The horrible truth is that it now looks like in many of the early cases, the disease was probably caught in hospitals and doctors’ surgeries. That is where the virus kept returning, in the lungs of sick people, and that is where the next person often caught it, including plenty of healthcare workers. Many of these may not have realised they had it, or thought they had a mild cold. They then gave it to yet more elderly patients who were in hospital for other reasons, some of whom were sent back to care homes when the National Health Service made space on the wards for the expected wave of coronavirus patients.
Once the epidemic is under control in hospitals and care homes, the disease might die out anyway, even without lockdown. In sharp contrast to the pattern among the elderly, children do not transmit the virus much if at all. A recent review by paediatricians could not find a single case of a child passing the disease on and said the evidence ‘consistently demonstrates reduced infection and infectivity of children in the transmission chain’. One boy who caught it while skiing failed to give it to 170 contacts, but he also had both flu and a cold, which he donated to two siblings. Children appear to have ACE2 receptors, the cellular lock that the coronavirus picks, in their noses but not their lungs.