One of the big debates that we should be having is the conflict between the power of the state and the responsibility of the individual. Throughout the Coronavirus crisis there have been constant calls for the government to take action - usually quite drastic action. There's nothing more dangerous than a politician who takes action just because the public demand it. What the government has tried to do - or at least this is how I see it - is to try to nudge us in the right direction. They think this approach is more likely to be successful than if they issue a series of governmental diktats. And you can see why, given the massive mistrust of government all over the world.
In any national crisis, governments can only do so much. In behavioural terms, it's down to each and every one of us to analyse our lifestyle, and then to adjust it to minimise the risk of catching Coronavirus. In that regard, nudging is likely to be more effective than a series of decrees, at least in the short term.
Ask yourself this: have you changed your behaviour in the last two or three weeks or have you at least thought about doing so? If so, why and what caused it? If not, why not?
For me it was the news that Nadine Dorries has tested positive for Coronavirus. I was on the train home when I saw it on Twitter. I am a friend of Nadine's and I could easily have seen her last week, although to be fair I haven't seen her much of late. I then thought about all the people I could have been infected by in the last two weeks and all the occasions I had put myself at risk. This may sound incredibly selfish, and you probably think I should be thinking of other people. Well, in some ways I am, but I do have to think of myself because I am in a high risk group, being a type 2 diabetic. I'm 57 rather than 77, but even so, it's clear that diabetics are more at risk of contracting the virus that non diabetics.
So it was at that point that I started to think about mitigating the risk. I'm not the only one. Individuals, companies and organisations all over the country are doing the same. Rather than the government telling us what to do, we're all doing it anyway. Well, a lot of us. Employers are telling their staff to work at home and quite right too. LBC and all the other radio stations in the Global Radio family are making some quite dramatic changes to the way we operate. They've explained what they're wanting to do, being completely open about it and people therefore buy into it.
I'm usually a bit of a fatalist. I've never been concerned about being the victim of a terror attack and take the view that if your number's up, well there's precious little you can do about it. This crisis is different. There is something you can do about it. You can change things in your life to reduce the risk. It's not even that I worry about getting Coronavirus, or dying because of it. Until I typed that sentence I had never really considered that outcome. But many people do. People who suffer from anxiety are incredibly worried, and given the extensive media coverage of what's happening you can understand why. I was really affected by the hour long phone in I did on the mental health consequences of Coronavirus last week. Take this call from Brett, who has been tormenting himself about his forthcoming wedding. Listen to the agonies he is going through.
On Friday I did my regular slot with Jacqui Smith on Good Morning Britain. I was sat there in the Green Room with seven or eight other people, all within a couple of metres of each other. I decided there and then that this was madness for someone in a high risk category.
So what am I going to do to minimise the risk of becoming infected by Coronavirus? As of Wednesday I am cancelling all non essential appointments. I don't want to come to London unless I have to. The technology exists to allow me to broadcast from home, and that's what I'll be doing at some point next week or the week after. I'm sure it will seem odd at first, but like most things, I'm sure I'll get used to it.
In the wider scheme of things I am very lucky. My work allows me to do this, but most people won't be in that position. I was talking to an Addison Lee driver who says he has already experienced a drop off in trade. He says he has to pay £225 per week to rent the car regardless of whether he has any fares or not. I hope Addison Lee and their competitors will work out a plan to help drivers who may experience real hardship. Those who work in the hospitality sector are going to be badly affected. Imagine you're a catering company which provides services to football clubs. The hundreds of people you employ on a casual basis will have no work for the foreseeable future.
This crisis is developing day by day, hour by hour. As I write this, it's just been announced that the UK death toll has doubled to 20, with 340 new cases, pushing the total over 1,000. It's clear that this is a fraction of the real total of people who have the virus without knowing it or being tested for it. But we are days or weeks behind Italy, Spain and most other European countries.
This crisis will last to some degree or another for at least the summer, and probably the rest of the year. Life as we've known it will inevitably change, and it's the kind of challenge that we will all rise to or not. If we don't we will enter a horrible era of recrimination and accusation. But we're better than that as a country.
In conclusion, let me make one plea to the government. So far, there has been a cross party consensus that their approach has been the right one. They have been very open, and allowed the chief advisors to take the stage. This has provided reassurance to the public. But as time goes on and there is a reluctance to take more draconian measures there will be a clamour for more 'action this day'. Action for the sake of appearing to be decisive is never worth it. However, if the government is not going to follow the path of other countries it needs to be clear in explaining why that is.
Tim Shipman tweeted this, earlier today...
My sources suggest that fear of a second wave of CV19 deaths this winter is what has shaped the government's strategy. This is why: pic.twitter.com/AZz9h78DSZ— Tim Shipman (@ShippersUnbound) March 14, 2020
If this is driving the government's approach, and I suspect it is, they need to explain it much better than they have hitherto.
People understand that things are going to get worse, but they want to be sure the government is telling them the truth, even if sometimes they understand, they can't be told the whole truth.