Virus Isolation Day 7

So, my last day of isolation. No symptoms at all now, maybe a bit of a lingering cough, but that’s it. Maybe I’ve had nothing wrong with me. The danger of being at home is being drawn to the constant new cycle, and the even more constant social media cycle.

Social media as usual provides some great entertainment, as well as showing the best and the worst of people – have a look in today’s heroes and zeroes.

Looking back at the history of the virus, it’ interesting to see what we knew and when. In the last two weeks of January I was working in Egypt, and making plans for a trip to China in early March. On a daily basis in Egypt we saw the information coming out of China and the restriction from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office stopping further travel to China. Travelling back through Cairo and London, people were already wearing masks, including on the tube. Clearly this was a virus that was going to spread, as globalisation means extensive travel, through a variety of different hubs – it’s all very well stopping direct flights to and from China, but every far east trip I have ever made was via a hub in the Middle East. So, we knew about this virus and its potential in January.

Let’s look at a timeline:

31/12/2019 China alerts WHO to cases of pneumonia
11/01/2020 China first death
13/01/2020 first case outside China
20/01/2020 China, 3rd death and 200 cases
22/01/2020 China 17 dead, 550 cases
23/01/2020 Wuhan and 2 other cities  under quarantine
24/01/2020 China 26 dead, 830 cases
25/01/2020 travel restrictions affecting 56 million
26/01/2020 56 dead, 2000 cases in China, cases confirmed in US, Taiwan, Thailand, Japan and S Korea
30/01/2020 WHO declares global emergency
31/01/2020 first UK case
05/02/2020 China 490 dead, over 24000 cases
11/02/2020 over 1000 dead in China, virus named COVID-19
15/02/2020 over 1500 dead in China
03/03/2020 UK PM boasts of shaking hands with Coronavirus patients
10/03/2020 UK announces no need to limit major sporting events
12/03/2020 First PM announcement to country – “Herd immunity” plan hoping to let 60% of the country become infected, in contradiction to plans of other countries. Everyone does the calculation – 1% of 60% infected could die = 400,000
15/03/2020 Imperial College data suggests 100s of thousands will die following the government plan.
16/03/2020 Voluntary limits to social contact proposed by PM, pubs and bars still open
20/03/2020 Bars and restaurants to close immediately, stricter social distancing required
21-22/03/2020 Large numbers go out for a walk in the country or the seaside
23/03/2020 Strict controls announced regarding social distancing and limiting the freedom to go out. UK deaths now at 335
30/03/2020 UK deaths reach 1408

The spread of a virus is a scientific phenomenon, and epidemiologists have models to show how one will spread. However, the policies that an individual government will take to limit the spread are political, informed by the science and constrained by established societal norms in any particular country.

What does seem clear is:

  • We knew about the virus and its seriousness from January but did nothing until mid-March. Maybe it’s hard to get people to isolate and distance themselves when they can’t yet see the problem, but this will lead to unnecessary deaths.
  • We didn’t start stocking up on protective equipment for health workers when we could , who are now paying the price, again possibly leading to unnecessary deaths.
  • Other countries who have contained the virus, on the recommendations of WHO are testing many, many more people. Testing means those who are infected can be isolated and their contacts traced. Even now the UK failing to meet its planned 10000 tests per day, when countries like Germany far exceed this.

The UK approach seemed to be one of British exceptionalism – “we will take it on the chin” according the PM (I think he was thinking of one of his biscuit games from Eton) whereas those countries who are containing the outbreak have all taken a different approach

It’s hard to predict how many will die – that’s best left to professionals who have an increasingly rich dataset to model, and who can compare the effect of different policies and behaviours in different countries. What is clear is that the deaths in China appear to have been brought under control at 3305 as of 30-3-20. So a country of 1,400,000,000 has 3305 deaths. The UK with a population of 66,000,000 has 1408 an dis likely to reach the China figure in the next 7 or 8 days. Even if the deaths in China are under-reported, then the UK strategy may not have worked. In the inevitable enquiry that will happen afterwards, either formally or through the press, people will ask – did our government do enough and at the right times to prevent unnecessary deaths?

Heroes and Zeroes

Our hero award has to go to the Shropshire police twitter account, for totally owning this racist.

There’s a lot of it about – false claims just to spread a little hate around.

On a lighter note, there’s the goats who have taken over Llandudno



An Astrophysicist gets magnets stuck up nose while inventing coronavirus device – Australian Dr Daniel Reardon ended up in hospital after inserting magnets in his nostrils while building a necklace that warns you when you touch your face. Great stuff.

And finally

For those who’ve been reading this isolation diary, then let’s finish with what C P Snow wrote in 1921, in an essay to mark the centenary of the Guardian.:

“Comment is free, but facts are sacred. “Propaganda”, so called, by this means is hateful. The voice of opponents no less than that of friends has a right to be heard. Comment also is justly subject to a self-imposed restraint. It is well to be frank; it is even better to be fair. This is an ideal. Achievement in such matters is hardly given to man. Perhaps none of us can attain to it in the desirable measure. We can but try, ask pardon for shortcomings, and there leave the matter.”