Has the Government been behind the curve in implementing coronavirus measures – and if so why?

It appears that the UK Government has, at times, been slow-footed over dealing with the Coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak, reacting to events rather than leading on them. The first example was when the FA decided to suspend professional football matches to halt the spread of COVID-19, ahead of the Government banning mass gatherings a few days later in a policy U-turn on 13 March.

Then there were calls by experts last weekend (14/15 March) for social distancing and homeworking to be implemented, as we watched on while the World Health Organization said social distancing was vital to halt the spread of the virus, but nothing was being implemented on the ground. Hundreds of scientists supported an open letter to the Government on 14 March pressing for ‘more restrictive measures’ to contain the coronavirus. Jeremy Hunt, the former Health and Social Care Secretary, had also expressed serious concerns about the Government’s strategy in a Newsnight interview just days before. Eventually, on 16 March, Public Health England set out guidance on social distancing and Boris Johnson announced that social distancing was now all-important and that people should work from home and stay away from bars and restaurants*, a move which was widely welcomed, although many thought he could have gone further.

That same turbulent weekend of 14/15 March, Government policy announcements were being pushed out to an inner circle journalists like Robert Peston. His Twitter feed on 14 March read: “Elderly to be quarantined at home or in care homes for four months, in ‘wartime-style’ mobilisation” (an idea later watered down). There was serious disquiet on social media about the Government announcing measures like this with little transparency and accountability, so on Monday 16 March daily No 10 press briefings were instituted with Boris Johnson flanked by the Chief Medical Officer and Chief Scientific Officer….but would this have happened without all the pressure?

Healthcare professionals were also pleading for proper protective equipment in hospitals, as we heard widespread stories of doctors and nurses treating patients with substandard facemasks and aprons because of shortages, a point raised by Jeremy Hunt in a further Newsnight interview on 18 March. Additional equipment has now been promised, although it is not clear whether it is reaching the frontline. NHS Chief Operating Officer Amanda Pritchard told the Commons Health and Social Care Committee on 17 March that there was enough personal protective equipment (PPE) for staff, but distribution problems meant some hospitals were suffering shortages. What does it take to organise transportation to hospitals from a depot/hospital in a small country such as the UK – more than six weeks after the first case appeared in the UK on 31 January?

There were further calls last weekend for far more testing of healthcare staff on the frontline and of people self-isolating because of symptoms and, again, a few days later, plans to escalate testing from 5,000 to 25,000 people a day were announced by Boris Johnson in the House of Commons, although it is not clear whether the additional test kits are materialising fast enough, putting the lives of doctors’, nurses and paramedics on the frontline at risk. Dr Richard Horton, Editor of the Lancet, who is collecting feedback from frontline staff, posted one such staff comment on Twitter on 20 March “Health workers with fever and cough are being told to keep working. There is no testing if you have symptoms.”

So, what is going on? Why are those running the country seemingly being less than decisive at such a critical time? Well one possibility is that the ‘herd immunity’, ‘take it on the chin’ approach, which Boris referred in an interview on the This Morning programme on 5 March, still has some currency. However, at a meeting of the Academy of Medical Science in London this week, the consensus view was that introducing the idea of herd immunity had been ‘an error’ because “that was never the aim of the [disease] modellers or the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies” (SAGE). Nonetheless, one has to ask why crowded Tube trains were allowed to run in London for weeks while COVID-19 was gaining a foothold in the population – the perfect closed environment for the virus to spread all over the capital? And, why haven’t cafes and restaurants been ordered to close if the Government really wants people to avoid them? Is it perhaps because the behavioural scientists decided that the population couldn’t handle social distancing and behaviour change for too long a period, so they waited? Unrelated, but equally worrying – are there potential supply chain problems in the NHS which mean protective clothing and kit are still not getting to where they are needed?

The Government has been responsive to calls for action from scientists, public health experts and the medical profession, but has not been proactive, leading to a sense of uncertainty. With distinguished scientists at the helm who know the epidemiology well, one is left asking why? Whatever the reason, it is troubling, as Dr Richard Horton, Editor of the Lancet, pointed out so starkly in his article in the Guardian just two days ago.

*The Government has just announced (5pm Friday) that all pubs, bars and restaurants have to close as of 21 March.

* Judy Abel has worked in the health policy field for around 15 years, including at the British Medical Association, for the All-Party Parliamentary Health Group, and in policy roles at Asthma UK, the Neurological Alliance and Versus Arthritis until the end of 2021. She was also the Constituency Office Manager and Senior Caseworker for former Lib Dem MP, Sir Simon Hughes from 2012 to 2014. All views are her own.

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  • John Marriott 21st Mar '20 - 9:42am

    Please,please, let’s have less of the blame game. We are where we are as they say, and, to use another modern idiom, we are “going forward”. Of course mistakes have been made; but let’s concentrate on beating this thing and, above all, learning the lessons. Perhaps what the world needs now, besides, of course, love, is another Bretton Woods to try to bring some order into its affairs when we eventually get the virus under control.

  • I just cant help feeling that Boris and his advisors were wanting to carry on with their herd immunity plan but were coming under such public pressures from large swathes of the public, media and the scientific community that they had no choice but to “appear” to change tact, hence the reason for introducing all these measures “but” making them advisory. That way the Government has a get-out clause if the plan did not work they could blame the public for not adhering the advice.

    It is only when they were starting to see London hospitals truly inundated with cases that they have started to take a tougher stance.

    There is so much that is hidden from the public that is leading to a false sense of security.
    (i) other countries are revealing the number of cases that are severe/critical, not the UK
    (ii) Why is the Government not telling people how many current patients % are under 60 requiring Oxygen support or Intubation
    (iii) The NHS is not testing people unless people are really sick in the hospital, therefore our numbers are artificially low compared to other countries

    The Government promised to be transparent at all stages of this epidemic and it does not appear that they are.

    I fear that many people will not take this seriously enough unless they see the “hard facts” and the truth.

  • @ John
    Of course mistakes have been made; but let’s concentrate on beating this thing and, above all, learning the lessons

    But John lessons are not being learnt the Government is not being transparent on all its data which leads people into a false sense of security that things are not so bad here.


    Look at the UK, although the daily infections and deaths is updated daily, they will not update the severe/critical numbers. They have not updated from 20 which was the case weeks ago. What is the reason for that?

  • @John Did you read the whole article? I said the Government had actually bee responsive to calls by scientists for more social distancing, closure of cafes etc, but were it not for the efforts of people like Prof John Ashton and Dr Richard Horton we might not have taken the measures so urgently needed. External pressure has been essential. I am now saying the Government needs to lead not react that’s all.

  • Too many armchair experts.

    It may well be that the best plan, it you’re playing a numbers game, was the Herd Immunity Plan. Who can say where the current plan will end up when the final reckoning comes? There’s a strong likelihood that many more deaths will occur due to the economic self-immolation we’ve just undertaken – but morally and politically, who would fall on the other side of that balance sheet?

  • No John they are not learning, they are behind the curve. They keep saying we won’t do this and then a few days latter they do it. We need to lockdown now, not tomorrow, not the day after and certainly not in a few weeks time. Action needs to be decsive but under Depeffle we won’t get that. I don’t want to be writing in a few weeks time ” I blame Deoeffle for the total collapse of the NHS” and yet I believe I will be. We can dither and let disaster happen or we can strike and hopefully prevent it. The time for giving houseroom to fools and clowns is over, their stupidity will cost lives, and quite possibly mine and yours will be among them.

  • I think that by and large the government has got it about right. The timing of restrictions on the public is difficult to time exactly with an exponential growth rate. Ideally you would have a complete lockdown immediately worldwide as say 2 would not turn into 4 etc. but people would say why are we having to do this with no cases.

    The opposition MPs etc I have seen have been careful to say they believe in working with the government and are not about political point scoring – equally government ministers have invited their opposite numbers in to meet with them.

    Democracy and crowd sourcing and debate gets things more right than dictatorship so that is all important. But equally if you do something it is going be (hopefully only a bit) wrong even despite the best laid plans. It reminds me a bit of election campaigning when things are continually going wrong ! leaflets don’t turn up or get printed without an imprint etc. etc.

    Stay safe everyone we need liberal democrats – now more than ever!

  • @Michale1 Imagine if rather than a slow progressive shutdown there had immediate shutdown for 2 weeks. I don’t know for sure but think this could have prevented transmission of the virus and saved lives and businesses. That is what happened in Wuhan.

  • @Frnakie – I agree. It has been a case of playing catch up with many experts desperately pleading with the Government to do more and faster on social distancing etc. With cases doubling every few days, time is of the essence with these things. I do think the Government has now taken all the right measures like closing schools, restaurants, cafes, theatres etc, but some staff still report not having proper protective equipment (completely unacceptable for frontline doctors, nurses and paramedics) and testing is increasing only slowly.

    On another matter, saw on Twitter one person posting how their local Café Nero and Cosa were still open. Do people have no conscience?

  • Michael 1 21st Mar ’20 – 10:41am…I think that by and large the government has got it about right. The timing of restrictions on the public is difficult to time exactly with an exponential growth rate………………

    I’d say they got it about wrong…From football to pubs, via schools, everything followed after pre-emptive action by outside authorities…
    As for the ‘timing’? We watched daily as the virus spread in the far east and Europe; did we think it would make a ‘special case’ of the UK?

    However, we are where we are and the priority must be to get proper protection to front line NHS staff and to, in the words of the WHO, “Test, Test, TEST!

  • Anthony Durham 21st Mar '20 - 11:40am

    Surely the whole right-wing agenda (Brexit, shrink the state, jingoism, damn the underclass, etc) provides an adequate explanation. What has changed is a realisation that those who voted for Johnson, Gove, and their ilk are more likely to be triaged out in hospitals short of respirators, testing kits, and protective clothing. Disaster scenarios have been discussed for decades by scientists who know a bit about history (e.g. me), but clear-sighted advance planning is anathema to blowhards like Trump and Farage.

  • @Anthony Durham

    “What has changed is a realisation that those who voted for Johnson, Gove, and their ilk are more likely to be triaged out in hospitals short of respirators, testing kits, and protective clothing”

    Anthony, comments like that are not helpful. This virus does not care about border, race, religion, age or sex and it certainly does not care about your political persuasion.

    Please let’s keep things sensible and not drag up old arguments, I am sure there will be a better time for it and now is not it

  • John Marriott 21st Mar '20 - 11:57am

    I just wish that people like ‘frankie’ would stop fighting their pointless battles and MOVE ON. The Tories have a working majority, thanks largely to the gullibility of the opposition parties. Now, the interesting development would be a Government of a National Unity. If that were to happen I really would have some faith in democracy actually working. In a bizarre way, this ‘crisis’ might just be the wake up call we need. As the song goes: “Before you accuse me take a look at yourself”.

  • Rodney Watts 21st Mar '20 - 12:01pm

    @ Judy A very good article giving , as far as I can observe as a long retired medical biochemist, a factual statement of affairs. Your comments are spot on. I am not of the stature of Prof John Ashton, but when I heard him speak in that Question Time session it was as though he had read my thoughts. Indeed so poor was the advice given by the experts at that time, that I even considered the possibility of Darwinian eugenics being tried out with the nerd immunity plan
    @Matt Appropriate comments again! Also @ Judie your comment about staff still not having appropriate protective was echoed 2 days ago by a neighbour who is a children’s nurse. She also relayed (AT A SAFE DISTANCE!!) that they had a case of a boy that needed surgical attention but the surgeon would not see the lad until tested for COVID-19. No test kits were available at that time.

  • @ Agreed Matt. It is so good that the lockdown has now more or less come, but people must adhere to it and continue to follow public health advice. Not good to hear that Costa etc still open today. This just puts other peoples lives at risk. We also need to support our wonderful NHS staff – they must have proper protective equipment at all times.

    We need to be positive absolutely and say a hearty thank you to the lone voices like Prof John Ashton – who will ever forget his Question Time performance that watched it? – who said we need isolation to suppress the virus. Speaking out with conviction can make a real difference.

  • @ Ah thanks Rodney – comments very much appreciated! Great minds think alike – we posted about Prof Ashton on Question Time at the very same time!!!

  • Anthony Durham – One of the most bizarre manifestations of the right wing agenda is having a Government that is embarrassed by any suggestion that they are or might be learning from the experience and efforts of other countries. This inevitably contributes to delay and limitations on transparency. By all means offer support when they get something right, albeit later than desirable, but we still have to try and understand with reasonable clarity what is going on.

  • PS Going out for a walk (been more or less indoors for a coupe of days!) but will respond to posts upon my return.

  • Simon Hebditch 21st Mar '20 - 12:24pm

    Of course, I agree that we have to concentrate now on controlling/eliminating the virus rather than carping too much about how we got here. However, as someone who is over 70 and has an underlying medical condition, I am now in isolation at home for probably at least the next six months, I cannot bear seeing Jeremy Hunt appearing regularly on television. As he was Secretary of State for Health for six years or so, he is responsible for the gross under resourcing of the NHS and its lack of preparation for an epidemic.

    The current strategy is designed to deal with ensuring that the NHS is not overwhelmed – rather than the saving of lives. How could anyone think that 5,000 intensive beds for the whole of the UK could ever have been enough if a major crisis arose? There will be a reckoning at some point, including legal cases of corporate manslaughter, and those responsible will have to be accountable.

  • @judy abel

    Yes… But the main problem is that you get people coming in from abroad and other areas. So that means no movements IMMEDIATELY from EVERY other area/country to/from EVERY other country. As people will go from China to Italy, infect people who come to the UK or mingle on a cruise ship etc. etc. People will only do things for a while so there’s a compliance problem. And there’s the issue in this country with a democracy of taking the people with you. I think before Italy people would have said that closing the pubs etc. was going too far.

    There is an additional issue of what people do instead and the death rate from the measures taken. It’s estimated that after 9/11 more people died from switching to going by car rather than plane than in the incident itself. People will die from depression etc. from socially isolating but they won’t show up in the coronavirus statistics. Tim Martin of Weatherspoons was on the radio yesterday before the announcement in the evening making an argument that keeping the pubs open but having spacing between people, regular cleaning etc. was not unreasonable. Overall I thought he made a reasonable argument not withstanding his self-interest although I think it was about the right stage to close the pubs.

    It’s likely sadly that there will be more deaths from the reduction in the economy due to the coronavirus than the coronavirus itself. As prosperity is linked to increased life expectancy and helps pay for better and more healthcare.

    I was debating with myself the safest way that I and others could get to the supermarket. Was the train with more space safer than the bus or what about the car which keeps us all in individual compartments? And then there is the large number killed or seriously injured on the roads – all of which shows these things are complicated!

    I believe that wood burning stoves kill 10,000 people a year. There were 50,000 “excess winter deaths” in the UK in the last year on record about par for the course for an average winter. Coronavirus may obviously increase this but it may decrease it due to people socially isolating and better hygiene reducing other infections…..

    And we should of course have as much action and indeed media attention on reducing excess winter deaths as well as death and reduced life expectancy correlated with poverty as we are having on the coronavirus.

  • Sue Sutherland 21st Mar '20 - 3:29pm

    Thank you Judy for this article. There is absolutely no reason why we should stop making valid criticism of government actions. Indeed we have duty to do so because this may stop the government carrying on in a way that endangers lives. This is an important part of beating this thing, whereas quiet acceptance will do nothing.

  • Helen Dudden 21st Mar '20 - 3:40pm

    Just a few days ago we pleaded in Bath to stop the Half Marathon. Mrs. Hobhouse agreed, it not a good idea, and the council appeared indifferent. But your MP did little about it. I think this is the next bubble to burst. The whole issue has been badly handled. There are many foreign student’s in Bath, from all over the world. Back as far as September last year, I know, several people who had chest illness. Personally, I feel there should be more health checks, for those coming from a SARS infected area. We could add any illness that could cause issue’s.
    Not over yet, but what a lesson to learn!

  • John Marriott 21st Mar '20 - 6:26pm

    I’ve just watched, for as long as I could, the latest Trump briefing. Compared with #45 our PM looks and sounds like a genius, and a stable one at that. It would appear that Trump’s adjectival vocabulary consists mainly of “tremendous” and “incredible”. Heaven knows how a country as rich in so many ways as the USA is could bring itself to elect someone like him to it’s highest office. Did he really say three days ago, “People are dying, who have never died before”? How those officials behind him can keep a straight face I shall never know.

  • @John

    I can no longer listen to trump if I hear the word tremendous once more I think I will collapse on the floor a quivering wreck.

    It reminds me of my Sisters (stepmother) whose favourite word was consequently which would be used at least 4 times in every sentence, also it did not help matters that she looks the spitting image of Ann Widdecombe, now I gave myself the shudders drumming those memories up lol.

    But getting back to Trump, I still hope to god that there is no emergency lever that trump can pull to postpone the election, I know we have been reassured that there is not, what scares me even more is him being voted in again

  • According to the Washington Post support for Trump’s handling of the crisis has increased to a large majority of Americans and his own support has increased.
    It seems not everyone has been put off by his news conferences.

  • @Michael1 You are right things are complicated and we all make trade offs in our decision-making. But in Germany where they have more acute beds and ventilators things seem to be going better with those taken ill. We still have to try to provide the best care possible and everyone knew a pandemic was coming and yet the UK is desperately short of ventilators.

    And let’s not forget, it is the keeping of animals in cages in close proximity which triggered this, so people moving around the globe is not necessarily the problem – it’s proper animal welfare and controls.

  • @Sue Thanks very much Sue. Holding the Government to account now is vital – that’s what all Opposition parties should be doing and must continue to do. Support yes, but question too. It’s about peoples lives.

  • @Tom. That doesn’t surprise me. Look at the Conservative Party ratings. In a recent poll on 11 March, 50% of people said they would Vote Conservative in the next General Election. I ask you.

  • @Judy Abel

    “Holding the Government to account now is vital”

    Agree 100%.

    It is vitally important that the Government is open and transparent at the best of times, no more so than ever.
    The government must at all times release their modelling and data and plans and parliament and scientists and specialist across the world must be able to scrutinise the details and hold the Government to account.

    Of course, parties must 100% cooperate with the government at times like this and there must be no political point-scoring during a time of crisis of this magnitude, however, that does not mean the government gets a blank cheque to do as they please when they please with no proper scrutiny or accountability.
    That’s when things can become dangerous and never more so when our lives at severe risk either directly or indirectly from this deadly virus.

  • @Simon – that must be really tough for you. Jeremy Hunt seems genuinely worried about the Government’s approach and I am glad he spoke out on the lack of protective equipment and the rather haphazard approach the Government has had until this week, but as you say he was responsible for the NHS for 10 years and clearly things have been going wrong with the procurement of equipment such as ventilators and masks, which must have started on his watch. Keep well.

  • Don’t pat their heads – kick their backsides. They’re slow, slow, slow because of their political philosophy and will only move under pressure.

    They are a cabal of rich narcissists, do not trust them.

    Remember everything so that when the reckoning comes they are held to account.

  • Is it just me, or are most of the reports on male deaths from the virus? Also would be useful to know how many are in hospital on a rolling update basis, including county areas. Appears to be a fifty percent chance of surviving a hospital stay if you have the virus in other countries.

    Was surprised to see the sea front in Torbay full of cars and people yesterday. Cornwall complaining about Londoners descending on them.

    BTW just read that the Chinese tourist industry is getting ready to start sending visitors out of the country! Boggles the mind!

  • @Frank The trouble is the advice is not clear. They were told it’s OK to go outside and get fresh air so people are out in force in parks and along towpaths. Yesterday I drove out to Marlow to walk along the Thames Path and there lots of people so it was impossible to stay 2m apart. Same all over the country.

    It feels like no one is in charge of proving proper public health advice. I want to write another article for LDV about that but wonder if there is any point as it wont make a difference.

    Yes males seem to be disproportionately affected which is unusual I think. If one can possibly stay out of hospital surely the best thing.

  • Helen Dudden 22nd Mar '20 - 9:06am

    It was not only the dog meat festivals, it was the total filth these poor animals lived in. The other list of animals for food very weird. We have given British Steel to China, with their long history of control of their people and the long standing sect of Muslims whose lives are a misery. I’m not a Muslim, my beliefs are with Judaism. My beliefs, of justice and human rights are way back. Without Justice there is no Human Rights, without Human Rights, there is no Freedom, without Freedom there will be no Justice.
    I don’t think that 5G is a good idea health wise, and I believe we should not give China the installation.
    I do like the attitude of Donald Trump, I know there others who feel differently, but I feel he has the courage to make a stand at this present time, not a time for holding back on the subject of Human Rights.

  • Jenny Barnes 22nd Mar '20 - 9:07am

    eton entrance exam question:
    “The year is 2040. There have been riots in the streets of London after Britain has run out of petrol because of an oil crisis in the Middle East. Protesters have attacked public buildings. Several policemen have died. Consequently, the Government has deployed the Army to curb the protests. After two days the protests have been stopped but twenty-five protesters have been killed by the Army.

    You are the Prime Minister. Write the script for a speech to be broadcast to the nation in which you explain why employing the Army against violent protesters was the only option available to you and one which was both necessary and moral.”

    In the context where our ruling class are trained to explain why killing protesters is “both necessary and moral” consider the following:

    Covid 19 for most people in their productive years is a relatively mild, self limiting condition rather like a severe bout of flu. The death rate is much higher for older, people, and it hardly affects children at all.

    Containment has failed, we will have to live with this disease, which may mutate, for the foreseeable future.

    A vaccine is at least 6 months, more likely 12-18 months away, and there may not be one.

    After a lockdown, there will be a bounce back as the disease starts to spread again – probably in the Autumn – do we do another lock down then? How much of a hit to the real economy is tolerable? how often can we tolerate lock down and bounce back?

    So the “herd immunity” idea of just letting the disease run, and putting up with the 500K deaths – but keeping the economy going – might look attractive.

    However, politically, a government that was put in power disproportionately by the older people who this strategy would consider acceptable collateral damage, and which has promised on the side of a bus to fund the NHS properly can hardly then watch as its electoral coalition dies in an NHS that’s overwhelmed by the lack of funding following the Lansley reforms (yes Mr. Clegg, Ms Williams, I’m looking at you). So they’re doing as little as they can get away with.

  • Helen Dudden 22nd Mar '20 - 11:11am

    Yes the NHS do the dirty work as they struggle. Jeremy Hunt was very unpopular with hospital doctor’s. I remember on a visit to a Bristol Hospital, how the junior doctors protested outside.
    In the future, there should be a willingness to protect the NHS. It’s been fun down, like many other things.
    Student Housing in Bath now outnumbered other needs. Money making takes over, yet the locals support the council tax.
    I don’t support the Chinese attitude or government, I don’t support the government that produced this Chinese Virus. Yes, Donald Trump I agree with you.

  • The aim of we Lib Dems is to build a fairer society. That’s the kind of political output we need to give. And then go on the xplain what we mean about it…

  • Went out for a walk along the coast/sea-front today, 10.00am, people definitely giving each other space and no-one coughing. Small supermarkets en route had food and not many people, I was expecting crazy queues but limited parking probably put off the horders. Bought fresh tomatoes – nice surprise as they seemed to have run out elsewhere – and a loaf of bread. Smaller food shops have signs saying free delivery if you spend ten quid but no websites only phone number. Some older people wearing gloves and I had to keep reminding myself not to touch anything, such as railings along the route. Too many dogs running free licking and sniffing stuff. I think the news with the videos from Italian hospital might have hit home. Govn talking about food parcels for those self-isolating from next week via the army but why not use the GIG economy to keep people working, it should be dynamic enough to get people selling food from vans etc. Good video about cleaning hands on the Beeb at the moment, being thick did not realise that the virus might still be on tap or door handles after cleaning hands, but clear in the video.

  • James Fowler 22nd Mar '20 - 12:33pm

    The implied (and unanswered) question in this article is which ‘curve’ are we behind? I think that the underlying assumption is that we are lagging is that ‘If only we’d been more like China/South Korea/Singapore’. But the problem with almost all judgments about equivalence is that they’re based on invalid or unreliable comparators. So it is here. Britain is not Singapore, a small authoritarian island city state. Britain is not South Korea, accustomed through regular drills to a terrible threat from just across the border. Most of all, Britain is not China. While I admire the efficiency of their response, they have well oiled machinery for locking down (up?) large numbers of people. There is a price for living in free society, but I think that in all but the most extreme circumstances it’s worth paying. We all have to decide where that point lies.

  • @Frank Who would ever have thought we would all be grateful for a loaf of bread? Glad you managed a good walk. I walked along the towpath near Marlow yesterday and it was very busy. Very hard to stay 2 metres, apart.
    @James The whole point of my article is that the Government was responding to what other experts like the WHO etc were saying, rather than acting quickly. They were not deciding let’s do social distancing, but only introducing that after other experts were literally begging them to do so. That’s like leaving out a policy Suggestions Box on ways to manage the crisis. For me that is being behind the curve, which ultimately costs lives.

  • @James Fowler

    Surely James at times of a global emergency like we have now, we all have to be prepared to surrender our freedoms (albeit for a shorter time as possible) in order to defeat this immediate threat.

    I had an online dispute with a good friend the other day who said it was his human right and freedoms to be able to enjoy a beer after work in a pub and no Government should be able to take that right away.

    I asked him if we were back in a war situation like ww2 where we were being bombed and the Government ordered lights out and windows blacked out, would you be demanding that it was your right to hold a garden party with disco lights and strobes, putting not only your house at risk of being bombed but your neighbours and your entire street.
    I am still awaiting a response.

    These curbs on our freedoms are difficult there is no denying that, but it is the right thing to do and we will get these back when this crisis is over.

  • The problem is those running the govn are at a sufficient distance from the general populace so that they are unable to get their heads around the effects of their edicts. Tell people they may have to self-isolate for 14 days but not tell them that food will be provided where necessary, result is overload of online shopping and empty shelves in the supermarket. Tell they them they may be locked down further if they don’t do as they are told, the beginnings of an exodus from London and even more shopping. I doubt very much if the police would be able to actually lock down the populace, all it would take is a bit of social media for them to be overwhelmed with crowds of people. I do agree keeping the over-70’s away from the general populace is a good idea but many actually went out to battle for food in overcrowded supermarkets because the govn gave them no option if they are living alone, many being very independent-minded, etc and not really having anything to do with the council or care system.

  • James Fowler,

    this is an unprecedented crisis in our lifetimes and these are about as extreme circumstances as you can get bar a nuclear war. Social distancing seems to be the only way to slow the spread of the crisis and try to protect the elderly and those with serous underlying conditions from what is increasingly looking like a death sentence for those most at risk. I fully expect the the majority of Londoners will be infected in the coming weeks one way or another. Besides observing the social distancing guidelines we need to mobiise human and manufacturing resources in two key areas:

    First is equipping the NHS with sufficient personal protection equipment, ventilators and many more critical care beds. In Wuhan, they were able to put up two 3,000 bed temporary hospitals in two weeks.
    The second is testing along the lines that have been deployed in South Korea, particularly drive-through testing sites.

  • Lorenzo Cherin 22nd Mar '20 - 2:04pm

    Judy this article, very welcome, follows mine, with the mood and direction necessary.

    We as a country are in love with libertarianism on the one hand, authoritarianism, too. We loathe balance, decry centrism, get what thus happens from that, extreme mix of both, little of what is best. Laissez faire, vs lock down, result chaos, selfishness, idiocy. BorisJohnson is not the problem. Britain’s obsession with these extremes is. Liberalism fairs no better, left, right libertarianism, progressiveism, in love with mass immigration and flying and global trade too often automatically, rather than case by case, that also has elements that disrupt lives and planet.

    Not a society that is mainstream, any more at the extremes, but far more, in fact measured yet, than France or Italy, in politics, but without their acceptance of discipline and thus we are ever behind the curve, when it needs more that is proactive.

  • Joe
    I do remember the Asian flu pandemic of 1958. By December more than 3,000 had died in the UK.

  • @Lorenzo. Thank you for your kind comments. I just wish it made a difference to what’s happening right now, but of course, it won’t.

    We are not used to having our freedom curbed in any way. It’s a very hard lesson, but @James we have to change our mindset and imagine we have the virus already and do what we would do not to give it to other people. It’s so hard, but I suppose we will find new strengths within ourselves. I am just so sad that people are already hurting from this.

    Having said that Government needs to at least get the right protective clothing to the frontline. There is absolutely no excuse for this not happening.

  • David Allen 22nd Mar '20 - 3:55pm

    Yes, the point is to concentrate on getting to grips with the crisis. No, that emphatically does not mean giving our government a free ride.

    Yes, let’s by all means respond constructively to people like our new Chancellor who are clearly doing their best to get it right. No, let’s not go easy on people like Johnson and Hancock who have been behind the curve and will stay behind the curve, unless they can see big political risks for themselves if they do not quickly improve their act.

    “Too many armchair experts” says TCO. Well, the worst such armchair expert appears to have been Dominic Cummings, whose reported plan was: “Herd immunity, protect the economy, and if that means some pensioners die, too bad”.


  • @ Joe. I totally agree especially on providing protective clothing and testing kits. It is a incredible that we do not have enough protective kit for staff – we should have built up a stock as an epidemic has been expected for a while now.

  • Helen Dudden 22nd Mar '20 - 6:11pm

    I do feel politics Is to blame. Jeremy Hunt cut to the bone with the NHS. We should have more control of our borders. I couldn’t believe it, when flights were still landing from seriously infected areas.
    I was born just after the war and there was still rationing. People in those days were so relieved it was over, I remember as a little girl, a neighbour inviting my mother for tea and a slice of home made cake.
    I’m disabled and it’s more difficult to get that list of bread or even a pint of milk after those greedy people are stock piling. Also, I don’t want to die, here immunity, we may lose some of the vulnerable in society. By the way, it seems there are reasons why this Chinese Virus can attack the elderly. We are more open, and vulnerable to this virus.

  • Rodney Watts 22nd Mar '20 - 6:20pm

    @George Kendall:
    “There will always be experts on television giving different views. And our natural tendency is to look for the expert who agrees with us, and then then use their statement as confirmation for what we already think.”
    Well George you directed this comment at Judy , but you could also say this of my comment. In general one might agree. However you continue:
    “We may do this, even if the expert may have relatively little expertise in the area under
    discussion.” Judy has not bothered to answer you , but you have opened up a very important area of consideration and in our case I would love to know which expert you were thinking of?

    You then referred us to the twitter feed of Prof. Balloux, Computational Biologist the Director of the Genetics Institute at UCL and involved in trying to predict possible outcomes of the COVID-19 pandemic. You were impressed by his admittal of what he didn’t know! I too like people who say it as it is, but since there was a time when HMG and advisors were hoping for help in their combat plans, not much help. One of 12 tweets from him explained
    “Predictions from any model are only as good as the data that parametrised it. There are two major unknowns at this stage. (1) We don’t know to what extent covid-19 transmission will be seasonal. (2) We don’t know if covid-19 infection induces long-lasting immunity.” Fair enough! HOWEVER, if you bother to read read the links given by Judy we already had more than enough knowledge to act on. Not necessarily because of having been a researcher in the medical sphere, but just applying informed common sense, prompted me to distance myself 2 weeks earlier than most. I still remember my mother telling me, in my teens, to not avoid contact with brother who had chicken pox so that I would catch it and avoid problems in later life. With COVID-19 it is clearly the opposite we require, especially in the vulnerable (that’s me too!)

    What really has disturbed me, especially having checked the CV’s of both senior advisors is that they MUST have been at least as aware as me of the situation. I did not refer to Darwinian eugenics in my first comment lightly (being Jewish) and
    @ David Allen your comment and link give credence to the most malevolent influence of Cummings.

  • It’s a world virus not a Chinese virus, Helen. Don’t fall for Trumps meretricious rhetoric.

  • Reports written to guide government after SARS appear totally naïve and inadequate after a few weeks of Covid-19. That is the nature of science and learning curves. The time for analysis of the current crisis is yet to come. Plenty of people are shouting from their armchairs that this or that should have been done sooner.
    Of course, they are perfectly correct. The moment the virus was identified in China, the UK should have been locked down. No flights admitted. No ships to dock. Just in case people got through, all companies with a public interface to shut down. All population to be confined to home. It is all quite easy, really.
    That strategy may have stopped the virus from entering the UK today, but what about tomorrow or next year? The answer is not simple. There are other factors to consider such as the economy, the human reactions of a large population and the uncertainties that surround something outside our experience.
    I have no doubt that all members of the government and the large number of experts advising them are working flat out each and every day to the best of their ability. Let us wish them well. I have no doubt that not everything is the right strategy but that is how we learn. Armchair critics should be relieved that they do not have 65 million lives depending on their decisions.

  • Nonconformistradical 22nd Mar '20 - 7:46pm

    @David Raw
    “It’s a world virus not a Chinese virus, Helen. Don’t fall for Trumps meretricious rhetoric.”

    Hm – had to look a word up – from Collins Dictionary:
    “If you describe something as meretricious, you disapprove of it because although it looks attractive it is actually of little value. ”


    Trump is just trying to deflect attention from his own inadequacies.

    And if this virus hadn’t started up in the conditions it did in China sooner or later it or something similar would have started up somewhere else. Never underestimate nature’s ability to outwit humans.

  • @Judy Abel

    Firstly, Judy and everyone here stay safe (and indeed happy – don’t worry life is a fatal disease (!) and all one can do is to try and make the most of the few years one is granted!) Lib dem voice is so much better than Conservative Home or Labour List and we need it to stay that way!

    Secondly thanks Judy for responding so fully to comments which has been brillant as it makes for a much better discussion. A particular bugbear of mine is writers (often it has to be said “the great and good”) on LDV who lay down their great pearls of wisdom but don’t have the decency to then engage in the discussion.

    Government health decisions are questions of who statistically you are going to kill! The BBC has pointed out that while in China, coronavirus may have killed 3000 – 50,000 have been saved due to less air pollution. I fear the “balance sheet” is rather more complicated than this as lower economic growth will mean less money for healthcare.

    We have also if you want to put it dramatically condemned hundreds of thousands to death for something very similar to coronavirus by not shutting down the economy. And that’s seasonal flu. Apparently a couple of years ago it killed 50,000 in the UK and it must have mounted up to many hundreds of thousands over the decades. (I’m going to get a flu jab in the future!!!)

    Overall personally I’d give the government about a C+ down from a B- ! After reading the contributions here and articles on the BBC and Guardian website etc. It deserves some marks for following the science and I think it fair to say that changed following the UCL study. It was a little slow over the measures that it took a few days ago but I think another government would have may be done it a week earlier but you do need to put in place different bits of the jigsaw the financial package if you are going to shut down a swathe of the economy etc and civil servants have apparently been working round the clock. Asian countries do seem to have acted quicker but they at least stereotypically are more authoritarian societies, had the experience of SARS and as with us in Europe and italy, you do tend to sit up and take notice when it is in a nearby country badly. So there are pluses and minuses to the Government’s record…

    It is also a very good point from George Kendall in that the scientists are dealing with possibilities and unknowns and understanding and data that is changing on a daily if not hourly basis.

  • Rodney Watts 22nd Mar '20 - 7:57pm

    @ Michael 1
    “It’s likely sadly that there will be more deaths from the reduction in the economy due to the coronavirus than the coronavirus itself. As prosperity is linked to increased life expectancy and helps pay for better and more healthcare.”

    I was interested in this statement, and wondered where the relevant data might be found. Certainly it is generally accepted that the more well off you are, in whatever country, the more likely you are to have longer life.

    Coincidentally, in his tweet below yours @ George Kendall gave a link to Prof Francois Balloux twitter thread regarding the pandemic. In the 12th tweet he gives his interpretation of a scatter plot as an “essentially perfect correlation between per-capita GDP and life expectancy. This would back up your statement, except he is wrong, and it is not just me who says so. I am surprised, because, as a senior research Fellow at Birmingham Uni Medical School 40 years ago I had to deal with research medics who would produce scatter plots, mathmatically obtain regression lines, and then make statements like Prof Balloux.
    If you use George’s link, find the plot and on it logGDP 9 (approx $8,100 GDP per capita) you can find that life expectancy varies from country to country between about 62 yrs to 78yrs. Also if you choose 62yrs to look at, you will see that incomes in different countries vary from about $400 to £8,100.
    Bill Orme has pointed out that the correlation isn’t national income and life expectancy, but public investment & access to health care. Makes sense, doesn’t it?

  • Like a lot of similar viruses it most definitely started in China as a result of cross contamination in the wild animal meat trade and for those killed to supply a sizable market for pseudo-scientific “traditional medicines”. Bad as Trump is, let us not forget that China is not a beacon of liberal values. It’s a totalitarian state, that has put thousands of Muslims into what are basically concentration camps where they are subjected to re-education.
    I know they sell us lots stuff and it’s not considered cool in polite society to say this, but China is actually far worse than the Republican Party (even under Trump).

  • Yes Glenn, we can pick on China, if we want to, knowing that there are real faults that we can validly identify, if fault-finding is what we want to do. Hitler picked on Jewish bankers, knowing that there were real faults that he could validly identify. Was Hitler’s fault-finding appropriate? And is your attack on China appropriate?

  • Glenn,

    I assume African Swine Fever started in Africa. It appears it has made its way across Europe now https://www.efsa.europa.eu/en/topics/topic/african-swine-fever. There has never been an outbreak in the UK or the USA. That US chlorinated chicken is not looking so bad now compared to contaminated pork meat.

  • David Allan
    As a somewhat Jewish person, I find that offensive. China has more in common with Hitler’s Germany than anything I’ve said. It’s a single party totalitarian state with the wide scale suppression of dissenters, political clamp downs, the highest execution level in the world and it is using concentration camp methods on a religious minority. Does anyone truly believe that if it’s political system ended it would not uncover things any less horrific than the collapse of the Soviet Union revealed?
    Joe Bourke
    Did I suggest renaming the coronavirus? Show me where I did. I was simply pointing out that saying it could have started anywhere is a little misleading. I find it odd that it is more acceptable to criticise the USA than totalitarian suppressive communist China. By the way Africa isn’t a country. It’s a continent.

  • Joe Bourke
    I apologise for my response. I severely misread your comment. I’m vegan. I can exist on pious sanctimony!

  • Michael 1 – ”
    It’s likely sadly that there will be more deaths from the reduction in the economy due to the coronavirus than the coronavirus itself” – saving the economy vs saving lives is a false dichtonomy. Letting the virus “run its course” might not really help the economy to avoid a collapse, and it could lead to collapsed healthcare systems and a lot of excess death in multiple countries. Remember that healthcare comes down to doctors, nurses and other professionals even more than medical gear and supplies. If we choose to run those human resources to a breaking point, we might not be able to rebuild the system for a long time. And consumer spending is certain to collapse when there is a pandemic. When you know there is a highly infectious virus in circulation, it does not make you want to go to lots of stores. Some people might still be brave and shop normally, but a lot will not.

    matt – “I asked him if we were back in a war situation like ww2 where we were being bombed and the Government ordered lights out and windows blacked out, would you be demanding that it was your right to hold a garden party with disco lights and strobes, putting not only your house at risk of being bombed but your neighbours and your entire street.
    I am still awaiting a response.

    These curbs on our freedoms are difficult there is no denying that, but it is the right thing to do and we will get these back when this crisis is over.” – I have said earlier that the government can use technology to track covid cases via their credit cards and smartphones. But, are you ready to that far?

  • @Michael1 Thank you for your comments about me providing feedback – really appreciated! @Rodney I fear was less happy!

    I think you are right. We have not taken seriously deaths due to things like climate change and air pollution (thought to cause 40,000 premature deaths in the UK alone each year.) Childhood pneumonia cases have also risen 50% in the last 10 years, NHS data show, due to poverty and flu. Pneumonia kills far more people than it should the Guardian reported on 12 November 2019. Health inequalities in the UK also mean that average life expectancy can vary 10 or more years, depending on where you are living.

    I suppose, though, if there had not been massive external pressure, which gathered a head of steam over the weekend of 14/15 March – I saw it happening on social media which I followed all weekend! – I do not think the Government would have changed course so quickly and announced the social distancing measures on Monday 16 March. A week earlier would have been better though when we saw what was happening in Italy. But you are also right, civil servants have been under tremendous pressure and it takes a while to implement new measures. The Civil Service is still reeling from Brexit.

  • @ Thomas – yes, if we had let the virus run it’s course unchecked the death toll would be grim, the psychological damage to the nation enormous and the impact on the NHS and its staff unthinkable.

  • @Thomas

    ” I have said earlier that the government can use technology to track covid cases via their credit cards and smartphones. But, are you ready to that far?”

    It might surprise you to hear Thomas yes I am ready to surrender “any” freedoms and liberties “temporarily” that are deemed necessary in order to fight this virus if it means lives will be saved.
    If the actions of a significant minority mean that the danger to the larger population and economy is at further risk, then I am prepared for any measures in order for the government to control this.
    I value the life of my fellow citizens more than I do the loss of temporary freedoms.

    Simple really

  • Peter Hirst 23rd Mar '20 - 9:52am

    If we are in for a long haul, meaning over six months then it is important to implement measures with a view to their acceptability over this period. Also, people can only take so much change to their habits that are theirs for a reason. There must be a degree of latitude to these measures to account for individual variations and a minimum of compulsion.

  • @ Peter. Looking at the scenes in Richmond Park yesterday it looks like people might need a bit of compulsion. Who really does what they don’t want to without it!

  • I can’t see people or businesses putting up with this for six months especially not with the arrival of summer. It’s easy to keep people cooped up for a couple of weeks in relatively cold weather. Harder with lots of sunshine. It will also depend on the fatality rate. If there is no surge in deaths a lot of people will start to ask questions. At the moment although there is a lot of talk about the measures being to protect the health service and the vulnerable, the wider public reaction seems more driven by personal fear and the idea that they are facing something like the black death. Lots of small businesses and livelihoods will be lost. This will have its own political backlash. When it does the consensus will start to breakdown even in informed circles. At the moment we’re still in panic mode. That will not last for long and resentment of increased intrusions by the government will kick in. Adding to this will be a reluctance of authorities to give up those powers they’ve awarded themselves because control can be as intoxicating as it is convenient. This isn’t a war were you can keep the public occupied making munitions and hiding in bunkers in case they are bombed. There will be no vote of gratitude, just lots of shouting about their bankrupt restaurants, closed cafes, lost pubs, damaged shops and personal restrictions. Social distancing is the complete opposite of asking people to pull together. it is inviting them to be suspicious and separate. In the age of the internet it will also mean lots of bias confirming searches and lots of anger.

  • @Glenn Maybe you are right, but people will be happy when the death rate comes down. I read the tide could be turning in Italy. Two to three months of stringent measures with Government financial guarantees for businesses and the self-employed is the answer. We need to hold our nerve and do it!

  • @ Glenn “I can’t see people or businesses putting up with this for six months especially not with the arrival of summer”.

    What a revealing and depressing comment from you on modern society, Glenn. Do you think Thatcher was correct to say, “There is no such thing as society” ? Or do you want an exponential death rate to prove your case.

    My parents had to ‘put up with it’ for six years and my grandparents had to ‘put up with it’ for four years followed by twenty years of the depression, no NHS, a school leaving age of fourteen and Universities restricted to the wealthy.

    Judy is correct.

  • @David Raw

    “What a revealing and depressing comment from you on modern society,”

    Agree with you 100%

    What the heck have we come to when people are more concerned about what is a temporary hit to their freedoms and liberties over saving peoples lives.

    Yes, there is more than likely going to be quite a few changes to the way the world and the way the economy works after this crisis is over.
    But I for one will be glad if it “reduces” the Me, me, my attitude and greed consumption

    I never thought the values for so many had sunk to such levels and almost disregard for fellow human beings all in the name of personal freedoms and liberty

  • David Raw
    Joseph Bourke
    I think the public spending is welcome. Anything that reduces air travel is no bad thing for the climate. I support a lot of the measures. I just worry that there will some less welcome consequences. I’m a liberal. I worry about theses things.
    David Raw
    No I don’t think Thatcher was right on very much at all. I view lot of her admirers as a pretty much a personality cult. Thinking about potential negatives is not the same as supporting them. As I said above, I support a lot of the current measures. I’m not actually a right winger. I’m a vegan, basically pacifist, liberal, with a pessimistic streak and a tendency to look at the world as I think it is rather than as I would like it to be. To paraphrase my Grandmother “Wish with one hand, take dump in the other. See which one fills up first”.

  • Phil Beesley 23rd Mar '20 - 12:42pm

    Glenn: “It will also depend on the fatality rate. If there is no surge in deaths a lot of people will start to ask questions.”

    This observation reminds me of those people who proclaimed that the Millennium/Year 2000 software bug was nonsense, and that it was proven to be a lie when 99% of computer systems behaved correctly. In fact the Millennium/Y2K bug was avoided because people planned and acted to correct systems in the preceding years. A handful of important systems went wrong in every country, but there weren’t enough to cause major disruption. Lots of trivial systems went wrong, not enough to matter — unless you were one of a few unfortunate cases.

    Business, families and government are acting on a different time scale when dealing with this viral bug. If I understand Glenn correctly, he is suggesting that people will lose belief in the messages of self isolation and social distancing, rather than proposing that the actions are wrong.

    Glenn is correct that people who have been mildly ill might start asking whether measures are excessive. Especially people who are unable to imagine statistics as human circumstances.

    People need clear messages. Without a vaccine or a test for recovery or the confidence of long term immunity, there are a handful of things we can do which make things better. The absence of a surge or a decline in tested infections will be insufficient to determine that everything is normal. We all have to behave abnormally for a long time.

  • Phil Beesley
    As I said I support social distancing. There are people I know in the vulnerable groups. It worries me. But I just don’t think it will hold. Instead of seeing the effort as a success a good proportion of people are going feel they were mislead. At the moment they are spooked enough to comply. Face masks and the bulk hoarding reaction suggest fear is a bigger factor than altruism. A bit of sunshine, reports/experience of mild cases, missed holidays, savings running low and things of that nature will come to the fore eventually. As I said I’m a pessimist.

  • @Matt and David – I really agree. We have to do this. It is admittedly much harder for people who do not have gardens, but if we use this opportunity to spend more time with family at home or to develop new hobbies (I’ve started playing chess online!), or reading and reflecting it my not be such a bad thing. It certainly wouldn’t be, but for the awful casualties of this.

    We have all (me included) been travelling too much, consuming too much, eating out too much, polluting too much for the good of a planet with finite resources. It is just so sad that it takes tragedies like this to bring it home. But we can do this – I am an optimistic @Glenn. And those who are still flouting the rules will probably have to learn the hard way – I suspect lockdown is coming soon.

  • David Raw
    Wars are not like a pandemic. If you read up on things like the blackout, you will find that people even in London were going to cinemas, pubs, restaurants and theatres. America pilots in the RAF (Eagle Squadrons) before the US joined the war were surprised that London nightlife carried on in blackout conditions. Military personnel , generally, would travel backwards and forwards to London, as well as other cities, during leave to go out. If weather conditions were too poor to fly pilots would go to the local village pubs or even find somewhere with dance. There was not a lockdown or social distancing. This is why the war analogy is misleading. Wars do not create social distancing and self isolation. They have a very different dynamic to a pandemic. The coronavirus atmosphere is more akin to martial law than a war.

  • @Glenn

    “There was not a lockdown or social distancing. This is why the war analogy is misleading.”

    You use the war as an example not because the situation is exactly the same i.e social distance, but because there were things that people HAD to do via regulation as in Blackout Windows in order to keep themselves safe and those of their neighbours.

    The situation is no different now, there are things that we all must do to protect others and protect the NHS.

    Could you imagine people during WW2 refusing to obey regulations and arguing that it was their liberty and freedom to be able to ignore regulations and throw a light show garden party?
    People put community and country before personal freedoms back then and so should we be doing the same now.

  • Matt
    You misunderstand the point. War brings people together creating a sense of fighting a common enemy for a common good. The common enemy in a pandemic is not the virus, it’s you neighbour. People are not walking around in face masks an latex gloves to show solidarity with the elderly or to protect the NHS or ill people. Its because they think they are going to catch germs from strangers that might kill them. The point being what you’re seeing is not an act of collective togetherness for the greater good, but rather paranoia about running out of soap and encountering the “unclean”. As I said I’m not an optimist.

  • Thanks so much to everyone who contributed to the discussion – think we covered a lot of useful ground. Stay safe everyone.

  • @Glenn

    “War brings people together creating a sense of fighting a common enemy for a common good. The common enemy in a pandemic is not the virus, it’s you neighbour.”

    I am not sure that is true.

    I think it is more to do with the fact that many people have lost their sense of community spirit
    Capitalism has many evils and it has helped to create me me me attitude, everyone out for themselves and a sense of entitlement, the more we have, the more we want and to hell with the consequences.
    I do not think people would be behaving any different in today’s society if we were at an actual war and being bombed each night.
    It is attitudes that have changed over the last few decades, not the situation

    There are lessons to be learnt from this when and if this is hopefully all over.

    There is another way, people just have to be shown.

    I see it in members of my own family, I spoke to my own brother today who is also in isolation due to underlying health conditions, he has had to take the difficult decision to tell his 25-year-old Son he has to move out of the family home because he is refusing to follow the rules, he was still going to the pub ( till they were closed) now he is going to house parties instead and cannot understand what all the fuss is about and calls it all an “overreaction”, even though he is putting his own father at risk and his mother who has a Kidney disease.
    I and my siblings were not brought up to have such disregard for others, in fact, we were brought up to put others and family first.
    Something seems to have changed with a significant proportion of the generation under us the 20-30 year olds.

  • @ Glenn “If you read up on things like the blackout”.

    Very gently, Glenn, I don’t need to “read up on things like the blackout”. I remember it …… and the sirens. As to pilots, my Dad flew typhoons in 175 Squadron and slept in a tent from Normandy to Germany. I was five when (thank goodness) he came home…. and my Masters is in Politics and War Studies.

    I empathise about having a vegan and pacifist disposition, and may I suggest you read up….. on ‘The Union of Democratic Control in British Politics During the First World War’ by Marvin J. Swartz (ISBN: 9780198271789).

    Nevertheless there is a world of difference between an invisible contagious virus passed on sometimes by careless human contact and a raid by Heinkel 111s.

    Here’s something else to thin k about : Daily Telegraph one hour ago, “Coronavirus deaths rising faster in UK than Italy. The death toll in Italy from Covid-19 has now exceeded total deaths in China – the source of the outbreak. Could the UK be on the same path?”

    PS. I’m in self isolation so forgive me if I’m a bit tetchy, (though I accept the isolation is necessary). I’d like to see my grand kids grow up if I can.

  • Phil Beesley 23rd Mar '20 - 6:12pm

    Glenn: “As I said I’m a pessimist.”

    I sympathise as a realist. When I hear somebody saying “don’t panic”, my brain works through the cycle of combinations, and I work out how to deal with them.

    Government is working through decisions and the follow through action, the combinations of them, and what they are doing may not make sense today, but may appear more rational in the future.

    Allow cafes and pubs to open one day, close the next; does it make sense?

    Given that we need long distance lorry drivers to carry on their valuable work, some cafes and hotels will re-open to provide people with safe break spaces.

    Reduce the pessimism, Glenn. Work on the rationalism and realism.

  • Matt
    Contagions don’t bring people together. They create the idea that germs and danger are everywhere, through disgust. Don’t go near them, don’t touch that, you don’t know where it’s been.

  • David Raw
    One of my Granddads was in the RAF . There is indeed a world of difference between war and a virus. Which is exactly the point I was making. I would also point that in your reply to me you said that your parents “had to put up with it for six years”. So I assumed you were drawing direct parallels with people’s behaviour during the war years and coronavirus. I apologies if I caused you offence.
    I will say it again I support a lot of these measures. But I don’t think they will hold for long and I’m not convinced the outcome will be good politically. I’m not optimistic.

  • Phil Beesley 23rd Mar '20 - 8:12pm

    BBC News: Team GB ‘expected to pull out of Olympics’

    We should be thankful that Lord Coe was never given a life or death job.

  • @Judy Abel

    Thanks for the thanks 🙂 !


    To be clear I was *not* saying it was a choice. I was prompted by the point on the BBC website that some 50,000 lives had been saved by less pollution due to less economic activity. I then thought what other pluses and minuses are there and one that came to mind was lower economic activity IF permanent and you can certainly speculate that GDP may well at least a percent or two lower even in several decades time would mean less money for healthcare and probably less good health generally IF GDP is correlated with GDP.

    @Rodney Watts
    To be honest I was speculating but thanks for a link to some data which I will look at. And it is a good idea to be sceptical. And you will no doubt be aware of the work of Ancel Keys who did much to say there was a link between saturated fat and heart disease but whose study correlating those countries who are more sat fat with more heart disease has subsequently come in for much criticism as cherry picking countries. I do think in general there is at least correlation (which is not causation!) between better healthcare and longer life expectancy and richer nations, the rich within nations, the rich versus the poor within nations and life expectancy increasing over time as nations get richer. And to back this up there is of course a very plausible mechanism of having more money to spend on healthcare, hospitals and doctors. In addition, if you are richer you can spend more on cleaning up pollution and will have less tolerance for dangerous jobs etc. Having said that from memory there are some outliers the US famously spends a shed load on healthcare and has worse average life expectancy than expected. Cuba I believe has better life expectancy than expected.

    And equality can also help life expectancy.

    There are also some mechanisms that militate against better healthcare as you get richer. There are the diseases of affluence particularly obesity. Developing countries tend to take up smoking. Although richer countries and the richer within countries tend to give it up again…

    2 corrections from my last comment – it was imperial college that did the study and 28,000 died of seasonal flu in 14/15

  • Rodney Watts 24th Mar '20 - 12:53pm

    @ Michael 1 First let me correct the £8,100, which of course should have been $8,100, in second example I gave above. The almighty US dollar remains the international standard of comparisons.

    Yes, I certainly do remember Ancel Keys and his work in the field of atherosclerosis and CVD. Whilst there were significant flaws, as you point out, the one thing that he got right was the ‘Mediterranean Diet’.
    He also did an immeasurable disservice to international health by taking the side of the sugar manufacturers in denouncing the work of Prof John Yudkin at QE College, London. Our group recognised John Yudkin’s work and also the importance of polunsaturated fatty acids (PUFA) over saturated. The PUFA were promoted by another British scientist-nutritionist, Dr Hugh Sinclair of Oxford, and though he did not receive anywhere near the same attacks, like Yudkin he has only been fully recognised after death.
    Sad that, just like in general politics, powerful commercial intests can hold sway in science.

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    For those interested in health and the NHS, Roy Lilley's blog is worth a look. A strong supporter of the NHS thought not uncritical. https://myemail-api.cons...
  • Peter Martin
    @ Simon R, Yes well done! :-) It was a somewhat tongue-in-cheek comment. I usually have difficulty in persuading contributors to this site to think in ter...