Coronavirus- why life has changed forever.

Protecting against Covid-19

Life has changed enormously in the past year for most of the world. People can't travel abroad; they can't meet other members of their families or friends, with the number of people allowed to meet being limited- to about six in some countries, like the UK.

It's been interesting living in a part of the world where there are very few cases and where I live in a "bubble". I've never worn a mask, for example. There's no public transport and not many people. That's why.

It's tough for most of the world. But life will not go back to "normal" – or rather to what it was like before. This article by microbiologist, Siouxsie Wiles, explains why we can't expect life to go back to how it was.

Coronavirus: Siouxsie Wiles says Covid vaccine won't bring us 'back to what life was like in 2019'

Oct 28 2020 (in Stuff). 

Microbiologist at Auckland University Siouxsie Wiles talks to Radio Tarana's Vandhna Bhan on issues related to the Covid-19 pandemic.

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New Zealand's "powerful" collective action against Covid remains one of our best lines of defence, says Dr Siouxsie Wiles.

Wiles, an Auckland University microbiologist and science communicator, warned that holding out hope for a vaccine to bring life "back to what life was like in 2019" was not realistic, and small individual actions like hand-washing contributed to a systemic Covid-19 response that was "working really well".

She said she became a microbiologist because she read a book when she was younger about microbial diseases and "naively thought it was all about the micro".

"What I realise now is that the micro is just part of what we call the disease triangle, which is made up of the host, the environment, and the micro."

She said while scientific understanding of Covid-19 and better medical treatments or prevention were "obviously" important, the past year had shown that "frankly, we have methods that stop them [diseases], and if we used them we wouldn't need drugs and vaccines".

"The most important part of the [disease] triangle is how people respond."

Dr Siouxsie Wiles said people's collective small actions like getting tested as soon as symptoms develop, washing hands, wearing masks, and using the contact tracing app were "powerful" layers of defence against Covid-19.

Wiles said a lot of hope had been pinned on a Covid-19 vaccine to go "back to normal", but she was cautious about that attitude – not least because she believed "there's no going back to what life was like in 2019".

Another reason she was cautious about pinning all hopes on a vaccine was that, depending on its effectiveness, whatever vaccine was developed might still not be right for New Zealand.

"It utterly depends on what the vaccine is like," she said.

"A great one would stop you from getting infected and have no ill effects, and if enough people take it then people who are too vulnerable to get it will be protected ... [but] if there's a vaccine that still helps some people but not everyone, that means you'll still get some cases."

Wiles said a less effective vaccine might be a sure winner in places that had uncontrolled outbreaks, but for New Zealand, where the disease had emerged and been stamped out multiple times and twice without needing a lockdown, it wasn't so clear.

"My real concern is those countries that are doing almost nothing, what does that mean for what kind of vaccine we get?

"If it's not particularly effective, then it might not be what we want," she said.

Wiles has concerns that a Covid-19 vaccine which is effective enough for use in countries with mostly uncontrolled outbreaks might not be effective enough for New Zealand's needs.

"What I would hate would be for us to have a vaccine that still meant enough people would get sick that it would seriously affect them and spread in the community."

She said New Zealand's response so far showed that, whatever vaccine was developed, there was still a part to play for everyone to help prevent outbreaks. She said the response was best explained with the "swiss cheese model".

"We have to think of every layer of defence as having holes in it. The more layers we apply, the less likely we are to get the virus."

She said New Zealand's first layers of defence were national ones, things like the border control and two-week isolation, but many were steps that individuals played a big part in, like using the tracing app, washing hands, and wearing masks when social distancing was not possible.

"[Covid-19] has shown us how collective action is so powerful," she said.

"There are big layers, which are the regional or national lockdowns, but if we don't want that to be the layer, we have to apply then we need to do all the little ones, and we need to do them now while they're effective, not when we already know there's an outbreak."

Wiles said New Zealand's defences against Covid-19 were like layers of "swiss cheese", and seemingly small individual actions like wearing masks or washing hands were fundamental layers in that defence.

Wiles said she was frustrated by people labelling outbreaks large and small as "failures" in New Zealand's response.

"It's not a failure, it's inherent flaws in the system, and we layer up to catch them ... every time this happens, we say, 'What have we learnt and how can we do it better?' And we improve.

"I'm trying to get people away from the blame game ... every time you have an infection and call it a failure, people lose confidence in the system, but it's working really well."

She said she expected the stacked layers of defence to be necessary "for the next year at least".

"It was people doing more or less this stuff that has helped. Like the port worker recently, as soon as they felt ill they went and got a test – they didn't wait a day and go into work. That's the really important stuff."

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Thursday, 13 May 2021