An honest conversation about COVID19: The science

This is an attempt to answer a few basic questions from my stand point about COVID19.

One of the most noted aspects about the New Zealand response to COVID19 is that the Prime Minister did not assume to know better and decided to follow the advice of her chief Science Advisor, Director General of Health and others. The Prime Minister saw the danger with the “herd immunity” approach in Britain, where thousands have died, where the idea was to simply let the coronavirus get into the community and and rely on the population gradually becoming immune.

The numbers of people that that would have potentially affected in New Zealand is truly terrifying. The very first estimate suggested a death toll of 80,000 New Zealanders or 1.6% of the population. Some people screamed alarmism, but forget that very little was known about COVID19, the international response was patchy and no plans were really in place. This was simply unpalatable to the Government.

Are we going to get rid of COVID19 completely?

I would like to think so, but the answer is probably not. At some point in the future, New Zealand will have to open our borders, albeit carefully and with priority given to those countries that have a semblance of control – Australia, Taiwan, our Pasifika neighbours and maybe a few other countries. But that might not happen until maybe February or March 2021, whilst we try to buy the hopes of a vaccine a bit more time.

COVID19 might come in waves over time. Those waves may eventually diminish in strength, but for the immediate future whilst it is still rapidly evolving in many countries COVID19 means that the borders must stay shut for the time being. I do not envisage international air travel resuming before March 2021.

Will we have a vaccine?

The international race to get a working vaccine has been underway for a number of months now, but even if the world co-operated – which it is not – it would still take time to find out what could realistically work, design a test and agree on the parameters of the sample group. After testing the sample group, the test results would have to written up, peer reviewed and governments briefed. If assuming after all this things are going well, plans for production can be started, but that will include finding suitable facilities  to manufacture it, who takes priority – do nations do it by their most vulnerable categories, by age groups, among other concerns.

But all this assumes we as nations develop a common and agreed understanding of COVID19. In this fractured world, politics is as big an enemy a result as the virus itself.

Should we trust the science?

Absolutely! Science has come a long way in the 100 years since the Influenza outbreak of 1918, which resulted in the deaths of about 50 million people around the world. That was transmitted by soldiers returning from World War battlefields, who picked up in the hell that was the trench environment, a pandemic that would kill 8,500 New Zealanders. Social attitudes have changed since then too. Whereas economy of death might have been acceptable to practitioners then, no medical practitioner worthy of being called one would contemplate such a ghastly idea. Understanding of hygiene and matching standards have improved society’s ability to fight back against.

Although we still have a long way to go in fully understanding how COVID19 works, enough is understood to know that COVID19 can spread very easily. In Washington State, a single person managed to infect 52 people in a 61 member choir. A single dormitory in Singapore has been linked to 800 cases there.

Although the flu vaccine is not related to COVID19, one of the best things one can do is have the vaccine anyway. This is for the reason that COVID19 has the potential to put a lot of people in hospital, and by having a flu vaccination, one is potentially freeing up a bad that might be needed by a COVID19 patient.

Should I trust the Government?

I am not going to make that decision for you, but I am going to be very clear that I do not condone in any shape or form COVID19 denialism. Nor do I condone people who are actively calling for measures that risk undoing all of our hard work and which may put more vulnerable society members at undue risk.

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