Irish Examiner View: Coronavirus Pandemic - Science will provide an antidote

It is far too early to even begin to imagine the pandemic is under control or that it might be anytime soon.
Irish Examiner View: Coronavirus Pandemic - Science will provide an antidote
Donna Schaferkotter, medical laboratory scientist at the University of Mississippi Medical Centre, prepares samples for COVID-19. Photo: Jay Ferchaud/The University of Mississippi Medical Center, via AP

It is far too early to even begin to imagine the pandemic is under control or that it might be anytime soon.

It may, however, be possible to hope that demanding isolation measures are beginning to have the desired impact.

Prof Philip Nolan, who has been asked by Government to imagine how coronavirus might spread and how quickly it might do so, has said social restrictions are are having an “enormous effect” and led to a “huge” fall in the growth rate but it will take up to 14 days before their full impact is known.

The daily growth rate has more than halved in recent weeks, from 33% to about 15%, he reported. Because of this deceleration, we may not face the “unmitigated epidemic” by the end of the month.

That slowing is progress but it is still very, very far from a victory.

Relentless isolation must continue.

That cautious optimism was echoed by HSE boss Paul Reid who appealed for restrictions to be observed. “All of your sacrifices are helping... it is far too early to call this a trend.”

Those reassuring, first-step declarations were echoed, partially at least, by the World Health Organisation who warned that the epidemic is “far from over” in the Asia-Pacific region.

A spokesperson warned that blocking measures are buying time to allow countries prepare for large-scale community transmissions but that the risk of transmission remains very real.

That warning came as the World Bank said the pandemic’s economic legacy could push large parts of east Asia into poverty exacerbating a fraught situation.

That region is not the only one where complacency is challenged in the most fundamental way.

Health officials are focused on Lebanon, Iraq and Syria and fear the numbers infected far exceed official figures. They also say non-state actors are quarantining communities in areas outside state control.

In Japan, calls for more stringent measures intensify even as the governor of Tokyo — population 14m — has silenced that mega-city’s karaoke bars.

Sweden, long admired as a progressive country, is in the Johnson/Trump axis of denial.

Prime minister Stefan Löfven has urged Swedes to behave “as adults” but has not introduced isolation measures.

Hopefully, he will do so before Sweden echoes America’s soaring infections, a rate that has made it the epicentre of the pandemic or before he has to, like Britain did yesterday, concede that official death figures are an underestimation.

In challenging times the achievements of science can inspire.

Just as the shadow of coroanvirus darkens, the medical journal, Annals of Oncology, has reported that a new blood test has detected more than 50 types of cancer, often before symptoms show.

More than 99% of positive results were accurate in a “landmark” study using samples from over 1,200 people.

It is the first such test that can identify so many cancers — including lung, bowel, ovarian and pancreatic — and diagnose in which tissue the cancer originated, which it did with 93% accuracy.

“This... seems to have all the features to be used on a population scale,” said one of the researchers, Professor Geoff Oxnard, of Harvard Medical School.

Today cancer, tomorrow coronavirus.

The latest restrictions in operation since Friday, March 27 mandate that everyone should stay at home, only leaving to:

  • Shop for essential food and household goods;
  • Attend medical appointments, collect medicine or other health products;
  • Care for children, older people or other vulnerable people - this excludes social family visits;
  • Exercise outdoors - within 2kms of your home and only with members of your own household, keeping 2 metres distance between you and other people
  • Travel to work if you provide an essential service - be sure to practice social distancing

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