We’re too selfish to stop coronavirus spreading

We’re too selfish to stop coronavirus spreading, by Clare Foges.

Where is the needle flickering on your coronavirus-o-meter: horizontally relaxed? Mild concern? End-of-days panic?

Last week I was snorting at a Mumsnet user’s list of the essentials she was stockpiling in case of a long period in isolation: “olive oil, hummus, body lotion, Pringles . . .” By the weekend I was eyeing the tinned goods aisle. …

I am reassured by friends’ predictions that this will be another here today, gone tomorrow Sars or swine flu; then I remember they know as much about pandemics as I do about quantum computing.

My central concern about our response to coronavirus is not that the health system will be overstretched, or that researchers will take too long finding a vaccine. It is that we, the general population, are not inclined to follow orders any more. …

Last month Alla Ilyina, a Russian citizen, escaped a coronavirus quarantine in St Petersburg and posted a video about her getaway on Instagram in which she declared: “I have a right to my freedom . . .” Ilyina could not understand why, having tested negative for the virus, she was being forced to stay in isolation for a further two weeks; the opinion of medical professionals that she was still a potential risk to others could not outweigh her desire for liberty.

The case has echoes of the US nurse Kaci Hickox, who worked in Sierra Leone during the ebola outbreak of 2014. Returning home via Newark airport she was found to have a fever, and so was held in quarantine for three days. Hickox complained of “inhumane” treatment (which included internet access and takeaway food) and sued the governor of New Jersey for violating her civil rights. The case was settled in her favour. …

The proliferation of rights and conveniences has made many of us rather self-indulgent creatures. We think we are entitled to travel on planes whatever the dangers; we think we will self-isolate after we’ve run those vital errands; we think the advice to stay home if we’re feeling flu-like symptoms applies to everyone else; we think we should get a second opinion in A&E; we think we know best.

For these reasons the government must quickly open the box of measures which some will call draconian: close schools and other public services if necessary, ban large gatherings such as sporting events, be prepared to quarantine whole towns and cities — as they did in China.

The strategy, both individually and as a nation, should be to avoid the virus until vaccines are available.

I heard repeatedly from government and quasi-government officials on the News last night that closing the borders is “impossible”. No reason given. Bollocks. Expensive? Perhaps, but radically less expensive than the alternative.

Close the borders, Mr Morrison. It’s much cheaper than internal lockdown, internal quarantine, and a quarter of a million deaths within Australia.