Should we keep calm and carry on?

Should we keep calm and carry on?

David has been ill over the last few days with a temperature and a bit of a cough.  We called 111 and they say that those with mild symptoms are not being tested, so we don’t know if he has Coronavirus or just a winter bug. 

It makes sense to me that the NHS should not be swamped by people suffering from mild symptoms.  Nor should A&E departments be inundated by the worried reasonably-well.  The time to act is when symptoms are severe.  Other policies taken by countries responding to the Coronavirus make less sense to me.

I had an email from a friend in Montreal yesterday saying that she and her nearly 80-year old husband are taking care of their grandchildren every day now because the Montreal schools are closed.  However much they love their grandchildren, they are exhausted!  You have children at a younger age for a good reason – we have less energy as we age.  Asking elderly grandparents (the ones most at risk), to take care of their grandchildren doesn’t make much sense to me. 

I don’t see the point of closing schools when parents would have to take time out of work to take care of them.  We need working-age adults to continue working.  School closures will cost this country billions and would also play with young people’s futures.  After all, it is peak time for GCSE and A level revision, for degree exams.  These exams are of key importance to future careers and university entry.  Talk of sending children home for four months is putting a huge amount of pressure on already anxious young people.  The majority of the young and middle-aged who get the virus only experience mild symptoms

I do worry that measures that bring the global economy to a standstill will result in far greater damage to an even larger number of people than the virus will affect.  If major companies, and global airlines like British Airways, SAS and Virgin, are near collapse, this will be the experience of businesses worldwide.  Thousands of people could lose their jobs.  That means no National Insurance, no PAYE, no VAT winging its way into government coffers.  In fact, the opposite.  Governments are making extraordinary promises to compensate small and large businesses for their losses and will then potentially end up with large numbers of people on benefits.  How can they make these promises when the potential sums involved are so huge?  And what is the human cost of allowing companies to go broke?  Many more people living in poverty, which has its own health risks.

It makes sense to me to keep younger and middle-aged adults working.  How else are shelves going to be stacked with medicines and food, how else are public services going to function, banks going to care for our money, pension companies protect our savings, insurance companies continue to cover risk, factories going to provide us with necessities?  In a complete lock-down nothing gets made, nothing gets distributed, supplies dry up.  Surely many more people are going to die from lack, and those who have chronic illnesses or are receiving other medical treatment are going to be unable to receive help?

Coronavirus is an old people’s illness.  It has apparently been nicknamed the “boomer remover”.  Well great, as a Baby Boomer myself that doesn’t exactly cheer me up, inevitably.  Much as I dislike the thought, I can see that there is some sense in asking the over 70s to self-isolate.  After all it is us who are most at risk, specifically those over 65 with underlying health conditions.  But four months?  This seems excessive. 

We Boomers have never been a particularly compliant generation and I do wonder how this will impact our mental health.   What will governments do when we all go stir-crazy, stuck with our own company?  For those living alone, to be forced to isolate can cause desolation and loneliness.  For those in care homes not to receive visitors is like torture, and several care residents have written to say they would rather die earlier than be forced to end their days without seeing their families.  Maybe it’s a strategy.  After all, if we kill ourselves, or those with whom we are confined to barracks, it will relieve the need for our social care! 

On the other hand, I do question why Italy, Spain and other countries are in such severe lock-down, preventing the younger generations going to work, children stuck at home away from friends, parents cooped up with irritable teenagers.  Locking we oldies up does make more sense to me than stopping the world and jeopardising hundreds of thousands of people’s businesses, livelihoods and incomes.  And at least we can finally clear out the garage, and deal with that enormous pile of filing that has been sitting there for two years.  But then what …?

To keep people indoors is going to require a great deal of bureaucracy.  Who will decide whether a trip to the shops or to a relative is valid?  How on earth will the already stretched police force monitor movement?  Will we get visas to travel to the next street or town?  It will surely require a huge amount of administration. 

It seems the question of whether we can build herd immunity for the future is unproven, as is so much about the Coronavirus.  It is only a few months since the first case, and no-one really knows precisely what will happen.  Will those quarantined go on to get it later?  Will those who have suffered from Covid-19 now have immunity?  In a world where people travel all the time it will probably be well into 2021 before we can understand the statistics and know which policy really worked best. 

I am not in Government, thank heaven, having to make these very difficult decisions.  I listen to the  epidemiologists and respect their diverse opinions, but the decisions that are having to be made go way beyond public health.  The impact on the economy, on supplies of food and medicine, on infrastructure, transport, on people’s families and friendship support systems, all need to be taken into consideration and all, ultimately, influence our health and wellbeing in both the short and long-term. 

A university professor advised that the government should treat the population as adults.  That those who are vulnerable can choose not to travel on public transport, go to the theatre or to a football match.  That those who are vulnerable can choose to stay at home or work from home and self-isolate.  Individually we need to step up and act considerately and responsibly. Sadly, of course, not all of us behave like adults, as we have seen from the bulk-buying of toilet paper etc. 

The Government must listen to its advisors, and issue regulations that we are not necessarily going to like.  I wouldn’t wish to be Boris Johnson or any other leader right now.  He is under pressure to change tack as UK policies are out of line with the rest of the world.  Personally, I am not convinced by the world-in-complete-lockdown strategy.  The trouble is that politicians need to be seen to act and I just hope that if he changes the approach, he doesn’t bend to pressure for purely political reasons.  We shall see.

In the meantime, wherever you are, I hope you keep well.

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  • David Swinson on Mar 16, 2020 Reply

    Hello Helen
    Thats a thorough and well thought out review of our situation. I vacillate daily about the right course of action. I do think that the decision not to test for COVID19 in individuals with suggestive symptoms is wrong. There may or may be no epidemiological justification for testing but from the individual clinical view it almost amounts to negligence. Arguably the prime duties of a clinician is to provide a diagnosis and prognosis and not to arrange a reliable diagnostic test deliberately flys in the face of that duty..

    • Helen Whitten on Mar 16, 2020 Reply

      Thanks for this David. And yes, I would agree that in an ideal world we should all be tested, for our own information and for those who wish to track its progress. In the face of the numbers I suspect the decision not to test is purely pragmatic: they probably can’t and don’t have the test equipment for thousands of people. And other countries also have many undiagnosed cases I think. But speaking personally it would be much better for David and I to know whether we have Covid-19 in the home or just a winter cough bug. We may never know! Stay well xx

  • Harriet Grace on Mar 16, 2020 Reply

    Thank you for Helen for such a thorough look at what is happening, and I hope David recovers quickly to full health.
    Diane I hope you get home on Tuesday evening.
    I agree with nearly everything you say, Helen, and I really hope the UK doesn’t resort to the draconian methods of Spain and Italy and allows us in the older vulnerable bracket to be responsible and self isolate and let the younger members of our population safely work. My son, wife and 3 1/2 year old grandaughter live in Spain just north of Barcelona and are confined to their house and terrace, able to look down at the communal swimming pool as well as see glimpses of the Mediterranean down the hill in between the houses, but only go out for emergencies.
    From the mental health point of view I think as far as possible, people should be allowed to go out and walk in the fresh air. In Italy we have seen people on their balconies, not very far from each other, clapping the medical staff, calling to each other, and singing. All clearly good for morale.
    The virus is a very serious threat which we must all fully respect but we mustn’t forget our mental and physical health. On the positive side it already appears to be making us all more aware of our neighbours and how we can help each other.
    Take lots of care and keep communicating.

    • Helen Whitten on Mar 16, 2020 Reply

      Thanks Harriet, yes we have already had several offers of people to do shopping for us. Good to know! Hx

  • janice on Mar 16, 2020 Reply

    Sorry to hear David has been unwell – Sending love to you both.

    You make some interesting points – All the companies I work for in London have either closed their offices, or have quite drastic plans in place. The pressure on economies are going to be incredible.

  • Diane Carrington on Mar 16, 2020 Reply

    Helen I’m sorry to hear about David, I do hope he recovers quickly and you keep well. We are at our house in Estepona Spain and are now in complete lock down. The policy is being strictly enforced with schools, beaches, parks, restaurants and all non essential shops and businesses closed. No one is allowed out and people are being fined for leaving the house for anything other than for food or medicine or for essential work. The fines are evidenced in photographs in local chat groups etc. We have helicopters flying over our beach , which is always secluded and we can look at the sea from our patio but not go in it, with it’s healing powers,
    This is all happening even though ESTEPONA still has no cases of people being infected by Coronavirus. Obviously they are taking extreme steps to stop the infection but how long can they keep this up! I can’t imagine being stuck in a flat with children unable to go out.
    We have only been here 4 days and I’ve already got bored painting palm trees! We’ve bought new flight tickets and BA are still saying that they will fly us home Tuesday evening. That is unless the Spanish Government close the Airports, then we’ll wait to be repatriated.
    Many people in England appear to be calling for more extreme responses, but Spain’s answer seems very drastic.

    • Helen Whitten on Mar 16, 2020 Reply

      Thanks for this insight into life under lock down. Drastic indeed. I wonder how the Spanish government will recompense those who are losing out financially. People can’t live without money… Italy’s economy was already fragile. I do hope you get back to the UK safely on Tuesday. Hx