With estimates of as many as 65 million potential deaths globally from the Wuhan Coronavirus, the UK Government’s response has been too weak and too slow.

While Taiwan and Hong Kong imposed travel restrictions as long ago as 31 December on travel from Wuhan, Johnson’s administration continues to allow travel from mainland China.

Travel from Wuhan should have been suspended in the first week of January, while travel from mainland China should have been suspended a week ago.

It may well be that it is inevitable that the Wuhan Coronavirus makes it to British shores.

For all we know, it may already be here.

The game – at this point – is about playing for time. Time to increase supplies. Time to ready the food supply. Time for churches and morgues to ready themselves. Time to ensure the NHS is prepared. Time to develop a vaccine.

The longer the arrival of 2019-nCoV can be delayed, the longer we – as a people – have time to get prepared.

In addition, for essential flights from Asia – flights with repatriated Britons and medical workers – it is important that these passengers are quarantined for the duration of the incubation period of the virus.

The government could commandeer some hotels for the purpose, paying them compensation.

If we end up with the first global pandemic of the 21st century, global passenger air travel is going to be massively curtailed.

If this does become a global pandemic, tourism and live sports and entertainment are probably going to take a two-to-three-year hit.

International business travel will become non-existent.

Everything will go virtual.

Firms should already be trying to work out whether it is possible for their workers to work from home. (Businesses like call centres may make a permanent readjustment following the ‘temporary’ contingencies of the crisis.)

Look at the latest videos coming in from Wuhan! No one is out on the streets. No one is down at the market. No one is going into school or work. This is obviously unsustainable. People do not have larders in the way that our grandparents’ generation had larders. We are not resilient. We have come to trust that there will always be food on the shelves, or as is the case in Wuhan, that the shelves are safe to get to. Obviously, Wuhan residents are going to have to start coming out for essentials or face starvation.

The Chinese Government has received considerable criticism, much of it justified, but their approach in looking to isolate cities and restrict unnecessary movement, while keeping the economy on the move as much as possible, seems to have some merit. There is no reason for farmers to stop farming, manufacturers to stop manufacturing, and truckers to stop trucking. We will still want police on the streets and doctors in the hospitals.

The basic principle should be: let goods move, people not so much, and ensure close monitoring of the health of those that have to move. A greater crisis will be caused if we lose our peace, and allow panic to set in. But a greater crisis can also be averted if preventative measures are employed while they can still have preventative effect.

To ensure that this is the case, our Government needs to be ahead of the game: ahead in its thinking and in its action. It needs to be asking the hard questions now:

  • Does the Government have a plan to quarantine parts of the UK if there is a localised outbreak?
  • If the pandemic reaches the UK, where will suspected sufferers be treated?
  • What facilities will be designated for the treatment of sufferers?
  • Who will staff those facilities?
  • What palliative care can be provided prior to the development of a vaccine?
  • Who needs to go to work, and who can stay at home?
  • If school is cancelled, will teachers get paid?
  • How will the supply chain bear up under the circumstances?
  • What happens if Britain is not able to import that which it does not produce?
  • What about people working in the private sector?
  • How will the economy bear up?
  • Will companies lay off workers and if so, are we ready for an increase in unemployment?
  • How to make sure that public finances don’t take such a great hit that a debt crisis is caused?
  • What about the risk of civil unrest?

These are the sorts of questions that one expects COBR is asking now. It is important that their thinking on this issue is forward-looking, but also that they consider the potential for spillover effects.

Crises – like buses – often come in clusters.

But beyond asking the right questions, a bigger question is whether they are capable of acting, not freezing, not blinking, but acting. Acting in a way that is less concerned about ‘offending the Chinese’ or ‘panicking the public’, but about being effective and proportionate. (Remember, the best way to be ‘proportionate’ is to be proactive.)

Instead, those responsible are “monitoring the situation”.

Remember that phrase in the months to come.

Author: David McHutchon

Article Licence: CC BY-ND 4.0

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