THE BBC has run an article by its health and science correspondent James Gallagher asking the critical question: When will the outbreak end and life get back to normal?
As James rightly points out, coronavirus is ‘not going to disappear’. Yet ‘the current strategy of shutting down large parts of society is not sustainable in the long term. The social and economic damage would be catastrophic’. Indeed, it already is, and we’ve barely got started.
What we need is an exit strategy, ‘a way of lifting the restrictions and getting back to normal’.
But, according to Mark Woolhouse, professor of infectious disease epidemiology at the University of Edinburgh, ‘no country has an exit strategy’.
The UK’s short-term strategy has been to ‘drive down cases as much as possible to prevent hospitals being overwhelmed’ because ‘when you run out of intensive care beds, then deaths spike’.
So basically we’re crashing the world economy and indefinitely destroying our basic freedoms, which itself has a hugely negative impact on our health and wellbeing, because of a projected acute shortage of ventilators and hospital beds.
Should it not be possible simply to make some more ventilators and find some more beds? You would have thought so. How much could it cost? Anything would be cheaper and less harmful than what we’re doing.
And long term? Gallagher asked the UK’s chief medical adviser, Professor Chris Whitty, what his exit strategy is: ‘Long term, clearly a vaccine is one way out of this and we all hope that will happen as quickly as possible … globally, science will come up with solutions.’
But a vaccine is projected to be 12 to 18 months away. As Professor Woolhouse says: ‘Waiting for a vaccine should not be honoured with the name “strategy”, that is not a strategy.’
In other words, the scientific and medical experts on whose advice the Government is acting in imposing all these stupendously costly countermeasures have no idea at all where it is all going. No plan, no exit strategy. Just an absurdly costly and draconian effort to ease peak pressure on the health system, with no idea when it will come to an end, or what we will do next time the virus spikes.
Will lockdowns become a regular feature of life each time there’s a coronavirus flare-up? If it was the bubonic plague, perhaps that would be justified and tolerable. But this is not the plague. It may not even be much worse than flu.
The World Health Organisation has now admitted that the new Wuhan coronavirus spreads 50 per cent more slowly than flu, and its pre-symptomatic transmission rate is much lower than flu.
It is still widely believed to be much more deadly than flu. But the Government’s own chief scientific adviser, Sir Patrick Vallance, has said that ‘a death rate of one fatality for every 1,000 cases was a “reasonable ballpark” figure, based on scientific modelling’, which is 0.1 per cent, the same as flu. Researchers looking in detail at Wuhan came to a similar conclusion.
A new French study in the Journal of Antimicrobial Agents, entitled SARS-CoV-2: fear versus data, has similarly concluded that ‘the problem of SARS-CoV-2 is probably overestimated’, since ‘the mortality rate for SARS-CoV-2 is not significantly different from that for common coronaviruses identified at the study hospital in France’.
Governments have been spooked by the scenes in Italy of high death tolls amid acute shortages of ventilators and hospital beds. However, there are many reasons Italy appears to be being particularly badly affected by the virus (explained in detail here), not least that 88 per cent of those reported as dying from the virus did not in fact have coronavirus listed on their death certificate as a direct cause of death, and that, as former Israeli Health Minister Professor Yoram Lass has pointed out: ‘Italy is known for its enormous morbidity in respiratory problems, more than three times any other European country.’ This is linked to the very poor air quality in northern Italy.
The truth is we have no exit strategy. But we need no exit strategy. Interestingly that looks to be the conclusion that Donald Trump is correctly coming to with his signalled change to his coronavirus strategy in defiance of the health experts.
The US president said: ‘We cannot let the cure be worse than the problem itself. At the end of the 15-day period’ – of White House guidelines to enforce physical distancing and other measures which began on March 16 – ‘we will make a decision as to which way we want to go’.
We just need to accept that this coronavirus, like other coronaviruses, is here to stay. Those most at risk would be well-advised to self-isolate during epidemics as far as possible. And our health service should be much better prepared for outbreaks. But the rest of us should just keep calm and carry on. The science tells us nothing else.