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The Corona Files: Next step of lifting restrictions will NOT be taken

The news is out and it is not good!

Pubs will stay closed for AT LEAST another four weeks until 31 August and – let’s face it – it is highly unlikely that anything significant will change in the next three weeks, considering the worldwide Covid situation. So who knows until when they will stay closed.

This obviously also has a significant impact on any live entertainment going forward and will not only leave pub owners and employees in a challenging situation, but will be devastating news for all the musicians that we have in Ireland.

A curfew for restaurants and pubs serving food of 23:00 was introduced as well (takeaways are allowed to stay open longer) and face masks will be mandatory in shops from 10 August.

And if you were hoping that there will be SOME good news elsewhere….not so!

Malta, Cyprus, Gibraltar, San Marino and Monaco were taken off the green list and seemingly no other countries were added.

The limits for crowds will also stay in place: 50 for indoor events and 200 for outdoor events.

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And ALL this while we currently only have 448 cases of reported Covid infections in Ireland. If we multiply this by 10 to catch non-reported infections, then we have in the whole country just 4480 active cases. If we assume a population of 4,921,500, you need to meet 1098 (!!) people before you meet ONE Covid sufferer. 😮

Can we survive another while without pubs? Sure we can if we have to! But looking at how public health policy is made at the moment, the makers of the rules seem to believe in the fairy tale that Ireland can eradicate the Coronavirus. Does that sound likely to you? What is your guess, when will pubs open? And will we have to cancel Christmas?

(Clarification: The number 448 is the sum of all cases that were reported in the last 14 days and is therefore the number of the cases that can assumed to be still active.)

The Corona Files: To Mask or not to Mask? That is the question!

(Last Update: 22 July 2020)

The amount of misinformation that is spread in connection with Covid-19 is unbelievable and it doesn’t matter if it is governments or news media outlets or hordes or attention seekers on YouTube. Misinformation, sometimes accidentally, other times intentionally, is everywhere. It gets really bad on Facebook when our soon-to-be-FORMER Facebook “friends” blindly spread misinformation while trying to “convince” us with their “I have done my research” nonsense. :-(

To help with some facts in this factless time and because a lot of people have asked me in the last few days, I have gathered what is known about masks:

1) Is the wearing of masks mandatory in Ireland?
Despite some news websites announcing already on 17 July that mask have to be worn in shops and some radio stations claiming the same on 20 July, it is (as of 22 July) NOT mandatory yet to wear masks in shops or indoor venues in Ireland. But it is mandatory to wear masks on public transport.

2) Will it become mandatory to wear masks in shops?
“Mandatory” means that it is a legal obligation. This requires a piece of law to be enacted by the Oireachtas. The government has given indications that they want to make it a legal requirement and that they are working on it. But they haven’t indicated when that piece of law will be be completed. So therefore it is VERY likely that the government will enact a law that will make it mandatory. But until then it is just a strong recommendation by the government.
The government says on gov.ie at the time of writing this post: “Wearing a cloth face covering is also recommended in situations where it is difficult to practise social distancing, for example in shops. Wearing of cloth face coverings may help prevent people who do not know they have the virus from spreading it to others.”
Note the “MAY”!

3) Could shops make it a requirement to wear masks even before it is mandatory?
Shops have the right to refuse admission and for that reason it is possible that some shops will not let you in without a mask EVEN if there is no legal requirement to wear masks. It seems somewhat unlikely that larger shops will go down that route, but it is possible.

4) Why is the government considering this now?
This is one of the mysteries of Covid-19. At a time when the virus was a lot more rampant than now, we were NOT advised to wear masks, but now we are. At that time we were even told that masks do NOT protect and suddenly they do!? This certainly does not make sense! The right thing would have been to make it at least a recommendation or strong advice back in March. Certainly while visiting shops during the lockdown.
Most European governments told us at that time that wearing a mask doesn’t help, but now at the tail end of the first wave of Covid-19, they have suddenly changed their mind. It would be great if the governments explained that turn around so that we feel like we are treated with more respect than just stupid underlings, but most governments are not so good at that.

5) Does the wearing of masks even make sense?
Yes, it does! If someone is infected, then wearing a mask can reduce the spread of the virus. It doesn’t completely stop the breathing out of virus (especially if it is one of these leaky Operation Theatre masks that many people still wear), but even with a bad mask it a) reduces the spreading of virus material and it also redirects it away from a “frontal attack” to a more redirected trickle. Large droplets are caught by the mask, small droplets (aerosol) still can get out, but that reduction can be crucial.
If you are not infected, then wearing a mask CAN reduce the risk of infection to a degree. Not a huge degree, but the big droplets that someone sneezes or coughs in your face will be caught by the mask and that helps.
During the whole Lockdown and post lockdown period, not a single person ever coughed or sneezed at me in a shop, so realistically, the self-protection aspect of a mask is probably very small. The “protecting others if you are infected”-aspect is MUCH bigger, especially during the short phase where you might be infected and don’t know it yet.

6) What about all the studies that tell us masks don’t work?
There is a significant number of studies that indicate that masks are not providing the level of protection our governments and their government advisors claim there is. And even the WHO seemingly has released statements that very much question the efficacy of masks. But we have to consider the context! In a scientific context an efficacy of 2-40% is laughable and would not be sufficient. But in a context where the risk is quite low, reducing the risk even further with the relatively harmless procedure of wearing a piece of cloth in front of your face is still a SORT of protection.

7) But how high is the infection risk at the moment really??
On 20 July, the deputy chief medical officer in Ireland announced that in the last 2 weeks 270 new cases with Covid-19 infections were detected. If we assume that there is still a relatively large amount of non-detected Covid-19 cases and we therefore multiply this figure by 10, we might have 2700 active cases. (All the other previously reported cases can be assumed as non-active (healed or dead) since they are well older than 2 weeks.)
With a population of 1,904,806 in Greater Dublin and 2700 Covid-19 cases, that means that approximately 1 in 705 people is infected in Dublin at the moment.
I went to a supermarket last weekend and I probably walked by 30 people or less. That means I will have to go 24 times to the supermarket before I will meet ONE person that is infected with Covid-19. That is a LOW risk!
Also consider that encountering an infected person, doesn’t mean that you are then automatically exposed to a high risk. Ina supermarket you just pass each other, you don’t breath, cough or sneeze in other people’s faces normally.
So actually, the REAL risk of getting infected through casual encounters with infected people is VERY VERY small.

8) Is wearing a mask dangerous?
No! Some odd people (even including some doctors, who should know better) try to spread the incorrect information that an infected person will get worse if they re-breath-in the virus load that they just wanted to spread into the world when the mask prevented them. Keep in mind that they are already full of virus themselves, so it is not that they will re-infect themselves in any way or that they will have MORE virus after re-breathing-in virus.
The other claim that is made is that masks will reduce the oxygen intake and cause a shortage of oxygen because “used air” is re-breathed-in again. A simple Blood Oxygen Meter shows that is is total nonsense. The oxygen in the blood does NOT sink, so the claim is rubbish. Also keep in mind that doctors and nurses wear sometimes masks for large parts or all of their shifts and we have not heard from too many oxygen deprived doctors in operation theatres close to fainting while operating on patients. Or have we?
And finally: Since mask wearing will only be required in public transport and at inside venues (e.g. shops). The time that most people spend with a mask on is quite limited. So even IF there was an oxygen or re-infection issue, just limit that time to a minimum and you will NOT suffer any adverse health effects.

9) Some say that only people FULL of fear wear a mask! But that’s not me!
When you wear a seat-belt in car or wear a bike helmet OR wear a condom, that doesn’t mean that you are full of fear and are therefore in any way a weak person. Prevention against a possible risk doesn’t make you a weak person! So tell the people that want to intimidate you to F off!

10) Are we told to wear masks to train us to be subservient underlings?
No! But you are on to something! We are told to wear masks because our political leaders are afraid to make decisions that could result in deaths. So they follow the “advice” of the doctors and scientists they have chosen to advise them. But doctors and scientists are not necessarily known for being risk takers. So they are over-careful because they also know that they could lose their role as advisor. Nobody is prepared to take responsibility for a decision that COULD result in some deaths. And to ensure that we don’t question the orders the politicians like giving to us, they use the tried and tested strategy of spreading fear about the dangers of the virus even if only 1 in 705 people is actually infected.

11) So does it make sense to wear a mask?
If you are ever told to wear a mask outdoors, then please object/rebel/complain and refuse. In Spain it is mandatory to wear a mask even if you are outside and nobody is around and that is TOTALLY ridiculous.
But we are not that far in Ireland and HOPEFULLY we will never get there.
If you are the type of person that plugs out the TV from the wall socket in the evening, then you should wear a mask IMMEDIATELY. (And there are still LOTS of people who do that – the TV thing! – every night because their grand mother did it.) But seriously, wearing a mask is good for you and for others and you won’t feel comfortable without a mask anyway.
If you have the SLIGHTEST expectation that you might be infected, please wear a mask to protect others. If there is a POSSIBILITY that you are infected and you don’t know yet, then wear a mask for others even if you are happy to remain unprotected from their potential infection.
And that leaves the people that are happy to do (safe) parachute jumps and bungee jumps. People who are risk aware but not overly worried! I know it is a pain to wear a mask if the risk is JUST 1 in 705 to meet an infected person.
But consider this: Two weeks ago, I got a cold! Despite the 2m distance an the hand washing and the no-hugging etc. I got a cold or flu. I got tested for Covid-19 because my doctor thought it is a good idea in the current times and I agreed. The result was negative as him and me had expected. But obviously something had caused my flu symptoms despite all social distancing. I will never know how I got this cold or flu, but I know that viruses only transfer between people and I was not (knowingly) in contact with ANYONE. If I can get a cold/flu with NO contact, then I also could get the Coronavirus. :-O

12) Bonus question: Should I trust the Irish government (or any other government) and should I trust the advisors to the Irish Government?
This is a very good and important question and the answer is an emphatic: NO!!!
No Taoiseach, no Health Minister and no Chief Medical Officer has ANY experience with what they make rules or laws for or what they advise on. They are guessing as much as anybody else in the world. I do believe that they are trying to do their best, but they are not doing it in the best possible way. Spreading fear, feeding the fire of uncertainty and worry and enacting nonsensical and unnecessarily draconian measures with extremely dubious effectiveness is NOT the best way.
So you should question everything that comes from them. If they can provide a good explanation for what they are doing then we might have to go along for now even if we possibly find out in 6-12 months that they were very wrong. But if they can’t provide an explanation then send them back to the drawing board!

Disclaimer: I am not trained as a doctor or as an epidemiologist or as a virologist, so I have the same level of training in that area as most of our politicians. I also have not done any research into the Coronavirus. All I am doing is objectively analysing and critically questioning the information that is provided to us.

The Corona Files: Can we trust our leaders in this crisis?

[This post got a bit longer than planned and you might not have the time to read the whole post, but I can promise you that it is worth it, because there is some amazing and unheard of news towards the end of it!]

After more than a month in “lockdown”, with a significantly changed infection rate and considering what is happening in other countries, it is now time to think about the trust we can or should have in the politicians in Ireland to do the right thing.

While the picture here is by far not as shocking as in the USA, where Trump suggested to put UV light “inside people” to kill the virus or maybe to inject disinfectant (www.youtube.com/watch?v=33QdTOyXz3w) so that the virus dies, we still need to keep a close eye on what is done with our lives and to us by the people who are in power.

Because I do believe that we are dealing with a virus, a virus that is more dangerous than other viruses (I will write another time about THAT discussion and the Conspiracy Theories that are connected to it.), I do think that the soft-ish lockdown that we were put under, was the right thing to do.

But I am wondering of the people in charge are the right ones to get us out again.

Who is in charge?

First let’s have a look at the power structure in Ireland to see who is really in charge right now.

It seems that the following people and organisations/forums are on this list: Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, Health Minister Simon Harris, National Public Health Emergency Team (NPHET), Chief Medical Officer Tony Holohan and maybe also Professor Philip Nolan, who is leading the modelling team.

This is an interesting list for many reasons:
The majority of people on it are seemingly un-elected and are employees or subcontractors of the Department of Health. It seems to be really difficult to find out who is part of the NPHET (I wasn’t able to!) and the NPHET doesn’t release any minutes of their meetings anymore. But it seems that the two elected politicians (Don’t worry, I will come to that!), Varadkar and Harris, leave ALL or nearly all decisions to the NPHET. Alan Kelly, the Labour leader, has some justified concerns about NPHET: www.thejournal.ie/taoiseach-nphet-alan-kelly-5082184-Apr2020/

In a setup like this, there is a huge risk that experts are experts ONLY in their area, but don’t really see/understand or want to care about any other aspects of their decisions. You probably know the saying, to a man with a hammer, everything looks like a nail!

Because a modeller cares very much about his models and a Chief Medical Officer cares very much about the medical aspects of this pandemic, they definitely have to be PART of the advisory group, but after that should it not be the elected politicians that carry the responsibility and also then make the decisions and announce the decisions?

Yes (I am getting to that now!), I am fully aware that neither Harris nor Varadkar are confirmed in their roles after the recent election. And strictly speaking, they lost the election and would have to get re-elected or re-appointed before they are confirmed in their roles. However, they are – according to the Irish Constitution – rightly and correctly continuing in their roles until a new Taoiseach is elected and a new Minister of Health has been appointed.

On the way into the lockdown, I think they did do the right thing and performed well. But a critic could say that the getting into a lockdown is easy and you can’t do much wrong, the way out of the lockdown is MUCH more complicated and requires completely different leadership.

I am not convinced that the people in power are the right ones to get us out of the lockdown. The Chief Medical Officer will be judged by the only statistic he focuses on on a daily basis: Number of newly infected and number of deaths. The Modelling expert, only looks at the virus reproduction number R (and surprisingly for an expert he seemingly doesn’t understand that R0 and R are not the same!! R0 is the max reproduction number and R or Reff is the REAL reproduction number. Prof Nolan got it wrong here www.gov.ie/en/publication/ea86cc-covid-19-modelling-data-thursday-16-april-2020/). And if you are judged by ONE specific result or number, then naturally you only focus on that one single issue and tend to loose sight of any other issues.

So who will look at the other effects and impacts? There are social, mental, economic, educational and political impacts as well.

This is the sphere were politicians need to make decisions, but to do that, they might have to tell the medics and modellers that they appreciate their advise but might choose not to follow it for now and do we think Varadkar and Harris would do that? I don’t think Harris would and I am not too sure about Varadkar.

NO politician anywhere in Europe or even worldwide KNOWS what to do in the current situation, so we can’t be tooo harsh with our judgement. No medic or modeller really has reliable and 100% correct data! Apart from the number of deaths, everything else is pure guess work. We have NO idea how many people have been infected. We don’t even know exactly how the infections happen and why some people have a weak reaction and others have a strong reaction to an infection. So all the people in power are totally winging it! Not only in Ireland, but worldwide.

So what can be done? In my opinion, we should watch closely what is happening in other countries. Austria, Germany, Denmark and Czech (and a few more) are starting to ease the restrictions and our politicians should look at that to 50% and listen to the experts with the other 50%.

But this expert forum has to change now! Medics and modellers are still needed, but in addition we need to add people that know about mental health, that are experts in education and in economy. The expert group that will ADVISE our politicians (not lead instead of the politicians) has to spread wider and cover more bases.

How come I dare to say that? Do I think that all the deaths are not real? Do I think that we are over the hospital emergency?
No, I do not think that at all! What our health care workers experience is definitely real and we definitely need to continue the work on easing the pressure they are under.

But we also need to be aware that Covid-19 is not the only health issue in this country. There are people avoiding hospitals that urgently should be seen and possibly operated. And we need to take into account that there is NO good justification for some of the restrictions and the renewed clamping down that gardai have announced for this coming weekend. There is a good justification for the physical distance, but NOT for the 2km radius for exercise and also not for the travel limitations (as long as you continue to keep the physical distance wherever you go to).

And if business life doesn’t continue in some shape of form, we will NOT be able to pay for the out of work aid that is being paid at the moment and we will NOT even be able to keep financing the hospitals. Heck, we were not able to finance hospitals sufficiently to avoid overcrowding when the economy was going well, so how can it be possible when the economy has stopped?

I am NOT talking about a “getting back to normality”, but I am talking about moving out of emergency shutdown mode into a emergency handling mode in the same way as these other European countries do it.

And YES, it could happen that we will get back into lockdown mode again for another 2 weeks or so. Maybe even a few times. And that is absolutely ok, but we now need to work on a plan for getting out and I am not sure we can trust the people who are currently in charge to have the ability to do that in a reasonable way.


I should mention something else as well and I have to admit that it influenced my opinion a good bit. It is a very important aspect and maybe I should put up a separate post about this, because it is VERY surprising:

The deaths that we are currently experiencing is the only reliable number. We don’t know in a lot of cases if a death was caused by Covid-19 or not and for the dead person or his/her family it is not even relevant. But we know that these deaths are real! The ridiculous and brutal restriction to just 10 family member at a funeral, no matter how big the church or funeral venue is is also real and there is not the slightest justification for it. Thanks NPHET for one of exceptionally nonsensical rules!
But I discovered something else this week and I have not found ANYBODY writing or talking about it!!

There is a European Project that has the cute name “EuroMOMO”, but is not cute at all. EuroMOMO is a European mortality monitoring activity, so they cound the number of deaths that happen in Europe. And the goal of EuroMOMO is to detect and measure excess deaths related to seasonal influenza, pandemics and other public health threats.

So, the 24 participating countries report their number of deaths to EuroMOMO and EuroMOMO creates graphics and reports to show if and to what degree the deaths in a certain period of time are above or below the “normal” death rate. In normal years the deaths that are above the normal death rate are considered as influenza deaths if they happen between October and May. EuroMOMO has a lot of graphs and stats on their website, but the most relevant is the Z-scores by country and you should have a look at that here www.euromomo.eu/graphs-and-maps/#z-scores-by-country

The results are shown on a time graph and the Z-score shows by how much the current number of deaths varies from the normal number of deaths. In Belgium, France, Italy, Netherlands, Spain and UK you see a significant peak. That shows that they are having significant more deaths than in normal years.

But now check Ireland! And you will be surprised to see that Ireland has LESS deaths in this Covid-19 period than it would be normal this time of the year. LESS!!!

I have no idea why that is, maybe it is because there are less other hospital operations. Maybe because there are less accidents because people stay at home. Maybe the fact that people avoid going to hospital if they have some other issues, keeps them alive longer? I have no clue! It also doesn’t mean – and I repeat that on purpose again – that Covid-19 is not happening or that it is harmless or that it is just like a normal flu. NO! That is all nonsense! And the numbers in other countries clearly show that. But if our excess mortality at the moment is lower than normal, then maybe the 1014 deaths (as of yesterday) are at least in Ireland, just normality. And if that is the case then we have to continue keeping the virus under control by keeping a physical distance, but we have to wonder if the current lockdown is justified in its current form!

Soooo, can we trust the people in charge? What do you think?

The Corona Files: We did go too far!

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe wrote a poem that is called “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice” and when I went to school, we had to learn it. I did exceptionally badly that day and got the worst mark on reciting the poem that I ever got in my whole school “career”. So it is a poem that I will never completely forget. One of the lines is “Die Geister die ich rief, werd ich nicht mehr los.” and that translates to “The spirits that I called, I can’t get rid of anymore.”

We are clearly still in the middle of the Covid-19 crisis (some think we are only at the beginning of it!), but a lot has happened and I am genuinely and deeply concerned about the long term effects that policy decisions had already and will have on our behaviour to each other.

The “We are all in it together!” is long forgotten and fear and panic has replaced the we-will-fight-through-this attitude from before.

I came across a whole range of scenarios that worry me! Here are just a few examples:

1) The Police State

Over the Easter weekend when the much stricter restrictions where in place a friend of mine and his partner went on a food shopping trip for his and her parents who are elderly and are cocooning. Because they live a little bit apart at the outskirts of Dublin, they had to travel a bit to shops and then to deliver the food. On their way, they were stopped at SIX garda checkpoints and they were never able to deliver the food. On one of the checkpoints an ill informed garda gave them nearly the full “E-E-E-E” treatment that was used as garda strategy that weekend. The four Es is Engagement / Explain / Encourage / Enforcement. (www.rte.ie/news/coronavirus/2020/0409/1129677-what-to-expect-from-gardai-during-covid-19-restrictions/)

They were told that they are NOT allowed to drive to their parents to bring them food despite the fact that “caring for the elderly” was clearly classed as ESSENTIAL during the Covid-19 crisis. They were also threatened with legal action if they don’t turn around. Nonsensically, the garda told them that instead they should bring all their shopping to the next garda station so that the food would be delivered by gardai to their parents. (There was no answer on how to deal with frozen food.)
Maybe this was just ONE garda on a power trip or an extremely badly briefed garda? But at another one of the six checkpoints, they were berated by a garda because two people (who live together!!!) were in the same car. :-O There is no rule or law in Ireland that disallows that.
By the way: They had to give up and turn around to avoid being prosecuted or arrested…and the parents didn’t get the food for Easter!

2) Inexcusable Misinformation

A situation that was not related to Covid-19 forced me to be in A&E in a Dublin hospital 2 weeks ago. I was there with my partner and as it is normal and natural during the waiting period and between examinations we sat next to each other and talked about what happened. The shift of the office based A&E staff had changed and the new admin at the reception had taken over. 10 minutes later he spotted us and came running out from behind his glass screen, shouting at me for not keeping a social distance. I explained to him that this was my partner who I live with. But that didn’t stop him! Instead he got even more excited and told me that this does not matter in the slightest. We are in a hospital and therefore have to keep a distance of 2m from each other.
He either didn’t understand the rules OR he was taught nonsensical rules and didn’t question them.

3) Blinding Fear

Someone I am “friends” with on Facebook wrote in a Facebook conversation
during the week:

“If people meet and don’t keep the distance at the moment, they could infect others. The infected people could die. So meeting others is akin to murder!”

I am lost for words in this case. How can any sane and sensible person draw that conclusion?? The person who wrote that clearly lost all reason and I can only conclude that this is caused by a blinding fear.

4) Attacking the people who help!

Luckily we have not reached the lowest of lows in Ireland: In the UK, Health Care workers are being attacked and abused for being “virus spreaders”. Tires of ambulances are slashed and cars of hospital employees are damaged. The ITV news on 15 April had this report:

How can it come to this? My guess is: Irrational fear, stirred by sensational media reports. This is shocking stuff!

5) No Way Out

At some point in the not toooo distant future, we will have to go back to offices again and kids will have to go to schools. But the virus will not be gone! So how will we deal with that?
In Denmark, where they are a little faster with lifting restrictions and thought about letting young children return to school first, rapidly 18,000 parents declared that they will refuse letting their kids go back to school.

How will we deal with a loosening of the restrictions? Will we also refuse to go to work? Let kids go to school? If a vaccine is another 12-18 months away, will some of us lock themselves in at home and refuse to go to work until then? How will YOU react when you have to go back to work? Enter a room again with other people inside?

In my opinion, we have definitely overdone it! We have over-egged the pudding!! And it is all based on fear that has been whipped up by our authorities, lead by the government and advised by medical officers and epidemiologists.

Don’t get me wrong, I think the lockdown was the right thing to do, BUT what did the Taoiseach do to “incentivise” the country? He said on 09 March that in Ireland 85,000 people could die from the Coronavirus. (www.independent.ie/world-news/coronavirus/up-to-85000-irish-people-could-die-from-coronavirus-in-worst-case-scenario-taoiseach-indicates-as-three-more-diagnosed-39029363.html) This was not wrong information, but it was information that was used to get us worried so that we would adhere to the restrictions.

Later on, language was used that suggested to us that our lives were in serious and immediate danger. All measures were “to save lives”. “Stay home stay safe!!” This is also not wrong, but we can’t be surprised that then many look at the other people on the same footpath as a threat to their life. Or when leaving your home to go back to work is seen as risking ones life.

And now you see where “The spirits that I called, I can’t get rid of anymore.” becomes relevant! We over did it! We became so fearful that the care that people showed for each other in the beginning turned into people being prepared to report their neighbours for the smallest Covid-19 rule infringement.

It is a little early to think about things going back to “normality”, but what type of society do we want when we are going back to a sort of normality? If you have certain preferences, don’t let others pound fears and believes in you that are counterproductive!

Assess for yourself and judge what makes sense and what doesn’t. Then check with people that you trust if your assessment is reasonably and logical. Be prepared to learn and to speak up if necessary!

Oh and never ever forget that MOST others don’t do the (questionable) things they do to hurt or harm you, but because they don’t know better. Always be compassionate!

The Corona Files: Get me out of here!

In Ireland, restrictions of public life started on 13 March, so we are one month into it and last Friday it was announced that the lockdown will continue for at least another 3.5 weeks until 05 May.

So it is much too early to pain for a “back to normality”, we need a lot of patience, but at the same time, it is the right time to think (or learn) about how we will be able to get out of this lockdown situation again.

There are a lot of people that think that as long as we are patient and stay away from other people, the virus will disappear again and we can go back to normality. However, this is a highly unlikely scenario!! The Coronavirus will be with us for a long long time and can (and probably will) flare up again and again.

If you think this through, then there is no straight forward and simple way to lift the lockdown. Not on 05 May and not on 05 June or 05 July unless something else happens.

The job description of a of an efficient virus includes the requirement “must spread…ideally like wildfire”. And in that respect the Coronavirus is a very efficient virus. Not as efficient as measles, but doing a good job nevertheless.

Virus Reproduction numbers are essential

The efficiency is expressed through the “max speed of spread” or reproduction number, which is called R0 (R Zero). For measles this is around 15 and for the Coronavirus it is up to 3, for the influenza virus (flu) it is around 1.3. That means that one infected person will infect 15 others for measles and 3 others for the Coronavirus. 15 is crazy, but even 3 (or on some areas around 2.2) is exponential spread. So to reign it in the effective reproduction or Reff (R effective) has to be brought down to 1 or better below one. That would mean then that one infected person will infect just one other person or maybe even less than one person. At that point the spread is linear or is decreasing (when smaller than 1).

In Ireland we have the advantage that the country is quite small and this combined with relatively fast action that was taken, we are allegedly at the point where Reff is at around 1. I say “allegedly” because I think that the numbers of infected people are MUCH underestimated in Ireland due to the low number of tests that have been carried out. But lets hope that we are actually close to 1.

At that point, the virus is far from being gone. It is just more under control and therefore it is expected that the hospitals will be able to deal with virus patients better.

So what Reff doe the authorities aim for? The simple and complicated answer is “as low as possible”. But be aware that it is unlikely to be Zero, because the Coronavirus is devious and smart. It is hiding its presence for 5-14 days and only after that you will get symptoms. During these 5-14 days a carrier can infect a LOT of people.

With R0 being around 3, ONE single carrier could easily infect all his/her social contacts in a week and for a busy person that could amount to 3-4 per day. So in, let’s say 10 days ONE single highly socially active person could infect 20-30 people and BOOM there is a new cluster that can lead to another wildfire-like spread.

How to lift the lockdown?

If we lifted the lockdown completely, we could be back in a uncontrollable situation within 1-2 weeks. So we can’t do it that way. In Austria they are talking about lifting the limitations for smaller shops and trades people on 14 April and then for hairdressers (WHY them!?) on 01 May and then for the first few pubs and restaurants in mid May. Schools will still stay closed at that time. This is just an idea, a concept that might get changed faster than you can read this blog post, but it shows what we also might have to do.

What do we want to achieve?

That is an important question! The virus can be stopped by only one thing according to virologists and that is a high enough immunity in the population so that it can’t spread anymore. In virology terms, this is called “herd immunity”. This term got a bad meaning because the UK tried to wait for natural “herd immunity” at the outbreak of Covid-19 and now many think that “herd immunity” doesn’t work. This is totally incorrect. Herd immunity is not the same as letting the virus go rampant. Herd immunity just describes that 60-70% of the herd (or population) reached immunity. This can be achieved in two ways: Either they get immunity because they were infected, got through the infection and are now immune OR because they were vaccinated.

The natural immunity is still not certain for the Coronavirus. A trial was done with 5 monkeys that showed that after an infection and going through Covid-19 the monkeys got immune and didn’t show any symptoms when they were re-infected afterwards. But monkeys are only similar not identical to human beings, so more tests are needed to be absolutely certain. The indications are good though. The second problem is that we have no clue yet how long the immunity will last. Some viruses (chicken pox) will be kept away because our body will develop immunity forever, but with other viruses, the immunity is time limited. And with a bad ass Coronavirus, it is POSSIBLE that the immunity will only last a few weeks or months or maybe one or two years. We have no clue yet about that!

What do we need to reach herd immunity?

If we need 60% of the population to have survived Covid-19, we need a LOT more infected people than we have at the moment. Right now, there are around 9000 people tested and found infected in Ireland. IT is assumed that in countries with a high test rate around 80% had the virus and didn’t show any or no severe symptoms, so in a best case scenario the 9000 are our 20% and then we would have had a total of around 45,000 people that were infected and survived and now might have immunity. Because the test rate in Ireland is super low, let’s be generous and let’s assume that we actually have only 10% of detected cases. Then the total immunity level in Ireland after Covid-19 would be around 90,000. This is a immunity level of measly 1.8%!!

So to achieve herd immunity (60%) we need to get another 2.79 million people infected. :-O Imagine! And this has to happen soo slow that the Intensive Care Units will not get overwhelmed again. So maybe at a rate of 90,000 every 1.5 months (at the moment we might have 90,000 in one month with catastrophic consequences for ICUs). With this infection rate, it could take 31 *1.5= 46.5 months (!) to reach herd immunity!

Luckily there is an expectation that in a best case scenario we will have a vaccine in about 12-18 months. So we wouldn’t have to go through the whole infection process of 46.5 months, but would only have to do it for around 18 months. Still in these 18 months we would have to continue protect (=shelter) the high-risk groups and we would have to control the planned infection process constantly and be prepared to shut down life again as soon as it threatens to get out of control.

You can see that this is not an easy situation and that we will be dealing with that WELL after 05 May. This is a bit of a grim prospect, right!?

It will be interesting to see IF Austria will go through with their plan and it will also be interesting to keep a close eye on Denmark and other countries.

I expect that the lifting of the lockdown will have to be a very careful gradual lifting ALL the time being prepared to go into full shut down mode again if needed.

Smart Distancing + Tracing App

An alternative possibility would be to move from Social Distancing to Smart Distancing, in this case we would stay away from people that could be infected and we would continue to quarantine them for 2 weeks as soon as they get some symptoms. We would still need to cocoon the high risk group and couldn’t go back to normal international travel and large events (concerts, football matches, olympic games etc.). And we also would have to combine that with a HOPEFULLY anonymous contact tracing app that would tell you when you had contact with someone who is infected and once you had contact, you would have to self-quarantine immediately (and the app information would have to be proof to your employer that you will have to stay at home for 2 weeks). We also would need LOTS of antibody tests so that people with Coronavirus antibodies would be allowed to freely move around again without having to quarantine.

I am not a modeller or epidemiologist, so all the “models” I described above are very much simplified, but it shows that the Social Distancing and “Stay at home” measures are 100% required to protect the health care system at the moment, but they are not an ideal approach to reach a form of “normality” again.

What do you think about Smart Distancing and a Corona tracing app? If antibody tests are available, you might have to check yourself every two weeks or so. Would you be ok with that? And what if the app was NOT anonymised? Like in China now, the authorities would be able to trace EVERY move you make. Would you consider using the app still?

 
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