Lockdown can't be forever

Professor Gabriel Leung is the foremost epidemiologist of infectious disease in Asia and the Dean of Medicine at Hong Kong University.

What's your interpretation of how the virus affects humans?
We know there tends to be a very wide range of clinical presentations.It could infect you and you'd show little to no symptoms,and then recover, maybe never realizing that you were first infected. And instead, many infected people experience mild, self-limiting symptoms. They would go on to recover on their own while others would experience relatively mild to serious illness to experience full-blown pneumonia.And only a small number of people go on being very, very critically ill, requiring ventilators or respirators and intensive treatment. We have still not yet worked out who is going to get quite sick and who appears to be fairly normal in appearance

What's the mode of transmission?


We know the respiratory droplets will spread this the most. We appear to have droplets coming out of our mouths every time we talk, or when we eat. And of course, if we have a sneeze or a cough, then naturally we'd scatter droplets too. That's mainly how it spreads even though we can't rule out a small proportion of infections that travel by airborne particles or aerosols from one human to another, so that's why it's so hard for us to monitor it.The other thing we should say is that the infected patient extends a significant minority proportion, somewhere I suppose between 20 and 40 percent of all infections, when they themselves have very little to no symptoms, that is, when they are in their disease incubation process. And finally, we know that an infected person will usually pass it on to two to three other people on average .
What do you think of the effectiveness of lockdown or stringent stay-at-home measures?
In public health we apply three pillar approaches. One is border restrictions and these border restrictions have been imposed between metropolitan areas by just about every country, both with the outside world but also with some larger countries within their own countries. Border controls are only meant to stop the import and export of cases. Then you have the quarantine and isolation.And then the sixth, which is the most socially and economically damaging, is the so-called physical distancing shutdown where everything practically stops. Schools are suspended, work and all economic activities are grinding to a halt, and that is why it affects everybody in that region.
How long do you think it will take for people to get back to normal life?
I think there will be a suppressive and lifting process before we have adequate immunity in the population. And I think we'll see a few more of these periods of "suppression and then raise and then suppress again" before this whole pandemic fades away. I think this is obviously a crucial issue that economists, companies, but also ordinary people like you and I have to answer in the aftermath of COVID-19. We recognize that after decades of growing mobility due to globalization, we have made tremendous strides and massive improvements in living but often, and indeed very significantly, at thecost of disparities and inequities. This particular pandemic has shown that there is no impregnable global supply chains. What geopolitics and economic powers were unable to achieve, COVID-19 has done just about that, and this is to break and disrupt global supply chains altogether. How to restore it and maintain a good price .Life, and yet finding any other way of shielding all of us from another pandemic or similar black swan occurrence, is undoubtedly the most vexed problem we have today in governance around the world.

Lockdown can't be forever

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