The lyrics come from a very famous Fifth Dimension song, but this is not a post about music.
It’s a post about Covid-19 and an update on its spread, and how to live with it. And guess what? Sunshine really does make a difference, in ways that are not immediately obvious.
First up I’m going to start with some research conducted by the Australian Centre for Disease Preparedness, Geelong, VIC, Australia. As some of you know, my state of Victoria is at the centre of the largest outbreak in Australia. And we’re not over it [completely] yet.
What the Australian study did was to measure the infectiveness of the virus – ON SURFACES – in a rather unusual way. As the UV in light is known to kill viruses, the researchers conducted their study on the virus in the dark. They also controlled the temperature of the environment in which the virus was studied. Their results are interesting to say the least.
The following is a direct quote taken from those results :
‘viable virus was isolated for up to 28 days at 20 °C from common surfaces such as glass, stainless steel and both paper and polymer banknotes. Conversely, infectious virus survived less than 24 h at 40 °C on some surfaces.’
For a more in-depth explanation of the study and what it found, please check out Dr John’s video.
For me, personally, these results are both good news and bad because we’ve been ‘isolating’ dry goods bought from the supermarket in the boot of the Offspring’s car. As the boot is dark, I immediately worried about how effective this isolation had been, especially as it’s been a cold winter here in Melbourne.
Then I realised that as neither one of us has become sick, the decon in the boot probably worked. A little later I realised why. The car is parked in the open so, although dark, the temperature in the boot would probably drop to about 5C at night and heat up past 20C during most of the day [the virus dislikes extremes of heat and cold]. Phew. Plus…masks have been mandated for most of this second wave so the chance of someone sneezing on my shopping before it arrives is that much less.
Keep all of that in mind as I tell you about the pandemic in Japan. A study conducted on working people in Tokyo found that despite the tiny death toll – under 2000 for the whole of Japan – close to 50% of those tested may have already been infected by the virus. For more on this please see Dr John’s video here or you can go direct to the study here.
There’s a lot to explain so I’ll try to keep it to the most important details. Firstly, the study was conducted during the summer months and the low death rate is partially backed up by data from the Western world where infection rates have also increased but without a corresponding increase in the death rate.
Doesn’t make sense, or does it?
If dark and temperate conditions keep the virus alive, the conditions in summer would do the exact opposite because people spend much more time outdoors…in the sunshine…with good ventilation. So even when they are exposed to the virus, their VIRAL LOAD is likely to be much less. And viral load determines how sick you’re likely to get.
But still, even taking the sunshine and heat and ventilation and viral load into consideration, why would the Japanese results be so extremely good despite no major lockdowns?
In Japan, the answer seems to be mostly cultural:
Wearing masks is normal.
Bowing instead of hugging or shaking hands is normal.
Not shouting and speaking quietly is normal.
Opening windows [good ventilation] is normal.
Supervised 14 day quarantine is strictly enforced.
And finally, obesity is very low in Japan. Obesity has been shown to be a major co-morbidity with the virus – i.e. you’re likely to get much sicker if you get the virus and you’re obese.
Putting it all together, cultural good practice means that the viral load is kept very low. And that means that the people who are infected are far more likely to have few symptoms, or no symptoms at all. Thus, lots of spread, but most people do not actually get sick, and those who do are much less likely to die.
If this is all true, and I think it is, then we here in Australia are going to get a reprieve over the summer months. Unfortunately, it also means that the northern hemisphere is going to be hit hard, again, especially as Western cultural practices make the virus so happy.
I can’t do anything about the northern hemisphere, but I can ask the people here in Melbourne two very simple questions:
Even if you don’t believe the pandemic is real, would it really kill you to wear a mask? Not just now, when the State government has mandated that all of us must wear one in public, but after? Couldn’t you err on the side of caution, if not for yourself, then for the sick, the elderly and the disabled?
Could you really live with yourself if someone you loved died, or developed a long term health problem because you put your convenience ahead of everything and everyone else?
Wearing a mask is such a small thing when compared to the horror of watching someone die.
I want to start this post by thanking Sandra, a real world friend and email correspondent for sending me these incredible, historical artifacts. Thank you!
Now, take my hand and let’s start with something all Australians will recognize – the Sydney Harbour Bridge:
Historians will love this old black and white news footage, but baby techies like me will be astounded to learn exactly how such a huge, single span was built. I literally could not believe my eyes. [If you don’t want to watch the entire eight minute video, click the red ‘play’ line at about 75%].
The next few images prove that history is cyclical. Or perhaps they just prove that humans never change:
I decided to include the following, more recent image because I wish we had something like it today:
Imagine if, instead of having to order online and get someone else to pick your produce for you, mobile shops would drive through the suburbs, ringing a bell or something, like the old Mr Whippy icecream vans.
We’d still have to wear masks and gloves, and keep 2 metres apart, but wouldn’t it be nice to be able to pick your own fruit and veg? Maybe have the baker’s van bring fresh, crusty Vienna’s to the corner of your street. And ice cream! I do miss the Mr Whippy van. 🙂
The past was anything but a golden age and yet, there are things from my childhood that I really do miss. What about you?
Meeks here. As many countries, including our own, battle an up-surge in Covid-19 infections, one thing is becoming increasingly clear – the suppression model is just not working. As soon as lockdowns are relaxed [to save the economy], the virus surges back up again. If we had some effective tools to use against the virus, things might be different, but the truth is that we have nothing.
Remember that mobile phone app we borrowed from Singapore, PM? You know, the one that was going to keep track of everyone we came into contact with and then alert us if one of our contacts became infected? I think you called it CovidSafe, the app that was going to allow us to have our cake and eat it too.
Bad news, PM. The CovidSafe app failed, in large part because Apple phones and Android phones couldn’t or wouldn’t co-operate with each other. When the outbreak began in Victoria, the app was useless. It’s still useless, and as far as I know, no country has managed to develop one that actually works the way it should.
The failure of the CovidSafe app in Victoria has meant that the authorities here have had to track and trace every single contact manually. The backlog of untracked contacts is now in the thousands, one reason the Premier, Dan Andrews, has had to impose the harshest restrictions yet. These restrictions have seen the introduction of a nightly curfew and the shutdown of everything that is not [very] strictly essential. Workers in essential industries now have to have a permit to go to work.
These draconian restrictions became necessary, PM, because the virus has spread too far in the community. One reason for this spread is that the virus has many vectors [pathways] of spread available to it:
the most obvious vector is person-to-person contact – hugs, kisses etc. This is where social distancing comes in.
the next most important vector is the air. This is where masks come in as they greatly reduce the amount of virus being released into the air and being breathed in from the air. The virus spreads in the air via :
large droplets – e.g. when someone coughs or sneezes. These large droplets fall to the ground, or a surface, very quickly so are relatively easy to deal with.
aerosolized micro droplets that hang in the air for quite some time. In confined spaces such as public transport, or shopping centres where air is recirculated, these micro droplets can spread the virus very quickly.
next in line are surfaces. Both large and micro droplets can survive on various types of surfaces from a few hours to a few days. This is where hand hygiene is vital. If you touch something that has active virus on it and then touch your nose, mouth or eyes, the virus could easily enter your body via your own hand.
If we were all altruistic, compassionate people who practised strict social distancing, strict mask wearing, and strict hand hygiene until a vaccine arrived, we probably could have our cake and eat it too. Thailand has managed to do just that. Unfortunately, most Western countries are not like Thailand. We don’t seem to have the necessary sense of community responsibility. I’m surprised no one on your staff mentioned that to you, PM.
Anyway, as I’m sure you know, PM, Covid-19 has a number of incredibly powerful tools in its arsenal:
it has victims who are hell bent on spreading it to others
it has multiple vectors [pathways] for getting inside its victims
and it has THREE secret weapons :
it is infectious for 2 – 3 days before symptoms appear,
in many people, the symptoms are so mild, they don’t even know they’ve been infected,
and there are some people who never get symptoms at all, not even mild ones, yet these asymptomatic people* are infectious and can spread the virus to others.
This is why the virus cannot actually be ‘controlled’. Sadly, PM this is also why your dream of suppression was never a realistic option.
So I guess the thing I’d like to know, PM, is what you intend to do now. Are you going to make us keep opening and closing all the time?
I sincerely hope not, PM, because everything I’ve seen so far indicates that businesses simply cannot survive much more of this. Being able to reopen safely and stay open, is vital to both people and business. The question, then, is how do we stay open safely?
I hate to say I-told-you-so, PM, but right from the start, I thought your government was wrong to opt for suppression instead of eradication. I also thought the schedule for reopening was wildly optimistic and didn’t demonstrate much of an understanding of human nature. And then there was the whole issue of whether Victoria was ready to reopen. With just 2 days of zero new infections in all of May, it didn’t look good.
But you and your government were determined to save the economy, PM, so Dan Andrews finally bowed to pressure. And there was a lot of it, wasn’t there? You said each state had to do what was right for that state, but many people in your Cabinet and in the Victorian Liberal Party were not so nice. I really think you should have a word with Dan Tehan, your education minister, along with Tim Smith and Michael O’Brien of Victoria. They said some naughty things behind your back, things designed to paint Dan Andrews as a megalomaniac who wanted to hurt his people.
I’d definitely have words with them, PM, because what happened next is at least partly their fault. With overseas travellers still arriving in Melbourne, Dan Andrews ordered that they stay in hotel quarantine for 14 days. A private security company was hired to stop them from leaving hotel quarantine. That private security company then apparently sub-contracted the work out. Unfortunately, those private security guards were poorly equipped and even more poorly trained.
Dear PM, I’m stressing the fact that it was a private company because Dan Andrews has been blamed for doing precisely what you and your government do all the time. You outsource to private companies because you believe that private industry always does a better job than the public service. Plus it’s part of your credo of ‘small government’. But that’s not always the case, is it, PM? I mean, look at the deaths in aged care! Most of them occurred in private aged care facilities regulated and controlled by your government in Canberra.
Getting back to those private security guards, PM, I won’t speculate about how they caught Covid-19 from the quarantined travellers, it’s enough that they did. Then, because large family get-togethers were once again allowed, they took the virus home to their families. From there, the virus spread like wildfire. Or should I say ‘bushfire’?
And of course, with all those new victims, the virus used every weapon in its considerable arsenal to leap from person to person, and from place to place.
In hindsight, PM, I do believe that Dan Andrews made a mistake in not putting all of Melbourne into hard lockdown along with the social housing towers, but the atmosphere of general discontent probably made that impossible. We’d been hearing about how hard it was to be in lockdown, how miserable we were for such a long time that we would have rebelled.
Speaking of discontent, PM, did you have anything to do with that? You see, I was rather shocked by how skewed the reporting was, even on the ABC. Instead of inspiring stories about people helping each other, or sad stories about people who had lost loved ones, everything was skewed towards the negative. Stories about how tough it was for small business, how tough it was for parents having to supervise their kids’ schooling, how sad we all were at not being able to visit friends and family…
But I digress, PM. I’d like to talk about what might have happened if we had opted for eradication like New Zealand. Import and export would have continued. The only thing we would not have had were foreign tourists and foreign students. But hey, we ended up not having them anyway.
The real difference would have been in what came after. With the virus eradicated, the Australian states could have remained ‘open’, and both tourism and the tertiary sector could have remained ticking over thanks to domestic demand. Instead, both sectors are dying because you somehow forgot about them when you were handing out the largesse.
Not that I blame you, PM. It’s easy to make mistakes when you’re dealing with a crisis. I mean, do you remember those long, long, long queues outside the Centrelink offices when you announced the first, rather short shutdown? And how long it took for people to receive their first payments. Mistakes do happen, don’t they?
But I digress again. Getting back to eradication, PM, I know what you’re going to say, eradication of the virus would have been hard. For starters, all of Australia would have had to stay in hard lockdown long enough to stop ALL the ways the virus can spread. That would have taken time, and it would have cost your government a lot more money. Then again, it looks as if suppression is going to cost more too.
In fact, I can’t help wondering if it wouldn’t have been a whole lot cheaper to lockdown once and eradicate the virus the first time round? I mean, I know not every country can successfully eradicate the virus, but we can! Australia may be big, but we are an island you know.
Anyway, there is good news, PM. It’s not too late to change your policy and go for eradication. Once Victoria finally grinds the virus down to zero, I think you’ll find that none of the other states want to risk being the next Covid-19 hot spot. No one will want to open their borders, and you know how disastrous that would be for your economy. No money coming in, lots of money going out. Not good.
So don’t think about the cost, PM, think about the benefits we’d get from eradication. With the virus gone, we’d all be able to:
go back to work,
go back to school,
go back to travel [within Australia],
go back to holidays [within Australia],
go back to coffee with friends,
go back to dinner parties,
go back to birthday parties,
go back to drinks at the pub,
go back to sport as real live spectators,
go back to weddings,
and yes, we could attend funerals again…but there would be far fewer of them.
And let’s not forget business, PM. Businesses, especially the small ones, will be able to reopen and stay open. They’ll be able to plan for weeks or months ahead. They’ll be able to grow again. And people will stimulate the economy by spending! Yay, right?
But first, PM, you and your government have to bite the bullet and admit that we cannot control this virus. We don’t have the tools or the social structure to stop it from breaking out again. The best we can do is eradicate it within the country and then keep it from returning.
That way lies hope. And who knows, maybe in time, New Zealand and other, successful South East Asian countries will let us join their bubble. Wouldn’t that be nice?
Suppression though, that’s a dead end, PM, literally. So how about it? Shall we give eradication a go?
Most sincerely, Meeks
* The first person to ever be identified as an asymptomatic carrier was Mary Mallon, nicknamed Typhoid Mary. She remained infectious her whole life because she lived at a time when there was no safe or easy way to rid her of the virus. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mary_Mallon