may not be easy to understand. At least for me it isn’t.
Britain has had one of the fastest vaccine rollouts in the world, with over half of adults receiving both doses and more than three quarters receiving at least one, yet despite this a few nights ago the UK government voted to keep restrictions in place for another 4 weeks attributed to the Delta (Indian) variant which has seen a rise in cases recently. What once would have seemed an impossible ask of people – carry on with restrictions - has been met with almost no resistance and a shrug of the shoulders, a sign of tacit acceptance. I am left really questioning- as I have always done - this methodology and if, as usual, in my opinion it’s too much.
The problem all along with Covid has been the myopic focus because whilst an enormous amount of effort has gone into the health modelling of what may happen, the cost of overrun hospitals etc., it has never been compared with anywhere near the same rigour to the economic costs and all the other factors impacted by lockdowns and restrictions. While I appreciate that government’s job is to protect citizens at all costs, for a long time there has been this sense that death from any other cause matters less than a Covid death, which is just simply untenable. All deaths are equally unacceptable, and we must move on and live with this.
I am not completely alone with my thoughts on this although I feel like I am in the clear minority. I particularly liked Sir Edward Leigh, a UK Conservative MP who cited Paddington Bear in his argument in parliament when the proposal to carry on lockdown was being debated, saying “This is never going to end. At the end of this month, they’ll be another variant ... the Peruvian variant… Paddington Bear will be arrested at Paddington station ... and put in quarantine - it’ll go on and on and on.” He went on to say. “Our society should be free and open, and there’s a real danger the public will increasingly ignore this. The government will be a government of the emperor without clothes.”
Another conservative, MP Huw Merriman, said that young people “need to see a return” to normality. He said: “I spoke to one of the very senior NHS leads who has university-aged children and he said to me - and I wrote it down – “Too many of us making decisions have forgotten what it feels like to be a 20-year-old or how miserable it is to be a 20-year-old right now”.
What we do will all depend on the national view which we adopt. As more people get vaccinated, we will have to decide how we can live with the virus, and what level of risk we will be prepared to absorb. In some countries, such as Australia, the tolerance threshold is low. But in some nations worn down by a year of restrictions, such as India and the United States, communities remain open even in the face of high transmission. The decisions will need to involve cultural, ethical and political factors, and I guess will be quite different depending on where you live. What will be ours in Botswana?
COVID has made some societies more risk-averse concerning deaths from respiratory infections. In New Zealand, for example, lockdowns almost eliminated the incidence of influenza and respiratory syncytial virus, a common cause of colds. Researchers there are now discussing whether returning to previous numbers of deaths from those pathogens is acceptable, or if more effort should be made to control them. Will it be masks forever so we don’t catch cold?
We must be able to carry on with our lives. A year ago, we hardly knew about infections, hand-washing and wearing masks. Now we do. We have become very knowledgeable very quickly because the fear of Covid galvanized our government in Botswana and others around the world into implementing harsh social restrictions , working conditions rules etc. We have become aware of the risks and most people have factored them into their daily lives. If they, don’t it is at their peril. It is time to say we have given you a vaccine and the information and tools so learn to work with the virus sensibly and carefully so get to work because being healthy is meaningless if there is no food on the table, if you cannot access healthcare for other deadly diseases or depression drives you to the ultimate despair. Living is not the same as having a life!