Saturday, 18 April 2020

Can we live with Covid-19 without dying from it?

For now, staying at home is the best-known way to avoid catching the new coronavirus for most of the population. It is incumbent upon us to follow the government’s instruction – a legal order – to stay home and save lives, and our NHS.

Those who recklessly break that law are committing a crime against humanity, our communities, and our society. Lockdown, at this time, is the only way to protect us.

But the lockdown cannot last indefinitely. The government cannot afford to pay 80% of some people’s wages for months and months, and anyway, not everyone is entitled to that benefit.

And yet, the coronavirus doesn’t look as if it is going away any time soon.

Even if we soon get past the peak of the current outbreak – and that is something we all have to hope and pray for - there is still the risk of a second, and third wave, of the virus stunning the country - and the world - all over again.

Tragically, and shockingly, many people have died from the virus.

But many more have survived.

Do the survivors gain long-term, reliable immunity from future infections?

Today, the World Health Organisation announced that there's no evidence that people who have recovered from coronavirus have immunity from the disease. 

So, right now, we simply don’t know enough about developing 'herd immunity', and so we can’t depend on it. 

It means we cannot – and we must not - let our government play dice with our lives by pursuing (as they proposed at the outset) an unproven policy of herd-immunity, especially as experts calculate it could lead to many tens of thousands of additional deaths.


Of course, the ideal solution will be a widely available vaccine that dependably protects us from this coronavirus, and hopefully any new ones that come along in future (and almost certainly, more will come). This would give us a safe and realistic herd immunity.

But a new vaccine is unlikely to be available, safely and in huge numbers (billions) without proper safety checks, that could take at least one year to 18 months.

(Some have said that a vaccine could be ready for the public in just a few months – but that would mean side-stepping usual safety protocols that all new medicines are subject to before they can be made publicly available. What a disaster it would be to release a new vaccine that hadn’t yet passed all safety checks, only to discover that it caused a more devastating catastrophe than the virus itself).

So, the big question for now is: Can we learn to live with Covid-19 without dying from it?


Could there be ways for the lockdown to be lifted, at least gradually, without putting the population at unacceptable risk, so we can get back to a sort-of normal?

Of course, that will likely mean all of us having to adopt an entirely new way of life – not stuck at home, but out and about, in ways that confer on each of us and our fellow humans the maximum protection we can muster from this nasty virus.

Finding effective ways to protect the population from Covid-19 will not only require a radical transformation in the way we live our lives, it will also certainly cost many, many billions to achieve.

But the cost of almost all of us staying home, whilst much of our economy, and many of our businesses, keel over and die, is also not a realistic long-term answer.

It just isn’t feasible for the population at large to become redundant, isolated at home, and still be able to sustain life – food, rent, mortgages, education, health, mental health…

It just can’t be done.

So, right now, we need the best brains in the world to come up with ideas on how we can more safely live with Covid-19 whilst getting on with our lives.

Herd protection, more than herd immunity, is what we now need.

(Until, that is, herd immunity can be achieved, safely, scientifically, with a new vaccine.)


I am not a doctor. I am not a scientist – although I fully endorse scientific principles when researching and conducting my journalism.

In my view, all medicine, all science, and most especially, all government policies, should be led by evidence, robustly tried and tested, repeatedly, to be sure of outcomes before going ahead with them.

Einstein once said: 'Imagination is more important than knowledge'

As a non-medic, I don’t have direct knowledge of how to combat or kill the coronavirus, but I do have imagination (some close to me say too much!)

It was when Einstein tried to imagine what it might be like to fly alongside a beam of light that directly led to his theory of special relativity.


I’m no Einstein, but I have been thinking of different methods that might be adopted for us to live more safely, and more normally, whilst this new coronavirus exists and persists all around us.

Some are obvious, some are already well-known, some are novel, some may be nuts.

I have made an initial list and want to know what doctors and my readers think of these ideas – and if you can add some other ones too.

Hopefully this can become a series discussing ideas and actions to successfully combat Covid-19.

▪ MASKS FOR EVERYONE – so far, the advice has been that universal wearing of masks isn’t called for. But I suspect this is more to do with the world shortage of masks than conclusive evidence that it’s a bad idea.

One of the downsides of masks is that they can’t just be repeatedly re-worn – masks can become contaminated and need to be regularly changed.

So, how about throw-away masks, freely available across the country – at tube stations, shops, bus stops, posted to homes, etc – that people can wear and then safely dispose of in allocated bins?

Yes, we’d need to ramp up the production of billions of masks. It will cost a fortune – but less expensive than months of lock-down.

It’s surely easier to ask companies across the country to manufacture face masks en masse, than asking companies to manufacture ventilators from scratch – an idea, so far, that has not worked out as planned.

 SANITISERS EVERYWHERE BY LAW: Dispensers with sanitisers should be allocated everywhere, with a law that everyone must use them before entering, and leaving, every building, every train station, every bus, every train, etc.

▪ FREE OXYGEN MONITORS (PROBES) FOR EVERY HOME – there is already a petition to the Mayor of London to fund the provision of oxygen monitors for every home in the capital city.

These are simple electronic devices that clip onto the finger and give a percentage reading of oxygen levels.

The probes will help members of the public to self- monitor for Covid related low oxygen levels, and help medical professionals in assessing Covid related symptoms over the phone or by video link.

▪ UNIVERSAL TESTING: Testing for Covid-19 should be freely and regularly available in their millions. By law, everyone with symptoms must get tested, and all those who test positive, and all their recent contacts, would need to be quarantined for a minimum period.

This is already a WHO recommendation, and countries such as Germany and South Korea who have strictly followed this guidance have suffered far fewer deaths from the virus than countries (such as the UK) that haven’t.

Those who test positive should have their full pay guaranteed during any quarantine (again, very expensive, but LESS expensive than a lockdown for most of the country).

The most critical test – an anti-body test to see if we have had the virus, and if we have any or complete immunity from it – will be a game changer, but only if and when it becomes available. Then, it needs to be universally available.

All of us should be tested. We have to taken on board, though, that the anti-body tests might reveal that getting the virus doesn't give us any or sufficient long-term immunity from it.

▪ CONTACT TRACING – we should allow the government to track and trace Covid-19 carriers and hotspots using cell phone technology PROVIDING THAT this feature is, by law, turned off once the pandemic is under control. That’s critical, and will need the full scrutiny of Parliament to make sure it happens.

▪ SEATS CORDONED OFF IN TRAINS, BUSES AND PLANES: Every other row of seats in trains, buses, planes etc to be cordoned off by law, so that social distancing (which would have to be sustained by everyone, as now) could be maintained on public transport. Again, very expensive – but less expensive than transport companies, and plane operators, literally grinding to a halt.

▪ A UNIVERSAL SPRAY TO NEUTRALISE THE VIRUS: As far as I know, this hasn’t been invented – it might not even be feasible. But in my mind’s eye I can see offices, hospitals, entire cities being regularly sprayed with a yet-to-be-invented substance that is safe for all living things, but deadly to the virus and neutralises it on contact, in the air and on surfaces.

▪ A MEDICINE THAT WORKS: Of course, a medicine that can cure or successfully manage the virus without it being deadly would be a most welcome solution. Tests are underway on various drugs, but no proven effective therapies for Covid-19 currently exist. I plan to do a new article about this in due course.

These are some initial ideas, to get the ball rolling, and hopefully, the virus retreating.

In the battle against Covid-19, knowledge will be our best defence. And imaginative and inventive thinking will be the way to gain that knowledge, backed up with strict scientific scrutiny and testing.

▪ PLEASE NOTE: I am currently offering my community journalism here for free. I derive no earnings or funding from this, and certainly no income from clicks or advertising. My motivation is to report verifiable facts, regardless of whether I like those facts or not.
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