How should the UK respond to the coronavirus outbreak?

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Coronaviruses are a group of viruses found in humans and animals. The new “novel” coronavirus has never been identified in humans before and thus, unknown to medicine. The first confirmed case of the virus was on 31 December 2019 in the Wuhan province of China. As of 4th February, the death toll stands at 425, with over 20,000 cases confirmed worldwide.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has declared the virus a public health emergency of international concern.

So, how has the UK and the rest of the world responded to the outbreak?

So far, two British citizens have tested positive for the virus in the UK. Additionally, Chief Medical Officers have raised the threat posed by it from low to moderate to UK citizens. The government have told any British nationals who have been to mainland China in the past 14 days and experience any of the listed symptoms to isolate themselves, stay indoors and contact the NHS immediately.

The British government have advised citizens against any travel to the Wuhan and Hubei regions of China, and have advised against “all but essential” travel to mainland China. A number of British nationals have been flown back to the UK. The Foreign Office has advised British people in the region to contact the consulate immediately to make arrangements to return to the UK if they wish to leave.

Additionally, a number of airlines, including British Airways and Virgin Atlantic have suspended all flights to and from mainland China.

The US has 11 confirmed cases of coronavirus so far. The government has issued a Level 4 travel advisory. This means all nationals have been told not to travel anywhere in China. Furthermore, the US is denying entry to any Chinese nationals flying from China through other airports. Any US citizens who have been in China in the past 14 days require a mandatory quarantine period of 14 days.

Little is known about the coronavirus and at the rate it is spreading, worldwide concerns continue to grow. This week, the editors will be debating the best course of action the UK and all countries should take to control the virus and respond to future outbreaks.

Written by Correspondent, Emer Kelly

Action required immediately – Conservative Article

Admittedly science has never been a strong subject of mine. However, what I lack in scientific insight, I hope to deliver in political opinion. The UK government has a responsibility and duty to firstly protect UK citizens. They must act immediately to contain the coronavirus by any means possible.

I suggest a travel ban to and from China whilst an antidote is created. This is the only way to stop the epidemic from spreading at an uncontrollable rate. A ban is essential now. Saturday brings about the start of a nation-wide week-long holiday to celebrate the new year. If this disease is as lethal as it has been reported, then the UK government must apply pressure on China to stop unessential travel before it is too late.

Warnings are not good enough, there must be strict rules for allowing travel to China. It is the UK and other governments’ responsibility and duty to do their utmost to contain this. Don’t just warn people, stop them.

There is a big assumption surrounding the coronavirus though; that it is as serious as reported. It appears as if this virus is a real threat, and this article treats it as such. Having said that, I do not know any more than you about the epidemic’s true potential.

Unlike Ebola and other recent global epidemics, it has been confirmed that the coronavirus has reached the UK. This calls for the government to take serious action to prevent the virus from growing domestically. Therefore, I favour having plans in place to construct a temporary hospital to deal with this if needed.

Hundreds of UK citizens from Wuhan are being brought back to be quarantined, some of whom might be infected. We should have somewhere safe to treat these people if they do carry the coronavirus.

So far my ideas surround the containment of this virus, but we must find a cure above anything. Without a doubt, the government should provide financial support to assist with any research. This support should continue past this epidemic so there can be research into strands of the virus that could lead to future mutations.

Most people experience mild coronavirus as strands are within the common cold. However, this is not the first time it has turned into a global epidemic.

I acknowledge the difficulties in doing this, but nevertheless, I believe there needs to be a shift in focus going forward into the developments of the common cold.

Further to this, if possible these outbreaks must be stopped at the source. Therefore, if there is proof that the cause was due to illegal products at a market in Wuhan, the Chinese government should be held responsible and punished by the UK government.

Written by Conservative Editor, Fletcher Kipps

Point of Information

Reactionary responses only risk making things worse – a Labour response

It’s essential to take the question of the novel coronavirus seriously, as I’m glad to see the above article do. I wholeheartedly agree with the generic calls for more medical spending, for clear and concise information. And moreover, for international pressure on the Chinese to better regulate the root causes of these outbreaks.

However, drilling down into the specific policies suggested leaves me less convinced. In exceptional circumstances like these, I don’t oppose controls on immigration – so long as they are medically justified.

So whilst the Conservatives might be good at promising simplified solutions like headlines for new hospitals, their actual track record on managing public health is disgraceful. Perhaps instead of fantasising about white elephant infrastructure projects, we could take the (long overdue) steps necessary to support our existing NHS?

Our health professionals do fantastic work despite being starved of the resources they so desperately need. As issues like this remind us, we’re incredibly lucky to have such a world-class health service. But it’s one that we’re in danger of losing. That thought should weigh heavy on all our minds.

Written by Labour Editor, Evan Saunders

To stop the flood, a barrier is needed – a Liberal response

Although Mr Kipps’ ideas are quite realist in their focus on national interests, I do believe he is on the right track. Our people should be prioritised over the rest of the world. We cannot allow this disease to infiltrate our nation. Although it is confirmed that there have been a few cases within our borders, I believe our public healthcare system has the capacity to fight it.

Mr Kipps correctly identifies the measures that need to be taken to stop a national crisis. A travel ban, although aggressive, is the most simple method to reduce the risks. We cannot allow travel to and from Wuhan, the source of the virus, which has infected approximately 20’000 people in China and taken over 400 lives. How can the government put the lives of our people at such a risk?

However, it is difficult to stop it spreading due to our interconnected society. It would require a lot of funding and time to stop a national outbreak as people travel across the world every day all day. But, as Mr Kipps points out, a travel ban is a good place to start.

I believe in international cooperation, a vision that Mr Kipps does not share. Mr Kipps believes that by the UK punishing China, it will bring about change. Unfortunately it will not; Don’t poke the sleeping bear. I believe it would be very unwise to underestimate China’s power and influence. Provoking them may cause repercussions for the UK and other nations. Through international organisations, such as the WHO, we can combine experts from around the world to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, and future diseases.

Written by Liberal Editor, Charlie Papamichael

Transparency and trust are needed now more than ever – Labour Article

The new strain of coronavirus is currently causing a public health outcry, initially in China and now across numerous countries. It is unquestionably an issue of great severity. News that the first cases have been diagnosed in Britain with the recent repatriation of 83 UK nationals to a Wirral hospital brings this concern into even sharper focus. 

International medical practices established to deal with issues of this nature has come a long way. Especially since the similar 2003 SARS outbreak also originating in China. The rapid and unprecedented quarantine of Wuhan, which has been followed by further lockdowns affecting approximately 46 million people, attests to this. 

So whilst China has been broadly commended for its rapid and extensive measures to contain the spread, how justified are our actions closer to home? 

It might be easy to glaze over on the miasmic technicalities of medical policy steering our response to the issue. I’m no expert on these questions and, as Thursday’s Question Time highlighted, neither is the general public. But it’s exactly this that means the Conservative government ensure two things in our continued efforts to combat the crisis. 

The first is to do what the Tories so often loathe to, and ensure experienced voices from the sector do play a central role. Their usual attempts at doing their policy homework at the last minute (or just copying off someone else in the class) won’t cut it. Especially when the issue is this serious. Medical professionals, not ministers, need to be the leading voices on this question.

The second and equally critical pillar in our response is to establish the transparency of the policy process. Despite the aforementioned commendation for the Chinese, questions are rightly being asked about a suspected governmental cover-up throughout the outbreak of the disease. This is unacceptable. We should pressure the Chinese to fully explain this and ensure it does not happen again. 

Although obviously not comparable in severity, the current British government is still worryingly similar in style. The opaque nature of Health Secretary Matt Hancock’s approach prevents adequate scrutiny from medical professionals, third-sector organisations and civil society.

These concerns were rightly levelled against Hancock by former HS Stephen Dorrell. Sharing virus management advice through a personal Twitter account does not constitute a comprehensive public information campaign. To address this, steps should be taken.

Crises such as these demonstrate how in our contemporary global society, interwoven and imbricated like never before, international cooperation is more essential than ever. No one thinks global structures like the World Health Organisation are perfect. But the populist rhetoric Boris Johnson seems all too happy to accommodate is corrosive to the coordination necessary to combat these questions. When people’s health is on the line, there’s no room for more BoJo and Co. bluster.

Written by Labour Editor, Evan Saunders

Point of Information

An unacceptable attempt at political point scoring – A Conservative response

From reading this, I am disheartened to see Mr Saunders use this article as a political point-scoring opportunity. Mr Johnson has done nothing corrosive, as eluded to, in the situation we find ourselves in. The Prime Minister has said that the government is doing everything it can. I find it difficult to believe that Mr Saunders has any proof that this is not the case.

The government has invested £20million into producing a vaccine for the coronavirus. Hopefully, this will lead to a vaccine in an “unprecedented timescale”. I hardly think this is a Conservative government blustering.

I agree that professionals, not ministers are the way forward and reject the idea that the government isn’t taking their advice. Using anti-Brexit related articles to back up his argument to implicate the Conservative party as one that disregards professionals when it comes to health epidemics is outrageous. This is simply not true.

There is also only so much the government can do in containing this without the public support. Only a tenth of people that have entered from Wuhan recently have been located. To stop the spread within the UK these people must come forward and be quarantined.

On a more positive note, I do share Mr Saunders worry regarding the Chinese government. Any role that they have had in the spread or the start of the outbreak should be questioned, and their officials held to account.

Written by Conservative Editor, Fletcher Kipps.

Clear vision creates clear solutions – a Liberal response

Whilst reading Mr Saunders’ article, I am conflicted. Although I do agree with his ideas of implementing professionals over ministers, it does not seem like enough. We as a nation need to tackle the problem with a strong fist. Mr Saunders’ ideas are beneficial for prevention in the future, but will not subdue the current panic.

In a time of a crisis, definitive action is crucial. Although China may be covering up the true story of the outbreak, we should not rely on others. As a nation, we need to fight the disease within our borders and at the source. Although it is unlikely that Xi Jinping would welcome our help, it is essential to be ready if the worst comes to the worst.

Transparency is a concept that I believe is vital for the future. Mr Saunders correctly identifies that transparency would prevent similar future epidemics, and should be extended across the globe. The UK has significant power within world politics and could influence cooperation amongst nations.

Written by Liberal Editor, Charlie Papamichael

Containing the source is the key to success – Liberal Article

With the outbreak of the novel coronavirus, the world is slipping into a free fall of panic. The outbreak has recently spread to the UK with two cases in the north of England. This pandemic has allowed me to reflect on the duty of care that the government has. We pay our taxes to pay for a good public healthcare system, and that is what we expect.

The main priority for the government should be to pump funding into the NHS, in particular, the development of vaccinations. The best way to fight a disease is to beat it at the source.

The government needs to fund NHS research, as well as subsidise pharmaceutical companies developing medicine. With the correct vaccinations and medicine, we can stop the spread of disease as well as patent the products.

Given the current political scene and Brexit, having the upper hand in medical research gives us leverage in negotiations. The planned spending on healthcare in 2019/2020 is approximately £132 billion. However, only £7 billion is spent on building and equipment. We need to increase total funding, as well as balance it correctly.

As Boris negotiates deals in the future, I expect that the freed-up EU spending will be used wisely. Although the short term cost will be high, increased research will benefit in the long term. Potentially saving money and lives.

A short term solution involves immigration. Although I value the free movement of people and goods, we cannot allow deadly diseases to reach our borders. A potential option is to ban travel to and from largely infected cities. Although this is an oppressive tactic, we cannot risk British lives. I don’t mean another great wall of China, but increased immigration officers and searches from affected countries can prevent an epidemic. We may see a small hit on tourism from specific countries, but money comes and goes, life doesn’t.

The safety of the British public should be the number one priority. The hardest part is the people who have travelled from infected areas via somewhere else. In times of crises, we will need to have further background checks on all passengers.

Despite our nation being our main focus, we can still help countries around the world. Organisations such as the WHO can be supported through research and funding. Like a war, we can fight diseases on the front line, hopefully with minimal casualties. However, this would not be ‘World War Free’. To fund global organisations would require significant amounts of money. A decision would be required; does preventing epidemics benefit national interests?

In my opinion, there is no other option. If we truly want to eradicate the world of deadly viruses and infections, we must tackle the main issue. A beast is best killed by chopping off its head.

Written by Liberal Editor, Charlie Papamichael

Point of Information

Investment may be key, but only if we can afford it – a Conservative response

I find very little to disagree with in Mr Papamicheal’s article. The protection of our country is of the highest importance and immigration is the best place to start. In terms of more investment into the NHS, I am all for it. If the country can afford it.

The government has pledged to increase funding by an average of 3.4% a year for the next five years. This is the highest since the financial crash. Unfortunately, the Conservative government since 2010 were forced to implement policies of austerity. As we see an end to this I hope more financial support will be given to the NHS.

Although I am for the UK leading the way in this front, extra efforts must be taken globally, not just by the UK. We currently have one of the best free health systems in the world. Others must strive for this to decrease the likelihood of future epidemics.

Written by Conservative Editor, Fletcher Kipps.

Investment, immigration and international cooperation; there’s a lot to like here – a Labour response

Once again I find a lot to like about about the Liberal response to this discussion. (I’m trying to not make a habit of it, I promise). Well-founded arguments for extensive increases in NHS funding. A cautious and measured response to the question of immigration control. Renewed focus on international cooperation in light of the enormous benefits it brings. All of these points ring true with my own thoughts on the issue.

I’ll admit it’s hard to read an argument about the need to fund the NHS from the perspective of a party complicit in the coalition government’s savage cuts. But having recognised the damage that underfunding has done, let’s agree to move forward together by treating the question of health with the respect it deserves.

Written by Labour Editor, Evan Saunders

2 COMMENTS

  1. The figures need to be taken in context with other virus infections and other causes of death. The common “Flu” has killed 8,000 people so far this season in the USA. In 2018 it killed 61,000 in the year. For a population of around 350 million that is significant. If you scale up to China’s 1 billion people then we would have to be pushing almost a quarter million deaths for CoronaVirus to exceed the common flu. And worth looking at how many deaths are caused by the cold season in the UK – all avoidable. Let’s not even go into deaths caused by austerity. Yes, this virus is a worry. But let’s not use it as a political tool otherwise we may find its effects causing a backlash on economies

    • Hi Ted, it’s Evan (the Labour Editor). Fully agree with what you have to say about contextualising the virus in regards to other ongoing health risks, both those driven by viral infections and more widely those that occur as a result of socioeconomic factors (austerity in the UK being a fantastic example). This article (https://www.statnews.com/2020/02/04/two-scenarios-if-new-coronavirus-isnt-contained/) is really great for outlining possible scenarios for NCov and it’s exactly this more measured approach at a proportional response that underpinned my arguments above.

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