Derek Gardiner | Fri, 6 Mar 2020
At the time of writing, there are 54 confirmed cases of coronavirus (or COVID 19) in the UK, including three in Scotland but by the time you read this that will likely have grown. Prime Minister Boris Johnson has outlined the government’s plan to tackle the situation, which could well lead to a second global financial crisis, in addition to a deadly outbreak of the disease.
The four-point plan includes plans to contain, delay, research and mitigate. With plans to quarantine patients, put the army on standby and have the police deal with only the most serious crimes, this seems to be too little too late. The virus is going to spread, and the government is already making plans for around one-fifth of the UK workforce to be off sick.
This virus represents perhaps the most serious risk of globalism. While there may be many benefits of having low regulations on the trade of goods and persons, it makes it far more difficult when a pandemic, such as this, strikes. However, we have seen from the Chinese and American responses to this crisis that decisive action is possible.
When the virus first struck the city of Wuhan, the Chinese government moved quickly to lock it down, placing the city and several others in the province of Hubei under lockdown. This bought us all some time, but Britain and the rest of Europe did not use it wisely. Other western countries have imposed travel restrictions in an effort to stop the virus from entering their territory – for instance, Australia has, since February 1st, denied entry to any foreign nationals arriving or transiting from mainland China. Australian citizens, permanent residents and their families will still be permitted to land, and these measures were extended to Iran on March 1st. The USA has also denied entry to any foreign nationals who have entered China within the last 14 days.
The UK, on the other hand, has spent the last few weeks of precious time debating whether or not to enact these measures on radio phone-in shows. The government has been absent until now and allowed people to travel in and out of the UK without so much as a screening. The UK government should have come out at the end of January and placed an immediate halt to foreign nationals entering the UK, the way many other countries have, they should have ensured that UK nationals who did return from travel to affected areas were immediately placed under quarantine.
On the domestic scene, the government has done little beyond telling people to wash their hands and sing Happy Birthday or, for the more patriotic among us, God Save the Queen. While in Italy, schools have been closed and people have been told to avoid crowded areas with big sporting events cancelled. Again, this may cause disruption to the economy, but the disruption will come anyway. This country has become so dependent on Chinese imports that there will be significant disruption and a potential recession, but the slowdown of the British economy would be a drop in the ocean compared to a crash in China.
Some people will say that we should not panic about this and that is just akin to the common flu. However, the flu only has a mortality rate of around 1%, the World Health Organisation has revised up its mortality rate from 2% to 3.4%. This could be revised even higher as it is early days and not yet known how this disease will progress.
Now is not the time for debate, but for real and decisive action.