OPINION: Health in our hands as pandemic predictions become reality

A PUFF of dust whirled behind a farm ute which slowed as it drew closer on a lonely back road.

Razor the black kelpie barked loudly in the back before jumping down to sniff and explore a different set of tyres.

He lifted his leg to urinate just a little on each tyre.

“Get out of that! Get up! Razor, get up! Bloody dog,” said Barry, perched behind the steering wheel.

Tipping his cap, Barry scratched his balding head, then replaced it firmly.

He was on the way home from checking his paddocks and was ready for a chat – but from the other side of the road.

Conversations used to start with the weather, but not anymore.

“How’s the social distancing?” Barry asked.

“Any cabin fever at your joint?”

“I reckon we farmers are pretty experienced at isolation and social distancing.

“We do not get into many arguments with ourselves, that’s for sure.”

Then he chattered about the number of people in the Limestone Coast and across the nation and world who have so far tested positive to COVID-19.

“They did not shut the borders early enough,” Barry quipped.

“Before January, nobody had even heard of Wuhan, China.

“Now we all wish we’d never heard of it, nor their bats, live meat markets or coronaviruses.”

Pulling his phone from his pocket, he cursed the almost non-existent mobile phone range.

“I’ll send you a link and when you get home, you watch it,” Barry said.

It was a link to a speech Bill Gates gave in April, 2015.

Mr Gates predicted if millions of people died within the next 10 years, it was not going to be from nuclear bombs or war.

It would be from a virus and people would not be fighting missiles, but microbes.

“We are not ready for the next epidemic,” Mr Gates said, suggesting strategies for world leaders to adopt to prevent mass social and economic destruction.

He is perhaps the best equipped of all to now say to our world leaders: “I told you so.”

Barry thought a current blog by Bill Gates was also interesting.

In February this year, through their Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the couple pumped $100m into vaccine and therapy research for COVID-19.

Until a vaccine is available, Mr Gates believes “hand washing is key” along with virus testing and physical isolation.

“(It) clearly works and that is all we have until we get a vaccine,” he wrote.

In another blog he acknowledges the tragic economic effects of social isolation or “shutting-down”.

“But money, you know bringing the economy back and doing money, that’s more of a reversible thing than bringing people back to life.”

He praised governments of countries like Singapore, Taiwan and South Korea for their swift action regarding handwashing, testing and social isolation.

In a way he was perhaps saying other countries, like Australia, were too slow to act.

Meanwhile, many scientists and researchers have also been warning the world about deadly viruses lurking in bat caves for decades.

In 2017, the scientific journal Nature, published the work of several researchers with a headline: Bat cave solves mystery of deadly SARS virus – and suggests new outbreak could occur.

It revealed the various potentially deadly coronaviruses of a cave in Yunnan Province.

The cave is only a kilometre from a village where meat is sourced from live animals which are killed at the point of sale, enabling a perfect environment for new viruses to form.

Scientific journals such as MDPI Viruses and Plos Pathogens have also published similar alarming findings in a raft of research papers regarding coronaviruses.

Essentially, while a vaccine might be available within six to 18 months for COVID-19, researchers warn of more viral pandemics unless a lot of strategies – too many to write about here – are implemented by governments.

The current economic nightmare is horrendous, but the alternative is worse.

With lots of handwashing, social distancing, home schooling and isolation, coupled with various stimulus packages, most of us will survive COVID-19.

But instead of saying “See ya’ later mate, or cheers”, now we say “Love you, keep safe”.

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