Friday, July 30, 2021

The UK: A Quiet Place?

Writing today in The Morning for The New York Times David Leonhardt notes how cases have fallen in places like the UK and India, observing that the virus is "more mysterious than we often admit". 

While he does allow that "much of the ebb and flow of a pandemic cannot be explained by changes in human behavior" he doesn't let go of the one assumptions perhaps preventing him from appreciating what is happenig right now. 

One or two caveats about the UK. It has vaccinated a far larger proportion of its population than the US and has antibodies present in over 90%. The recent drop in case numbers may in part reflect a surge extending in the younger working population beyond the capabilities of the current test and trace system, which is at least partly voluntary. 

But the key thing is this: from an evolutionary perspective covid-19 has no interest whatsoever in hospitalising and killing us. On the contrary, all of our early responses to its spread have tended to reduce its overall opportunity because we a) isolate b) end up in ICU and/or die and c) vaccinate.

So, it responds with Delta, the 225% more infectious version of itself. Delta meets the double-jabbed Piers Morgan and what happens? He goes to Wembley, gets infected and has monster sneezing fits. Bingo, covid has its lifestyle back. 

All it wants to do is reproduce. It is the closest thing in biology to one of Richard Dawkins's selfish genes. It is most definitely not like one of those aliens from A Quiet Place that wants to chomp off as many noisy human heads as possible. 

In the UK it is close to becoming endemic, which will mark the end of the so-called pandemic, locally at least. 

The problem for countries like Guatemala is that while Delta may allow covid to spread elsewhere in ways that no longer provoke such drastic human countermeasures, a more infectious variant 'ripping' through an under-vaccinated population with under-funded healthcare and all sorts of endemic co-morbidities could have truly shocking consequences. 

And for the next few years we may find ourselves in a world where covid is endemic in some regions and resiliently pandemicky in others, with crossover variants providing headaches for those responsible for the setting the travel protocols. 

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