One of the things that has been suggested during the pandemic has been that we should aim to protect the vulnerable whilst opening up society to everyone else. I have two concerns with this. The first is that this ends up sounding like we simply want to be free to go about our normal business, particularly if we consider ourselves to be young and healthy whilst quarantining the elderly and those who are unwell with other illnesses in their homes. This will both cause greater isolation for many people who already experience this whilst at the same time causing further generational segregation in society. Secondly, the view seems a little naïve to me. It suggests that we only have a few people, presumably living in care homes who would be affected when in fact, it is a significant proportion of the population.
However, whilst I am against the glib attitude that suggests we just lockdown our elderly so that we can get on with our lives, I am very much in favour of careful, prudent decisions that provide the best protection for those who need it whilst making sure that life is able to resume as much as possible. So, here are some thoughts about how we might be able to do that.
Firstly, let’s prioritise getting an effective vaccine in place and available to people who are need the protection the most, in other words, those over 70, those with underlying medical conditions and those who are on the front line caring for them. Secondly, alongside this we should be continuing to look at other treatment methods which might reduce the impact of the virus.
Secondly, we need to get contact tracing fully up and running. The NHS app which is now available can play a key part in that. I am surprised, given that it does not log personal data beyond your post-code that the app is only available to over 16s. It would seem sensible to make this available to others as well.
Thirdly, I think that we need to be quicker and firmer at responding to outbreaks. I had two concerns during the first wave of the pandemic. First, that as is now well documented, we had people being returned to care homes with the virus from hospital. Secondly, the Nightingale hospitals seem to have stood empty providing spare capacity. To my way of thinking, we would have done better to have the Nightingales full freeing up hospital capacity for day to day proceedings and reducing the risk of a virus spreading through a hospital. This would be part of a focus on making sure that people with symptoms are fully quarantined to further reduce transmission. Local lockdowns of course also only make sense if they include travel restrictions. Whilst legally I am not allowed to travel to another city and stay with people there, there is at the moment actually very little to stop me doing that.
Fourthly, we should ask that people going to visit elderly or vulnerable people either self isolate for a week before visiting or have a same day COVID-19 test. Indeed a combination of both might be best.
Fifthly, whilst we may reduce the restrictions on those who are low risk of serious symptoms, we also should look at ways in which those who are at risk can re-join communal activities such as church services. It may for example be that we need to provide separate sections of churches, cinemas and theatres for those most at risk (as happened with Swine Flu).
I believe that these types of measures would allow greater normality for most whilst continuing to protect the most vulnerable without isolating them.