How to Fight the War on COVID-19

I’m not a medic but this is my take on COVID-19.

The government’s first instinct at the beginning of the year – to go for herd immunity – was right.  Unfortunately, it judged that to be politically impossible and it bottled out.  The current ‘strategy’, if you can call it that, is a bit like trying to fix a leaky dam wall by having umpteen blokes, each with a bucket of cement and a trowel, abseiling up and down slapping some gobbo on the face wherever a leak spurts out.  They know it’s futile, that it’s not going to work, that the job will never end and nothing much will be achieved, save to prolong the whole process, and eventually there’ll be a flood anyway. 

Anyone who does have serious health issues should shield and be protected, absolutely.  We all know people who are not old but who would likely be carried off by COVID-19 through vulnerability caused by other health issues.  But the rest?  So far as students are concerned, let them party.  So far as the children are concerned, send them to school.  The sooner they’ve all had a dose of it, the better.  The more who’ve had it, the greater the immunity in the population, the less there’ll be, and sooner, to carry it and infect others.  Everyone else who’s willing to take their chances and get on with life should be allowed to do so.  I shall, and maybe COVID-19 will kill me. I hope not and I’ll put up a fight but I know I won’t live forever.  While I am alive though, I do intend to live and not just exist.  

Wartime comparisons always attract derision, but they are apposite.  Most of today’s UK population has never seen war.  My parents, born in 1921 and 1925, lived through the Second World War.  If their generation had not been prepared to take their chances and accept loss then the Axis powers would have won.  In Britain, workers could be fined for absenteeism. In Germany it could cost you your head. In this pandemic though I’ve had perfectly healthy people tell me that they won’t return to work because their employer “cannot guarantee to keep them safe from COVID-19.”  Neither can their employer guarantee, of course, that they won’t be killed in a traffic accident on the commute.  They have a “right”, they say, to have their concerns treated as facts and to be allowed to stay at home. On full pay, of course.  My parents’ generation had no guarantee of safety at work or anywhere else from a Luftwaffe that was actively trying to kill them.  COVID-19 is certainly dangerous and unpleasant but it’s not Hermann Göring.

Pretty much everyone who is sane wants good public health.  But you only get good public health in countries that have the wherewithal to pay for things like hospitals, medics, food safety officials, sewers and all the other paraphernalia that promotes, health, reduces disease and fixes ailments that kill those in poorer societies.  The big long-term risk to public health is that we set our economy back decades, stopping us affording good public health in the future, and that we further impair the intellectual, competitiveness of our already under-educated population.

The only real solution to a leaky dam is to open the sluice gates, take the pressure off the wall, accept that damage will be done and afterward make good.  And that’s what the government needs to do with COVID-19.  Let it run. 

The obvious objection to what I’m suggesting is the NHS manpower capacity problem.  To solve that the government needs to treat this like a war, mobilising the best available manpower. Use medical students as an NCO corps. Tell them that they’re getting a year or two of on-the-job training looking after COVID-19 patients. The payoff is that they work off their student loans. So med students with their skills and knowledge become the NCOs. Under them you get the soldiers, more students who are also willing to pitch in to get some or all of their loans written off.  This works because:

1.      You’re pulling in generally smarter people – college kids – who can soon learn what’s needed.

2.      Nobody relishes coming out of college with a big debt. This is a big opportunity for them.

3.      The young are far less vulnerable.

4.      If the worst happens and some do die, they are a lot more replaceable than a doctor with 20/30 years’ experience, a wife and kids.

5.      The 99.99% that survive will have done a great thing that will make them better people for themselves and better citizens for this country.  

Maybe this is also the moment where Cameron’s ‘big society’ thing actually works.  Get training Joe Public en masse in basic care so they can look after family members.  Figure out what kit can be installed in homes.  Years back, old coal miners like my dad often had an oxygen bottle at home because their lungs were shot.  The medics need to figure out what can practically be installed in homes now to give COVID-19 victims a fighting chance.

Let’s have the flood and get it over with.  Let’s have some innovative thinking and we the people shall have to be prepared to take our chances and accept losses now for the future of our country and the generations to come.  If we don’t, if we persist trying to plug the leaks, we may well find ourselves still living in this nightmare five years from now.