It was China that reported the first case of coronavirus. It is now the turn of Hong Kong, under China’s ever-increasing control, to report the first confirmed case of re-infection of a person previously thought cured of the virus. Researchers at the University of Hong Kong have said, in a paper accepted by the journal Clinical Infectious Diseases, that the second affliction was of a different strain of the virus. These findings assail several previously held beliefs about the course the disease follows, and even cast a cloud on the global scramble for a vaccine. For researchers say this may mean Covid-19 “may persist in humans” and circulate “even if patients have acquired immunity via natural immunity or via vaccination”. If this is true, not even the vaccine that mankind is expending time and money on will prove to be a palliative. The latest research is based on a second infection detected in a 33-year-old this month. The person, an information technology sector worker, had recovered from the virus in April but was found to be infected again during screening on return from Europe three months later.

On the second occasion, the person did not report any symptoms, which researchers believe may show that a repeat infection is milder. While some people have tested positive for the virus over many weeks, scientists were hitherto unsure whether these results showed the presence of traces of the disease, a re-eruption of the affliction or a fresh attack by the virus.

The Hong Kong research suggests that the last of these options is a valid one and it thus casts a forbidding shadow on the belief that some day the
virus would be conquered. But the Hong Kong findings report another intriguing detail, that the strain detected now is reminiscent of the virus that causes the common cold, which may only suggest that a person afflicted with Covid – or vaccinated against it ~ may still catch a cold. An estimate by the Centres for Disease Control, USA in 2017 had said that up to 700,000 people die annually from influenza; the Covid-19 virus at the latest count had claimed more than 800,000 lives, of which admittedly many deaths were of people with severe comorbidities.

While the science remains uncertain, and the quest for a vaccine elusive, perhaps the most significant outcome of the Hong Kong research might
be to emphasise that instead of flailing about helplessly with ill-thought-out containment measures that disrupt lives, or randomly sticking swabs down people’s throats, or even subjecting those who die or fall ill to indignity, mankind would do better to identify the best ways to live as normally as possible with the virus, or to die with greater grace than has been permitted to us in recent months. If after spending billions of dollars on a vaccine, and having allowed the virus to cripple economies, we discover that it does not really go away, we will all end up looking quite stupid.