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Covid: Is it time we learned to live with the virus?

The constant mantra is the virus must be suppressed and contained. But how do you do this when people can be infectious without knowing they have it? Where it can be passed on silently because people do not develop symptoms?

The nation has been brought to a standstill once at immense cost to the economy, education and health more generally. And now with cases rising there is the threat of new national restrictions, while large parts of the country have already found themselves back in partial lockdown. But are we fighting a losing battle? Do we instead need to learn to live with the virus?

It’s ‘utter chaos’ now

Prof Carl Heneghan, the head of the Centre for Evidence Based Medicine at Oxford University, says the current situation is “utter chaos” with a constant stream of new restrictions and schools sending whole year groups home when just one person tests positive. All this at a time when the level of infection is still very low.

This, Prof Heneghan says, is the consequence of trying to suppress the virus. Instead, he argues we should accept it is here to stay and try to minimise the risks, while balancing that against the consequences of the actions we take.

In particular, he’s concerned the Covid test is actually so sensitive it’s picking up what is effectively dead virus as it spots traces of it months after the person has stopped being infectious.

“We need to slow down our thinking. But every time the government sees a rise in cases it seems to panic,” he said.

Hospital admissions matter ‘not cases’

The argument put forward by Prof Heneghan and a number of other experts is that more weight needs to be put on disease rather than cases. While hospital admissions have started rising they are still incredibly low compared to the spring and the increase is much more gradual than it was.


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