We must all play our part to beat this crisis
THE Prime Minister’s message could hardly have been more sombre.
Flanked by the Government’s two top scientists, Boris Johnson warned that the worst health crisis in a generation has barely begun.
Even with maybe 10,000 already infected by coronavirus (against the official total of 596), we are still in what Churchill might have called ‘the phoney war’.
At the peak of the pandemic – which is probably three months away – many millions may be affected. And for anyone who doubts the seriousness and virulence of this viral strain, Mr Johnson had this painful thought: ‘Many more families are going to lose loved ones before their time.’
But for all the daunting news, there is something reassuring about the calm and measured way this triumvirate is going about its task.
Mr Johnson struck a suitably concerned but resolute note. His technical wing-men stuck firmly to the science. All three cautioned against panic. We must delay the peak as long as possible, they said, so the general population can build up immunities and the NHS is not overwhelmed. A few more weeks will take us towards the summer, when viruses are generally less potent and demands on hospitals are less.
For now, at least, the measures they suggest are far less dramatic than in some other countries – notably Italy, which is in complete lockdown. Anyone with flu-like symptoms should stay at home for a week ( along with other members of the household), keep a close eye on the elderly and keep up the personal hygiene.
That was more or less it. No flight bans, no blanket cancellation of sporting fixtures, no mass closure of schools, cafes and pubs.
Chief Scientific Adviser Sir Patrick Vallance believes shutting schools could be counterproductive, especially if the children were looked after by Granny and Grandad while their parents were at work. In any case, children appear to be less susceptible to the worst symptoms of this illness.
Counter-intuitively, Sir Patrick also said there was no evidence that the virus spreads more quickly in a crowd.
And as for flights, the virus is already here and has a foothold. Attempts to keep it out are too late.
There will be some who advocate tougher measures, and that is entirely understandable. But the scientists also warned against fatigue. If people are told to stay at home indefinitely in the early stages of the epidemic, they will become increasingly bored and angry.
Staying indoors without visitors for a week would be exasperating enough. But three months? There’s only so much daytime television and box- set bingeing any sane human being can stand.
Striking the right tone at this press conference was not easy, but Boris and his boffins carried it off well.
At this stage, we must trust their judgment and do as they say. There will however, be far more difficult days ahead.
If the ‘reasonable worst- case’ scenario outlined by Chief Medical Officer (and now celebrity brainbox) Chris Whitty comes true, by mid- summer millions of people will have coronavirus. Mortality rates, especially among the vulnerable elderly, will be soaring and we still won’t be over the hump.
It is then that Mr Johnson’s mettle will really be tested.
There will inevitably be accusations of doing too little too late and the cries of grieving relatives will ring in his ears. But for now we can only hope this vision is overpessimistic and follow the scientific advice. It’s the best we have.
As Mr Johnson says, we are on a hard road but together we will see off this crisis. However, for that to happen, everyone in the country must play their part.