AS I SEE IT: Terry Murden says changes in social and office behaviour should be here to stay
Among the recent bombardment of data and reports that drop daily into the email box was one highlighting the fact that Public Health England has yet to record a single case of flu this year. Of the 685,243 samples that have been reviewed at PHE’s laboratories since the first week of January, not one has tested positive for influenza. I don’t know if this has been replicated in Scotland, though given Nicola Sturgeon’s propensity to be different to the English she would no doubt claim to have come across a few people down her way with a troubling sniffle.
That aside, the PHE data has led experts in disease control to begin thinking about how such a remarkable result has come about, while the political and economics policy makers will be considering what impact it may have on the way we live and work from now on.
The current pandemic, of course, is at the root of this trend, having given rise to an uptake in people getting vaccinated for flu along with changes in social behaviour, notably the wearing of masks, more hand washing, fewer social interactions and a reduction in international travel.
The data is based on just 25 NHS trusts. Data for the other 100-plus hospitals are not included in the weekly surveillance reports. So there are likely to be some cases that have not been included in the report. Nevertheless, the zero figure for those that have been measured does indicate how behavioural changes have impacted on the health of the nation.
Christina Pagel, a professor of operational research at University College London, told The Independent that there has been no flu season anywhere in the world this year. “What I think is really interesting is that people say we live with flu deaths every year and kind of assumed they were unavoidable. Yet clearly they’re not,” she said.
Her assessment of the zero-flu result is that we can keep it that way if we choose to do so. But that will depend on adopting some of the current behavioural shifts on a long-term and even permanent basis.
Her recommendations are pretty well close to those I keep hearing from my other half: making hand sanitiser compulsorily available in all shops and other venues and forcing people to wear masks on public transport and in other confined spaces, including offices.
One other point on which the professor and Mrs M are in agreement is the need to change the notion that even if you’re unwell you should still go to work. That has to stop, particularly as it has been shown that most of the white collar workforce, and others, can work efficiently from home, and even from their bed.
There are other behavioural changes that will help with disease control. If we’re really serious about tackling Covid-19 we can’t expect to just ring a date in the diary and assume that we will wake up that day to find everything is back to how things used to be. Politicians and some elements of the media have to stop misleading the public into thinking it will all be over once the summer sunshine arrives.
‘Vaccine passports would provide comfort to those visiting the pub or a pop concert that they were not being breathed on by a super-spreader who has refused the jab’
There is already excitement growing about the Reading and Leeds music festivals going ahead in August and thousands of people have booked holidays thinking the good times will soon be back. Many are going to be disappointed, and they should be told now that they cannot expect the taxpayer to come to their rescue if they find themselves sleeping on an airport floor.
Anything like normality will come with certain conditions. Not only a continuation of the hygiene routine, but also in the way we attend events. No one knows if the vaccine will be the answer, nor are we properly prepared for the prospect of a generally high rate of fatalities until it proves to be so.
The idea of vaccine passports is a good one, and would provide comfort to those visiting the pub or a pop concert that they were not being breathed on by a super-spreader who has refused the jab.
Let the liberals and other complainers about a restriction on civil liberties go to the back of the queue if they catch Covid-19 as a result of their insistence on a right to mingle without being able to prove they have been inoculated. A vaccine passport, is no more of a restriction on access or movement than a normal passport, a driving licence, a computer password or even a ticket to the Reading and Leeds Festival.
The UK Government, having initially dismissed vaccine passports, is now re-visiting the proposal as a way of reopening the economy and giving a shot in the arm to the tourism, hospitality and leisure sectors.
How would it work? How about stamping our current passports and issuing a certificate to those without one that would provide proof of having had the jab. No more of a problem than being asked for ID in a bar or supermarket to prove you are legally allowed to buy alcohol.
We need to get our freedom back, but not at the expense of denying it to others and that requires all of us to accept limits on what we do.
As the 19th century philosopher John Stuart Mill said: “The only freedom which deserves the name is that of pursuing our own good in our own way, so long as we do not attempt to deprive others of theirs, or impede their efforts to obtain it.”