When the government’s emergency Cobra meetings take place, whatever the crisis, there’s a dilemma… how much to tell the public?
There’s a fine line between telling people and scaring the wits out of them.
It usually ends with a minister addressing the House of Commons or on the Six O’clock news, talking blah blah,… ‘we are prepared’, ‘we have this under control’, blah, blah. No body believes it.
Fast forward into the future…
At the beginning of the 2020 Coronavirus outbreak, the signs were all there… it wasn’t going to end well.
said ministers, blah, blah…
The outbreak could not have come at a worse time. The NHS starved of resources for nearly ten years, was facing staff shortages, antiquated equipment and capacity problems, all underpinned by a social care system in collapse.
It couldn’t cope with the day job, never mind a global emergency.
A handful of cases, in a place in China, no one had ever heard of, at the time of the Chinese Luna Festival, meant huge numbers were travelling. Before we knew it, the deadly virus had ripped through South East Asia.
Cities became ghost towns. Thermal-imaging screening, used at airports, proved useless when it was finally acknowledged, people carried the virus for up to ten days before they had symptoms.
By the time the airports were closed, it was too late.
London’s China-Town came under press scrutiny but the first case emerged in Birmingham.
The owner of one of the most popular Chinese restaurants… just back from Hong-Kong, died. A week later, his wife, a diabetic, followed him. As did a waiter and later a taxi driver.
Lunch and evenings, the restaurant served over 70 people a day, plus Just-Eat and take-aways. Thirty staff, family and friends.
The infection started its slow and deadly work. Demand for cotton face masks exhausted Amazon but without humidity filters and protective glasses, don’t contribute much.
The impact on the economy was immediate. At the end of January the FTSE had dropped 152.64 points and continued to slide.
BA lost 5%. Air France and Lufthansa fell heavily. UK banks in Asia closed, in line with work-from-home regulations.
China ordered businesses to close until early February and later extended the deadline, indefinitely. Wall St., fell. Oil prices dropped 4%, in the face of travel bans.
The WHO, stopped short of announcing a global emergency but relented in the second week of February, on the news 100,000 people were infected.
The UK government took emergency powers; closed theatres, football grounds and prohibited public gatherings. Burials were banned. Only cremations permitted. Mortuaries were full. Bodies stored in refrigerated lorries.
People worked from home. Tourism all but ended. BA grounded 75% of its fleet.
The NHS? Despite the planning, it was overwhelmed. PHE’s testing centre at Colindale struggled to keep up.
Care homes, social care, couldn’t cope. Stay-put-and-treat policies came too late. Hotels beds were block-booked by NHSE, and used as overflow.
GP surgeries were closed. Patients were helped by phone. Babylon and Push-Doc opened their video systems, free, to the whole of the NHS, to try and relieve the pressure.
Towards the end of the fifth week, staff sickness rates topped 20%. The army erected tents in hospital car-parks. It’s easy to put up beds but another thing to staff them.
Some community pharmacies closed, supply chains collapsed, non-urgent surgery cancelled, pathology units closed, food deliveries disrupted… as more staff reported sick.
As police officers succumbed, vigilantes erected road blocks to prevent outsiders entering estates. There were some ugly scenes.
Parliament changed regulations; any one, who was once on a clinical professional register, was co-opted into second-line care, as were nursing students from universities.
Retired doctors we given temporary registration.
Ministers admitted the NHS was overwhelmed, pleading with the public to avoid using health services…
... yes, of course, this is only a story but it is based on what is happening today and experiences from the SARS epidemic, 20 years ago.
There are live Coronavirus up dates here.
China has been much more transparent this time but are ministers any more candid? They need to be. Unless we are lucky, we could be facing a very tricky time…. but we are well prepared.
News and Comment from Roy Lilley