Yesterday more restrictions came into effect for people in the UK. We are now being told to self-isolate for 14 days if anyone in our household is showing symptoms. This means if one of us gets sick we all have to stay home. That seems reasonable to me. The government also advised people not to go to pubs and restaurants which, understandably, has caused quite a backlash from pub and restaurant owners. I do really feel for the many business owners who are now facing a very difficult future and all the employees who have lost their jobs. They’re also advising people over 70, people who have chronic diseases, and pregnant women to minimise their social contact.
Part of the change has come about because of the rising number of infections and the increasing pressure on the NHS but it was also driven by a report released by Imperial College London yesterday. The report makes for sobering reading and anyone who thinks we can close schools for a few weeks and all will be well again is sorely mistaken. Evidently, during the 1918 flu pandemic, some regions implemented suppression measures of the kind Europe is doing now and while these measures were effective in the short-term, when the restrictions were lifted the transmission rates bounced back. The Imperial College report acknowledges this. They also estimate that as many as 50,000 people are infected in the UK.
Once interventions are relaxed (in the example in Figure 3, from September onwards), infections begin to rise, resulting in a predicted peak epidemic later in the year. The more successful a strategy is at temporary suppression, the larger the later epidemic is predicted to be in the absence of vaccination, due to lesser build-up of herd immunity.
A vaccine is probably 18 months or more away which means the suppression of the virus will require long-term restrictions of the sort we’re seeing now. Forcing people to stay inside their homes and keeping kids away from school for 18 months is not a sustainable option in my opinion. We’re quite lucky in Britain so far in that we are still free to leave our homes and go for walks and bike rides but in France, Italy, and Spain people now cannot leave their homes at all unless it’s to get essential supplies like food or go to work and even then they must go alone. In Italy, people are able to go out to exercise.
I have a lot of faith in the Chief Medical Officer for England, Chris Whitty who yesterday in a press conference said that for an individual the chance of dying from coronavirus is very low. Some people will get the illness and have no symptoms at all while the majority of people who do get symptoms will experience a mild illness. He also went onto say that there are three groups of death and negative impacts. There are direct deaths caused by coronavirus itself. There are also indirect deaths caused by an overwhelmed NHS that becomes unable to provide adequate treatment for other diseases. A lot of what the government is now trying to do is to reduce the number of deaths in this group as much as possible. The third group of negative impacts (and I don’t think these are deaths) are a result of actions taken by the government now – like social distancing and school and university closures. We shouldn’t underestimate the impact of long-term restrictions on a population and the social unrest it might cause.
Even more frightening than the virus is these scene outside a gun shop in the US:
By contrast, the Dutch are queueing for cannabis:
I know which country I would rather be in!
I feel very safe here in the northeast of Scotland. The people are kind and generous and it’s quite sparsely populated. It’s going to be a long road ahead but we’ll all be stronger for it at the end.
It may be reassuring for people to read this article by Nadine Dorries, the health minister. She contracted the virus and then passed it onto her 84-year-old mother but her mother had a milder illness than she did.
Unlike with my situation, we know exactly where she caught it from and the irony is, despite her having had major surgery to replace the valves in her heart damaged by childhood illness, despite her pacemaker and breathlessness, her lifetime of smoking, hard work in her early years and poor diet, she had much milder symptoms than me.
“We old northerners are made of much tougher stuff than you young ones,” she said to me — I’m eligible for a bus pass, remember — as she ran the vacuum cleaner under my feet.
On a lighter note, here’s a pic of Lola and the kids in Hoss, our cargo bike, taken yesterday.