JulieB By: JulieB
Lecturer in Global Health
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16 Sep 2020 : A timed relay - not a sprint or even a marathon

One of the things I've started to do again since the pandemic is run. I used to run loads, and then I became an academic and stopped making time for myself. Right at the start of lockdown, I knew I would need something to do for myself - something that grounded and centred me and helped me get through the long haul. So I ran, first just 2km per day as that was what I could manage, then later I built that up to longer runs. Just a few days ago, I invested into a nice new pair of trail running shoes, still expensive even though they are 60% off. 

So running has been on my mind and in my psyche as I get through 2020, day by day. 

Today it struck me that I see the coronavirus as a timed relay run. For anyone who may not be into running, athletics or sport - a relay run is a team run where team members run one after the other, and pass a batton to each other (sometimes dropping it and wasting valuable seconds in the exchange). It is usually comprised of 4 team members, but I suppose there could be more, or less, people/legs. There is some strategic thinking that goes into the order in which team members run, and also into how the batton gets passed along. 

A lot of the "race" towards finding a COVID-19 vaccine seems to have been framed as a sprint, rather than a relay run. Also, the actual experience of the pandemic is often said to be like a marathon - we are in it for the long haul now. [a bit like a PhD is often said to be a marathon, not a sprint]. But I prefer to think of it all as a relay with different team members running different legs - each with their own skill and expertise and timing, working together as one coherent team. 

In highschoool, I never ran the first leg - it's true that the first leg did require someone fast who can give a good headstart to the team, but the fastest runner was usually in the last leg... often gaining ground that had been lost previously. The good thing about the last runner is that you can watch the previous ones and get an idea of how things are going, in real-time, during the race. You have a chance to learn, and to prepare yourself accordingly, before doing (running) your bit. 

The coronavirus has spread around the world in waves, it did not reach every country or every place at the same time - many governments had time to watch and learn and prepare, before the virus took hold. Few used that to their advantage. It also comes in waves within countries - here in the UK many of us are currently bracing ourselves for the "second" wave. And yet, it's still almost impossible to get a COVID-19 test these days, according to the many reports I've heard and read. What did we do all summer?? We seem to have watched the warmer months go by, but not learnt much from the first wave or even prepared as much for the arrival of winter and the second wave... 

A safe and effective vaccine is not yet available, but even when it does become available (which could be, say, leg 1 of the relay) there is the challenge of producing it in large quantities (leg 2), of distributing it around the world (equitably!) (leg 3), and of actually vaccinating people, especially those most at risk (leg 4) - and of course many many other steps in between to make all of that possible. This requires teamwork, planning, foresight and strategy that I have not yet seen manifest in this pandemic [please, point me in the direction, if I've missed something]. A rare exception may be that of Dr Tedros and the WHO, but sadly even that strong voice of reason seems to be increasingly drowned out by the maddening crowds. 

What concerns me is that thinking of this as a sprint only considers the first leg - yet overcoming COVID-19 requires all 4 of those. And it requires a holistic and strategic view from the outset that thinks, ahead of the "race", about each of the "players" involved, their skills, their needs and how to maximise their contributions to reach the end goal in the fastest time possible. In a relay run, each runner of course focuses on their own leg, but they also know and work with the other relay team members. They prepare and adapt accordingly, aiming to not waste time during the hand-over of the batton.

The batton, here, is the vaccine - and our challenge in this relay race is to outrun the spread of the virus, as it too gets passed along from leg to leg, or place to place, causing havock as it does.

So... those are a few morning thoughts / rambles I decided to share. It's been a long while since I last posted something... I've been intently watching the first leg of the relay race play out and learning from it, adapting and preparing as best as I can for when the batton gets passed along.




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