Corona: the second wave

In the Netherlands the second Corona-wave seems at it’s peak and on it’s way down. But why was there a second peak, why was it so high in terms of contaminations but far less deaths than before, and what made the Corona crisis so big in the first. I wanted to write down some thoughts on why Corona has impacted us and why the second wave occured. It is by no means meant to pretend i know it all but this is what i’ve gathered from different sources mixed with my own thoughts.

Human-animal interaction

The root of this virus and why it got transfered to humans has everything to do with how we see and treat animals and nature. This particular case was most likely a bat which is a delicacy in China but there are likely more virusses lurking around in animals which we don’t know about. So why are we not more carefull about this?

It’s about the ever expansion of human settlement and agriculture which decreases the size of habitat of animals. You see regular newsitems of people killing animals that ate or destroyed their crops or invaded villages and homes and theatened or even killed people. The decrease of habitat in turn brings animals ‘closer’ to humans which increases the risks of humans coming in contact with animals who carry diseases. This is just common sense and exactly what humans do when their habiat is threatened by famine, war or flood.

Globalization

The term ‘globalization’ has been used for decades to indicate that the world is getting smaller partly due to affordable travel-options and increasing income. We fly all over the world, we take 2 or even 3 vacations and just get around more. The primary solution to stopping a virus is isolating it long enough to die out. But our travel-options (in combination with behaviour) just makes it easy to spread really fast and get to places where normally it wouldn’t. This is what caused the fast spread of COVID-19 in the beginning of this year and also the second wave after the summer holiday. I’m not saying we should stop travelling, that’s a whole different topic/blog, but when rules restricted people from travelling, the global spread stopped. However too late because it was already all over the place.

Overpopulation

This one might be too easy for some, but for me it’s really simple, we can make the cake (read: earth) more efficient and last a bit longer, but in the end there is only 1 cake. And if you have too many people that also aspire to have a western’ lifestyle’ you have a problem. Now this is of course more about food and water, but it translates to the spread of virusses as well. With 8 billion people living relatively close together (mostly in coastal areas) you simply have more people to spread the virus. That in combination with globalization is a recepy for basically one big superspread- environment.

The good news is that the human population will decrease after a while and i always love to see video’s from Hans Rosling about this topic who puts things in perspective about overpopulation. However we still expect to hit 11 billion people which in my opinion is just about more than twice as what’s needed for a sustained future.

Human nature

If you want to stop a virus you need the cooperation of the people and in this pandemic at least in the Netherlands, that helped curve the first wave. Everyone was on board and did what was asked. However, they did this we the expectancy of getting back to normal within a few months. Which at first seemed to happen and before the summervacation we were in decent enough shape to open up borders and go on vacation abroad.

But after the holidays things started going ‘south’ and was the start of the second wave. Lots of kids partying in Spain and France (superspreader), end of the islamic offering-fest (superspreader), people traveling all over europe and the world, and in general slacking in following simple rules like keep your distance, wash your hands, work at home. People thought it was almost over and/or were tired of restriction to their freedom and businesses.

I think in essense we are driven by our lizard brain, at our core we want to survive and procriate, it’s in our ‘genes’. This coronavirus jeopardizes that and the result is that people either fight (protest, misinform, ignore) or flight (scared, isolation).

In Asia they learned from the previous virus (SARS) so they already changed their behaviour and were more preprared. Moreover they are more prone (especially in China) to believe and follow government rules and have a more ‘needs of the many’ mentality. In Europe we have a far more individual mentality so if we are limited in doing what we want to do, we tend to object in many ways. Human behaviour is hard to change and depending on the culture, it’s hard to contain a virus.

Optimization of Healtcare

We have a great healthcare system for a ‘normal’ situation and have optimized it to run as efficient as possible. However with such a pandemic where too many people are getting sick enough so that they need hospitalization it simply can’t cope. Why is this this? Firstly, obvious, is the sheer number of people in a short time, it’s hard to plan for that and can’t be blamed on anyone.

Secondly however, the efficiency (due to free market structure) is based on a ‘normal’ situation where even a slight increase is hard to manage. We should have build in more slack because we’ve known for a long time that a pandemic is not about ‘if’ but about ‘when’. And like most things, we first need to feel the pain before we act on it. But the cost of this learning-curve is human lives. So hopefully we learn from this and always have a bit of overcapacity, not just regarding IC-beds but also medical-material and equipement, and think about having a ‘standby-draft’ for medical personel when you can requisition people from their daily jobs in an emergency.

Politics over science

I’m not a believer in science because science doesn’t need believe, it’s needs verifiable, peer-reviewed evidence. But for politicians to follow science to the letter, especially in this case, is almost impossible because of the consequence on so many levels and for so many people, short and long-term. On the one hand that’s good, science shouldn’t be the only driver.

However in this case it would have been better if we acted earlier and firmer. The reason China and New Zealand are now in the clear (as far as we can see) is in great part because they acted early and strict based on scientific evidence and advice. Every country where it’s on the rise again is where politicians are a bit too afraid of political and economical consequences. But now partial lockdowns have been stretched over a long period and we are still not there.

The most effective and easiest solution is for a full lockdown of three weeks, then the virus should be 99% gone. Combined with maximum testing all over the place we should be fine. I don’t envy top government officials , they have to make tought choices based on incomplete data and information. So next time i hope they will be more swift and strict which hopefull will result in a much shorter pandemic.

Too little testing too late

Yeah, also a bit easy because we simpy did not have the testcapacity (also partly due to optimization of healthcare) in the beginning but we could have ramped up testing much quicker. Now you have lots of commercial testing going on which is fine but not affordable for a lot of people, and not talking about the problems between government bodies and these commercial companies.

The good news is now that we have quick-tests (although reliability seems a bit off) and enough testcapacity. The next steps is to disperse those tests to schools, companies, etc..to identify outbreaks as soon as possible. But again, a few months too late. Is government too blame? That’s always an easy scapegoat, our society and government are simply not equiped to handle these events. That’s no one’s fault but also everyone’s fault. Complacency and hoping for the best doesn’t work in a pandemic.

Social media & misinformation

Personally this is most frustrating to me, all those uneducated and misinformed idiots (e.g. youtube influencers, antivaxxers, far-right wing zealots) out there abusing social media to spew there ‘opinions’. This causes so much unwarranted and unneeded mistrust of science and government that it opens another battlefront of correcting those views.

I’m all for being critical about data and information but most people just look at one-liners or short pieces of information in their own social media bubble and take that as the truth without looking at or understanding the context, and spread that further, infecting more people.

I do however agree with the criticasters that argue that the long term economic and social impact might outweigh the (deadly) consequences for a relative small group of people who seem mostly older, more obese and with more underlying healthissues. The question it boils down to is how much a human life is worth. The numbers now seems to indicate that the casualties are no higher that a very high severe flew outbreak. Information earlier this year indicated that this would be higher. The difference however with flew is that COVID-19 seems to attack the lungs, resulting in many more people in the hospital.

But in the end the influence of social media regarding misinformation is just too large to ignore and i suspect that in the coming 10 years we will see a shift in how people view information and either social media has to re-invent themselves or make way for others that do. Polarisation is such a large problem driven by use of social media that we have to act, although i’m not yet sure how. I guess like everything it starts with education and making (especially) kids more aware resilient.

COVID-21?

Like Asia did with SARS, i hope we’ve learned from this pandemic and start preparing for future scenario’s. Because all the reasons i gave above won’t miraculously change. I hope people will realize that acknowleding the dangers of pandemics and how individual behaviour can help spread virusses, is a first step in changing human behaviour and curbing future outbreaks of COVID-19 or any future pandemics.

If you think i’m wrong or have more information on (other) certain topics, let me know, i’m always interested to learn. For me its mostly reading and learning about topics from different (reliable)sources and viewpoints to form my own opinion so that i can act in a sensible way and not believe the first headline i read. Stay healthy!

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