I don’t usually do this, but I feel the need to share here some of what I wrote in my column for The National newspaper yesterday.
Having reviewed the gloomy economic outlook for 2022, as I see it, I suggested that there was something that could be done about the overarching cause for concern, which is Covid. As I noted:
When I look at history it seems to me that we are looking in the wrong place for a solution to this crisis. In the 19th century waterborne disease was the great threat to city life. What history tells us is that it was not doctors who solved that problem. Engineers did that. They delivered the greatest advance in public health in that century by building the water and sewage systems that both delivered clean water and took away the waste. The success of the modern city was based upon that single spectacular advance.
I then added:
Reading the work of the epidemiologists who, it seems to me, best understand this current pandemic I think that a similar advance is possible. The members of Independent Sage do, for example, persistently stress the importance of clean air when it comes to tackling Covid, which we now know to be an airborne disease.
What they say is that without that clean air Covid cannot be beaten. With clean air they suggest that goal is possible. As evidence now shows, what are called HEPA filtration ventilators can deliver a massive transformation in air quality. This was demonstrated in a recent study at Addenbrooke's Hospital in Cambridge.
The quality of the air in hospital wards was dramatically increased by the use of these filter systems. As a result the amount of Covid circulating in that air was dramatically reduced. Patience faced a reduced risk of catching Covid, as did staff and visitors.
Costing this is a bit rough and ready, but what we do know is HEPA filter units are cheap and can be built by children from kits:
What would this miracle cost? One estimate suggested that every school in England could have one of these filters in every classroom at a cost of about £140 million, and that was based upon the most expensive Dyson filter, when cheaper options are available.
Adding up the cost for the whole of the UK in that case my suggestion is that installing filters would cost a bit over £1 billion. In Scotland that might be £80 million. There would be the running costs to consider, but they seem remarkably low.
In other words, we have an option to tackle Covid. It could work. It is available. The technology is proven. We need it now in schools, hospitals, hospitality and workplaces. This is the only way anyone knows to punch R below 1.
Why aren’t we doing it? I do not know.
Why aren’t opposition parties demanding it? I do not know.
I do know it is reckless not to deliver these units.
I am not saying this will stop Covid. But right now it seems a better bet than anything else, given current very high vaccine take-up.
So I do have a wish for 2022. It is for HEPA ventilation and filtration. And very soon.