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Lindy McDowell

Why I’m a bit uneasy over ‘Keep Calm and Coronavirus’ approach by the UK Government

Lindy McDowell





Kate at Ark Open Farm in Newtownards this week

Kate at Ark Open Farm in Newtownards this week



We have a friend from Brighton coming to stay shortly. What's the polite way of saying: "Would you mind self-isolating in the back bedroom for a few days until we're quite sure you're infection free?"

Brighton, as we know, has had the most confirmed cases (so far) of coronavirus in the UK.

True, the number of cases is still in single figures. But what you could call coronanxiety is spreading fast, mostly because government doesn't seem to be able to give us a clear picture of how truly concerned we should be.

In the Wirral this week dozens of people previously repatriated by airlift from China - aka the Wuhan 83 - were finally released from Arrowe Park Hospital.

The local government website was talking soothingly about how the hospital had been "hosting" these "guests".

Top marks there for making quarantine sound like a spring break in a Premier Inn.

The official emphasis is on reassurance, and vague guidelines.

People who suspect they may have the virus are being encouraged to self-isolate. We are all advised to dispose of tissues responsibly. To wash our hands a lot.

I'm surprised they haven't issued a T-shirt: Keep Calm and Coronavirus...

Meanwhile, we are assailed by wildly mixed messages from left, right and Wuhan.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) praised China for its efforts to control the spread of disease by effectively quarantining tens of millions of people, but then also urged other countries not to restrict travel.

A few days later the organisation further informed us the virus was public enemy number one. A worse threat than terrorism.

Images and statistics from China are certainly disturbing.

People believed to be showing symptoms of the disease (now officially known as COVID-19) were being dragged from their homes by medics in hazmat suits. There has been a sharp and scary spike in infection and death rates.

How best to describe the co-ordinated global response to this? Answer: all at sea.

A number of luxury cruise liners which had been denied disembarkation in Far Eastern ports have since become floating incubation hotspots for the disease.

It seems to have occurred to no one that when passengers are detained in confined space on board HMS Cross-Infection the not-terribly surprising outcome will be dozens of new cases.

Closer to home in London a lady who suspected she had the disease (and she did) took an Uber to hospital.

Taxi for Typhoid Mary!

But can you blame people for doing daft things when they're not getting a whole lot of information from above?

Boris might argue he had other things to worry about this week - he was more focused on Javid than COVID - but the government can't risk complacency.

Scientists have assured us that this isn't the Big One - the virulent, unstoppable pandemic they all fear might one day sweep the globe killing millions.

We're told that the death ratio from COVID-19 while tragic is less than for other epidemics such as SARS. And that most of the people who've died have had underlying health problems (not so much of a comfort I imagine for anyone with underlying health problems).

But the fact still is we're dealing with something new and frightening. And to date there's no cure.

This week passengers on the London Underground were being advised of the potential for spread of infection there - something which will come as no surprise to anyone who's ever clasped a sticky handrail on a train.

The potential for the spread of infection is everywhere and thus the scale of the challenge in trying to halt a virus once it gets a foothold is colossal.

Yes, the UK Government is right not to be alarmist. But it wouldn't hurt if we had a more robust information campaign, and a clearer picture of contingency plans should COVID-19 get a grip in the UK.

They do have contingency plans, don't they?

Something more specific than just politely requesting people to self-isolate in the back bedroom?

It may take scientific sage to explain air rage

AS a clue to when your tantrum with fellow air passengers is getting out of hand, the sight of fighter jets hovering alongside your plane might a good pointer.

This week an idiot woman was sent to jail for a meltdown where she'd attempted to open the aircraft door.

Drunk, obviously. Intoxication may be partly to blame. But what possesses some people to go so very mad during a flight?

Does the air pressure or whatever affect them? Surely this should merit a scientific study.

Inelegant sacking of Smith could haunt PM

Never in our long and difficult history has a Secretary of State left this place on such a tidal wave of declared respect and affection as Julian Smith. That is some trick. And I hope he realises it.

Having been kicked out of his job by unelected Dominic Cummings, he will know he doesn't have many friends in Downing Street.

But he made friends on all sides here. His removal could come back to bite Boris.

Down-to-earth and down on the farm, that’s dutiful Kate

Kate, Duchess of Cambridge, was down on the farm in Co Down this week on a trip to promote her early years initiative, which aims to collate views on how early life experience impacts upon children as they get older.

In a week in which the glittering stars of Hollywood were pulling out all the stops in the glamour department at the Oscars, the now undisputed star of the Royal Firm was dressed down in sensible Barbour jacket and the designer-boot equivalent of wellies.

She chatted to locals at the Ark Open Farm, petted an alpaca, handled a snake. Understated though the visit was, it highlights what is now evidently distinct palace strategy — to push Kate centre stage as key royal performer.

And no wonder.

Having served a tough apprenticeship in the Royal Firm — critics previously dismissed her as dull and insipid — Kate has very much come into her own.

She’s confident, she’s assured, but above all she gives the impression she’s genuinely interested in the people she meets. It’s about them, not her.

Her greatest trick is in juggling the pomp and ceremony that often attends her role with the sort of down-to-earth informality we saw this week.

She seems to understand the concept of duty. Unlike her brother-in-law and his wife, she doesn’t feel it’s beneath her.

Kate’s no diva. She obviously sees herself as a supporting act. And that’s what makes her a star.

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