Isolation diary: Preparing for a pandemic

I haven’t been commenting much on the news of the day in my diary – which is rather odd, given the way I usually closely follow political comings and goings.

Whilst living in this bubble of safety in my home, I have been very carefully controlling the impact of external information on my equilibrium. I do read a newspaper very day – we still have one delivered – I watch the BBC news throughout the day and usually catch up on the No 10 briefing, so I’m not missing out on much. But the unending tales of death and suffering are sometimes too much to bear, especially when there is little I can do to help, so I do ration them.

In the same way, I avoid joining in the blame game. People are understandably angry, and looking for someone to blame, hence those mad conspiracy theories. But what matters to me, here and now, is to keep us safe, both physically and mentally. I can do nothing about the causes of the situation that we are in, but I can make our enforced isolation work for us.

Eventually, with hindsight, as a nation we will get a better handle on how, when and why the decisions were made to combat the pandemic. But a couple of articles in the Guardian this week have raised some interesting points about the way the UK has dealt with the crisis.

On Tuesday George Monbiot pointed out:

We have been told repeatedly that the UK was unprepared for this pandemic. This is untrue. The UK was prepared, but then it de-prepared. Last year, the Global Health Security Index ranked this nation second in the world for pandemic readiness, while the US was first.

Today David Pegg follows that thread to suggest that although the UK was ready for a pandemic, it was ready for the wrong disease. He summarises how, under Tony Blair, the Government identified and prepared for a number of different potential civil emergencies.

Within its first year the unit drew up the national risk register, a comprehensive catalogue of all the civil emergencies that could conceivably strike the UK, which continues to be updated annually. At the top of the list – then and now – was an influenza pandemic.

But crucially, the pandemic risks were all focussed on a flu variant, rather than any other types of disease. In contrast, those countries which had experienced the outbreaks of other coronaviruses, such as SARS, were in a far better position to respond to the current emergency.

The extent to which Boris Johnson’s government stuck to a protocol laid out in its flu pandemic plans is made clear by reviewing the 2011 strategy for responding to a flu pandemic (the most recent published version available). It reads like an extraordinarily precise description of the steps the UK government did (and did not) take in its initial response to Covid-19.

Mass gatherings such as football matches and live music events would continue, in part to “help maintain public morale”. There would be no quarantining of international arrivals at airports, though passengers would be encouraged to report any symptoms upon arrival. Face masks would not be recommended for use by the public. There is no mention whatsoever of healthy people being confined to their homes in an attempt to prevent transmission.

Although it is very easy to label Boris Johnson and his Government as incompetent, a more balanced analysis might show that they were closely following the advice that had been drawn up by experts over a period of many years. I can understand the mindset which says that, in the midst of panic and noise, the best thing to do is to stick to the agreed procedures. Sadly, it was the wrong advice, because this wasn’t flu.



Please note

We have been in full self-isolation since 16th March to protect my husband whose immune system is compromised.

If you are in self-isolation then join the Lib Dems in self-isolation Facebook group.

You can find my previous Isolation diaries here.


* Mary Reid is a contributing editor on Lib Dem Voice. She was a councillor in Kingston upon Thames, where she is still very active with the local party, and is the Hon President of Kingston Lib Dems.

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This entry was posted in Op-eds.


  • Tony Greaves 22nd May '20 - 5:19pm

    It is easy to label the Johnson government as incompetent (and indeed a number of other things). It is however also true!

  • I think a revue of pandemic strategy should be done every 5 yrs. This decade there has been SARS, EBOLA . Ten years seems to be too long.That also includes checking the stocks available AND kept up to date,
    Quarantine. I cannot see many people coming into the country unless they are Brits returning or those with jobs to go to. Those coming for ‘holidays’ surely will stay away cos 2 weeks and their holiday is over!
    A country should always have an insurance policy in place for unexpected events that millions have to cope with and the funding for that policy should be maintained . Or is it that it is o.k for insurance companies to make a profit from ordinary people and get rich and pay out as little as possible (Aaron Banks etc ).

  • When people in Italy were dying in droves didn’t the government realise that this was nothing like normal flu…If it was a repeat of the 1918 pandemic then early isolation, testing, travel restictions, etc. (all the lessons learned over a century ago) should have been imposed..
    The government did none of these things until it was far too late..

    Incompetence is putting it mildly!

  • I remember the Asian flu pandemic of 1957. I don’t remember seeing anyone wearing a face mask or being told to stay home.

  • That’s a nice flat-screen.
    Talking of newspapers I remember reading my mother’s copy of the Daily Mirror in the 1950s after I had read my comic of course. One copy of the Mirror had a blank space on a page. I asked my mother why. It is for the victims of the Hungarian Uprising she told me.

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