Wearing respirators doesn’t make sense. It’s pure alibism from the government, says virologist Bouřa

Tomáš Belloň / ÚOCHB

The government’s measures to slow down the spread of SARS-CoV-2 make no sense. Wearing respirators is one of them, says Evžen Bouřa, a structural virologist at the Institute of Organic Chemistry and Biochemistry of the Czech Academy of Sciences.

He sees pure alibism in the government. According to him, everyone will encounter the omicron variant anyway; fortunately, not everyone will get sick.

In the media, you said that wearing respirators does not make much sense. Why?

It is because wearing respirators, like other measures, can pursue two goals. One is to stem the tide of the spread of SARS-CoV-2, which we know we cannot do with the omicron variant, or to slow down the spread of the virus, which does not make sense with omicron.

That is the difference with the delta variant, where it was essential to slow down the spread of the virus. It’s called “flattening the peak.” It is vital to give people time to get vaccinated and not overwhelm hospitals because the delta sent many people to hospitals.

Now the people who wanted to be vaccinated have been vaccinated. Omicron is not sending too many people to hospitals, so there is no risk of overcrowding. That’s why the measures to flatten the peacock are unnecessary. And wearing respirators is one of them.

But what about those who aren’t vaccinated? Isn’t a respirator at least some protection for them?

If someone wants to protect themselves with a respirator, why not? That’s perfectly fine. I’m not saying we should ban respirators. Anyone who wants to wear one can wear one. But we have to remember that everyone will eventually get the virus. Fortunately, not everyone gets sick.

But the virus is still mutating. What if a new, more dangerous variant comes along and spreads rapidly without respirators?

We’ll know in time if a new variant comes along because we sequence viruses regularly (the process by which their genome is read, ed.). If there is a new variant against which respirators would make sense, they will start wearing them again. It is not a problem to change their behavior as the situation changes.

In your opinion, is it advantageous in terms of immunity to become infected with omicron?

We have no choice. He won’t ask us about the virus. He doesn’t care. We can’t do enough to stop it. It’s going to spread anyway, and everyone’s going to meet it always. After all, most people have already met it.

Are we going to die and then it will be quiet, or will the virus keep coming back?

The coronavirus is not new, and we already know a lot about it. And we know that most people’s immunity to infection lasts about six months. Some people are longer, and some people are shorter. In November, most of us will be nicely prepared to get infected with some new variant or omicron again.

So all the precautions will have to come back in the fall?

If omicron comes, the measures will not have to come back because the actions against omicron do not make any sense now. But it may be that another variant of the virus will come along against which measures will have to be introduced.

What do you think of the Czech Government’s position, which wants to abolish almost all the measures in March but wants to keep the respirators?

This is pure alibism. We know that the measures are useless, but we insist on them.

On the other hand, the Czech Republic is not the only country to behave this way…

Many countries have abolished or are abolishing all the measures. All the governments trying to behave rationally are to the west of us, and all the countries acting irrationally is at our geographical level, or even further east.

What would you recommend the government do?

I would recommend that politicians behave rationally. But that’s just wishful thinking, and it will probably never happen.

The rational thing to do would be to abolish all the measures?

At the moment, yes, but that doesn’t mean it won’t change.

Even for economic reasons, many people wear the same respirator repeatedly, even for several days. Is this safe for your health? Some doctors warn that bacteria, viruses, and mold can cling to the respirator.

That’s undoubtedly true, but if it were downright dangerous, we’d see it. Several million people wear respirators. If it were harmful to health, we would see an increase in morbidity, but that’s not happening.

How often should a respirator be changed?

According to the manufacturer’s recommendations. Unfortunately, it is often the case that the manufacturer does not give this figure. I think we all know that not changing a respirator for three weeks is wrong. But most people do it anyway.

We wear respirators for two years, but we don’t change them as often as we should. Couldn’t that have an impact on our health in the future?

I’m sure it will, maybe negatively, maybe positively. It’s hard to predict. Respirators defend against diseases that are not very infectious. Whooping cough, for example, has more or less disappeared thanks to them. But it also means that our immunity hasn’t been tested, and we’ve gotten used to encountering pathogens.

And so could the bacteria and viruses that we have become used to being threatened by?

I wouldn’t worry about it. Of course, the future will tell.