Friday, 7 October 2022

SARS-CoV-2 three years on

 "Three years" is not an error. Analysis of (there is no way of avoiding the expression) sewage has shown that the virus was in the wild in the West in November 2019 at the latest. Typical is this example from Brazil. The vector, one guesses, is Chinese tourism (as with the Italian epidemic) or perhaps business visiting. The latter suggests that Africa, the object of Chinese investment, may be another early playground for the virus, undetected because there is little sophisticated public health analysis on the continent. So the epidemic in South Africa may have had an earlier cause other than medics returning from their holidays in hot-spots in France and Italy, which was my first suspicion. An October infection would account for the development of so many strains and sub-strains of the virus in the republic.

Anyway,  the Covid-19 Inquiry started in earnest last Tuesday. It promises to be exhaustive, though one notes that the duration pushes its report beyond the probable date of the next general election, conveniently for the Johnson/Truss government.

One trusts that Phil Hammond ("MD" of Private Eye) as both practising physician and commentator on public health will be called to give evidence. "Lockdown" is sure to be discussed and in his column of a month ago, MD wrote:

The fact that two pandemic modelling exercises (Exercise Cygnus  [pdf here] for flu and Exercise Alice for coronavirus) concluded that we were woefully ill-prepared and yet the government then did nothing to prepare us also failed to feature during the [Conservative leadership contest] hustings. Both candidates played to the crowd, Truss claiming that "we went too far with lockdowns" and Sunak that the government in which he was chancellor "gave too much power to scientists during lockdowns" and "was not honest about the potential downsides". Ministers were even "banned from talking about the trade-offs involved".

Lee Cain, No 10's director of communications in 2019-20, tells a different story. "I sat around the cabinet table as politicians, scientists, economists and epidemiologists agonised over the extent to which lockdown would devastate lives and livelihoods," he wrote in a letter to the Spectator last week. "It was not an easy decision for anyone We locked down because we knew the cost of 'letting Covid rip' was far more damaging to both the health and wealth of the nation. But as the pandemic fades into our collective memory - and critics try to rewrite history - it's clear that the biggest mistake was not locking down but doing so too late."

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