“If you are 60+, or have an underlying health condition like cardiovascular disease, a respiratory condition or diabetes, you have a higher risk of developing severe COVID19. Try to avoid crowded areas, or places where you might interact with people who are sick”  – WHO Director General, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.

In recent days pundit after pundit has taken to social media, to the airwaves via phone ins, or to the letters pages of the papers to claim the public fear of COVID19 is disproportionate, that seasonal influenza kills more people. No, it doesn’t. Every year vaccines against the circulating influenza strains are offered to those at risk of serious complications from ‘flu and the infrastructure to respond to a newly emerging strain with a targeted vaccine is in place. All we have for COVID19 is intensive care, until the available beds run out.

The next claim is that it’s the elderly who are dying, for most people it’s a very mild infection. So that’s all right then? Once one reaches a certain age it is inevitable that we have encountered friends, neighbours and family members who, for a variety of reasons, have become frail, have limited mobility, and a restricted quality of life, in a care home, or kept going by visiting district nurses and care workers. However much we miss their company when they are gone most of us accept that it is their time to go, whatever the final cause of their death. However there are many, many people who are fit, healthy and active but may lose their lives needlessly if they contract this virus. The fit elderly, those with organ transplants, or some autoimmune conditions, or on treatments for cancer, which suppress their immune systems, are just a small sample.

I have yet to see the above advice from the WHO given to UK citizens, I am taking action now to protect my staff and my loved ones who are at risk. Three of my staff are over 60, one of those and one of the younger members have asthma and two of us have husbands closer to 80 years old, with conditions that may elevate their risk even further.

Last night my husband and I went to a village fundraising social event. This will be our last until further notice. Last week we drove, rather than took the train, to visit our daughter; we will not be using public transport again until we judge it safe. We will do our utmost to avoid contact with anyone who does. I am not ‘panic buying’ but did stock up with items I can only readily buy at supermarkets, not our local farm stores, today. If necessary I will switch to home deliveries.

Today I will agree measures with my staff. Many delivery drivers use a pad and stylus, offered to you for your signature. We will wear gloves to handle this item which could have been touched by anyone on the courier’s round, and discard them immediately after use. I also plan to bar entry to anyone who has visited a high risk area (wherever that may be as time goes by – and we are in Surrey), or had contact with someone who has in the previous 21 days. There will be no company travel – we will conduct business by telephone or telecon. We will no longer shake hands or have physical contact with our visitors. All this in addition to the existing recommendations about hand washing.

Earlier today, I passed these proposals by an expert in risk analysis, she gave her approval. Neither of us have full confidence in the government. At least, as microbiologists, my staff and I are familiar with measures to control contamination. I regularly lecture scientists who work with cell cultures, on how they can prevent them becoming cross contaminated with the group of microorganisms that we work with. The Daily Telegraph, on Saturday 29th February contained advice on how to ‘self -quarantine’ for those who may have been exposed. As I read it, I recognised the essential advice I give my own clients for handling incoming cell lines of unknown status. Lecture after lecture I have stood there stressing that if you have a new cell line coming into your facility it must be quarantined and handled separately until you know that it is not contaminated. 

Is it so hard for Public Health England, our Health Secretary and our Government to take the same stance with people? If it had been applied more thoroughly, sooner, we might not be on the verge of an epidemic in this country. 


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