When it comes to Coronavirus there is no point beating around the bush. We face the most profound societal, economic and – above all – public health challenge since the Second World War. If anyone has doubted this, I hope that the recent change in public health advice to much more profound social distancing has shattered that illusion. Quite simply, the national interest and the direct interest of everyone of us – and of all our loved ones, young and old - is now best served by following to the letter the advice from our Chief Scientific and Chief Medical Officers, implemented by the Government and as follows.
First, if you or anyone in your home has a high temperature or a new and continuous cough, you should stay at home for 14 days; 7 days if you live alone. If at all possible, you should not go out even to buy food and essentials. Instead, you should ask others for assistance with your daily necessities. The exception to that is for exercise, but even then you should keep at a safe distance from others. If it is not possible to receive deliveries at home, you should do what you can to limit your social contact when you leave the house to get supplies.
Even if you or anyone in your household do not have symptoms, the Government has updated their advice. They are advising people against all unnecessary social contact with others and all unnecessary travel. People will need to start working from home if they possibly can, and should steer clear of pubs, clubs, cinemas and restaurants. Additionally, we should use the NHS only when we really need to. This advice is directed at everyone, but it is especially important for the over-70s, for pregnant women and for those with some health conditions.
I have had a number of emails from constituents over 70 who feel somehow discriminated against by this advice. Let me say how much I respect this view, and the frustration of those over 70 who do so much to volunteer and – in particular – help others in a more senior age bracket. Nevertheless, we must all follow the advice without exception, or we will be taking a gamble with our own lives and the capacity of the NHS, whilst effectively raising the chance of many others becoming seriously ill or dying.
There is some good news. First of all, whilst people rightly compare this to a war, to fight this invisible invading army, we do not need to sacrifice our armed forces; we simply need to remain in the comfort of our own homes, for a prolonged, but ultimately temporary, period of time. Yes, there has been stockpiling, but supermarkets are now taking action to deal with this. For example, the first hour reserved for older and more vulnerable shoppers. Yes, there will be a very significant economic impact, but we have unveiled a £350bn package for business and there is more to come. Of course, there will be an immediate impact on pubs and restaurants, but we have granted them immediate permissions to become takeaways, and provided a combination of grants and business rate holidays to them and similar businesses.
Above all, I know that coronavirus will be a source of profound anxiety to all of you, but this crisis is also bringing out the best in human nature, with many examples of friends, neighbours and community groups rallying round to help each other.
Please follow the advice and stay tuned for when it changes, which could be frequently. My email is firstname.lastname@example.org if you have questions.
My column published in the Suffolk Free Press.