If you’ve been following the news you probably are aware that the number of people that test positive for COVID-19 is rapidly rising. As most people that know a bit about historical pandemics have warned about. The ‘second wave’ is a fairly typical thing with respiratory diseases because during the summer month these are usually at a disadvantage. People are at the peak of their resistance, more outdoors and the moisture conditions in the air do not favor transmission. UV light tends to damage the genetic material of viruses, which are particularly sensitive to that. And so in the summer the number of virus infection cases drops and the number of dead and hospitalized people will also go down.
But that’s not reason to become complacent and doing so would be a very grave mistake. Let me explain why. First of all, the virus is now well established. When in January of this year it had to start from near zero it is now very well established in our population, there are more than a million people that are contagious right now, compared to a handful in January. This head start means that the ramp-up will be extremely quick. Just how quick we do not know but chances are that in three weeks time we will be looking at a sitution much worse than it is today. There is already some evidence for this. The virus also has a good 6 to 7 months ahead of it to do its work instead of only 3 for most of the world in January. That translates into many more chances of infecting people. The daily number of dead is low right now because the dead typically lag the infections by anywhere from two to six weeks, though it has already been shown that COVID-19 can kill rapidly it does not necessarily do that, and as ICU capacity is still able to absorb the gravely ill it will reduce the number of dead considerably. Once that is exceeded though it will flip instantly from being just ‘bad’ to very serious indeed.
And finally, and most importantly: people are sick and tired of all the anti COVID-19 measures and are more than happy to stick their heads in the sand and wish for it all to go away. The political arena is - again - filled with talk about whether or not we should choose for our health or the economy. Let me make something very plain here: it is not a choice between the health on the one side and the economy on the other. COVID-19 will continue to hurt us economically until there is a vaccin or we get our act together and decide to deal with it frontally. The damage to our health is the part that is - in principle - optional, or at least, a good part of it.
But you can’t choose to have great health and a good economy. You can’t choose to have a good economy and have a lot of people die because the disease will have its financial impact either way. So the whole idea that there is a choice here is abject nonsense, we are going to hit some pretty hard times in the next couple of months and come April next year there will be a different world. Unfortunately, only very few statesmen and women today are good at managing a crisis. They are excellent captains for seeing the boat through many years of fair weather. They do not know - nor should we expect of them, after all they’ve had little or no possibility to train for this - how to manage a crisis of these proportions. Their concern for their image, popularity and chances for re-election are more of a concern than simply doing what it takes to get this behind us.
There are some exceptions. New Zealand, Finland, Western Australia and the Baltics still stand out as examples of how we could have dealt with this. Unfortunately, those are a rarity and the fact that these countries internal mobility and external connectivity to the rest of the world are relatively low made it an easier problem for them to deal with. But regardless of the special circumstances, they did what they had to and they did so when it mattered.
We are now at a crucial point in time: any delay in strong countermeasures today will be reflected in the total body count at the end of this ride, and it is not just people dying that we should be worried about. COVID-19 has a fair chance of affecting you for much longer than that you are actually ill if you have a severe cases of it. And the really long term effects (as in decade+) won’t be known for many years so we are all guessing about what they could be, but if there are any they likely will not be good.
Reacting decisively, forcefully and without delay could make the difference between a disaster of epic proportions or something that we will barely remember in twenty years. Unfortuntely our current crop of politicians is more concerned with their image and chances for re-election than they are with the simple truth of the matter: this crisis is not going to be solved by talking about it or slow-walking it. Right now COVID-19 has shown to have the potential to kill one in 850 inhabitants (Belgium as the current worst sample case), and by the time this is over than number will likely be much higher. Fortunately almost all countries in the world are doing better than that today. The next six months will most likely be much worse than the preceding six months. Once - if, hopefully - we get to the point where the ICUs will be overrun again this could go very fast beyond our ability to control. If we fail to do that the body count will dwarf what has happened so far. I’m not saying that lightly.
Additional complications in the form of ‘covidiots’ (people who deny the virus is real, who will encourage others to take risks, who take part in large scale demonstrations and who in general seem to live in denial) are going to be a much bigger problem than they have been so far. Fringe political groups have found that by playing the ‘they are out to get us’ card that they are able to command much more attention than they were able to do so far with their more limited agendas (such as: fomenting racial hate and general subversion), as a result their numbers are swelling and people in larger groups are somehow always more stupid than each of them individually leading to some very predictable results. COVID-19 has been successfully hijacked by these groups who ultimately just want to use it to further their agendas. Be smart and realize that if you find yourself on the same side of some argument as the fringe groups that you are most likely being taken for a ride.
The same goes for the people who are systemically downplaying the risk because of ‘the economy’, as though the economy works in some kind of idealized vacuum instead of that we are all part of it. Then there are those who would like to emphasize that the economy being bad by itself causes increased mortality due to suicides and other side-effects. This is true, but not on a magnitude that comes even close to the primary effects of COVID-19, forget about the comparison if you include the secondary effects (for instance: overworked health care personnel and people that do not die right away but who are affected for a long time, possibly the rest of their lives). All these ‘reasonable voices’ do nothing to minimize the actual effect and could very well cause people who would otherwise take this more serious to get ill or lose their lives.
All in all we have a rough time ahead of us. The perfect storm, you could say. Within a six month period we are going to face the worst health crisis in the last century or so, a very tumultuous election in the United States (where, unfortunately COVID-19 is now a political football), Brexit (the exit of the UK from the European Union, in a nutshell a bunch of small fish trying to increase their apparent size by reducing the size of the pond, hurting their country and their economy in the process) and higher and higher tensions in Belarus, which could very easily cause a repeat performance of what happened in Ukraine.
“May you live in interesting times” never was a blessing, it always was a curse. We are living - for better or for worse - in very interesting times. Just how interesting we are to a very large extent in control of ourselves. Even if our governments fail us in their duty to decisively put an end to this we all can contribute. If you’re doing to make the argument that ‘the economy’ is more important than a couple of million lives: what if it is your life? Your parents’ life or your childs life? What if the economy will go down the drain anyway? If you don’t know then at least don’t make life harder for those that do take this serious and that are not going to stand idly by.
Keep in mind that this virus does not have legs to walk on or wings to fly with. We provide it, we hand carry it from one infected person to the next and we all contribute to this unless we actively work against that.
- If you don’t have to go out, then don’t.
- If you can avoid travel then do so. Contrary to popular belief there is no right to three holidays per year and holiday travellers are identified as a very large fraction of the ability of the virus to spread internationally.
- If you have to travel do it in such a way that minimizes contact with others.
- In general, until this crisis is over, minimize your contact with others.
- If you can afford it: order your shopping to be delivered, supermarkets are a very nice place to spread from the point of view of the virus.
- If you bring your kids to school or collect them (assuming schools will stay open) stay away from crowds of waiting parents, agree with your children where you will pick them up and let them walk the last 100 meters or so to school by themselves.
- Avoid crowds of all kinds.
- Don’t stand up close to other people if you can avoid it, distance is a very good way to stop the virus to move from one person to the next.
- If it is possible: work from home. Offices are a very good place for exchange of viruses unless the building has been explicitly designed not to be (and they never are), as is public transport where you will be up close and personal with a few hundred people on every trip.
- Wear a mask, when going out near others even if it isn’t perfect it will reduce transmission.
- Wash your hands.
- Don’t be manipulated by people who can’t wait to pull you down to their personal level of misery. For instance, I’ve been told that I am afraid and living in fear. That’s not the case, I guarantee it. I’m just a realist: this is an airborne virus that has shown a high enough mortality that it it concerns me and there is as of today no cure. It would be madness to invite this into my life if I can avoid it so I treat it like any other danger, I try to structure my life in such a way that I minimize my chances of getting it. Just like if I’m going to have to jump out of an airplane I’ll make sure to wear a parachute. Fear of falling is a different thing than fear of impact and no amount of peer pressure will make me give that up. As a result of my previous blog post on this subject I received a bunch of nastygrams and some really not cool hatemail. But I really could not care less. I’m not a shill for ‘big pharma’, don’t have anybody pay me because I’m an ‘influencer’ (what a term that is anyway), and don’t write this under a pseudonym. (If you are seriously doubting this please read the message at the end of this article carefully). This is not a hacked account, I’m a real person with a pretty broad interest part of which is biology and contagious diseases. If you are a layperson chances are that I’ll know more about this stuff than you do. If you are a virologist or epidemicist you are 100% sure to know more than I do. But in general I think that what is written here is going to be supported by the vast bulk of the people in the know out there. The few that are rowing against the stream on this will end up being found either geniuses or idiots, only time will tell. In the meantime, play it safe.
- Remember: you don’t have to show symptoms to be contagious. Others don’t have to show symptoms to be contagious to you.
- Ignore covidiots, if you have them in your family explain that they are welcome to accelerate their own demise but that you want to live and be healthy, and would like for yourself not to be a transport device for the virus and that as far as you are concerned they are part of the problem and definitely not part of the solution.
- Better safe than sorry: every day the media are full of stories that are quite possibly true but that may have an agenda behind them. For instance, recently there was a big hoopla over air travel having never resulted in a known infection. Such stories, even though they give momentary relief from the daily litany of misery typically are not based in fact. Reduction to absurdity will show easily that they are nonsense, but they gain traction nonetheless. Just ignore them. Keep practicing the same simple set of rules and do your thing to reduce the virus’ ability to move around. Once the ‘all clear’ is given we will all be back to normal in no time but until then keep yourself and those you care for safe by reducing your chances of contracting the virus or becoming a part of the virus’ travel agency if you should get infected yourself. If and when there is a major development it will not be something that you will only hear about by one expert from a single country, it will be broadly carried and spread all over the planet. This is much too big an issue that you can expect some individual somewhere to have privileged information for very long.
- A vaccine is being developed, in parallel by a lot of companies that are all fairly well positioned to get results. Even so, these are not magic potions. They will need to be tested properly and produced in quantity before they can have effect. Even today it is not guaranteed that a useful vaccine will be developed at all (sorry Russia, but I’m going to discount your contribution here on account of past performance when it comes to manipulating the public with figures and statements that later turned out to be absolutly false). When and if a vaccine is released that is both safe and with good results for those that are vaccinated producing it in quantity will take some time. In the intermediary period continuing to practice social distancing will be the most potent weapon we have against the virus.
Hopefully enough smart people taking this serious will be able to diminish the impact to the point that those that wish to pretend it doesn’t exist are more than balanced out. Other good news is that treatment protocols have advanced significantly and your chances of survival are now better than they were in March or April if you should contract the disease and develop a severe case requiring hospitalization or even a stay in the ICU. Still, you would not wish this virus on your worst enemy, and if you can avoid it then please do so.
And finally, if you are a COVID-19 denier or general complot theory adherent, or still think this is just another flu, I’d like you to take careful note of the following handy and short NHS approved guide which has world-wide applicability (by @gammonmag):