Andy Richardson: Holding our breath for the second wave

Those who fail to learn from history are condemned to repeat it. So said Winston Churchill, who was paraphrasing an earlier remark from George Santayana.

Mad rush to the beach
Mad rush to the beach

Santayana had been writing in 1906 in a book called 'The Life Of Reason: Reason In Common Sense' when he coined the phrase.

And so we might look at the trajectory of the 1918 global pandemic as we consider our mad rush to the beach, McDonald’s and the council tip.

While this has been the week that Britain has started to get back to work, it’s also been the week that Britain has forgotten the key message.

Physical distancing has been forgotten for many; some through necessity – those on public transport, in meat processing plants, warehouses and similar – but others through choice; the nutcases who crowd onto beaches or queue for a Big Mac and cheese. Don’t hold the pickle.

Europe’s coronavirus chief, Andrea Ammon, says a second wave will come - it’s a question of when and how big.

So it might be time to roll up the beach towel and delay the beach trip. Just as Europe’s cases mushroomed among those taking skiing holidays in Northern Italy, so a second wave will come from those ignoring advice to stay apart. The virus is still circulating, there are asymptomatic spreaders and our track and trace programme is not up and running.

More Covid-19 coverage:

During the 1918 pandemic, the second wave was more deadly than the first. That was partly a result of a lifting of quarantine, though not entirely. As social distancing measures eased, celebratory parades became deadly. However, other factors were at play, not least poor public health and the return of soldiers from war.

This time, the return of daytrippers from the beach are what worries us.

While First World nations in Europe and North America have failed in their response, Third World countries in Africa have largely succeeded. Rates are slower, innovation greater and the disease is spreading more slowly.

As global cases hit five million, New York’s colourful Governor Andrew Cuomo has produced data showing those who wear masks are less likely to become infected, or infect others.

And as cases fall in the UK, our hospitals are no less busy. They are gradually being repurposed to treat regular patients, leading to continued long hours for managers and staff. Their efforts continue to keep us safe.

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