After a last, glorious blast of heat, the British summer is almost over and we are now heading into autumn.
I normally love this time of year, but right now I am seriously worried the next few months will bring a big surge in coronavirus cases — if we aren’t already heading into a second wave, with rises in cases in parts of the UK.
Part of the problem with colder weather is that we spend more time indoors, allowing viruses to flourish. But we’re also all still learning how to Covid-behave and it’s a steep learning curve.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson is pictured during a visit to the Jenner Institute in Oxford. Like the flu, this coronavirus spreads when someone who is infected (but may not know it) coughs, sneezes, laughs, sings or shouts, spraying tiny droplets packed with viruses into the air
A few weeks ago my wife Clare and I went out with a couple of friends for a meal in a pub restaurant — the four of us ended up sitting close together, cheek by jowl with lots of other people shouting and having a good time.
There was no attempt at social distancing, none of the waiters wore masks and no one was asked to give their contact information. I must confess, it freaked me out — and I haven’t been back since.
I’m no germaphobe — our house has always been the average-family-with-dog type clean, we don’t use antibacterial soap and normally we do just a quick wipe of the surfaces — but with the R (the virus reproduction) rate cross the UK above 1, the figure at which cases can increase exponentially, more people are going to be exposed to the virus, and that’s a worry.
And I don’t think we can rely on a vaccine being widely available until the end of this year at the earliest.
As a man now in his seventh decade (I am 63), I tick two of the boxes for risk factors for severe Covid — my gender and older age — should I catch it.
I normally love this time of year, but right now I am seriously worried the next few months will bring a big surge in coronavirus cases — if we aren’t already heading into a second wave, with rises in cases in parts of the UK [File photo]
So what can we do to protect ourselves and our loved ones — beyond obvious things such as wearing a mask and practising social distancing?
Like the flu, this coronavirus spreads when someone who is infected (but may not know it) coughs, sneezes, laughs, sings or shouts, spraying tiny droplets packed with viruses into the air.
If you’re unlucky enough to be nearby, you can become infected by getting the virus on your hands (and later rubbing your eyes) or breathing in some of the viruses.
The longer spent with an infected person, particularly if you are close up indoors, the higher the risk.
So one of the things to do is avoid or reduce Covid-risky activities (Google ‘Covid risk’ for diagrams that conveniently break down routine activities into different risk categories).
The least risky include getting a takeaway or opening the post — which you will be pleased to know if you’re someone who leaves letters and parcels to ‘self-isolate’ for several days before handling.
‘Low to moderate’ risk are things like food shopping, eating outside at a restaurant, staying in a hotel for two nights and playing golf.
‘Moderate to high’ risk includes going to a hair salon, eating inside a restaurant, travelling by plane, and hugging or shaking hands.
The ‘high risk’ category seems pretty obvious — eating at a buffet, attending a religious service (particularly if it’s packed) and going to a bar or gym.
I’ve done plenty of the ‘low to moderate’ risk activities (including handling the post!); but in the ‘moderately high risk category’ there are things Clare, who is a GP, and I have consciously stopped doing — for instance, I haven’t shaken hands since early March, and we’ve only eaten indoors at a restaurant, on a couple of occasions.
The only ‘high risk’ thing we’ve done is go to our local cinema, which had about ten people in it.
I hate gyms and have no intention of going to a bar until this crisis is over. This isn’t because I’m personally worried about becoming seriously ill if I got infected.
In fact, reassuringly my personal risk is pretty low — I know this thanks to the Covid-risk quiz below, designed by the British Medical Association.
My score was 3 (two for my age, and one for being male), putting me at ‘medium’ risk, while Clare, who is 59, scored just 1, so her risk is low.
Even if you are low risk, nobody wants to catch or spread Covid-19, so here are my evidence-based steps to stop that happening:
While you can’t do anything about your age, gender or ethnicity (which matters for severe Covid risk), you can do something about your weight, blood pressure and blood sugar levels — all risk factors for severe Covid.
Losing weight can lead to big improvements in blood pressure and blood sugar levels, as last week’s Shape Up Britain series in the Mail demonstrated so well.
What surprises me is that so many people who are overweight don’t know it — a recent study found only 10 per cent of people who are obese (with a BMI over 30) realise it.
Get into the sun
A good night’s sleep is especially important for keeping your immune system in good shape as this is when your body starts making important components of your immunity, such as antibodies.
A big U.S. study in 2019 found that people who had over seven hours’ sleep a night were four times less likely to come down with a cold than those getting six hours or less.
Bright light in the morning helps set your body clock, leading to better sleep and stronger immunity. If you can’t get outdoors, sit by a window.
A good night’s sleep is especially important for keeping your immune system in good shape [File photo]
Take vitamin D
Although I’m not a fan of supplements, I have recently bought some vitamin D. It is vital for a healthy immune system and plays a key role in activating your T cells, which seem to be particularly important for destroying coronaviruses.
While the evidence whether it makes much difference with Covid-19 is mixed, NHS advice is that most of us should consider taking 10 micrograms of vitamin D a day.
The hello elbow
Instead of shaking hands, I’ve become an elbow nudger — I also use my forearm or elbow to push open doors. If I have to touch a lift button, I do it with a pen — even better, I take the stairs.
Don’t hand it on
I wash my hands whenever I’ve been out, and always before eating. And these days I do it for at least 20 seconds, while singing Staying Alive.
Brain tricks I used to cut back on my drinking…
I was shocked to read earlier this week that the number of people now drinking at levels that threaten their health has doubled to 8.5 million since February.
Stuck indoors, anxious about Covid-19 and worried about their jobs, it’s not surprising so many have turned to booze.
While I’ve never been a heavy drinker — not least because boringly, alcohol just makes me sleepy — a few years ago my wife, Clare, and I decided to try a 5:2 approach to alcohol: we now drink only on Fridays and Saturdays and try to stay alcohol free the other five days of the week.
Another trick I use to slow down the amount of alcohol I drink is to leave the bottle of wine on the other side of the room, so I have to get up for a refill, and I try to drink a glass of water for each glass of booze.
These are ways of cutting your intake without overtaxing your willpower — it’s about tricking your brain into forming new habits that moderate your behaviour without you realising it!
Of course, if your drinking is serious, you may need professional support: an honest conversation with your GP is a good place to start.
Stuck indoors, anxious about Covid-19 and worried about their jobs, it’s not surprising so many have turned to booze [File photo]