Like the Covid-19 virus itself, the idea of herd immunity has surged back into public life having been suppressed for months. It was initially touted as a way to hold back the pandemic – by allowing sufficient numbers of infections to occur and so reduce numbers of non-immune potential hosts for the virus. The disease would then stop spreading, it was argued.
The notion quickly fell out of favour when researchers highlighted the high death toll that would have to occur in the UK before herd immunity was achieved. Nevertheless, the idea has now bubbled back and is again making headlines.
According to signatories of the Great Barrington Declaration which was published last week, it is now time to remove lockdown restrictions for most of society and to allow the population to get on with their lives while still protecting the vulnerable and old. Herd immunity would build up and soon the scourge of Covid-19 would disappear.
It is an enticing argument. But is herd immunity really a panacea whose time has come? Can it lift the curse of Covid from the world? Many UK scientists counsel caution:
It started badly, with gag orders, cover-ups and ignored offers of help from overseas, but then the Chinese government seized the narrative. It reined in the burgeoning epidemic of Covid-19 at home, and started exporting its rapidly accumulating scientific knowledge of the disease to the rest of the world. Chinese science has often been marginalised and even mistrusted in the west. But will the pandemic change its standing in the world?
“China has moved from student to teacher,” says Kate Mason, an anthropologist at Brown University in Rhode Island and author of Infectious Change, an account of how the 2002-3 epidemic of severe acute respiratory syndrome (Sars) in China transformed the way the country managed public health. After Sars, she says, western experts went to China to help it put in place an evidence-based health system that was informed by international research. That system now exists, with its most visible symbol being the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention in Beijing, and this time it has been Chinese experts giving instruction abroad. “It has been a good year for China,” Mason says.
But China has long held a goal to lead the world in science, and it was already well on its way to achieving it before the pandemic. Five years ago, it didn’t appear in the top 10 countries for university rankings; this year, it’s joint sixth. It is second in the world for output of science and engineering publications, behind the European Union but ahead of the United States, and the impact of Chinese research – as measured by the proportion of articles that are highly cited – doubled between 2000 and 2016, growing much faster than that of the US and the EU, which increased by around 10% and 30% respectively over the same period:
Australian prime minister Scott Morrison has confirmed the country will move “very cautiously” to reopen quarantine-free travel with a “handful” of countries, raising the prospect Europe and the United States will be excluded until 2022 unless a Covid vaccine is available.
Morrison made the comments at a doorstop in Redbank, campaigning with Queensland’s Liberal National party leader, Deb Frecklington, and targeting the Labor premier Annastacia Palaszczuk over the state’s reluctance to remove its state border travel ban.
On Sunday the federal tourism minister, Simon Birmingham, said that moves to establish quarantine-free travel with low-risk countries such as New Zealand “can’t be done at the expense of our health and economic strength at home”.
“The prospects of opening up widespread travel with higher risk countries will remain very reliant on effective vaccination or other major breakthroughs in the management of Covid,” he told the Sun Herald:
‘I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn’t lose voters,’ Donald Trump boasted in 2016. He thought his almost unlimited bravado, bombast and dominance of any situation allowed him to get away with figurative murder.
Since then, the president’s Fifth Avenue principle has been repeatedly tested – most notably by the Access Hollywood tape, Robert Mueller’s findings that Trump obstructed justice and his campaign aides cooperated with Russia, overt racism, quid pro quo to the president of Ukraine, and impeachment – yet some 40% of American voters have stuck by him notwithstanding.
That’s all he’s needed. And for reasons I’ll explain in a moment, he’s counting on them to preserve his presidency after 3 November.
They’ve stuck by him even as more than 210,000 Americans have died from Covid-19, one of the world’s highest death rates – due in part to Trump initially downplaying its dangers, then refusing responsibility for it, promoting quack remedies for it, muzzling government experts on it, pushing states to reopen despite it, and discouraging people from wearing masks.
When companies postpone their annual results, it isn’t usually because they need a bit more time to cram in all the good news.
Pub chain Wetherspoons should have had its numbers out by now but instead pushed the financial statement back to the coming Friday. Given the storm clouds hanging over the pubs trade – what with curfews, regional “circuit breakers” and social distancing – it’s bound to be a more sombre affair than usual.
Typically, Wetherspoons confidently swats aside any obstacle that stands in its way.
The company is targeted frequently on social media with calls for a boycott, over anything from employment conditions to the pro-Brexit views of its loquacious founder-chairman, Tim Martin. The consequence is always the same – yet another year of barnstorming sales, based on the simple equation that most of its customers aren’t too bothered about what Martin says, as long as he’s prepared to sell them cheap food and beer. The people who boycott Wetherspoons are not, by and large, the people who ever went there very often.
This time, as the company has already indicated, will be different. The irresistible force of Spoons has collided with an immovable object in the form of a pandemic, heralding the impossible event – a stomach-churning loss:
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