23 March – A Day Of Reflection From The Microbiology Lab

Written By Helena Windsor In The Independence Daily

“March 23rd 2021, a year since the UK Government implemented our first lockdown, has been designated a Day of Reflection. Reflection on a year of tragedies, frustration, neighbourhood spirit and Government cock-ups.

“Last year we sat in the office, nursing morning coffees; breaktime in our recreation room now banned, as we could not keep ‘socially distanced’. I was planning a shift system, to protect staff with vulnerabilities to the new viral infection from those whose outside life included greater risk, (children; commuting spouses; continued socialising) but schools had closed, pubs closed that weekend and people were exhorted to ‘work from home’ where possible. Italy and Spain, source of so many UK infections, had locked down hard, it was only a matter of time.

“We are all microbiologists, bar the two ladies who share managing our office and they quickly learned from us. We had spent our breaks discussing the virus, ever since the news first emerged from Wuhan; we read reports and papers from across the world from epidemiologists, virologists, molecular biologists and pathologists.

“Above all we watched and listened in horror as our government consistently failed to take the most basic steps to control contagion – measures which have been known for centuries. After all, the word quarantine comes from the Italian Quarantina for the forty days sanitary isolation in plague times.

“We clapped our hands to our foreheads in dismay when we learned that not only was pandemic planning based on influenza not, as advised by the  WHO, generic, but that the new virus was being managed as if it behaved like influenza, despite evidence coming from the labs and epidemiologists showing it was different.

“Three weeks we were told, not three months. If the Government had listened to proper microbiologists, not computer modellers and acted promptly, it might have been closer to three weeks, and casualty rates, not just from Covid-19 but also untreated illnesses and suicide, would have been closer to those in other populous nations, like South Korea, which had proper pandemic plans in place.

“The virus is more contagious than flu – even the original variant. Transmission is airborne, therefore ventilation is important indoors and medical-grade masks and eye protection do reduce transmission. People are infectious before they have symptoms – true of many infectious diseases, with vaccines and antibiotics we tend to forget. This is accepted now; we could have told them last March, all the evidence was there. We were also sure it was already smouldering across the world by the end of 2019, because that’s what happens with new diseases; the proof – from antibody tests and post mortems came later.

“There was one thing we microbiologists, like the Government, didn’t know – that we would have not one but several, effective vaccines so soon. I’ve worked in vaccine development, I know what a laborious process it is, how much red tape and how many projects fail along the way. Kate Bingham and her team made the right call backing and ordering several different types of product. It’s the only call the Government got right. The coming together of researchers, big pharma, government, health authorities and volunteers, to get so many of us vaccinated just twelve months later, is a miracle to reflect on”.

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