Sir Peter Ustinov said, "If the world should blow itself up, the last audible voice would be that of an expert, saying, it can't be done!" Those of us whose expertise is based in areas other than science or medicine can lack detailed knowledge. But we can do research. We can use judgement. We can see that it is common sense to take the measures early that countries in the areas most effected have, with Covid 19. Harriet Beecher Stowe said, "Common sense is the knack of seeing things as they are and doing things as they should be done." I see from the many epidemics and this Covid 19, already, that it is by what is referred to as, social distancing, this is dealt with best. And it is best dealt with sooner. It isn't being done. It need not take an expert to tell us this, but in many countries it is what has been said and done. But not in all. This piece is a plea to act and perform a service in doing so.
The expert has gone from being demonised, to lionised, almost, but not quite, overnight. In the UK and US, and throughout the world, the supposed elite, is bracketed with the supposed expert. I say, supposed, because to suppose, is to question, to do this, at this time, is, in my own opinion, an essential requirement of the exercise of freedom of thought, free thinking a prerequisite of individual opinion, let alone, expert opinion.
So the UK government that only a few months ago, said we are all tired of experts, now, listens to expert advice, and refers to it, as if it, the government, in its deference to it, the expert advice, is reassured to the point of us finding it, the government, reassuring. Similarly, Trump, the amateur as professional, the opinionated as expert, the promoter of himself as a purveyor of an expert opinion, has deferred to his Vice President Mike Pence, now in charge of the effort to combat the Corona virus. And Pence says, after much fuss over the amateurishness of the statements of Trump, he, Pence and his new team, shall, listen to the experts.What a relief, coming even as it did, after his government significantly has cut relief to projects in countries developing efforts with regard to viral crises, and to the organisation, the Centre for Disease Control, in the US. Vital work that has been funded increasingly by George w. Bush and Barack Obama, has been cut back, as a result of the Trump administration. We can imagine he did not listen to experts as he cut funds!
Covid19, the new and widespread virus, needs experts, and has them. But as it is a new virus, and as it is emerging in a way none of us is used to, in many countries, it, like all information oriented situations, needs questions asked, and opinions given, by amateurs and professionals alike. To presume that the enthusiasm of the amateur, is automatically the foolishness of the amateurish, is to abdicate responsibility. There is a wonderful old Jewish saying, have two Jewish debaters in a room, and you get three opinions! We could do with some of that humourous wisdom now, in a situation with precious little of it. But, I always remember this, Lionel Bart was a great British writer of musicals, who gave us timeless songs. Leonard Bernstein was a great American writer of musicals, who gave us timeless songs. Expertise in every note, yes, indeed, but Bart couldn't read a note of music, or properly play any kind of instrument, the results, at least in his songs, equal to Bernstein, a brilliant and yes, expert, musician. All right, musicology is hardly epidemiology, I know, but you get the point?!
Being British, with regard to Covid 19, during this crisis, the instinct is to remember the old Second World War phrase, often featured during the war, on posters, now, on bags, Keep Calm and Carry On. But also being British, the instinct is to remember the Carry On films, much loved comedy films, again, hardly a time for satire, but...?
Being of half Italian origin, though, my instinct is to find the whole thing if not quite tragi-comic, certainly, very dramatic! Not least the awful scenario, Italy is facing, and trying, so admirably, now, to deal with. But I am more than concerned. I am confused. The experts, however great their expertise, have not though, made me, and very many, concerned, and confused, quite convinced. We are, I believe, experiencing, an unnecessary calm, before, an unnecessay storm. A little less calm acceptance of the situation, might, perhaps, in the amateur opinion of this author of it, lead to a less violent storm.
We are being made to think that because the virus is inevitably going to spread, we do not need to do what many of us would presume it wise to do, to stop its spread. We are told to keep calm and wash our hands often and with anti bacterial gels. But we are told to carry on shaking hands! We are told that the virus is virulent in Italy, but we can travel to Italy! We are told that if, it spreads around the world, it is going to spread throughout each individual country, but we are not yet completely temporarily banning travel, or stopping flights, from or to, virus hubs! We are told to self isolate, with symptoms, but told to do so, even with a family in the home, and even if having contracted the virus! We are told a lot, but there are it seems, a lot of people, understandably, confused!
I am a vegetarian, have been for twenty years. I have no pets. I am not, in this, as with my politics and views in general, one for pushing my views onto other people. The hot headedness of evangelical fervour, does little or nothing to do us a favour! But I am angry bordering on resentful, that most of the communicable diseases, avian flu, swine flu, Covid19, included, according to the experts, almost certainly originated due to the mingling of humans with animals, the both, in unsanitary conditions. The so called, wet markets, like the treatment of animals such as the dog, in parts of China, is a disgrace, and dehumanising as a result, to a terrifying potential degree to the human being, indeed, as well as the animal! I can respect choices made by consumers where minimum harm is done and high standards maintained. I have nothing but contempt for cruelty.
Why have these markets and practices not been the subject of a world wide debate and a world enforced ban?! Why is the WTO not of the same level of social responsibility as the WHO?! Why is the WHO toothless or, due to politics, powerless to act, or reluctant to, initially too often?! Why have they even as yet, not declared the Covid 19 virus, a pandemic, as it is in over forty countries?! Why have the climate scientists, who, no pun intended, have indeed convinced us that climate change is a world wide disaster, not convinced more than a two or three per cent that meat consumption as practiced, is a part of that disaster. So too, and importantly, the relationship between humans and the planet is, revealed as that between humans and animals, so out of balance, as to be a disaster waiting to happen, no, actually happening?!
I defer to the experts, but I am not deferential. Dr. Tedros, Director of the World Health Organisation, is a good and decent man and a knowledgable and valued expert. His work, as Minister in government, in Ethiopia, and on HIV Aids, malaria, and health issues widely, is often, though not without its critics, excellent. But neither expertise, or excellence, stopped him inviting Robert Mugabe to be a Goodwill Ambassador for health a few years ago, something, then, I roundly criticised on this very site in an article then! He was only stopped thankfully, after the outcry, by many, and thus, withdrew the honour. Perhaps now, he could upgrade the status of Covid19 to that of the pandemic it so clearly is?!
Governments, and the governed, experts and their expertise, must work towards us coming together, and must not allow anything to come before or ahead of that approach. But unity of purpose in my view, is not, unanimity of point of view. Even the experts never all agree with one another.
The most vulnerable should get some immediate help. Democratic and non democratic governments in economically advanced countries must put individual people ahead of economic interests. And in so doing, put the community interest ahead, as the national, and indeed, now, with the spread of the virus, international interest. Entreaties to the powerful, to the plight of the poorest and any without a regular enough income, or in precarious areas of work, must come first. Now is the time for the UBI, the universal basic income. But it feels as though we are not moving to a universal consciousness that is one that puts people, ideas, and well being first in any imaginative ways. We must have and thus need, universality of action, not paucity of ambition. In this situation, despite this crisis in fact coming after others, we are merely being asked to be part of a collective effort, to be told to be cleaner only! Talk of merely handwashing, could lead to much hand-wringing!
Different countries, probably advised by various experts of varying opinions, are taking different action. Measures called draconian, in China, were only this, because their government is, in many ways , that. The measures were sensible and are working. Italy is following in this way too. I support the need for stronger action. Why should we all wait to do, what other countries began to do as the numbers of those with this virus, was at similar levels, as that in countries where little or no social distancing, or much less direct action, is happening?! I do not have anything but respect for, and appreciation of, the many professionals whose efforts are considerable. But politicians are not experts even if able, and experts do not speak with one voice and nor could they. In many of our areas, much, needs to be done now, surely?!
Flights should be stopped wherever possible and not essential. Holidays should be had at home and unless very urgently for important matters involved, people should stop flying until this is dealt with, airlines should be compensated if the insurance does not cover it. Money should get to those who have underlying conditions, to pay for carers to visit and attend them, stopping them feeling unsure, and isolated. Similarly the very elderly and alone. The unemployed ahould not be expected to travel to pointless appointments at job centres. The public sector should pay those who can to stay home, and employees who can, to now work from home.The private sector should do so too. Governments should compensate employers, and assist those self employed, if needs be, if it gets to the need for asking all, to stay home, as much as necessary, or at least travel, as little.
Small guest houses near to major hospitals, should be utilised by governments in each large region, staff in them, and owners, paid well and paid temporally, new staff seconded to them. These, too, experts, yes, in tending to patients, who have the virus, but who do not need intensive care, but do need self isolation. Better to be in a hotel room with an en suite, meals delivered to the door of the room, than to be unable to tend to needs, alone at home if single, or infecting other people at home with a family!
Large public gatherings should cease and especially those such as the Olympic Games, due in Japan this year, badly effected already, should be postponed now. Anybody can ensure that such events are stopped sooner rather than later, by not going to them if they are not yet cancelled.
We must do things gradually, of course calmly, always, carrying on. But that does not mean we must be calmly carrying on being, what can seem, complacent. There is adventurous thinking, to be encouraged, by the real good will, to be experienced. A crisis needs us all to play a part, with all hands on deck as well as under the tap!That means, governments, individuals, communities, experts. Self isolation, in a crisis, need not become selfishness or lead to being isolated, in the future. Even if we need to be less sociable, as individuals, now, we can become more social, as societies, again. This is about taking personal, and sharing public, responsibility. A balance of individuality and society, for the good of humanity.
I shall not eat meat again. I shall not take a flight for a long while. I shall not in a hurry be going to large public events. I shall not shake hands while there is a virus raging. I want expertise, to go viral, not viruses. And when the former, is the new norm, and the latter, is not the current concern, I shall shake hands on it!
Author : LORENZO CHERIN