Eradicating coronavirus

By determined and sustained action the virus can be confined and eliminated

There’s lots of good advice out there about combatting the Covid-19 disease as it continues to ramp up around the world. Official figures at the time of writing are ten million infected and half a million dead; the true figures are almost certainly far higher than that. But those numbers are rising daily – who knows where we’ll be this time next year.

A virtual model of the SARS-Cov-2 virus (image copyright Wikimedia)

There have been successes in eliminating human diseases in the past, smallpox in 1977, and polio (close to extinction but still persists at low levels in Afghanistan and Pakistan). In both cases, progress was achieved by use of vaccines that provide lifetime immunity.

Is this possible for the SARS-Cor-2 virus that causes Covid-19? The simple answer is that we don’t know; many vaccine candidates are being developed, but it will be some time before we find out how effective they will be, nor do we yet know how long immunity might last.

A vaccine would help, but we do have some other ways to attempt eradication. Countries like New Zealand, South Korea, and Vietnam might give us a clue. By determined and sustained action the virus can be confined and eliminated so that only importing it from an external source can bring it back; we have seen this happen several times.

So here’s a strategy that is worth considering

  1. Use restrictions on movement and contact to reduce the size of the infection in a defined area. This has been done many times already in areas from whole nations to small districts. We know it works.
  2. Test and trace while cautiously lifting restrictions, re-imposing them quickly wherever there is a local resurgence.
  3. Once the defined area is free of virus, allow life to return to normal except for travel into the area. Use strict quarantine measures to contain new imports.
  4. When two or more adjacent areas achieve step 3, their common borders can be opened.

Such a strategy has the potential to rid larger and larger parts of the globe of Covid. Would it be easy to do? No, it would be hard work, costly and it would demand constant vigilence as well as coordination by a body like the World Health Organisation. And we won’t know if its possible unless we make the attempt. Would it be worth it? Almost certainly if we can get something like this agreed internationally and adequately funded. Less wealthy nations with limited health care resources would need monetary and practical help along the way. The economic costs of eradication would be very large, but the ongoing annual costs of living with Covid-19 will be larger still.

Maybe it’s too early to start a Covid-19 eradication programme, but it’s certainly time to begin conversations about one.

All lives matter

The very least that George Floyd and his family and friends deserve is that we object strongly to the system that resulted in his death. Police brutality is unacceptable. Racism is unacceptable.

The Black Lives Matter protests are completely understandable. There’s no point beating about the bush – The death of George Floyd was wrong. All deaths are tragic. Accidental deaths are regrettable. Deaths caused by carelessness are reprehensible. Deaths caused deliberately are unspeakably offensive.

Street artist painting a picture of George Floyd

It’s clear that George Floyd died at best through carelessness and at worst by deliberate action. Either is completely unacceptable.

However, all lives matter, and when protests involve the pulling down of statues and the throwing of bicycles and other objects at people, the protesters risk causing injury or death unintentionally. And with Covid-19 still out there, the opportunistic virus will spread amongst people in a demonstration and that will result in unintended deaths as well.

I agree that we should protest what happened to George Floyd in Minneapolis on 25th May. I’m protesting here and now in this article. But we also need to do everything possible to avoid further loss of life.

I’m not telling anybody what to do or what not to do. But I am pleading with everyone, please consider the unintended consequences of both action and inaction. The very least that George Floyd and his family and friends deserve is that we object strongly to the system that resulted in his death. Police brutality is unacceptable. Racism is unacceptable.

If you haven’t already done so, please consider joining me in signing the petition at

Climate change, what can I do?

I was prompted to think about some new ideas

I went to a meeting at the Golden Cross in Cirencester a few days ago. We enjoyed a great presentation from Vijay Shah who spoke about his experiences in Arctic regions where climate change has been particularly severe. He also outlined other aspects of climate change including its causes and actions we might take to limit it and the damage it’s doing. Vijay pointed out that there are individual actions we can take in terms of our diet, modes of transport and so forth, and there are industrial and government actions that can be taken too. In the excellent discussion afterwards some of these individual and local matters were raised from the floor.

It was good to talk with others at the meeting, I was surprised by the wide variety of ages, professions, and opinions represented. And I was prompted to think about some new ideas that the talk sparked in my own thinking as I listened, chatted, and again as I walked home afterwards.

Some are original, others are already being widely discussed, some were mentioned at the meeting, but I present them here in the hope they will encourage others to think creatively about what is possible. Here are some of those ideas:

Streetlights – LED streetlights are becoming common in towns and villages, replacing the less efficient high-pressure sodium lamps just as they in turn replaced the older sodium and mercury lamps installed in the 1960s and ’70s.

But why not go further? Instead of drawing power from underground cables, why not fit lithium-ion batteries in the streetlight posts and top the lamp off with a solar panel and a wind generator? The one-off cost savings of not providing a mains power connection, and the lifelong savings of electrical energy would help offset the additional manufacturing cost. Once installed, the street lighting would be entirely green.

Greening the desert – Some deserts have ready supplies of seawater nearby, parts of the Sahara, the Kalahari, the west coast of South America, and regions of Southern Australia spring to mind. Building wind farms and solar farms in these coastal deserts would allow for green desalination, green pumping of the fresh water far inland, and the literal greening of large areas of desert. Not only could the land be used for crops, it might also be possible to establish areas of forest, thus sequestering significant amounts of carbon. And evapotranspiration would reduce the temperature and increase the humidity of the climate downwind of the greened zones. If a sufficient area could be greened in this way, clouds might form and reflect away some of the incoming solar energy

Solar car parks – Many towns and cities have public parking areas, asphalt ‘deserts’ where cars bake in the summer heat while we are shopping or working. Why not cover these areas with solar farms supported on frameworks above the cars and pedestrians? Most towns could generate as much power this way as would a small solar farm in the countryside. As a bonus, radiant heat transfer would be partially blocked from the covered area, so parked cars would stay cooler on hot days, and warmer on cold nights. And pedestrians would get shelter from rain and snow.

Using electric cars to balance demand – Electric cars have considerable amounts of energy storage and this could be used to help smooth power peaks and troughs. Cars plugged in overnight at home or during the day in town and workplace car parks would absorb wind power when excess is available, and return some of it to the grid at times of peak demand. Combined with dedicated battery storage facilities, this would make a change to fully renewable energy supplies possible.

Generating methane – Elon Musk is considering using green electrical energy to extract carbon dioxide from the air and combine it with hydrogen from water to generate methane and oxygen. Using the methane as a fuel would consume oxygen and produce carbon dioxide and water – a closed system. Originally this idea was intended to allow refuelling of SpaceX’s Starship on the surface of Mars, but he is now looking at the idea of using the same process on Earth to fuel the spacecraft. Extending the idea, methane has potential to be used as a storable fuel for air, sea and land travel. Clearly, as methane is a potent greenhouse gas, it will be essential to burn it in an oxygen-rich manner to make sure none escapes.

Using ocean trenches – Why not place organic materials (including plastic waste) in the subduction zones in deep ocean trenches where the material would be buried as layers of silt are deposited naturally, and in the very long term would be carried down by plate tectonics and processed by heat and pressure into simpler, harmless molecules.

Solar farms in polar regions – This is, perhaps, the oddest of ideas -but aspects of it may have some merit. Incoming radiation from the sun comes from low in the sky during a polar summer. Solar panels would need to be angled close to vertical and would throw very long shadows; they would need to track the sun across the sky, east to west. The shadows would provide some cooling by absorbing incoming solar energy, reducing the melting of ice and snow in the shadows. But what to do with the electrical power? I suggest radiators at the focus of parabolic reflectors pointing vertically upwards, sending the energy back into space. The atmosphere is transparent at visible, radio, and some infra-red wavelengths. Rather than trying to cover large areas, the idea would be to protect specific areas at risk of losing the white, reflective cover of snow and ice. This scheme might be a bit zany, but perhaps it will spark other minds to come up with more practical alternatives.

Solar rooftops – By no means a new idea, but many industrial and commercial buildings do not currently have solar power generation installed. Reduced taxation could encourage more rooftops to supply energy in this way, and it would be generated in towns and cities, right where it is needed. Lobby governments and local authorities to encourage this.

Burying organic matter – Organic waste and/or purpose grown biomass could be air dried and packed into disused coal mines or other available spaces. Sequestered in this way, the carbon content would be removed from the atmosphere, reducing the levels of carbon dioxide that drive global heating.

Over to you! – Maybe you can come up with some green energy ideas of your own; this planet needs all the good ideas we can provide. Anything that reduces our level of consumption or enables us to live in harmony with the natural world should be publicised and adopted as widely as possible. If you have a good idea, leave a comment and tell us about it. And make sure to share it as widely as you can.


We need leaders who will stand up for common sense and rescue us from the mess we find ourselves in.

I cannot remain silent as I continue to watch this nation destroy itself. Our government is leading us into poverty in so many ways. Poverty economically as we lurch towards a self-harm Brexit because it’s the will of slightly more than half those who voted in the referendum; poverty in terms of our moral standards (look no further than Home Office actions against so many British citizens who cannot prove their citizenship); poverty in terms of health care as our hospitals crumble and fail under unsustainable budget cuts and shortage of staff; the grinding poverty of  families, children and the elderly alike shorn of the state benefits they need and now dependent on food banks; the poverty of those working hard but still unable to rent or buy a decent home; and the poverty of unruly children in schools unable to provide an adequate education on shrinking budgets.

At the heart of all these failures is a government that isn’t governing properly. We need leaders who will stand up for common sense and rescue us from the mess we find ourselves in. I will vote for any candidate or any party that stands up and speaks the truth about the current situation and is brave enough to chart a route out of it. I will vote for kindness, truth, and generosity. I will not vote for thoughtlessness, falsehood or mean-mindedness.

Let’s rescue Britain and let’s do it now – before it’s too late. Use your vote and your voice to #RescueBritain. Vote in every local or national election, write to your MP, write to anyone with influence. Create a real stir, we need to hear everyone’s voice, the voice of the people. Whatever you write or say, tag it #RescueBritain – do it now!

I love the European Union


Mark Rice-Oxley writes a wonderful piece in the Guardian today, ‘The EU is Sixty‘, in which he enthuses about the wine, the food, the freedom from border checks and visas, and so much more. In particular he writes ‘[The EU] helped my generation fall in love with

Paris1964Not just your generation, Mark. I’ll be 69 next birthday, and I well remember a school trip to Paris in 1964. A passport was necessary and there were about 13 Francs to the Pound. The photo is taken from a street photographer’s post card of our party magically created while we toured the palace and gardens of Versailles.

We had a wonderful week, the Eiffel Tower, Montmartre, the Louvre, the book and picture sellers along the banks of the Seine, getting lost on my own and having to ask the way in French, ‘Ou se trouve la Place de la Republique, s’il vous plait?’ Until I visited Paris on that school trip, Europe was a mysterious place that was far away and not very real. For me, Europe became a real place where trees grew, people lived – it was just like home but different in so many interesting ways.

For me, the EU is a glorious and precious thing. Far from perfect, of course, yet worth preserving. I heartily wish that the UK would remain in the EU and influence it for good. I wish we could see it as a partnership. We Brits are split in our views on this, more or less 50-50. Oh, OK, nearly 52-48 if we have to be pedantic about it, but certainly not the ‘overwhelming majority’ for leave that we hear about sometimes.

I hope we can remain well integrated and on good terms with our neighbours. Half of us wanted that nine months ago. Half of us still do.