We are all victims in some ways of this terrible virus. There are two very easy things we can all do to shorten the length of time of the pandemic. First, for all people to wear a mask indoors, particularly among schools. Second, to properly-ventilate schoolrooms and indoor venues such as workplaces and pubs.
Countries where mask-wearing (both indoors and outdoors) is almost universal, such as Japan, China and Hong Kong have avoided the worst of the pandemic. In the last week, 9,330 people per million of population in the UK came down with COVID 19, whereas in Japan it was 1,881, in China 0.6 and in Hong Kong 15. Next to vaccination, it is a most successful way of combating the virus. Since many people have no symptoms, they can spread the virus without knowing it. Evidence seems to show that mask-wearing prevents at least half the transmissions of the virus, and a much higher proportion if worn properly and are of high quality. But even if the transmission is only halved, it can change the course of a pandemic.
Suppose that the average number of cases that are passed on during the 7 days of infectivity by someone infected by the virus is 2 if nobody wears a mask but reduces to 1 if all people wear a mask. Without masks, the number of new infections doubles each week to 4 in week 2, 8 in week 3, and after 10 weeks becomes 1024 times as many as in the week we started with. With universal mask wearing, the number of new cases is 1 in week 2, 1 in week 3 and still only 1 in week 10. If the masks were even more efficient, the numbers with the virus would decline, week by week. And for so little effort! You can’t always trust the figures for Covid cases in a country, but numbers of deaths from Covid are harder to hide. Deaths per million in the last 7 days were 28 in the UK, 0.4 in Japan and zero in China and Hong Kong. Since the beginning of the pandemic, the UK has had 2,247 deaths per million, Japan 147, China 3 and Hong Kong 28. Of course, it’s possible that the information coming out of China and Hong Kong is not as reliable as our own, but it’s unlikely that the pandemic has raged there as it has here and in much of the Western world. Further, the often draconian measures (by our standards) undertaken by China to reduce transmission would be impossible in the UK.
The other very easy thing to do, which does not rely on everyone having to conform (such as wearing a mask) is proper room ventilation. This can be carried out by comparatively cheap and efficient air purifiers that can be home-made for less than £10 or bought for between £50 to £200. These could have been fitted in all schools in the UK over the Christmas break. That would be extremely cost effective, particularly compared with the £37 BILLION spent on a failed Test and Trace campaign in the early days of the virus. By not fitting air purifiers throughout school rooms, it now seems that nearly all primary school students in the UK have contracted the virus. Even opening windows in a school room for one minute every 15 minutes would have had a similar effect and has no cost except for the wearing of coats when the chill wind blows in.
Failures of the UK government in protecting schoolchildren from COVID have meant that the virus has then spread to parents and grandparents. High levels of infection will lead to higher probabilities of viral mutations, some of which may be either more infectious than Omicron or give rise to more severe infection. What’s more, a small percentage of students will get Long Covid, which may lead to lifelong inability to work and enjoy life. We simply do not know how long the effects of Long Covid will last. What we do know is that well over 100,000 children in the UK have suffered Long Covid, more than half of whom have suffered for over 7 months.
But relatively few people know much about any of this. TV and radio broadcasts rarely look beyond numbers having been vaccinated, the daily number of new cases, hospitalisations and deaths. Nothing much about the societal responsibility we all have to take in order to prevent either getting the virus or passing it on. And zilch about Long Covid. For Omicron, it is so new that the first cases of Long Covid are only now emerging.
And one final thing about community responsibility rather than personal “choice” to do the right thing. Suppose someone decided to drive his or her car on the right-hand side of the road, or even go against the traffic on a motorway, claiming it is their “choice” to do so. Well, doing the right thing by the community when there is an infectious disease that anyone can catch is in many ways worse than driving down a motorway against the traffic. Applying the COVID example to a motorway would mean that when the idiot’s car inevitably had an accident, it caused a chain reaction, with more than one car (on average) falling like a domino for every car that had already been damaged. That would cause further pileups for miles back. Furthermore, a car/domino every so often would jump over to the other side of the motorway and cause the same chain reaction there. At some junctions at random, it would set the dominos to fall on the roads feeding the motorways, and thus strike into villages and cities. Cars parked in some quiet streets would be sideswiped but those that are (self-) isolating in garages would be saved.
And the dominos would keep on falling, quite possibly forever, particularly if ones that were damaged and repaired could be damaged a second or subsequent time. And even more likely if some cars that had been repaired were driven against the traffic on a motorway. Here, driving against the traffic is the equivalent of not being vaccinated or of refusal to wear a mask. The main difference? We can put names to the people who are killed, injured or have their cars mashed, but we can’t always do the same for Covid.
We are all aghast at anyone driving on a motorway against the oncoming traffic. Why are we not similarly outraged when people claim “choice” or “freedom” as the reason for not vaccinating or failure to wear a mask?