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COVID-19: is being tamed but far from eliminated

, April 28, 2020, 0 Comments

Few countries and few governments are having a good crisis but some seem to be faring better than others as shown in the below figure, with the important caveat that the data is one week old and not weighted by the absolute numbers of cases and deaths. As a consequence, the US, UK and France are somewhat flattered and the overall efforts of Taiwan, New Zealand, Hong Kong and South Korea are under-stated.


covid-19-recovery-marketexpress-inThe best way to combat a virus pandemic has again proved to be mass symptom-testing and isolation backed up by contact-tracing. Previous experience of the SARS epidemic in 2002-4 prepared authorities in East Asia able to move quickly. China should have been similarly prepared but,

Alastair Winter
Thought Leader,
Global Sharing Platform

for reasons that may never be officially acknowledged, intervention was delayed until lock-down became necessary in the epicentre of Wuhan. (One theory gaining support from some virologists is that COVID-19 was manufactured at China’s top research lab in Wuhan rather than spread by infected bats sold in the nearby wet market and by terrible accident leaked out.)

Lock-down is only the second best measure but the earlier and fuller the better. Geography has also helped New Zealand, while hot and dry weather has so far benefitted Australia (also ultra-violet radiation) and offers hope for some African and Middle-East countries. The inevitable public enquiries in democratic countries may well reveal the reasons for the unpreparedness for a viral pandemic. Collective hands will be wrung at under-investment but less easy to explain will be the failure to act on multi-year warnings from leading scientists, on the alarm being sounded by the Taiwan authorities in December and on briefings from intelligence services on events in Wuhan in January (and earlier?). In the UK, the Sunday Times has just published a rather shocking sequence of events….and non-events.

Nevertheless, the authorities in most countries are now mobilised. Health services are mostly coping, albeit at unreasonable risk to medical and support staff. Trials of serums made from the antibodies of recovered patients are already at an advanced stage while existing drugs for other viruses are also being tested with some success. A multi-company race is on to develop an effective vaccine and mass production may be possible in time for the 2020-21 Northern Hemisphere winter. There are huge differences between countries on the supply of everything from symptom tests, personal protective equipment through to specialist care units.

Taking somewhat longer is developing an effective combined RNA and antibody test that would help to determine whether individuals have immunity or not. Overall, the combination of containment and suppression is buying time for both the medical staff, epidemiologists and biochemists. COVID-19 is indeed being tamed but too many people are dying still and the awkward question remains unanswered: will there be further waves from different strains in the next few years?