On pandemics and health, we need to look to South Korea – Phil Hammond “MD” in Private Eye


Dr Phil Hammond
Dr Phil Hammond

Throughout the Coronavirus crisis, the “MD” column, written by Dr Phil Hammond, in Private Eye has provided a refreshingly astute and wise commentary on the crisis.

The latest issue of Private Eye is out now. I have recently subscribed to it, so I receive my copy without leaving home. Sheer luxury! (As an aside, someone once asked me to name the thing or service which I had bought or used for the longest period in my life. I came up with Lloyds Bank and Private Eye, of both of which I have been a customer since I was 17 years old. Some 43 years. Crikey – that makes me feel old.)

MD’s latest commentary covers two pages and is very interesting, as always.

Three themes stand out.

One is the danger of “dread risk” amongst the population of the UK. This is defined as “An uncontrollable and inequitable risk which may have catastrophic consequences.”

MD writes on this:

Even if a drug or vaccine rides to the rescue, the psychological effects of the pandemic will cast a long shadow. The “dread risk” of Covid-19 won’t vanish overnight. Some will struggle to go outdoors and back to work, others will become fearful if social distancing is relaxed from, say, 2m to 1m. Mass anxiety can imprison a nation. Kindness and understanding will be key.

Secondly, “MD” draws out the sharp contrast between the South Korean experience of the virus and that of the UK:

South Korea had enough previous experience of SARS and MERS outbreaks to know that unless you get a grip on it immediately, you will forever be playing catch-up.

MD details the early measures which South Korea took, opining:

Instead of just pulling patients out of the river of Covid-19, South Korea wandered upstream to stop them falling in.

Finally, MD concludes:

…80 per cent of chronic diseases are preventable with a healthy diet, regular exercise, refreshing sleep and good mental health. We put off getting healthier for the future because coping with the stress of the present is tough enough. We deliver killer donuts to thank NHS staff. But what we put in our mouths is easily as deadly as what we breathe into our lungs. It just tastes better. Meanwhile, South Korea boasts the healthiest diet, lowest rates of obesity and longest project life expectancy in the world. We have a lot to learn…

You can read MD’s full column in Private Eye, available now in all open newsagents.

Meanwhile, Dr Phil Hammond has helpfully tweeted his latest column in Mendip Times, which covers many of the themes he has written about in Private Eye. I thoroughly recommend taking five minutes to read it. You’ll garner more wisdom in that time than three hours reading conventional media:


Associated thumbnail featured image at top of home page is by Philippe Put, Flickr CCL.

* Paul Walter is a Liberal Democrat activist. He is one of the Liberal Democrat Voice team. He blogs at Liberal Burblings.

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7 Comments

  • Barry Lofty 8th May '20 - 10:27am

    Paul Walter: I too subscribe to Private Eye and also enjoy a fortnightly release from the usual one-sided commentary from other media outlets, it also provides inside knowledge of the dubious deals going on behind the scenes that never come to light elsewhere.

  • Interesting to note Denmark (a population similar size to Scotland – just over five and a half million) went into full lock down TWELVE DAYS EARLIER than the UK. They have suffered just over 500 deaths – a rate 6 times lower per head than the UK.

    Why did it take Johnson so long to do it ? Complacency or just lack of wit ?

    To quote Lloyd George from 1916 : “It is always too late, or too little, or both. And that is the road to disaster.”

  • They also enforced strict travel bans. I can’t see the point of lockdowns without them. I take it the writer agrees with this?

  • 80 per cent of chronic diseases are preventable with a healthy diet, regular exercise, refreshing sleep and good mental health.

    Indeed. Yet people continue to stuff themselves with sugar and sit on their sofas watching TV, giving themselves diabetes in the process and costing their fellow citizens billions of pounds that could be better spent elsewhere.

    One of the good things about the current situation is it has encouraged at least some people to take some responsibility for themselves and change their behaviour.

  • Belarus has no lock down and about two hundred deaths. Sweden as left it to people to self govern and has had under 3000 deaths despite the models used by our government predicting it would have 40,000 deaths by May 1st. Britain like America leaves COD to the judgment of doctors. This mingles other possible morbidities with possible, based on the patient showing a symptom rather than being tested, infection Testing does not lower the death rates by making it easier to trace, but instead by showing the virus to be much less deadly than the models suggested. Both the German and South Korean testing shows this. On top of this France found at least one case dating back to December 2019 (the patient survived) leading to the possibility that this very contagious virus was already more widespread than assumed by the time lockdowns were imposed on the public. Things like sepsis, flu, pneumonias, cancers, heart diseases, liver and kidney failure cant have all been replaced by covid19.

  • Sue Sutherland 9th May '20 - 1:06pm

    David Raw, I have also been wondering why Johnson& co failed to react quickly enough to prevent the virus spreading as much as it has and have come to the conclusion that they believe their own propaganda. They think that if they say something will be fine, it will be. This folly has been strengthened by the whole Brexit debacle. They said Brexit will be wonderful, people believed them and they got into power. Success! Unfortunately for them and us, a virus doesn’t have emotions they can play with. Johnson thinks he can carry on shaking hands with everyone without succumbing, but the virus didn’t listen.
    Our country has been taken over by believers in magical thinking and we are paying the price.

  • Richard Underhill 10th May '20 - 3:41pm

    A tiger catching the virus from a keeper in a New York zoo was a worrying event.
    Should walking a dog be allowed?
    Should a pet be allowed to sleep on a bed used by a human?
    If not how should the police decide what is reasonable and/or necessary?

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