• Bruce Dyer

Virus-free havens for the vulnerable?

Photo: Magic Island (cropped) by Ronnie Robertson https://www.flickr.com/photos/16633132@N04/22802341764 License CC BY-SA 2.0: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/

Here’s an idea for a possible add-on to any other COVID-19 strategy – be it eradication, “flattening the curve” or something else. It could be used by some businesses and not-for-profits as well as governments. If it works, it might provide an additional lever to manage the crisis.

I will call it “virus-free havens”. It’s a tweaking of an approach suggested by others – isolating the most vulnerable – but to me the tweaks are the key. So, what are they?

First, isolation should be done in a way that ensures the haven is, and remains, virus free. Say, before entering a haven a person must be certified virus-free (VF) through strict isolation and regular testing for X weeks. There might still be regular testing and social distancing within the haven as a back-up to ensure it remains virus-free.

Secondly, entering the haven would be voluntary. A haven resident would be unable to have contact with any loved ones outside unless they leave (which would mean VF certifying again to re-enter). Not everyone who is vulnerable will accept that. Because this is only an add-on, not the core strategy, it should not be forced on them.

How might businesses use this? Empty luxury resorts could choose to convert into VF havens. Empty hotels and motels could convert into VF havens or VF certifying businesses. Bus companies could convert into VF transport businesses to take the VF certified to the havens. Aged care operators with several facilities could convert some into VF havens by giving their residents the option of VF certifying and moving to the haven. They might also establish VF certifying businesses servicing residents from any aged care facility.

All the above businesses could charge wealthy retirees enough to make a reasonable profit while also offering subsidised/free places to vulnerable persons unable to afford places.

Governments could facilitate this by licensing and monitoring the VF businesses and providing any necessary exemptions from restrictions. They could create incentives or tax deductions for businesses that do the right thing and provide subsidised/free places.

Governments could also establish their own VF havens and VF certifying services.

Finally, governments could use VF havens to complement their other strategies. As health systems approach capacity, governments could stop residents leaving VF havens. The greater social interaction permitted within VF havens could lessen the adverse health effects of any long shut-down. If flattening the curve and herd immunity is pursued, VF havens could help protect the most vulnerable, and reduce the load on the health system, until a vaccine is available.

Would this work and could it help? I’ll leave that to the experts.