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COVID19/Coronavirus: How it Happened and the Death of the Precautionary Principle

Summary:
When we go out with our young children we keep them close so that they do not get run down by traffic or lost.  When teachers plan a lesson they avoid sharp objects.  When caring employers plan a job they avoid risks.  There is no certainty that your children will be run down or Johnny will poke out Wendy's eye or the bare cables will fry Jim but we take precautions so that these things cannot happen.  We enact the Precautionary Principle.Coronavirus is related to MERS and SARS, two of the most lethal viral infections known to humanity.  What Precautionary Principles would apply to such a disease?The Precautionary Principle would dictate that when the epidemic began anyone arriving from China would be subject to a policed quarantine.  Suppose the epidemic were spreading in the UK.  The

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When we go out with our young children we keep them close so that they do not get run down by traffic or lost.  When teachers plan a lesson they avoid sharp objects.  When caring employers plan a job they avoid risks.  There is no certainty that your children will be run down or Johnny will poke out Wendy's eye or the bare cables will fry Jim but we take precautions so that these things cannot happen.  We enact the Precautionary Principle.

Coronavirus is related to MERS and SARS, two of the most lethal viral infections known to humanity.  What Precautionary Principles would apply to such a disease?

The Precautionary Principle would dictate that when the epidemic began anyone arriving from China would be subject to a policed quarantine.  Suppose the epidemic were spreading in the UK.  The Precautionary Principle would dictate policed quarantine for all arrivals from abroad, compulsory quarantine and contact tracing for all of the infected, a three week full, policed lockdown with compulsory wearing of facemasks in all public places and a Health Department broadcast for ten minutes every evening on all channels detailing the measures needed.   If the lockdown were eased test and trace would be used with all other measures left in place.

What happens if you do not apply the Precautionary Principle?  We can see what happens by following the course of the COVID19 pandemic.  Lets take each item in turn.

We allowed all PPE purchasing to use a handful of suppliers from abroad and hence terminated our own PPE industry.  The precautionary Principle would have been to maintain a strategic PPE industry in the UK.

We allowed the Media to turn the daily information broadcasts into a political Punch and Judy show.  The Media are utterly irresponsible and would, at least at the beginning, consider that it is "fair" and "unbiased" to set the idea of the epidemic being no worse than seasonal flu on the same footing as the epidemic being lethal.  The Precautionary Principle would be, in this National Emergency, to keep the Media's opinions out of the news and impose a Health Department broadcast for ten minutes every evening on all channels detailing the measures needed.  In the past this would have been obvious.

We did not impose quarantine for new arrivals.  In the UK, and other countries, the Travel and Hospitality industry clearly put the Government under pressure to allow free entry for international arrivals even when the population was being forced to lockdown.  Prior to lockdown the over 8 million arrivals brought with them at least 20,000 infected people who almost certainly infected 50,000 more.  By not applying the Precautionary Principle the UK guaranteed an epidemic that was one of the worst in the Western World.

We did not impose a lockdown until the epidemic was well under way.  This guaranteed we would have a very large epidemic, especially given the priming due to International Arrivals. The lockdown should have been for three weeks with a complete ban on anyone leaving the home more than once a week.   The Precautionary Principle would assume that anyone breaking lockdown would spread the infection.

Those running care homes, hospitals, army bases, boarding schools etc. should have been held responsible for applying appropriate measures to prevent spread among their charges such as isolating new or returning entrants.  The Precautionary Principle would be to impress on those with responsibility for the health of others that they are accountable.

We allowed the message to spread that face masks were unnecessary.  COVID19 was known from the outset to be a droplet borne infection.  It is now known to be an aerosol borne infection with a 12 hour persistence in the air and the same sort of range as the smoke from a cigarette.  Face masks are indeed essential.  But we knew from the outset that it was droplet borne so the Precautionary Principle dictated face masks in public, not just in shops, and the regular disinfection of enclosed public spaces.

Releasing lockdown was necessary because we work to survive.  We started to release lockdown when there were about as many cases as when lockdown was imposed.  According to the Precautionary Principle lockdown should have been increased to ensure that there were very few new cases before it was released. This would have only involved a further week of intense lockdown.

The current clamour to resume International Travel is absurd.  It was International Arrivals who killed so many of us. 

We know from other viral infections such as flu and the other coronaviruses that they can cause continued debilitation after the infected person "recovers".  Post COVID Syndrome is now known to occur, even in fit young people who have "thrown off" the infection. Almost 90% of those with severe infections have continuing breathlessness and fatigue. "This is not a virus to take lightly, even with young people,” said Dr. Fauci.  The Precautionary Principle means that the Media and Government should be making this more public.

Had we adopted the Precautionary Principle the epidemic would have lasted a month.  The country would have been virtually free of COVID19.  We would still have needed to wear facemasks in public and obey social distancing.  International travel would have, even now, have been subject to quarantine.  The economy, apart from the travel industry, would have recovered greatly by May. 

29/7/2020

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