21 May 2020
By John Watson
The answer is “embubblement”. That is official now, but what was the question? No, it was not how to wrap up auntie’s ornaments so that they hold their value while she declines in a rest home, but, rather, why is it nonsense to say that the only solution to the Covid crisis is vaccination? Of course a vaccine would be very welcome but with every snake oil salesman in full cry it is really very difficult to assess whether there will be one or not. So we had better join the British and Italian leaders in thinking about what will happen if the answer turns out to be “not”.
There have been a number of theories from perfectly respectable sources. Some have suggested that the virus would inevitably rip through populations until almost everyone has had it. That was before the success of lockdown strategies proved that it was less infectious than had been thought. Others think that it may lurk in the shadows, jumping out like the flu or the common cold to nab people in the winter season. Whether that is possible must depend on whether it can stay alive for long enough to span the time gap between successive bouts of infection. In fact, though, the likely answer is embubblement, and the Shaw Sheet’s prediction to that effect has at last been picked up by ministers. Those of you who read Robert Kilconner last week will recognise the quote:
“The doomsayers talk about the non-existent vaccine as the only answer. That cannot be right. If the disease does not fade worldwide, the answer must be to stamp it out internally and maintain quarantine. That is unattractive in many ways but will become less so as states taking a similar approach formed a quarantine-free bubble of the type we are about to form with Ireland.”
And now precisely that approach is being espoused by Transport Secretary Grant Schapps with his comment that persons arriving from countries with low coronavirus infection rates may be exempted from the U.K.’s new quarantine rules. Imagine how that would work.
Currently there is almost no coronavirus in New Zealand and before long there will be almost none in Australia either. At that stage, travel between the two countries will not pose a risk to anyone and so Australians travelling to New Zealand for their holiday will not need to go into quarantine. At that stage the two countries form a bubble protected by the quarantine restrictions which they impose on arrivals from anywhere else. Suppose that the British Isles were next to achieve Covid-free status. Then we could be included in the bubble too, a bubble protected by the fact that travellers from outside it needed to quarantine. So far is so easy because we have only been talking about islands but, once the system started, other countries would be desperate to join and as they joined the quarantine points would move to the new bubble borders. Before long, because commercial pressures work like that, a very substantial part of the world would be a Covid-free bubble and other countries would be struggling to join.
Gradually they would be admitted and, after a time, the pool of countries which still hosted the infection would become a minority. The pressure on those countries would be immense and, hopefully with the support of the international community, they would gradually eradicate the virus within their borders or, if they failed to do that, reach a stage where the virus had infected so many people that it died out as a result of herd immunity. Then they too could join the bubble.
It would all take a long time, of course, but the idea is beginning to gather momentum. Australia and New Zealand are talking a lot about their bubble at the moment and it will be no surprise if Mr Shapps was doing quiet calculations as to when the UK might be ready to join it too. Of course the important thing would be to make sure that countries really had extinguished the disease before they joined the bubble since the embubbled community would have a particularly low level of herd immunity. No doubt there will be some falsification of statistics and probably some corruption as membership of the bubble became more and more commercially essential. Yes, stops and starts aplenty, but in the end that is how it has to go. Just remember that you read it in the Shaw Sheet first.