John & Gaia here, your F**k It guides through good times and bad.
And here we all are facing the coronavirus thing.
So this post will move from some levity on the subject, to a serious point and then onto a list of points that should reassure us all.
The Levity Part
On Wednesday morning, I (John) woke up to news of the toilet paper crisis in Australia. On my morning walk along the seafront I popped into Sainsbury’s, you know, not to panic buy, but to get a multi-pack of toilet rolls.
As I stood in the queue to pay, I saw that everyone had loo rolls too. Oh-ohh.
I spent that day spotting people everywhere carrying 9-packs of loo roll, and started wondering about what happens if certain things run out.
Stuart Lee (a comedian) riffs on the routine of a young comedian who’s thing is observational comedy (that’s not Lee’s thing). The young comedian talks about what you do if you’re in the loo and you find there’s no loo roll, you know, like you do. And how you have to find something to use. So you use a sock, you know, like you do. And Stu Lee is appalled… a sock, an item of your own clothing!
But what are we to use if the loo rolls run out (and maybe it’s this thought process that has led people to run to the supermarkets for loo roll as desperately as they’d sometimes need to get to a loo)?
I look around our house, and don’t see much in the way of paper. Most of our paper is now on Dropbox and we can’t use that. Cloud wiping doesn’t work.
We don’t have any newspapers anymore. I can’t use The Guardian app to wipe. And well, I wouldn’t use The Guardian to wipe anyway. I’ve been such an obvious and proud Guardian reader all my life that I have been called ‘A F**king Guardian Reader’ twice in my life by strangers (once was by a predatory man on a bus, who was dripping obscenities to two school girls… I intervened and told him to get the f**k off the bus, and he went, shouting at me “You f**king Guardian reader, you… you… TEACHER”. I wasn’t a teacher but he got the Guardian bit right).
So, what else? We don’t have a bidet. We’re in England, in a Victoria house. We could get into the empty bath, and use the shower attachment to wash, but, yuk, no. Ah, we have a garden hose in the yard, we could stand over a drain and spray. Brrrr.
You see? That’s why we got a few extra toilet rolls in.
In times like this, our brains will take trips down neural pathways we’re unaccustomed to (and we’re still in the Levity section remember).
Standing in Tesco’s (as balanced in product reference as the BBC, me, you see) on Thursday, I stood wondering this –
“What would I be really upset to find had sold out?”
It’s a question worth asking. Sure, you should be asking – “What would I need in various scenarios, and what are they likely to sell out of, if anything?”. But I asked my own question.
And this is the order of the first things I then put into my trolley:
Vegetarian sausages (Linda McCartney’s), ketchup (Heinz), craft beer (IPA and amber ale), chocolate biscuits (Hobnobs), pack of 6 light bulbs (to be able to prepare the aforementioned meal), and washing-up liquid (to clean the pots).
Oh yeah, then some more loo roll.
Fortunately, Gaia was doing the serious shopping. with another trolley.
A Serious Point
Of course, these are scary times, and we need to acknowledge that.
Most of us will be affected in one way or another as this develops.
As we look at the developing crisis, there will be reasons to be cautious and adapt our behaviour, and there will also be reasons to be reassured and more relaxed about the likely outcomes.
We will respond in different ways at different stages of this too.
But for now, for when the statistics and the worst-case-scenario conjecture gets too much, here’s some reassurance…
The Reassurance Part
This is a copied and pasted article from Jon Henley in, you guessed it, The Guardian, titled –
Coronavirus – Nine Reasons to be Reassured.
The coronavirus epidemic plainly poses an exceptionally serious global problem: in a few short weeks, it has spread from China to more than 80 countries, infecting more than 100,000 people so far and causing more than 3,400 deaths.
But as we are hit with minute-by-minute updates from around the world, experiencing the advance of Covid-19 in real time – news alerts, huge headlines, social media hysteria – there’s a risk that we might lose some essential context.
Yes, this virus is obviously a massive challenge: medical, political and – perhaps most strikingly at present – social and economic. But it is worth remembering the world has never had better tools to fight it, and that if we are infected, we are unlikely to die from it.
Here, courtesy of a number of scientists but mainly Ignacio López-Goñi, a professor of microbiology and virology at the University of Navarra in Spain, are what might hopefully prove a few reassuring facts about the new coronavirus:
- We know what it is. As López-Goñi wrote for the Conversation France, the virus causing cases of severe pneumonia in Wuhan was identified within seven days of the official announcement on 31 December, and, three days after that, the gene sequence was available. The Aids virus, by contrast, took two years to identify after it first appeared in mid-1981, López-Goni noted. We also know the virus is natural, that it is related to a virus found in bats, and that it can mutate, but does not appear to do so very often.
- We can test for it. By 13 January – three days after the gene sequence was published – a reliable test was available, developed by scientists at the department of virology at Berlin’s Charité university hospital with help from experts in Rotterdam, London and Hong Kong.
- We know it can be contained (albeit at considerable cost). China’s draconian quarantine and containment measures appear to be working. On Thursday 120 new cases were reported in Wuhan, the lowest figure for six weeks, and, for the first time since the start of the outbreak, none at all in the rest of Hubei province. Several Chinese provinces have had no new cases for a fortnight and more are reopening their schools. In many countries, infections are in defined clusters, which should allow them to be more readily contained.
- Catching it is not that easy (if we are careful) and we can kill it quite easily (provided we try). Frequent, careful hand washing, as we now all know, is the most effective way to stop the virus being transmitted, while a solution of ethanol, hydrogen peroxide or bleach will disinfect surfaces. To be considered at high risk of catching the coronavirus you need to live with, or have direct physical contact with, someone infected, be coughed or sneezed on by them (or pick up a used tissue), or be in face-to-face contact, within two metres, for more than 15 minutes. We’re not talking about passing someone in the street.
- In most cases, symptoms are mild, and young people are at very low risk. According to a study of 45,000 confirmed infections in China, 81% of cases caused only minor illness, 14% of patients had symptoms described as “severe”, and just 5% were considered “critical”, with about half of those resulting in death. Only 3% of cases concern people under 20, children seem barely affected by the virus at all, and the mortality rate for the under-40s is about 0.2%. The rate rises in the over-65s, reaching nearly 15% in the over-80s, especially those with pre-existing heart or lung conditions. Calculating mortality rates during an ongoing epidemic is hard because it is not clear how many mild or asymptomatic cases have been tested for, but the best estimate we have for the coronavirus so far is 1.4% – somewhere between 1918 Spanish flu and 2009 swine flu.
- People are recovering from it. As the daily count maintained by the John Hopkins CSSE shows, thousands of people around the world are making confirmed recoveries from the coronavirus every day.
- Hundreds of scientific articles have already been written about it. Type Covid-19 or Sars-19 into the search engine of the US national library of medicine’s PubMed website and you will find, barely five weeks after the emergence of the virus, 539 references to papers about it, dealing with vaccines, therapies, epidemiology, diagnosis and clinical practice. That’s an exponentially faster publication rate than during the Sars epidemic, López-Goñi notes – and most publications’ coronavirus articles are free to access.
- Vaccine prototypes exist. Commercial pharmaceutical and biotechnology labs such as Moderna, Inovio, Sanofi and Novavax, as well as academic groups such as one at the University of Queensland in Australia – many of which were already working on vaccines for similar Sars-related viruses – have preventive vaccine prototypes in development, some of which will soon be ready for human testing (although their efficacy and safety will of course take time to establish).
- Dozens of treatments are already being tested. By mid-February, more than 80 clinical trials were under way for antiviral treatments, according to Nature magazine, and most have already been used successfully in treating other illnesses. Drugs such as remdesivir (Ebola, Sars), chloroquine (malaria), lopinavir and ritonavir (HIV), and baricitinib (rheumatoid polyarthritis) are all being trialled on patients who have contracted the coronavirus, some as a result of the application of artificial intelligence.
Right, John and Gaia, back again.
We hope you’re sufficiently corona-reassured now.
Now, lastly, back to partial-levity.
So we’re all washing our hands more now.
And one of the more ridiculous bits of advice is to sing ‘Happy Birthday‘ to ourselves twice whilst we’re doing it.
It reminds me of the advice to administer the potentially life-saving compressions during CPR to the rhythm of ‘Stayin’ Alive’ by the Bee Gees. Which is peculiarly appropriate and inappropriate at the same time, given that you’re trying to keep someone alive with that rhythm, but that uttering any of the words or, in particular, the ‘ah ha ha ha stayin’ alive stayin’ alive’ outloud would be at best weird but mainly sick (in the old sense of that word).
So to be singing ‘Happy Birthday‘ twice to ourselves, whilst washing our hands to prevent a potentially deadly infection, seems, well, a bit sick too (in the old sense again).
Unless you find it sick (in the more recent sense of ‘awesome’), in which case, carry on.
Me? I’m going to count to 20 instead. Until it’s actually my birthday. And given that’s in October, I hope I won’t have to by then.
Love and thorough hand-washing to you all,
John & Gaia x