The Commons vote to delay step four of England’s roadmap out of the lockdown has focused attention on when and how the country can draw a line on social distancing and, in the words of the prime minister, “learn to live with the virus. “
While the rise in cases in Blackburn, one of the original Delta variant hot spots, may have peaked for now, Public Health England expects the recent increases in the North West to be mirrored across the UK. What that means for hospitals and lives will become clear in the next four weeks.
Regardless of what the epidemic does, the overwhelming opinion among senior scientists is that the coronavirus is here to stay. The cold evaluations came from Boris Johnson’s left and right at the Downing Street briefing on Monday. On the one hand, Sir Patrick Vallance, the chief scientific adviser, said that the virus “will be with us forever.” From the other, Professor Chris Whitty, England’s chief medical officer, warned of Covid disease and deaths “for the rest of our lives.”
But what does it mean to live with coronavirus? Siân Griffiths, a professor emeritus at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, who co-chaired the Sars research in 2003 for the Hong Kong government, said he called for a new balance between knowing that the virus is present and should be treated, and knowing that we needed to get back to a life that did not focus on the virus.
“I don’t think we live in a restricted society. We will move to a more careful society, a more cautious society in which we understand science and process and have learned from the traumas of the pandemic, “he said.
Professor Dame Anne Johnson, president of the Academy of Medical Sciences, said: “There will be more deaths from coronavirus, with winter waves a particular threat, but learning to live with Covid is not about how many deaths society can endure. We see increases caused by respiratory viruses every winter. We do not estimate the deaths that we can tolerate, we say that we want to minimize these deaths through a vaccination campaign ”.
Johnson said that we will not wake up one day and suddenly decide to face the virus. The process has already begun, and the behavioral changes adopted during the pandemic are likely to continue long after formal restrictions are lifted. “What we want is to do the things that least disrupt our lives and minimize the risk of infection without having to go through these horrible roadblocks,” he said. Good hygiene, remote work, wearing masks, better ventilation, not going to work or mingling with other people when we have symptoms, riding a bike instead of taking public transport, avoiding unnecessary flights – all this and more will play an important role. in the period after closing. world, she said.
The vaccination program is essential for when life can return, if not to normal, something much closer than today. By fall, most adults will have had the opportunity to receive two shots of the vaccine. “Once everyone who qualifies are vaccinated, you will have your wall up, but we are not there yet,” Griffiths said. “The wall is missing some bricks, in terms of some vulnerable groups, some skeptics of vaccines, but mainly younger people, and until the wall is not there, you cannot say that we will continue.” Seasonal boosters for at-risk groups are likely to decline if their immunity wanes, and ongoing natural infections will contribute to community immunity.
What else needs to happen? David Heymann, professor of infectious disease epidemiology at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and director of the Center for Global Health Security at Chatham House, said that we would not learn to live with the virus until we took responsibility for the risks, since What to do about the flu, sexually transmitted infections, and other viruses. “The first thing we have to do is for governments to have the will and the ability to transfer risk assessment and response to the people rather than through the people.
“This is not saying that we will accept this amount of deaths, we must never accept deaths. We need to learn how we ourselves can make sure we don’t infect ourselves or others, but that hasn’t been possible yet because governments have done that job, ”he said.
Heymann said that transferring responsibility for keeping ourselves and others safe should have started earlier. “There was a golden opportunity before Christmas to tell people, if you can find yourself in a situation where you could get infected, for example at a closed party indoors with people drinking, you need to remember that you can infect members of the family and should take appropriate precautions. if you visit them. That message is extremely important now because people have to take responsibility, ”he said.
George Davey Smith, professor of clinical epidemiology at the University of Bristol, said people should first be convinced that vaccines are having a major impact on the risk of serious disease. “There is work to be done to reduce people’s fear levels. It’s going to be gradual. “
Griffiths said the hope was that the coronavirus would be under the same level of control as the flu. In a typical year, influenza still kills thousands of people in the UK, but deaths are minimized by a vaccination campaign that targets the most vulnerable and is primarily reported by a global influenza surveillance network. A similar surveillance system is needed for the coronavirus and ultimately other pandemic threats. “Just as we live with the flu in the winter season, we will live with Covid next door,” he said.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism