He works at the University of Manchester and is a member of a national committee specializing in mathematical modeling.
We asked Dr. House everything we know – and what we don’t know – about the pandemic.
What is COVID-19 and how do you see it?
It’s a viral pathogen that colonizes your airways and lungs. It spreads from person to person.
This is one of the great challenges that our human generation has to face.
What do you think triggered the pandemic?
We do not know it. We have to wait for genetics and science to arrive.
The theory about it starting in a laboratory doesn’t seem very likely.
But the idea that it appeared elsewhere than in Wuhan and it is exactly where it started in the human population is plausible. We just don’t know where.
You can do calculations with genetics and try to do it. The fact that we saw a case in Wuhan for the first time does not mean that this is the starting point.
Why do we need social distance?
Because we know it spreads directly from person to person and we have no medical intervention. For the flu, we have a vaccination but we have nothing that works for the coronavirus.
Should we have started locking earlier?
There was a lot of clamor for doing this very early. But it was useless because there weren’t enough cases for all the trouble it would have caused.
At the time it was in many countries, there was no chance of driving it to extinction like we did with SARS, so you have to synchronize it well in order to keep people away from others who are infectious.
Maybe it should have been a little earlier or a little later – but that’s the kind of thing we can look back at. The strategy of not jumping right away is correct.
However, the idea of ”taking the chin” was not right and never was what scientists said. Locking was necessary.
How long do you think this lock will last and will it work?
We must look at the figures in the coming days.
We will have to find strategies to measure the trade-off between foreclosure and the human cost and economy. People are already struggling just a few weeks ago.
In a week, we will know better to what extent the current lockout has had an effect. We can look at hospital capacity.
What about these daily infection and death figures?
The fact that they are flying away does not mean that social isolation does not work, there is just a delay.
It is the infections that we stop now that will stop future deaths
It should start to decrease in the next two weeks.
How many people are currently infected in the UK and in Greater Manchester?
She’s the big stranger. What I have heard from the rest of Europe is that it is at least a few percent. It will therefore already have infected a significant percentage.
We are not close to collective immunity, but there are many more cases than those confirmed. There may already have been hundreds of thousands of infections.
Are you surprised by the number of young people affected?
No, because the number of deaths that have left China has never been zero and we believe there have been many infections, which is going to happen.
Do you expect to get a coronavirus?
Yes. I had to isolate myself last week with mild symptoms, but like many people, I don’t know if I had it or not.
Each death is a tragedy. But there is a lot of talk about “excessive deaths” – those that would have happened anyway. How many more deaths do you think happen than if the pandemic did not exist?
Each year in the UK around 600,000 people die. If we let the epidemic spread, we could think of doubling that.
If we distance ourselves socially and make sure that everyone who needs treatment gets treatment and doesn’t overwhelm the NHS, we can reduce it.
But I think that even in the best of cases, excess deaths will remain in the tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands this year due to the coronavirus – and there is the general disruption that this causes medical care.
Many people are angry that governments – including the British government – are not as prepared for a pandemic as they could have been. Do you think this is justified?
The scientific community has said “prepare for this” for years. It’s not just our government – I have a lot of friends across Europe who say “why weren’t we more ready?” “
I think it’s a problem that emergency preparedness seems like a natural thing to cut when you have to save money.
It costs money but it’s worth it.
Do you think that in the future we will be better prepared?
I hope so – many of these things are predictable. We don’t know when, but we know there will be other illnesses.
How worried should we be?
It’s so difficult because as scientists it is our duty to tell people the inconvenient truth. This is something that we aim for in the long term.
People should be ready for this.
The coronavirus will be one of the main human deaths this year. But we live in a safe society where most people don’t die in any given year.
Worry is never helpful, but people should care enough to change their behavior.
Car accidents are another big cause of death in this country. When you get in a car, don’t worry. But you must recognize the risks and put on a seat belt and do not drive recklessly. Likewise, people must obey self-distancing and be hygienic.
It’s a real thing and people should change their behavior to fix it.
But don’t despair because it’s something we can do something about.
It’s not like this scary thing happens that we can’t control. We can all pull ourselves together and get through.
For example, a thousand scientists have volunteered to help research coronaviruses in this country.
What is the best scenario?
A vaccine that arrives very quickly.
Second, we are managing the epidemic well, the NHS is not overwhelmed and spreads in the usual way with coronaviruses.
In movies, the virus always evolves to be more frightening, in fact evolution works the other way around. This tends to make them less deadly.
We have seen that the very young are not as much in danger. If there is something going on all the time, the immune system is doing better.
The antibody test will provide crucial information on the number of people who have a mild cold.
Humans have gone through major pandemics before throughout history.
The worst was 1918. There were a few in the 19th century, 3 in the 20th century. We were lucky with SARS and Ebola and MERS that they were contained.
How long will we feel the impact of the coronavirus on our lives?
If we don’t get an effective vaccine, there are likely to be a lot of infections with this disease.
Collective immunity should not have been the main strategy. But we have to manage the acquisition of this by giving as much time as possible.
Once we have the antibody tests, we will know more about the proximity of collective immunity.
I think some people may just think about staying at home for a few weeks and that’s it – but it takes longer than that.
There will be consequences for the rest of 2020. But we will better manage social distancing and determine which activities cause the least disruption for the greatest benefit.
The kind of thing that could change is that if we see evidence that it’s not good to spread outside, then we might have a policy that people can go outside.
For example, parks may be less concerned. Hopefully we will be able to better manage which activities are safe and which are not.
With regard to certain measures such as improving hygiene and thinking about caution in transmission, this will continue throughout 2020.
We should be aware of this for the rest of the year.
After that, it will depend on the duration of the immunity.
Should people wear masks?
There is really good advice from WHO who said that even if the masks help if you buy them under the current circumstances, you keep them away from health workers.
But I think we might want to see if wearing a mask is a good habit to take on in future pandemics. In addition, most people do not know how to wear them to protect themselves properly.
Do you think we are now in an era of pandemics?
Humans have always suffered from this kind of thing. They have been a hallmark of humanity. The ancient Romans had pandemics, they just didn’t know how they spread.
Now that we understand them, we can take steps to prevent them.
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There are more risks because of the global economy, we are more connected.
We have to think about the risks of certain interactions with animals. BSE and Lyme disease are examples of why we need to pay attention to farming. These must be taken into account when we think of short-term money savings and long-term risk.
Are there lessons to be learned from this pandemic?
No one can watch what happened and not appreciate the NHS and other key workers. I am sure everyone will reflect on how we take care of these people who do crucial work.
Tell us something good.
I think by 2021 the hope is that coronavirus will be just seasonal like other viruses.
Humans have already gone through pandemics and we will get through that.