03 September 2020

Responding to "how do we get back to normal?"

Some days ago a message was sent to a group I'm in. "John" said to me after that he forwarded the message when another member of the group had insisted that he send the message. The message's first three lines were worth considering

Please just take politics out of it and read this with an open mind using common sense. Anyone out there who can tell me what our end game is with the covid 19? What is the magic formula that is going to allow us to sound the all-clear?

The person insisting that the message be forwarded is a Trumpist, and the entire tone of the message was confrontational. The message then had a long list of questions and statements that felt like it was leaning to a political position, i.e. stop trying to lock down, open up the economy, there is little else we can do about this. The message ends with the following two statements:

I'm struggling to see where or how this ends.
We either get busy living or we get busy dying.

So without repeating the entire turgid message, I'll provide only my response (with very modest edits to clean up grammatical errors, etc):


Okay John, no politics (I promise).

I consider the entire gist of this comment to be summed up in the first three sentences, and really the question is “how do we get back to ‘normal’, whatever that was or will be?”

The problem with this virus is that it is not yet fully established in the human population, and the more we know about it, the more potentially disturbing it is. Therefore, we are “waiting” for three things to happen, and we are taking, collectively and individually, various steps to reduce the impact until one or all of those things have been achieved/happen.

The three things that we are waiting for are:

1. An effective vaccine. Yes, I will be one of the people who will happily take the vaccine. I’ve been taking them my entire life, and for much of my youth, they were not optional. Cholera shots twice a year in some countries (antibodies do only last so long), Gamagobulin in some countries. Tetanus. And of course the standard ones. There was a time when approaching check-in for an international flight you had to provide a ticket, a passport, and a vaccination record. Those days will come back. We do not need to do that now because, until Covid-1, we were living in a magical time after most major illnesses had been ‘conquered’ and a new one had not yet arrived.

2. We have developed effective therapeutic responses that render the virus as dangerous as the common cold. We are not there yet, though treatment protocols are improving – thus we are seeing fewer critical cases. 

3. The third thing we are waiting for is for the virus to mutate into a host-bothering virus and not a host-killing virus. This is natural and will happen with Covid-19 also. But we do not know how long this will take (probably only a year or two, as the more virulent strain kills too many hosts, and vaccination pushes it to the outer fringes).

So those of us not actively involved in vaccine development are basically playing a waiting game. And in that time, some of us are trying to limit the risk of either infecting others or becoming infected. 

We now know that up to 25%+ of people who contract the virus will have longer-term negative impacts, and those will be a huge drain on the sufferers, their families, and society as a whole. So a combination of the initial unknowns of mortality coupled with the now-known longer-term impacts suggests that until 1 and/or 2 and/or 3 above are achieved, it is prudent to do all we can to limit the spread of the virus. That is impossible without completely closing a country, as New Zealand did, and bought themselves 100+ new case-free days (all as part of holding out until 1, 2, and/or 3 above is achieved).

Here in Greece the decision has been made to accept a certain number of cases (I have no idea what the number would be) in exchange for salvaging some of the tourist season. That has worked, a little. Yet even opening the country has not rescued the tourist season, but has, hopefully, reduced a little the damage. There will be spikes, as we are seeing Halkidiki with additional restrictions at this moment.

The recent flights from Zante carrying Covid-19 infected people back to the UK have tarnished Greece's well-earned image as a safe place to holiday. Meanwhile, Greek infection rates are higher now than during the 'first wave' in March and April 2020.

How long will it take to reach 1, 2, and/or 3? I don’t know, but there is a huge amount of progress being made on number 1, and there will probably be stage-4 successful vaccines ready by the end of the year. Greece has ordered 3 million doses, with the first to arrive in December (provided stage-4 trials are successful).

So with a vaccine, and with better treatment options, I think next year will be a “good year” (relatively speaking of course). I hope number 3 happens through the coming year also.