CORONAVIRUS will be here forever just like the common cold, with local outbreaks and lockdowns around the world becoming the new normal, a leading scientist claims.
Professor Paul Davies says we may have to live forever with COVID-19, putting out “spot fires” when they occur.
The British-born but US-based academic said the two key exit strategies from the crisis – elimination plus a vaccine; and herd immunity – were not certain of success.
‘PART OF THE RIDE’
“The best compromise, which I think we will end up with, is we take measures but it doesn’t go away totally, and you put out spot fires when they occur,” Professor Davies said.
“We may have to live with that forever.
“When it gets to the point where the death toll is no worse than from other things we put up with, most obviously flu, then people will start to think it’s just part of the ride.”
A similarly sobering study, published by The Guardian today, suggests immunity to the virus may not be guaranteed and people could be reinfecting year after year, like the common cold.
In the first longitudinal study of its kind, scientists analysed the immune response of more than 90 patients and healthcare workers at Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS foundation trust.
Blood tests revealed that while 60 per cent of people marshalled a “potent” antibody response at the height of their battle with the virus, only 17 per cent retained the same potency three months later.
Antibodies are considered the body’s main line of defence in fighting the virus, but the findings suggest people could become reinfected in seasonal waves and that vaccines may not protect them for long.
Professor Davies – who is a theoretical physicist and cosmologist, not an epidemiologist – has also launched new research to stem the spread by applying network theory to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Currently director of the Beyond Centre for Fundamental Concepts in science at the Arizona State University, professor Davies has authored dozens of books and held senior positions at the University of Adelaide and Macquarie University.
‘SPOT FIRE’ APPROACH
“At the moment the way people deal with this virus is, you spot it somewhere, you try to zap it, you isolate people,” he explained.
“It’s putting out spot fires. I wondered if you took a more global or top-down view whether there might be a more clever strategy.”
The project on “modelling sustainable exit strategies” builds on the his centre’s work applying the theory of networks to issues such as cancer gene regulation and the origin of life.
The COVID group is working with a California software company, Moogsoft, which analyses glitches in computer networks to make them secure.
The COVID project would reverse this, finding vulnerabilities in the pandemic network – such as transport and flight hubs – which could be modified.
“My dream is this top-down idea,” Professor Davies said.
“You would redesign the network or re-engineer its architecture to make it easier to control and not just be opportunistic (in attacking outbreaks).
“We should try to outsmart the pandemic and that means co-ordinated action really on a planetary scale, and at the very least on a national scale. But I see no evidence of anybody doing that.”
The academic also described COVID-19 as a good dress rehearsal for future pandemics: “We have learnt a lot of lessons. It’s such a weird disease. It’s very heterogeneous, it doesn’t look like one disease. It’s like half a dozen diseases.
Although he acknowledges the pandemic has been very destructive, he is quote to note that in “the great sweep of human history it is nothing”.
“The worst case scenario is it will be 1 per cent fatality rate and if you compare it with the Black Death or something like that, it was killing the majority of people.
“That is not to minimise the tragedy … but there could be far, far worse pandemics coming along.”
Echoing similar thoughts, a top expert warned today that a coronavirus vaccine will not be ready for next year and said we will have to “learn to live with the virus.”
The sobering prediction comes despite multiple scientists suggesting that a vaccine at the end of this year or early next year was possible.
Epidemiologist Arnaud Fontanet insisted the public must get used to life with Covid-19 restrictions in place.
He added that while partial treatments were likely, a full-blown vaccine for coronavirus was not and we would have “live with this virus.”
Around 200 hundred groups around the world are working on vaccines and 18 of them are at the stage of human trials, sparking hopes that the French boffin may be wrong.
These include the programme at Imperial College London which began trialling a vaccine on 300 hundred healthy volunteers last month.
Oxford University researchers, alongside pharmaceutical group AstraZeneca, are also reportedly “80% confident” of a vaccine that could work in younger people being ready for September.
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