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'If you're going to survive in a future shared with coronavirus... then get fit, stay fit, really look after yourself and don’t do all of the stupid things I did'

Self-isolation is good for thinking about stuff. Sometimes these trains of thought take me over a new set of points and I end up exploring a new stretch of track.

One such switch happened to me last Saturday, whilst enjoying my first cup of tea of the day. Someone, on some web page somewhere, had written “when this coronavirus thing is over...” and my immediate mental response was “Over? When is it ever going to be over?”

Because I’m ‘extremely clinically vulnerable’ I take a great deal of interest in the national commentary on this pandemic, delivered by experts who consistently tell us coronavirus is almost certainly here to stay. Like its close sibling, the common cold, it looks like we are going to have to learn to live with it for the foreseeable future.

In general terms, our approach to viral disease traditionally results in two possible alternative scenarios: We either develop a vaccine, give everyone a jab and starve the virus into insignificance, or we find that we can’t, leaving Mother Nature to take her course.

Given that the virus that expresses itself as Covid-19 is a close relative of the common cold and, to date, we have yet to develop a vaccine or a cure for that, scenario one seems unlikely, certainly a fair way off into the future.

In scenario two we accept that eventually we will all catch it, developing a ‘herd immunity’ in the catching, by growing our own killer antibodies, so we don’t catch it again. The ongoing task then becomes one of managing the rate of infection so that we don’t all get it at once. So far only about 5% of us have caught Covid-19, so we have a long way to go. Personally, I’m not enthusiastic about this course of action because it kills some people – especially people like me and my 2.5 million shielded friends.

And this is where the lesson starts, but to make it work I have to get up front and a little personal.

There is a list of ‘underlying conditions’ that qualify people for the shield. Some of them can be attributed to not looking after oneself. Mine is COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease), a general term for a group of deteriorating lung conditions that make it harder and harder to breathe. I have severe emphysema. Smoking since I was 13 caused that. I stopped 20 years ago, but it still got me. If I catch Covid-19, COPD will result in complications that will very likely kill me.

And then there are the other, non-extreme conditions that give me a moderately high chance of getting complications. For me, these are a history of heart problems, very likely caused by a combination of smoking, bad diet, lack of exercise and being overweight for my entire adult life. I am also told that I am pre-diabetic. Oh – and I’m ‘over 70’ as well, so I score four on the moderate risk list and one on the extreme. Hardly a maker of old bones, even if I don’t catch Covid.

Now observe our young, wandering about the streets in close-up social groups as if the virus didn’t exist, sharing enclosed spaces, probably catching Covid-19 but getting over it quickly and carrying on as if nothing has happened – mostly. Some of them have just started down the road of bodily neglect, but right now it’s irrelevant to them, as it was to me at that age.

The lesson I take from this, and one which we should impress upon our young, is that I should have heeded the advice and warnings I have been given all of my life, especially by those that love me. I should have looked after myself – I mean really made the effort – shouldn’t have smoked, should have exercised a lot more, consumed a healthier diet with a lot less beer in it and generally not burned the candle at both ends. If I had, then my only risk factor right now would be my age, which, of course, none of us can do anything about.

Technology and advancements in medical science are what keep me alive today. 100 years ago, I would have been lucky to reach 54, let alone 74. Coronavirus has, at a stroke, cancelled out most of the last 100 years’ advances in caring for the chronically sick, and the man-made interventions that sustain me through my various self-inflicted conditions will be inadequate if I catch it. The outcome is very obvious.

Which leads me to my conclusion and my legacy to the young. You may be resilient now, but you will yourself grow old. If you are going to survive in a future shared with coronavirus and avoid losing your life to it, then get fit, stay fit, really look after yourself and don’t do all of the stupid things I did. Then, if Covid finds you in your later years, you will have a body that is prepared for the fight, and it is very likely that you will survive.

The alternative is to do as I have done and leave yourself wide open to the whims of this accelerated evolutionary phase we are going through where only the fittest will survive, and you are unlikely to be among them.

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