I’m concerned about Covid-19, because I understand the science behind it, but I’m not influenced by newspaper or social media hype.
When I was doing my part-time PhD in information science (1985-1991), one of the fields I looked at was epidemiology – how diseases spread. There are a number of mathematical modelling techniques in the field that I looked at in relation to my own research (how scientific knowledge is transmitted within the scientific community and eventually becomes part of the established corpus of science). So I look at the mathematics of the current pandemic, and the statistical chances of becoming infected (my estimate is between 50 and 70% of the Scottish population).
Different countries have made a choice over which strategy to implement. One, I’ll call the Extinguish Before Transmission strategy, or ‘Stop People Catching It’, was adopted (late, but not too late) by China, and belatedly (and probably too late) by Italy and other countries in Europe. The other is based on the concept of herd immunity. (If you want to see an excellent graphic illustration of how this works, watch Dr Hannah Fry’s Royal Institution Christmas Lecture, ‘How To Get Lucky’.) That’s the model adopted by the Government that the majority in the UK (not me) voted for. It presupposes that the infection will spread within the community and, in the absence of vaccination, immunity will arise naturally and eventually quench the outbreak. They’ve decided it’s inevitable, and they will try to slow it down, but not extinguish it. A majority of the population will get the infection, and eventually herd immunity will kick in. I’ve no doubt it will work. Eventually. Undue reliance seems to have been placed in behavioural ‘science’, about which I’m deeply unconvinced.
But the unknowable is how a particular individual may respond to that infection. There are a number of factors involved, one of which is exposure to one or more of the 1,500 people in Scotland who probably have the infection already (and that figure will probably double every two days). So we’re staying at home for the most part, but when I went to the gym last week I wiped down all the surfaces with sanitizer before and after I used the equipment. This week I’ve decided to avoid the gym altogether for the foreseeable future. I won’t go to any public meetings or use public transport, and I’ll use social distancing when I’m in contact with people. Jane and I are both fit and well, with no underlying health problems, but we’re now in our upper 70s. While the mortality stats I’ve seen for the population as a whole are running around 1% of those infected, for those over 70 it rises to 8%, and for the over 80s it’s nearly 15%. So we’re taking sensible precautions, but not losing the heid over it.
There is a risk, and it’s the risk your Government has decided to take on your behalf. They haven’t told you that. Boris the Bumbler muttered something about ‘losing loved ones before their time’, looking morose and concerned as his minder told him to. But at least the herd immunity strategy is science-based. In my view, however, it’s not the one that should have been adopted. The government should have introduced measures aimed at stopping people getting the infection in the first place. More people will lose their lives under current plans. But at least we’re not led by Trump. That man would be out of his depth in a puddle.