Who’s going to survive the coronavirus? The ones who listen to their instincts

It's hard to know what to do for the best, isn't it?

Should we panic, prat about, or pray? Supermarket customers have decided to panic-just-to-be-on-the-safe-side, the Prime Minister appears to have decided pratting about will cost less money, and the Archbishop of Canterbury has told priests to stop touching people. But the church has been saying that for years, and it's not worked so far.


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Two weeks ago, based on information received and general British scepticism, your correspondent felt this was all getting blown out of proportion. Last week it looked like the financial impact would be worse than the mortal one. And yet, I've spent the past 24 hours convincing my septuagenarian parents to ditch the bowls club and thereby swerve an early grave. Whether they'll adopt a 'heard mentality' is as yet unknown, but they're as confused as the rest of us.

Universities are staying open, yet some students are trying to get to an airport and others are staying home. Corporations are announcing office clean-ups, but not the end of hot-desking. The government says you're more likely to catch coronavirus in the pub, so football matches and racing can go ahead, even though both these things generally involve trips to the pub.

And here's Boris Johnson terrorising us with losing loved ones, flanked by experts who are much more reassuring and knowledgeable than he, and they're all being criticised for not doing what other countries are doing, even though those other countries have it worse and it would therefore seem sensible to do it differently.

It's not surprising people are worried, and a little paranoid. What the hell do we do now?


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Despite the fact many pub patrons appear to think themselves health and scientific experts, they're not. Genuine specialist boffins are also thin on the ground, in most hostelries.

So when it comes to sports events – be it bowls or a trip to the 54,000-seater Anfield stadium – it's probably best not to pay too much heed to either your fellow fans, or a chief medical officer who does not appear to have noticed sporting events often begin, and end, with a pint.

You have 3 options:

A) Listen to Boris Johnson, because he has a long record of truth, honesty, and putting the needs of others first

B) Pint, pie, points. Nothing else matters

C) Watch the match at home


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Yet this decision will soon be taken out of your hands. With players and managers testing positive for the bug, fixtures are being cancelled anyway.

And therein is Johnson's problem – there's very little he can do about this. He's concentrating on the long-term, which means protecting the UK from the economic hit of losing some of its 500,000 struggling businesses, a decimation of the tourist industry, and the lost productivity of a 3-month shutdown of every workplace with the exception of hospitals and pharmacies.

He has put protecting the economy ahead of protecting people. You're all going to get it, he's decided, so let's hurry that up and ensure the nation is as well-placed as possible to recover from the shock.

You have 3 options for this, too. Do you:

A) Invest in spam and funeral directors

B) Fret about whether Brexit will be delayed

C) Realise that the top three spots on Boris' to-do list are 'WORLD KING, RA!', 'more totty please', and 're-election in 2024'.


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Occam's razor is the most useful tool here: the simplest answer is always the most likely one. So Johnson may decide to keep sporting events, the £6bn horse-racing industry, schools, universities and airports open, but people are just going to stay away. Events, trips, lessons and holidays will be cancelled by people who are ill or fear getting ill, and the financial shock is in the post already.

Social distancing will happen by itself. It's happening now – a cough makes people move seats, a cold in the family gets colleagues asking if you ought to have come to work, a sneeze makes 10 people wet their knickers.

The authorities want "herd immunity" to protect us against future waves of the bug, but have twisted the phrase and its purpose. It no longer means a vaccinated population protecting its most vulnerable from an outbreak, but a population with rampant infection, killing off its vulnerable members at speed. They're worried about 3 years' hence; this year has been written off already.

When it feels like no-one is looking out for them, people start looking out for themselves. They stockpile, they stay home, they self-isolate for a sniffle.


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And in a fortnight they'll decide this was all very silly indeed, and be back about their business. They'll ignore the advice from experts that NOW is the time to start isolating, and then they'll get infected.

There is one way through this, and it is to listen to your instincts. In 25 years of reporting every kind of story all over the world, there's only one thing that has always kept me safe and always been right: instinct. If it smells bad, it is bad. If the hairs on your neck stand up, get out. If you need to convince yourself this is all normal, it isn't. Watch your back, because no-one else is.

Instinct tells you not to trust Boris. Instinct says, we're not Italy or Iran, stay away from doctors unless it's an emergency, wash your hands and keep them in your pockets on public transport.


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There is no way we'd all stay in lockdown until June, when the infection is expected to peak. We'd get bored, just like we'll get bored of panic-buying. Give those things a few weeks, and you'll have a better time of it.

Coronavirus is more serious than we thought, and not just the death rate but in the way the donkeys we are led by choose to deal with it. Britain is lucky, in that we frown on public displays of affection and actively enjoy shunning others. Usually, you can rely on the Brits to show a bit of common sense.

Not the herd, of course. The herd is mad. But individuals are reasonable. It is individuals at risk, and individuals we know and love who are now dismissed as economic variables on a balance sheet.

Surviving this is up to the individual using its noggin. Wash your hands, watch your back, and trust your instincts.

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