Making a drama out of a crisis? Taking the harm out of the virus!

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If we believe in anything, it is the Harm Principle of John Stuart Mill. People should be at liberty, to make their own choices, unless they do harm, to others, or to themselves, if in ways that might harm others too. The bar for the deciding of what is a harm, is set higher or lower, according to whether you are a Liberal or a Libertarian. Mill was a Liberal. He believed the state, the government, needed to exercise authority, on, for example law and order. The balance, is what is to be considered. The preamble to the constitution of this party refers to that as “between the fundamental values, of liberty, equality and community.

I have often put it this way. I am a Classical Liberal, on liberty related issues, a Social Liberal, on equality related issues, a Social Democrat, on community related issues. I am of the view that there has rarely been an issue that combines all these and more, and requires strong thinking and action, than Covid19.

I have just written an article for the Ustinov Prejudice Awareness Forum, an organisation of which I am a member and writer. The article is titled “Viral Expertise“, in which I look at greater word length and in different ways, from a more international perspective, at what I want to say here, from a UK Classical Liberal, Social Liberal and Social Democrat point of view. The importance of this issue, is such, that I would very much welcome colleagues visit the link too.

I, we, surely must subscribe to support policies that reveal and encourage, personal responsibility and public good. For all , responsible, for goodness sake, more needs to be done at home and abroad to combat this virus and act as a rehearsal for, an ongoing effort where the world performs better.

As a vegetarian, non smoker, non drinker, non driver, it is my personal responsibility to do my bit to live a good life. I expect better of others but more from government too. These virus related crises emerge usually due to the imbalance of humans and their relationship with animals and planet. Live and let live, is a daft motto if it does the reverse!

I am calling on the experts, who do not all agree, in different areas of their real expertise, or in different countries attempting to combat this virus, to err on the side of caution, on the potential health consequences, and throw caution to the wind, on the economic consequences. The former saves lives, the latter spends money. I fear that we might be unnecessarily in a situation that spends lives and saves money. Austerity has had its day. It is a very different world now.

I ask all of us, government, individuals, communities, experts, to consider the following:

Flights should be stopped , unless urgent, to all countries, temporarily, wherever possible. Holidays should be had at home. Airlines should be compensated if the insurance does not cover this crisis.

Money should get to those with underlying conditions and help to get the support they need. Similarly with the elderly and isolated.

The unemployed should not have to attend at job centres, these closed down, indeed all public sector workers not involved in the delivery of services related to this crisis, encouraged and paid, to not work, but to volunteer, online or phone, with advice lines or as needed.

Private sector employers should do likewise compensated, too, and the self employed, given a temporary basic income guarantee if unable, or detrimental, to work.

Small guest houses should be utilised in all regions, to provide a safe place to isolate those with the virus who do not need hospital, but should be kept safe, from families, or friends. There seems to be, from those used to being in mansions, no understanding of the cramped situations of many. My wife and I reside in a one bedroom flat!

All large public gathering should cease. Again, if insurance does not cover this, compensation forthcoming, from governments, for cancelling performances, theatre, concert, film, all. The Olympics should be cancelled until a year ahead.

Self isolation wherever possible, is going to be an important part of the solution. It need not be selfishness. Being less sociable thus can , lead to being more social in concern. This is a balance of individuality and society, for the good of humanity. To wash hands only, is to wash hands of this altogether!

* Lorenzo Cherin is an actor, writer, and regular contributor to politics as a member of the Liberal Democrats. He is based in Nottingham.

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  • And don’t forget large-scale testing. Fortunately, the NHS has announced that it will quickly ramp up testing capacity to 10000 people per day, same as the current capacity of South Korea.

  • Laurence Cox 12th Mar '20 - 11:20am

    For anyone wondering why washing your hands regularly with soap and water is so important, here is an explanation:

  • @Lorenzo

    Thank you for this and I very much agree with everything that you have said.

    We are in very different times and it is going to take a mammoth effort from everyone to get us through this, especially our elderly citizens and those with underlining health conditions and not forgetting the poorest people in society.

    I understand that this is a huge change to the way we live our lives, but it is only temporary and sometimes we have to put the needs of others before our personal liberties/freedoms.

    I get irked when I read so many comments on social media and even from our government that this disease is only “mild” for the vast majority of the country, that may be true, however, it is not the case for the elderly and vulnerable and people with “mild” symptoms would still be passing on a potentially “deadly” infection to someone in less fortunate circumstances healthwise.

    I would like to see schools closed immediately, I understand that this has huge consequences for working parents and the poor who are relaint on free school meals. But it is a fact that children who are asymptomatic are able to spread the virus to others. There was a vast reduction in swine flu numbers when the kids broke up for school holidays so the evidence is there to support this.

    Australia has just given each of its citizens on welfare a $750 cheque to help with the added costs that they are going to face with this virus, now I am not suggesting that the uk should do exactly the same, but I am sure that something can be done for families who will need extra money to meet the extra costs of feeding their children whilst te schools are shut.

    We have to do something to change the mindset of the people with this panic buying, of course, it is sensible to have a few extra provisions in the home, but this hoarding of toiletries and hand sanitizer is selfish when genuinely vulnerable people with underlining conditions cannot get hold of these products for love or money, especially when it is this group that needs to be extra vigillant with hand hygiene.
    Maybe it is time that Hand sanitizer needs to be prescribed (temporarily) on the NHS for those with underlining conditions that puts them at high risk during this crisis.

  • Unfortunately, listening to someone from the WHO today they do not know very much about how the virus transmits yet. The idea of having guest houses full of people who may have different types of the virus seems quite dangerous, an encouragement for the virus to mutate into a nastier form. Personally, I am going to skip my dental appointment and not get my hair cut… and going anywhere near a hospital seems quite a mad thing to do. The rest is down to luck and perhaps the ire of the gods.

  • I would agree with most of this but we also need to remember that Economic disruption can kill as well.
    On the NHS testing – 10,000 a Day sounds a lot but at that rate it would take 15 Years to test us all.

  • The point that isn’t being spelled out by politicians, for relatively obvious reasons, is that the Delay strategy assumes, and indeed requires, that there is a level of infection between each quarantine or lock down (for there will be more than one, something else that wont be spelled out at the outset).

    The idea is to lock things down while the level of infection is at a level the NHS can cope with, allow the disease to work through for those people, the large majority recovering with immunity, and then lift the quarantine to allow the epidemic to spread again. Newsnight earlier this week had various epidemic experts on, and it is clear that this is the way they are thinking.

    Rinse and repeat, until the level of herd immunity is sufficient to stop a major epidemic overwhelming our health services.

    Many commentators – including this article – assume that it’s simply a question of everyone keeping apart and somehow the virus disappears. That isn’t going to happen.

  • @Ian – You are quite correct.

    The aim is not to stop the spread of the virus. That would require almost shutting down everything and would cause major disruption to the economy, services, supply chains and may lead to enormous damage and hardship in other ways. It would also cause severe panic with unpredictable results.

    Without drastic measures, spread of the virus is unavoidable. The aim is to employ sufficient measures to slow the spread to a level that does not overwhelm the NHS.

  • It is tempting to agree with Lorenzo and suggest that the elderly should stay at home, flights should stop and so on. But consider the downsides of such policies. The very large number of elderly people in our population are the people who keep pubs, restaurants, garden centres and shops in business every day while the rest of the population is at work or being educated. Similarly, shutting down aviation will harm tourism, trade, airlines, airports and millions of workers will suffer. Some of the harm would be permanent.

  • @Ian

    “Many commentators – including this article – assume that it’s simply a question of everyone keeping apart and somehow the virus disappears. That isn’t going to happen.”

    I am not sure that is the thinking at all.
    I think it is hoped that by slowing down the infection rate (especially amongst the elderly and vulnerable) By aiming for this “herding immunity” it is hoped that the younger generation (Under 60) whilst many will become infected, they have the best chance of fighting through this virus and develop (some) immunity, Yes there will be many cases and the hospitals will still be overwhelmed, it might not be so inundated with “critical” patients.
    It will give medical professionals an opportunity to treat people and gain valuable information on what drugs might be effective in reducing symptoms and recovery times. It will also give scientists time to come up with better anti-viral medications to combat this strain (we know that a vaccination is years down the track)

    Yes the virus is still going to be out there and raise its ugly head again which the older generation and vulnerable are going to have to face at some point, but it is hoped that the Hospitals will be less under strain from the onslaught of early infections and a better knowledge of what medications are out there already that can be effective in giving the more vulnerable the best possible chance of getting through this until vaccination can be found.

    I am no scientist but I hope that is the current thinking

  • Lorenzo Cherin 12th Mar '20 - 2:23pm

    Want this to generate discussion, but also need to clarify some aspects.

    In the article on Ustinov Forum, I go into more of this at greater depth of content, from a broader outlook. This is for particular interest to us as Liberals or social democrats, here in the UK. Please see my article from an international and general stance, Viral Expertise?!


    Much appreciate your comments. You seem to understand what my purpose here and the reason for this, is.

    I am not supposing this is a one off, indeed not, in fact I yearn for changes in practice, and towards best practice.

    Guest houses for example are better than military bases, for a start the ones that can be utilised would have en suites and staffed by professionals seconded, isolating the ones with very mild symptoms, away from family of friends.

    Economy first is not an issue. Humanity first must now be. The survival of the planet has been overdone as something separate. It, humans, animals, are out of step and all, out of balance. Every constructive and definitely worthwhile contributor to well being, now and ongoing, improves our human condition.

    A day at the sports matches is no day at the beach if it spreads a virus, and now, it does!

  • I am about a quarter of the way into writing a novel based around the idea that concerned Aliens have put a virus inside a bacteria into the water that ends up making new babies unable to reproduce… all ruined now, though if you were an Alien concerned with the world’s population level then having a virus that largely does not affect the younger half of the population, but make them infectious, and does in the older generation, it would be even better than my idea…

  • @Frank West “that ends up making new babies unable to reproduce…”

    I think P.D.James did this in “The Children of Men”.

  • I would also like to see parents of vulnerable children being given the option to pull their children from schools without facing fines.

    If it is going to be the Governments decision not to close schools yet until the infection reaches a larger proportion of the population, as seems to be the case. Parents with vulnerable children should have the right to not send their children to school is they are regarded as at risk.

    I will give an example within my own family, as I have said in a previous post, I have a young niece of 10 years old she has rheumatic fever last year and became very ill and ended up having to have a mechanical heart valve fitted, she is now a high-risk person for this coronavirus. Even if there are any ordinary outbreaks of flu in schools we have take to take precautions with her. My sister is petrified understandably.
    She should now, in my opinion, have to option to take her daughter out of class whilst their is this increased risk to her safety without the fear of facing fines from the school or government.

    I hope this is a matter that is taken up in parliament with utmost urgency

  • Lorenzo Cherin 12th Mar '20 - 5:07pm


    Agreement with this completely. It is the right of family to educate at home. Could yours initiate this with your niece? If not, f she is allowed home, can family be there if not having to be working? My feelings are strong for any with such a child, my worry there would be so great as to take her out of school. But then again, I come up against modern progressives because of my opposition to abortion on other than health grounds, and support for the rights of downs syndrome to life, and girls, both aborted without specific protection. I am a right to life Liberal who supports legal abortion but wants, as on all things, more balance in favour of the most in need and least protected, the most innocent and least harmful.

  • Catherine Jane Crosland 12th Mar '20 - 6:00pm

    Matt, I’m so sorry to hear about your niece’s situation – this must be such a worrying time for the family. I feel that her parents should just tell the school that they intend to keep her at home until the crisis is over.
    The school and local authority would probably be sympathetic in the circumstances – but it certainly should be formally clarified that parents of vulnerable children have the right to make this decision.
    Also, adults who are especially at risk for health reasons should have the right to paid time off work in order to avoid infection.
    Lorenzo, it can take courage to speak out, on a liberal website, against abortion on grounds of disability. I agree with you, this is a discrimination issue and a human rights issue.

  • As our esteemed Prime Minister has pointed out, a lot more people are going to die before this is played out. And people are discussing how much economic disruption we should tolerate ??? Sorry, but the economy will recover down the line. the job today is to do whatever it takes to stop the spread of this virus.

  • Anyone who listened carefully to this afternoon’s Chief Medical Officer presentation, particularly the part about further spread of the virus actually being desirable, before we head into our first spell of quarantine, will understand why this article has missed the mark.

    We need hard nosed leadership right now, since the right decision requires accepting that the virus will spread and that some people will die. To their credit, the government and its range of medical advisors did a good job today.

    Anyone who has seen the videos will know that China has locked many of its people indoors and is spraying their towns with disinfectant from large machines on the back of lorries, from drones flying above their towns, and with an army of workers with spray guns and cylinders of chemicals on their backs. Yet, so long as the majority of the population has no immunity, such efforts will be ultimately futile, since it will take just one virus carrier to set the whole cycle off again. What China is doing now appears impressive , and looks good from the statistics. But ultimately they are wasting their time.

  • Ian,

    Once China have killed off the virus they will pull up the drawbridge and no one will get in or out without spending 14 days in quarantine. The drawbridge won’t come down until a vaccine has been proved to work. Now anyone who is dependent on Chinese students, home buyers or tourists is in deep trouble.

    The Depeffle approach of Caedite eos. Novit enim Dominus qui sunt eius is unlikely to go down well with his base especially as they are in the group mostly likely to be meeting God.

  • @Lorenzo Cherin

    Thank you for your comments and thank you for this piece, I really praise you for raising these issues and I hope that this article gets the attention that it deserves from regular readers.

    @Catherine Jane Crosland

    Again thank you for your words.

    I have spoken to sister this evening and she is going to call nieces cardiologist tomorrow for their opinion on this.
    But as she said, she has another older Child who is also at school and fears that while she may be able to isolate the youngest with the heart condition, she may not be able to take the older child out of school who could potentially bring the virus home with her.
    She is petrified and wants to do the right thing by her youngest, but at the same time she cannot afford to face fines from the schools for “unauthorised absences”

    I think this is an urgent issue that many families with vulnerable children will be facing in the coming weeks / months.
    It is fine for the government to rule that they are at present not going to close the schools, however, they should allow families to have the right choose not to send their child to school during this pandemic and not face fines from the school or local authorities.

    We also need to consider the number of young carers, children who care for sick and disabled parents. These children will be petrified of picking up this virus at school and passing it on to their vulnerable parents.
    The issue urgently needs to be raised in parliament and I am calling on any Liberal Democrat MP who reads the forum to do this for us, or maybe one on the editors could pose the question to the parliamentary party for us

  • Lorenzo Cherin 12th Mar '20 - 10:43pm


    Several very expert commentators have said we must do more now, immunity with this is not certain to result, some have got it twice, scarcely a little later on, so knowledge is very basic.

    Many parts of the US are doing what is called for herein. The former health secretary Hunt is very worried the government are not.

    We can theoretically advocate or use common sense. Social isolated people can spread less. Why have mass events?

    I do not advocate we do as China or Italy, but if we do not do as France or American cities we shall have to!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • So basically we have decided to throw people under the bus, based on what? Is this based on proper peer reviewed research or simple guess work by experts? Will the government publish the research this is based on? If not, why not?

    Why are other governments instituting lockdowns? If lockdowns don’t work, explain why the Chinese seem to have this disease under control?

    To me this looks like a reckless strategy, more concerned with economic damage, then actually dealing with the problem. After all, what happens when we have runaway transmission of the disease, due to government inaction and lockdown countries don’t? Think they will keep their borders open with us?

  • What about teachers and other school staff that have vulnerable relatives or people they care for? Will they be allowed time off to avoid infecting them or will the government throw them under the bus as well?

  • bartelbe – if we do mass-testing (10000 people per day or more) emphasizing key chokepoints like airports or stations or anyone directly and directly contacting infected cases, social distancing (including forcing the elderly to stay at home), banning large events of 200 or more, closing schools and unis as well as unessential places like pubs or stadiums NOW, we will be able to stop short of lockdowns. South Korea and Taiwan don’t do city-wide or region-wide lockdowns and they are controlling things well.

    Paul barker – yes, it cannot cover all of us, but it can cover a lot more and expose more asymtomatic cases. For example, following SK approach, if you identify a positive case in an apartment, you will quarantine the whole apartment and test everyone lives there and maybe the whole street, not just those who have direct contact with the infected person. Besides, large-scale drive-through testing can speed up the process.

  • Lorenzo Cherin – NEVER FORGET SOUTH KOREA.

  • Well, and this is another ground to ditch “classical liberalism”. The necessary proactive actions from the government to deal with the epidemic (like banning mass events or say, enforcing mandatory testing in airports) will go against the principles of classical liberalism, but not social liberals (at least not totally).

  • I am a bit confused, if no more immediate testing but people with symptoms should self-isolate then how will they know how many people are suffering from the initial symptoms. Figures also seem wildly off with ten dead, times a hundred if one percent mortality then that is a thousand cases rather than the suggested 5000-10000, or suggests that mortality will jump to 50-100 very quickly if they are still in the system.

    Govn seems to be treating the populace as grown-ups, no one is forced to attend football match etc so at their risk, though the actual risks are somewhat unknown as are the future effects of being infected even if you survive the initial attack.

    Once out the other side of this, frontline workers such as nurses should get a tax-free cash bonus (not percentage salary based, though).

  • What crisis? There’s a lot of hysteria and over-reaction but nothing much actually seems to be happening!

  • Frank West – BoJo seems to wait for herd immunity to save the day. His speech about “many people will see the loved ones die” is already a big red flag.

  • @ Thomas. “Forcing the elderly to stay at home”.

    You’re clearly very excited at the moment, but could you define at what age people are elderly, how you are going to enforce it short of a Stasi system, and what sanctions you would impose to punish said elderly offenders…….. and how do you think it would affect the (?) Lib Dems Government’s popularity gif they implemented such a policy ?

  • By coincidence I switched on the television when the prime minister was making his latest statement on the virus, flanked by his advisers. It was clear that nothing had been rejected to deal with the problems and that the priorities have been carefully evaluated.
    It is a complex issue. Our country is a big place.
    One thing that has impressed me is that there is an emphasis on the fact that people have to be on board with any actions taken. This includes giving full information as it becomes available.

  • @frank west

    “Govn seems to be treating the populace as grown-ups, no one is forced to attend football match ”

    Banning mass public gatherings is not just about reducing the spread of the disease, it is about freeing up valuable front line resources during a time of national emergency.
    Just think how many police officers have to attend and martial a football match, The number of Paramedics and St Johns Ambulance volunteers.
    Lets face it, some of our supporters are not the most responsible and end up in someway causing an incident that required either the police of the NHS services.

    If these public events were banned (temporarily) during this crisis these front line workers could be better deployed to help with this national emergency, I am sure that the NHS could do with volunteers from st Johns ambulance and even police could be redeployed to assist with the ambulance service if it so needs it.

    It seems ludicrous to me to be tying up valuable resources when we know we are about to be hammered by this epidemic and the NHS is going to be at breaking point just so people can continue to attend sporting events etc.
    We all have to make sacrifices during these difficult times and we urgently need to put an end to this me me culture

  • John Peters 13th Mar '20 - 9:18am

    May your God preserve us from internet experts.

    The only people who properly understand what is likely to happen are the Government. They will (quite rightly) be judged on their actions and inactions.

  • John Marriott 13th Mar '20 - 9:40am

    @John Peters
    Well, you clearly would appear to have more faith in the government than the rest of us. What this latest plague to descend on mankind will show is how many countries have the resilience, structures and self will to get over it sooner rather than later. Who knows? This might actually be the wake up call we have all needed.

  • Watch out, John. Young Thomas wants to put thee and me under house arrest. I’m still awaiting his comments on the consequences if we don’t meekly submit to his self identified ‘social liberal’ policy. Out of the mouths of babes and sucklings………

  • John Marriott 13th Mar '20 - 10:47am

    @David Raw
    That’ll suit me fine. I’ve just rediscovered the delights of the model railway I built in our loft some thirty years ago for my sons, which, after gathering dust for the best part of two decades, and a bit of TLC, is now fascinating my grandsons (and granddaughters). It certainly beats sitting in interminable committee meetings or (wash my mouth out) knocking on doors!

    Seriously though, I’m prepared to do my bit, if that’s what ‘self isolation’ means. Regarding what is to come, as the late Al Jolson famously said; “You ain’t seen nothin’ yet, folks”.

  • Christopher Perry 13th Mar '20 - 11:08am

    The Government Strategy appears to be to flatten the peak and extend the period in order that the NHS might cope, whilst building up immunity amongst the wider population. In order to do this the Government is prepared to sacrifice an indiscriminate number of older and sick people – reminiscent of sending teenage conscripts into battle during the second world war knowing that many were going to their certain death.

    This is borne out by Sir Patrick Vallance’s reported statement today that around 60% of the UK population will need to be infected in order to build up this immunity. Surely this is inconsistent with the Government instruction to self-isolate but explains why the Government has been playing down the impact on younger people.

    China has shown that the virus can be stopped. But without building up immunity in the wider population it will return unless a vaccine can be developed in time.

    Here is me advocating that the way to deal with the funding crisis in the NHS is to increase the State Pension in order to lift older people out of poverty given that 4/5th of the expenditure of the NHS goes on older people with a correlation between income and demand upon the NHS. Boris may have come up with another way.

    A civilisation can be judged by the way it looks after its older, disabled, disadvantaged and sick people. Australia and many other countries are protecting their must vulnerable people from this virus. Britain must do the same and now!

  • Ah, the joys of Hornby Dublo, John, with the Duchess of Atholl coming round the corner in all her maroon majesty.

    And the joy of our new little granddaughter – arriving last Monday in this pestilential illiberal world with dubious tenants in 10 Downing Street and the White House.

  • @Christopher Perry “the Government is prepared to sacrifice an indiscriminate number of older and sick people – reminiscent of sending teenage conscripts into battle during the second world war knowing that many were going to their certain death.”

    I’m sorry, but this comment is otiose. Leaving aside the point that you can’t judge the thoughts and actions of people 80 years ago by the norms of today, how exactly did you think Britain (or any other country for that matter) is supposed to combat the existential threat of a powerful and aggressive foreign conquering army without sending an army to face them (in the knowledge that military action involves casualties, including death)?

  • Rob Parker 13th Mar ’20 – 8:47am……………What crisis? There’s a lot of hysteria and over-reaction but nothing much actually seems to be happening!…..

    If memory serves that was an actual quote from a passenger on ‘RMS Titanic’…

  • The comments from Rob and some others on this forum are absurd.

    Johnson actually deserves credit for being willing to defer to the scientists, and take the long-term optimal path despite all the short term cries to “do something” that we are now hearing. And that some other counties are conceding, with travel bans and the rest, that will ultimately prove futile.

    The Chinese path of locking everyone indoors and spraying their towns with disinfectant looks impressive, but they have no immunity and when they emerge, the epidemic will steadily resume.

    Our plan is for the elderly and vulnerable to stay indoors while the rest of us catch the virus in as managed way as is possible. Some quarantine ‘lock downs’ may be needed to cope with this along the way. After a few months enough of us will have spent an unpleasant week in bed and will now be immune that it will be safe to let our parents come out once again. Probably we’ll all have to spent a fortnight indoors before that becomes viable.

    Yes, it’ll be tough. But ultimately it is the most sensible way to proceed.

  • @ian

    “Our plan is for the elderly and vulnerable to stay indoors while the rest of us catch the virus in as managed way as is possible”

    “Our plan” I take it you are part of the decision-making process then Ian? Because it sure as hell is not my plan or a lot of others.

    It would not be quite as bad if the Powers that be advising, would advise NOW that pensioners WITH underlying health condition and vulnerable people with underlying health conditions that are known to be at increased risk from this virus should be starting the social distance process now. And that further down the line we will be asking other people of pensionable age to start the social distance process as the disease spreads.
    However, that does not appear to be the advice of the Government, in fact, quite the opposite we have the chief scientific officer telling us that we need “herd immunity” and in order for that to work, 60% of the population needs to be infected.
    People are not daft they can do the maths, when the Government are telling us that they expect 5% of people to be critical from this virus and 1% to die, those stats are not very nice for an infection total of 39 million people (60% of the population)

    It is scaring the pants out of people.

    I, fortunately, have an excellent GP who knows that I suffer from severe mental health and anxiety, I was amazed to receive a phone call from her today checking in on me to see if I was ok as she is concerned about the effects this is all having on people with mental health and anxieties. I do have to start the social distancing phase as I have a lot of underlying physical health conditions that put me at extreme risk, that’s not a problem for me because of mental health I do not engage socially with people anyway and hardly leave the house. But I was just so appreciative to my GP for a lot of information that she gave me and actually feel privileged that she told me as much as she possibly can over the coming weeks she will be keeping in touch with her mental health pensions via telephone to check in on them.
    If I could nominate this Dr for an award at the end of all this I most certainly will be and will be relying on more information from her than these so-called scientific specialists who seem to be combating this virus based on at what is best called a “hunch” or “experiment”

  • Peter Martin 13th Mar '20 - 4:06pm

    The figures are scary. So far we have had (worldwide) 75,853 recorded cases with a definite outcome. 70,733 (93%) have fully recovered. There has been 5,120 (7%) deaths

    So is the Govt playing down the potential severity with their widely quoted claim of 1% deaths? Possibly. But if there are in fact seven times more cases than the official figures show we do end up with a 1% death toll. Hopefully this is the case! If so then there is justification for keeping the most vulnerable out of harms way for as long as possible while the less vulnerable build up their immunity by acquiring a relatively mild infection.

  • I think we, in the UK, are being fed BS…If the advice is don’t ring 111 or contact your GP and just self isolate how the heck have they any idea of the number of cases?
    Yesterday there was no need to cancel football, rugby and other big crowd events; today the bodies controlling those events ignored the government and postponed them unilaterally (remember these are the organisations that will take the financial hit).
    Now elections have been put back a year, etc.

  • I just had a heartbreaking conversation with my Mum. She is 75 years old and has COPD and my Dad is 79 with Heart Disease, Type 2 diabetes, DVT and dementia.

    Mum is so confused by what is being said in the media especially the comments from chief science officer about herd immunisation and 60% of the population becoming infected etc etc.

    But the thing that tore me to shreds was when she said “do you think me and Dad would be better to catch this now early, while the NHS is not so overrun so they have a better chance of treating us before the onslaught”
    I don’t know how long it took me to talk, I was trying not to blubber and show my distress and upset her further. All I could say was Mum, I understand why you are frightened and that’s not the answer and I promised I would travel to hers tomorrow and have a talk with them and explain as good as I can what we need to do.
    Truth is, I have no idea what I am going to say to them, I am just as confused as to what the strategy is of the chief scientific officer.

    People are scared and confused. The government and its advisors are going to have to explain better to the public what their strategy is and how they are going to keep the most vulnerable safe.
    I also think the Government should be releasing their scientific strategy/data to parliament and made public so it can be scrutinized by other respected scientists after all government is about accountability and there is never been such a greater time in our history when that is more so important as now.

  • David Allen 13th Mar '20 - 8:10pm

    “Johnson actually deserves credit for being willing to defer to the scientists, and take the long-term optimal path despite all the short term cries to “do something” that we are now hearing. And that some other counties are conceding, with travel bans and the rest, that will ultimately prove futile.”

    Well, that’s plausible, but – Why have most governments taken a more proactive line – should we just assume that Britain always knows best? The WHO have made it clear that “inaction” is a danger they fear. Do we assume that the WHO aren’t real experts?

    The Chief Medical Officer seems to be very confident that he is right and that other “experts” are wrong. In my view, many experts are often right, but the experts who KNOW they are “always right” are the experts not to be trusted!

    The “herd immunity” approach is clearly plausible. But – If government really believed that it was the key, wouldn’t they be adopting a twin-track policy, with the most vulnerable 10-20% of the population being asked to take stringent self-isolation measures, while the younger and healthier 80-90% of the population were encouraged to carry on normal life unabated, get the disease and get over it, and thereby create the “herd immunity” that would then enable all control measures to be dropped?

    I fear that the “herd immunity” idea is to some extent being used as an excuse for accepting a trade-off between harming the economy and harming the aged and unhealthy.

    Yes, perhaps the Chinese will have recurring bouts of infection. Perhaps it will prove to be correct that some 60% of any population must catch the disease before it is beaten. Perhaps the Chinese will end up suffering no lower a total casualty figure than had they never bothered to try control measures. Then again, perhaps that’s not right. Perhaps a vaccine will be ready before China has recurring waves of infection, and China will have saved a lot of lives – while the arrogant “we know how to do this, just take it on the chin” countries, like Britain and the US, will have needlessly suffered!

  • Also, from an ethical standpoint, the whole “herd immunity” stuff is basically a giant Social Darwinist eugenic experience where the old and the weak will be culled. Every Libdem therefore has a moral duty to oppose this policy.

    “The “herd immunity” approach is clearly plausible” – no it is not. We don’t even know whether people can develop immunity after recovering, and whether the virus can mutate.

  • Peter Martin 14th Mar '20 - 8:53am

    @ Thomas,

    “…… a giant Social Darwinist eugenic experience where the old and the weak will be culled.”

    This is just nonsense. In the absence of a vaccine there is simply no alternative to managing the spread of the virus as best we can. Just like there wasn’t any other option with the Spanish flu 100 years ago when the Liberals were in charge! There were the same unknowns then but the epidemic ran its course and the flu died down as a consequence of most of the flu sufferers surviving and so building up a measure of immunity.

    This protected not only themselves but others in the community too.

  • Peter Martin – there is no sufficient evidence that recovered patients will develop immunity against Covid. In fact, there are reinfected cases reported in China.

    On the other hand, certain East Asian countries with direct experience with SARS have managed to bend the infection curve with tough measures. Boris simply attempted to throw the towel, but, earlier today he has already had to backtrack and proceed with banning mass gatherings and closing unis (but stopping short of closing schools).

    Also, there are evidence that Covid can permanently damage your lungs for serious cases.

    Note: SARS, another coronavirus without vaccine, was not stopped by nurturing so-callled herd immunity.

  • Peter Martin 14th Mar '20 - 11:39am

    @ Thomas,

    We were lucky with SARS. And MERS. All known cases were isolated at a relatively early stage. The diseases were contained and a possible Pandemic prevented.

    We’ve not been so lucky with COVID 19. OK you could argue that we make our own luck with our responses but that doesn’t change anything. We only have one go at getting it right. Unfortunately we didn’t and we’ve now got the Pandemic.

    So all we can do is attempt to ‘flatten the curve’ to prevent too many people becoming infected all at once which could overwhelm the NHS. Unfortunately this may not mean that fewer people become infected in total, just that fewer people are ill at any one time. The trade off is probably between having a flatter but fatter distribution at the cost of more economic disruption and a thinner spikey distribution at less economic cost. Unfortunately, there’s no obvious right answer.

  • Lorenzo Cherin 14th Mar '20 - 1:16pm

    Very good comments, but Matt, we agree.

    Please keep in contact, if you want to get in touch do.

    The government are going hither and thither, now mass gathering banned, days ago, not considered, this is not gradualism it is confusion.

  • Rodney Watts 14th Mar '20 - 8:43pm

    Lorenzo, congratulations on a very good article that has attracted many thoughtful and moving comments- particularly from Matt. I did also take the trouble to read your more internationally orientated version, which was very agreeable.
    I have also noted the engagement between @Thomas and @ Peter Martin. Anyone watching Question Time and listening to Prof. John Ashton on BBC1 on Thurs. would realise that Thomas has got the more correct understanding. This time The Daily Mail has got good coverage of the Prof John Ashton contribution:

    Sorry Peter, but I would even support Thomas in his comment about Darwinian eugenics, which even went through my mind about a week ago. Whether it was deliberate or just the consequence of the 5 weeks delay because of bad advice from the Chief Scientific Advisor I do not know.

  • It seems that not much has changed in a century. In 2018 the BBC aired a documentary about James Niven and his handling of the Spanish Flu outbreak in Manchester credited with saving numerous lives
    “Sir Arthur Newsholme, a senior health advisor to the British government, recommended that no action be taken against the pandemic as munitions factories and public services needed to remain open to help with the war effort.

    But Niven was seeing the full force of the flu in Manchester as northern cities were more severely affected due to their crowded nature as a result of industrialisation. He reccommended that schools and cinemas be closed to reduce people’s proximity to each other and published leaflets that were displayed around the city, advising residents on how to reduce the risk of becoming infected.”

    “..with today’s ease of travel with regular flights across the world, a virus could spread and become a pandemic before health officials knew what was happening. It is estimated that a pandemic as deadly as Spanish flu would have a 1% mortality rate today.”

    “Viral pandemics tend not to last long, as viruses evolve to not kill their hosts, increasing their chance of spreading.”

    “With outbreaks of swine flu and avian flu over the last 10 years in Britain and the recent ebola crisis in west Africa, the risk of a global pandemic is ever more in the public consciousness, so perhaps the medical advice of Dr Niven is more relevant now than ever before.”

  • Peter Martin 15th Mar '20 - 10:10am

    @ Rodney Watts,

    “Thomas has got the more correct understanding.”

    My point was that there isn’t any “correct understanding”. You quote Professor Ashton with approval but suggest there may have been ” bad advice from the Chief Scientific Advisor “. I’m not sure if you mean Sir Patrick Vallance or the Chief Medical Officer, Professor Chris Whitty. But, either way, their opinions are just as valid.

    There are pros and cons associated with every possible course of action so it’s hardly surprising that expert opinion is just as divided as popular opinion.

  • Peter Martin 15th Mar '20 - 10:36am

    @ Joe Burke,

    The H1N1 influenza virus which caused the Spanish flu outbreak in 1918 -1920 is still around. It was also responsible for the 2009 Swine flu epidemic.

    Dr Niven wouldn’t have been alone in suggesting closing schools and cinemas at the time. Faced with a crisis its quite natural that we all think that we should do something . These prohibitions would have slowed the spread of the virus but they would also have slowed down the progression towards the required 60% or so “herd immunity” that was needed to bring the epidemic to an end.

    Flu vaccines at the time were many decades away. Maybe we are just a year or so away from an effective virus against COVID 19 so I would accept there is a stronger case for similar prohibitions now.

  • Peter Martin 15th Mar '20 - 10:42am

    Sorry. I should have written “Maybe we are just a year or so away from an effective vaccine ….”

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