Home / Royal Mail / JANET STREET-PORTER: British people could die from coronavirus complacency 

JANET STREET-PORTER: British people could die from coronavirus complacency 

The coronovirus is not going to disappear overnight and there is no chance of a vaccine in the forseeable future. Managing the symptoms might be like experiencing a dose of bad flu or mild pneumonia if you’re fit and healthy, but for the old, vulnerable and the very young it poses a threat to life.

The disease has now spread to over 26 countries, with over 45,000 infected. The death toll stands at over 1110, and will contine to rise. How did this modern plague spread like wildfire, even though it was identified as long ago as early December? Have medical experts learned nothing from their experiences combating previous epidemics like Ebola and Sars?

Politicians have been shamefully slow to respond to virus which continues to spread across international borders, unchecked. Every day, planes are taking off and landing at major airports like Heathrow – and even passengers from at risk nations are not being automatically tested.

In spite of the World Health Organisation declaring the bug a ‘public health emergency of international concern’ (which has only happened six times in the past decade) – freedom of movement and the right to travel has been deemed more important than public safety.

Pictured: A person walks on an empty road in Beijing, China, 11 February 2020, as the coronavirus spreads across the world 

Wuhan (pictured) grinds to a halt as the crisis of the coronavirus unfolds, spreading to other countries

Wuhan (pictured) grinds to a halt as the crisis of the coronavirus unfolds, spreading to other countries 

Wuhan is brought to a grinding halt as the coronavirus spreads across the world, with 45,207 cases worldwide

Wuhan is brought to a grinding halt as the coronavirus spreads across the world, with 45,207 cases worldwide 

On January 29th I left Australia on a flight to Singapore. For the previous couple of weeks, the media had been full of reports about the rapid spread of a highly contagious respiratory bug in China – centred around the city of Wuhan.

Pretty soon, pictures emerged of empty streets, warehouses and factories turned into hospitals. There was a ban on going outside more than once every two days to shop for essentials. Coronovirus had arrived and people were dying by the dozen.

Most of the crew on my Singapore airlines flight wore face masks – but none were offered to passengers. Even though doctors say masks are of limited value, it did seem rather odd that paying customers received no advice about the possible risk of infection.

'The coronovirus is not going to disappear overnight and there is no chance of a vaccine in the forseeable future,' says JANET STREET-PORTER

‘The coronovirus is not going to disappear overnight and there is no chance of a vaccine in the forseeable future,’ says JANET STREET-PORTER

I have found out subsequently that the bug can only be caught if someone carrying it comes within two metres of you- which exactly what happens on a plane at meal times.

At Singapore airport a late touchdown meant I had to dash from one end of the terminal to the other to catch a connecting flight to Heathrow. All the staff at check in and the security scanners were wearing face masks.

So were some of the staff on the fight to London – by then I was exhausted and slept.

At Heathrow, in the early hours of January 30th, I put my passport in the computerised entry gate and was admitted to the UK. No questions, no medical checks. Within an hour I was home.

Since then, we have learned that a British businessman left Singapore on a flight to France for a short skiing holiday carrying the virus, arriving back in the UK on January 28th. He subsequently infected at least eight people, including the owners of the chalet where he stayed.

Steve Walsh is not guilty of any crime – when he felt unwell, he immediately telephoned the NHS for help. He has been treated in hospital and made a full recovery. If he had been tested on touchdown in the UK, the virus would have been contained.

Coronovirus was identified in China in December 2019. It is thought to have originated from the stallholders in a seafood market, or through the sale of illegal pangolin meat.

Pictured: A doctor prepares to remove his protective equipment outside the Coronavirus Priority Assessment Pod at the Royal Sussex County Hospital in Brighton

Pictured: A doctor prepares to remove his protective equipment outside the Coronavirus Priority Assessment Pod at the Royal Sussex County Hospital in Brighton

The UK government seemed more bothered about evacuating British citizens from China than trying to control our borders or test people who were arriving in the UK from all over the world.

The virus has travelled to Africa and America, to Austria and Australia. Jet travel means a bug can be transmitted in transit lounges, at duty free shops, in airport terminals. Now I am pleased I ran the length of Singapore airport to catch my flight and didn’t stop to buy anything or eat- but I have no idea whether anyone on my flight was carrying the bug or using the same washrooms as me.

This Friday will be the end of the incubation period for me – a good present on Valentine’s Day.

'Steve Walsh is not guilty of any crime - when he felt unwell, he immediately telephoned the NHS for help,' writes JANET STREET-PORTER. 'He has been treated in hospital and made a full recovery. If he had been tested on touchdown in the UK, the virus would have been contained.'

‘Steve Walsh is not guilty of any crime – when he felt unwell, he immediately telephoned the NHS for help,’ writes JANET STREET-PORTER. ‘He has been treated in hospital and made a full recovery. If he had been tested on touchdown in the UK, the virus would have been contained.’

But what should members of the public be doing to limit the risks of catching the virus? We have to use public transport, canteens, and shops daily. But there’s a lack of information – some mothers have been taking their kids out of school in the Brighton area, where Mr Walsh lived.

British Airways and Virgin have banned direct flights to and from China. Fear of contagion is growing irrationally- Chinatown in London is deserted, as if you could catch a virus from chop suey or noodles!

There are currently eight confirmed cases in the UK – and the number will undoubtedly rise. Thousand of travellers continue to enter the UK daily from countries who have taken no steps whatsover to contain the disease.

No foreign travellers should be allowed in who have been in China for the last 14 days. British nationals who have been should be screened and quarantine. They may seem draconian measures but they are already deemed necessary by the USA and Australia. Why are we so concerned about human rights, when lives are at stake?

As for the public, NHS guidance has been pitiful – if you’ve got a cough or flu-like symptoms, don’t go to the doctor, but ‘self-isolate’ at home and phone for help.

They’ve belatedly advised travellers returning from nine countries including China, Thailand, Japan and Singapore (me) to inform their doctors- and then what?

I can’t imagine such a laissez faire attitude is going to contain the spread of a virus as virulent as this. I had to turn on the telly and get a lesson on hand-washing from my pal Eamonn Holmes – apparently you need a good 50 seconds of serious cleansing to make any difference.

What detective work has been put in place to monitor the movements and contacts of 8 confirmed UK cases, track down and test any potential carriers? I thought there would be hourly bulletins on the radio and television with public health advice, instead of wishy wishy ‘guidance’.

Boris Johnson seems more concerned with posing in a hard hat and unveiling an expensive new train set than facing up to a medical emergency that could suck the life out of the economy.

So far we’ve just had a taste of what could be to come. Just take a look at the spookily deserted streets of Wuhan and pray our government gets its act together before that is your local town or city.

 


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