Love in the Time of Covid #6 – Know Your Enemy – The Science Bit

covid 19, Lockdown

The world is currently under attack from a tiny, tiny, tiny capsule containing instructions on how to infiltrate a human cell, and force that cell into making more tiny, tiny, tiny capsules. The result, is that our human cells then feel rubbish, and we experience the symptoms of having the flu. Normal flu works like this too. But normal flu viruses have been around for a while, so a) many of us have immunity to certain flu types, and b) vaccines are available. As long as a certain number of people have immunity / have been vaccinated, the flu will hit a brick wall as far as spreading goes.

Covid 19 is all new. No immunity. No vaccine. 8 billion people on the planet. Party, party.

Having (probably) literally been shat from a bat, that tiny, tiny cell was accidentally eaten by a human who then coughed on someone else and infected them. Covid 19 then spread like wildfire. In fact better than wildfire, which is how we began this year, focusing south on the disaster that was the Australian bush fires. As the hot season in Australia ended, and the fires were being brought under control, so Covid 19 was embarking on a tourism season like no other, and brutally putting a stop to any holiday plans we might have had.

Lanzarote – not this year

As super villains go, Covid 19 ticks a lot of boxes: ability to self replicate; invisibility – at least to the naked eye; immortality and even animal control – it makes us cough and sneeze in the hopes of finding a new host.

But other than that, it’s pretty rubbish.

It can’t think. It can’t plan. It can’t run. It’s a parasite, and can only live in another living organism or host. It needs us to reproduce itself. Outside it will die in 72 hours. Its survival and growth depends on that of its host and its host’s actions.

And that’s us.

We can think and plan. And we can have hope. Hope that as a collective we can do things that will make the final result not so bad. And apparently we can even run outside, except we should be staying in but it’s important to go out and exercise as this will stop you getting sick but other people, who are also out, may give you filthy looks. And don’t even get started on the arrows directing people around supermarket aisles…

So we need to sort our shit out.

It’s tricky, because unless we’re working front-line, or have tragically lost people we know and love, or indeed have known people who’ve had the virus and then recovered, many of us are not seeing the mass effects of Covid 19. It is a flu. And, as with seasonal flu, of those who fall ill, about 20% of people get that flu really badly. An even smaller percentage of those people die every year. Many deaths are due to further complications such as pneumonia, and it is often the over 65s’ who account for most of the deaths, because our immunity to diseases decreases with age. This is equally true for Covid 19. But with no immunity or vaccine, potentially all of us could catch it. A small percentage of about 8 billion people dying, would be a phenomenal number of people needing hospital treatment all at one time, and the worlds health services would be overwhelmed. Hence the ‘Stay at home, and save our NHS’ message.

So we really do need to sort our shit out.

Some governments have done this for us. New Zealand has followed an elimination strategy, to eradicate Covid 19 entirely from the country. On March 23rd, New Zealand went into hard lock-down. Only 100 people there had tested positive, and no one had died. Borders were shut, and anyone who did enter the country was quarantined for 14 days. Compare this to our own situation where on March 23rd we’d already registered 335 deaths, people were merely advised to stay at home, and businesses closed but there was no quarantine or contact tracking. New Zealand has only just allowed take-aways to re-open. Ours never closed.

Australia is practising a similar strategy as it did back in the 1918 flu epidemic, and to great effect. It’s only fault then was to re-open its borders too early and the third wave of flu hit it hard. Arguably, New Zealand and Australia are in a unique position to do this, as island nations, geographically far from other major countries. Anyone who’s played Risk will know that Australasia is not a strategic position for world domination by human or virus. Ours is a mammoth task compared to New Zealand, but surely then we should be taking mammoth actions to protect everyone?

As in Australia in 1918, the timing of any measures introduced is critical. They have to be introduced early, and kept in place until after the danger had passed. Lock-down strategies place the interests of everyone over those of the individual. However, those working on behalf of everyone, (ie. governments), may have other priorities, such as the need to make money. The demands of a thriving economy and the nation’s health are rarely aligned. But if lock-down is lifted too soon, the virus is presented with a fresh supply of non-immune hosts.

As restrictions are lifted, this really is on us. Covid 19 isn’t going to go away anytime soon. We’re going to have to live alongside each other. If Covid 19 was dog shit, we’d find social distancing a breeze. If there’s dog shit on the pavement, we walk around it. If there was dog shit everywhere, for the smell, we’d probably wear a mask. If doctors and nurses had dog shit on their scrubs, the government would be laughed at for saying they should re-use them. If someone was nearby with dog shit on them we’d give them a wide berth, and if we had dog shit on us we’d go straight home and have a ruddy good wash.

With no cure and no vaccine, having a wash is probably our best bet, as soap does actually dissolve the tiny, tiny, tiny capsule which contains Covid 19s instructions for world domination. It literally bursts its bubble and its 8 meaningless genetic instructions go down the drain.

So a little bit of soap, and a little bit of hope. Hope that whatever happens, this crisis won’t go to waste as an opportunity to look at ourselves, and demand better from our world leaders.

And if it looks like you’re over reacting, you’re probably doing the right thing.