Rory Stewart: UK coronavirus response ‘far too slow’

Thursday, March 12, 2020

Former International Development Secretary Rory Stewart criticises the government’s response to the Covid-19 outbreak, as the virus is branded a pandemic by the World Health Organisation. These are his views and not talkRADIO’s.

We’re being far too slow. In an epidemic like this, you should be moving immediately with no regrets. The earlier you shut schools, the earlier you stop gatherings, the better.

Countries that have done this really quickly have achieved very remarkable things. South Korea has actually very dramatically brought down the number of new cases in about 10 days by doing this.

But if you start too late, it’s out of control, it spreads like wildfire and it then becomes almost impossible to contain.

There is a lot of academic disagreement about this but the World Health Organisation argues, and I absolutely agree with them, that you act as fast and as hard as you can.

You never are quite going to know whether you are going to be able to do it but you throw the kitchen sink at it, you try as hard as you can.

We are being much too academic about this. There is a huge disagreement which we’re not being honest about; we’re pretending that all the scientists agree.

What’s actually happening is the British government is following a very particular, narrow academic model and other countries are taking a completely different approach.

Denmark for example has closed its schools. I don’t think that’s because Danish scientists are somehow less qualified than British scientists. It’s because all the evidence from previous epidemics elsewhere in the world is the earlier that you move, the more likely you are to get a grip on this disease.

We should have acted two weeks ago, we should have acted a week ago but if we act today we can still get on top of this.

One of the things which is a cultural problem in Britain is that we’re very, very proud of our “Keep Calm and Carry on” and “don’t panic”.

The answer isn’t to get into a conversation about whether or not to panic, the answer is to get on and do something and communicate effectively.

Sometimes saying “don’t panic” actually simply means that you are denying the truth.

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