Vaccines are not the only weapons we can deploy to get our lives back to normal

It has been a long year and being isolated from others is beginning to feel like a way of life.

Working from home, treating Zoom as a routine way of communicating not just with the office but with friends and loved ones.

We’ve been getting so used to standing apart and talking through masks, avoiding public transport, shopping less often, that we are beginning to fear social contact; that this “year of an alien life” is beginning to feel normal. Like being institutionalised but at home.

Happily, the success of the vaccine roll out means that our government is now offering us a ‘Road Map’ back to some degree of normality.

But what does a road map mean? It is a wish list of dates when, with a following wind and if all goes well, we can gradually start to open society again. Social distancing rules will be eased although there will still be restrictions on numbers at gatherings like weddings. Pubs and restaurants can start serving indoors and contact restrictions may be lifted by the end of June.

This is all dependant on the assumption that people will no longer transmit the virus by close contact and, of course, that the vast majority have been vaccinated.

But Covid-19 has a nasty habit of catching us off guard, mutating, and hanging around, particularly in the air, for hours on end in any interior space. It only takes one chink in our armour for it to come back and spoil the show.

Any building we enter can be a hothouse for the virus that may have been introduced by a non-symptomatic person or on anyone’s clothes or on a delivery. Or it’s just been there for a while.

In other words it’s not just people who must be immunised, it is the places we visit to work and socialise that also need to stay virus free: offices, shops, restaurants, gyms, theatres and much of industry.

We need to immunise buildings.

One of the most important weapons to achieve this is UVC light which destroys the DNA of viruses as well as bacteria and harmful fungi. This can be deployed as automated robots programmed to move through a building room by room destroying every trace of Covid. These are currently being used in hospitals, schools, offices, and industry to provide a totally sterile environment before people arrive. BBC news recently featured one doing its vital work at Heathrow airport, sterilising toilets, and public spaces in minutes.

Since this form of UVC sterilising can only be used in evacuated spaces, the same technology is now available performing its Covid killing job safely tucked away inside air sterilising units. Air is drawn in and passed through specialised filters while being bombarded with UVC light so harmless air is circulated back into the workspace up to 4 times an hour.

Conveniently this technology also comes in small packages with units for spaces from a small office or restaurant right up to 10,000 square metre shopping centres.

The very latest incorporation of UVC protection is in familiar looking LED strip lights for lighting any workplace, but with hidden UVC tubes. These units have sensors to detect a build-up of micro-organisms in the ai, trigger a warning and a UVC strip unfolds and radiates the area until sensors detect the air is sterile again and fold it safely back into the body of the light.

For many it will be a joy to return to the office after a year of working from home where communicating on line doesn’t quite cut it like a swapping ideas with colleagues face to face or simply discussing Line of Duty around the water cooler.

Here more familiar technologies have been recently updated.

Sterilising sprays have been widely used, usually electrostatically, and are very effective at killing viruses on public transport and in many workplaces. A disadvantage is that most require the user to wear PPE as the chemicals used can be harmful to the skin.

A new product is now available that, while equally devastating to viruses, is harmless to humans and can and is used without PPE either for an overall electrostatic treatment or a simple re-application with a regular pressure spray to high contact surfaces.

Like lift buttons. No longer will you have to wait for someone to ask who wants which floor; the panel can easily be kept safe and sterile throughout the day. The question of whether you can now pile into the lift or take the stairs – you could argue the exercise will do you good after a year at home – can be answered by these new methods of making the workplace safe again.

Stop Press! The World’s first Smart door handle.

How many times a day is a door handle used in any busy workplace? From office doors to the pub loos? This door handle, with a very clever mechanism and a neat reservoir of an anti-viral fluid, literally wipes itself clean after every use. The reservoir holding enough for over 1000 uses before replacing.

Finally, a safe building will only stay safe if we prevent the virus sneaking via an infected person or even on shoes. High-speed thermal imaging and other new devices are now available to avoid this happening.

The vaccines that are making such a difference to our lives by protecting us and reducing the fear we have lived with for so long, work by stimulating our antibodies to attack the virus when it enters our bodies.

Perhaps the way to think of these far more visible technologies is that they are antibodies for buildings so that like our own systems they can attack the virus before it gets to us.

None of this means we no longer need to take care. Of course, we do, this a new and unpredictable enemy. We are gaining the upper hand thanks to scientists and engineers, but it will take all of us working together to defeat this invisible for good.

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