Covid-19 - Time For Lateral Thinking

Ending the lockdown will require lateral thinking because we have hit a brick wall with the deaths of BAME healthcare workers, care home casualties, PPE equipment and testing; problems that won't go away on their own but could possibly be fixed if the government let UK scientists think outside of the box.

If a medium sized software house can guard the world’s computers against the WannaCry virus why can’t the combined might of Britain’s scientists and politicians protect us from a novel form of coronavirus. Perhaps because Kaspersky’s programmers look at networks from the point of view of a virus rather than imagining themselves locked inside Windows 10; the sort of lateral thinking which has so far eluded those battling Covid-19.

Thinking outside of the box is the the only way to beat what is a simple but particularly sneaky virus - so let’s start with this. Your country has been invaded by 1 million enemy soldiers who immediately change into civilian clothes and disappear. Your 300,000 strong standing army, geared up to fight conventional battles, is now embroiled in a guerrilla war. Total victory is dependent on finding every last invader, an almost impossible task. This was also the opinion of scientists attempting to track down Britain’s Covid-19 carriers; so, they simply gave up. For our real-world army surrender is not an option. Instead it organises 500 soldiers into a reconnaissance battalion and divides this into 16 man platoons which carry out random interrogations and collect data. This data is used to work out the enemy's strength, geographic position and determine its strategic objectives. This our scientists did not do, and it has cost Britain dear in lost time and casualties.

Don’t Panic Captain Mainwaring

To be fair most countries, with the exception of South Korea, made similar mistakes to Britain. Without basic intelligence it was only possible to mount a tactical defence against Covid-19. We became the equivalent of Walmington-on-Sea home guard, shooting wildly at anything that moved in the shadows. We followed Italy and Spain, and preceded the US and Russia, along a trajectory of complacency, fear and finally panic. Like every other country, when the email arrived, and despite all the warnings, we couldn’t resist clicking the link to the recently deceased Prince of Nigeria’s web page. We wandered into the lockdown blindfolded and are now about to leave via a leap in the dark. All this because Covid-19 moves amongst us by stealth

For the purposes of this article it is assumed the severity of Covid-19 varies, from asymptomatic to fatal, in proportion to the size of viral load received and length of exposure to those already infected. It has also been suggested the further the virus travels into the respiratory system the more compatible receptors in finds and greater the strength of the initial attack. This might also explain why men, with respiratory systems typically 10% larger than women, suffer disproportionately from Covid19. It might also be the reason it can spread by stealth, although in this respect it has been known to make the occasional mistake.

The Best Laid Plans of Mice and Viruses

The WannaCry computer virus provided a decent income for its creators and was targeted at individuals and medium sized organisations who, too embarrassed to admit their incompetence, simply paid $300 to have their encrypted files unlocked. Hackers who let the virus loose must have been alarmed when their cash cow found its way onto the networks of the NHS and was encrypting files belonging to one of Microsoft’s biggest European customers. Millions were spent eliminating a vulnerability in a legacy version of Windows - and a few thousand dollars discovering where the ransom money was going. Covid-19 too has erred, although we missed an opportunity to capitalise on its exuberance. The virus happened on someone who was both borderline asymptomatic and a super spreader. This carrier infected fellow tourists in a ski resort and then his GP. At last here was an insight into how the virus switched in and out of stealth mode and also the strategy it employed to spread rapidly throughout a country. An opportunity missed because if there was a detailed examination of the super-spreader’s physiology the results were never used as part of the defence against the virus.

Don’t Forget The Person Behind The Keyboard

A computer virus is designed to attack software and exploits the fallibility of the computer user. Covid-19 is a species level attack that also exploits flaws in the way humans interact with each other. When our super-spreader contacted his GP the virus gained access to Britain’s healthcare system, where it found potential carriers already weakened by illness. For many years the NHS has suffered capacity shortages due to annual outbreaks of influenza. In retrospect it might have been wise to have on standby pop-up medical facilities, such as the Nightingale hospitals, that specialised in respiratory diseases during winter months. In part the success of Covid-19 is due to a decades old vulnerability which exists within healthcare systems around the world.

Covid-19 cares little about a victims political beliefs, it will kill regardless of whether you are socialist, conservative, communist of fascist. But this does not prevent it exploiting vulnerabilities in political systems, for example the haphazard way the UK government communicates its objectives. At the beginning of Britain’s lockdown it was feared young people would refuse to stay at home; why should a low risk twenty-year-old give up their job and freedom just so a vulnerable elderly person can add a few extra months to the end of a privileged life. The media gave disproportionate coverage to the small number of Covid-19 victims below the age of 30, panicking the public sufficiently to keep almost everyone indoors. It also caused scientists and politicians to forget the virus's intended target, the elderly, and Covid-19 could now use a classic back door exploit to hack Britain's care homes. Now, as the government tries to relax the lock down and encourage people to return to work and send their children back to school, the public must be convinced Covid-19 is, after all, of minimal risk to the young. This, as we will see, will have unforeseen consequences. Rather than following the science the government is cherry picking research and has become what every virus writer loves, a confused and distracted user. And nowhere is the government more confused and distracted than in its dealing with Covid-19 deaths amongst BAME health workers and people living in poorer areas of Britain.

Political Correctness Gone Viral

It is clear BAME (Black, Asian, and Minority Ethnic) health workers are dying from Corvid-19 in disproportionately higher numbers than their white counterparts. This could be due to one of two reasons: socioeconomic factors or a physiological difference between BAME and white people. The second explanation first. It has been suggested the structure of a person respiratory system differs according to whether they originate from a country with warm climate, where the oxygen content of the atmosphere is low, or a cold climate, where the oxygen content of the atmosphere is high. Unfortunately, this theory was first put forward by slave traders in the eighteen hundreds and most of the research since has focussed on how racist this type of research is. Even the Spirometer, a device for measuring the volume of air inhaled and exhaled, has a chequered history as, at one time, there were calibrated differently for black and white users. Consequently, it is more acceptable to point to socio-economic factors as the sole cause of Covid-19 related deaths amongst BAME medical staff than consider any physiological difference resulting in some people inhaling larger amounts of virus. As a result there is now a fatalistic attitude to BAME deaths with political correctness standing in the way of proactively ensuring health workers who are obviously more at risk being issued with higher performing Personal Protection Equipment that their white colleagues. A fatalism which also contributes to the deaths of another group of Covid-19 victims.

Another Poor Decision

Ten minutes using the Office for National Statistics’ interactive Covid-19 map reveals the extent to which deaths are concentrated in poorer areas of the country. Here is another vulnerability Covid-19 virus exploits and, given its capacity to increase poverty, could mean the virus will be with us for quite some time. The mere mention of the connection between poverty and Covid-19 sees objective science go out the window and politicians distracted until tempers are calmed. There is sometimes even an air of triumphalism on social media when the number of Covid-19 victims in poorer areas is announced and, as is the case with BAME deaths, used to push a political agenda. Everyone forgets Covid-19 does not check a person’s bank balance when choosing a victim.

If you can spare the time to exercise, cook your own meals and choose when and where to work, it is likely you are lean and fit and rarely short of breath at the end of your daily 5k run. With multiple jobs in the gig economy, a diet of processed food for convenience and snacks from vending machines to provide comfort during a long, stressful working day there is a good chance you are overweight; physical exertion can leave you gasping for air. Guess which person breathes in the heaviest dose of Covid-19 when they climb onto a crowded bus. Poverty might be the ultimate cause of a Covid-19 death, but the immediate cause is not social but physiological. Running from one hotspot to another as a political expedient is both counterproductive and dangerous. Covid-19 was brought into Britain by relatively wealthy people and spread by stealth within the communities these people inhabit. This is also where the virus may still reside. The government is in danger of becoming too focussed on beating out individual fires and missing where Covid-19 has hidden its matches and cans of petrol. While the aim of any society should be to put an end deprivation this is not possible within the twelve-month time frame an unrestrained Covid-19 pandemic needs to bring about economic and political collapse.

The government’s current plan to ease Britain out of its six week lockdown is disconcerting for many, especially those in poorer communities. Sunday’s announcement will be akin to that worrying message asking a computer user to turn off their firewall and virus checker while new software is installed. Those who are security minded run an anti-virus scan once installation is complete. The real world equivalent of this basic and prudent security measure is to ensure everyone with a compromised respiratory system has access to some form of advanced PPE, and that all those stood on the bus with them, who may well be exhaling the Covid-19 virus, are wearing masks.

Unintended Consequences

Companies such as Norton and Kaspersky exist because we cannot rely on updates from Microsoft to keep our computers secure. Software patches have a habit of fixing one flaw but creating another. To date initiatives to contain Covid-19 have produced the series of unintended consequences mentioned above and, in the absence of a robust strategy, will no doubt be responsible for more. Tired of being locked down due to false positives thrown up by the NHS app young people will seek freedom via some form of immunity passport, much as Neil Ferguson, architect of Britain’s lockdown, did. These passports, in combination with genetic testing will see the emergence of a 21st century version of the ‘measles party’ with young people self-infecting and Covid-19 slipping out of control.

Covid-19 will beat us if all we can offer is a purely tactical defence. Politicians must step back and let British science do what it does best; think outside the box. Failing to do so will ultimately see all of us staring at the blue screen of death.