Statement by five Devon County Councillors calling for more assertive social distancing measures against the Coronavirus

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Photo Claudio Furlan/Lapresse 10 March 2020 Brescia (Italy) Tents and emergency structures of the Civil Hospitals of Brescia for the coronavirus emergency

We are gravely concerned that the people of Devon are being excessively exposed to the threat of death through the coronavirus, because the Government is failing to introduce the social distancing measures needed to contain the epidemic.

The UK has fewer hospital beds, fewer Intensive Care Unit beds and fewer specialist respiratory beds than other European countries. In Devon we have more than our fair share of the elderly population who will be especially vulnerable to the epidemic.

A Government adviser, Dr David Halpern, has suggested that we can ‘cocoon’ the vulnerable while the epidemic runs through the rest of the population. This is false, because if there is a high level of contagion, the elderly will inevitably catch the virus too, and it is NOT true that the young and fit people are safe. In Italy, people of 20, 30 and 40 are also suffering life-threatening pneumonias, and hospitals are are leaving people over 60 to die because there is not enough specialist equipment (such as ventilators) to save all the victims.

It is estimated that we have four weeks before we are in the extreme situation currently faced in Italy. As Jeremy Hunt, chair of the Health Select Committee and former Health Secretary, has suggested, we should be using this time to introduce radical social distancing measures to protect our population. These have been shown to slow down and contain the epidemic in China and South Korea and they should be used here while we have the chance.

If we can slow down the epidemic even for a few months, we have a better chance of restricting the severe cases to the numbers which the NHS can treat. Meanwhile, medical researchers may identify drugs which can help treat the worst cases, and a vaccine to protect against the virus.

Boris Johnson has said that many more families will lose loved ones. But his policy is unnecessarily condemning many people to die when the NHS becomes unable to cope. We cannot stand by and allow this to happen. Until we can vaccinate against this virus, we need to accept radical restrictions to our lives, in order to save lives. We call on our Devon MPs and Councils to press the Government to immediately change direction.

This statement is issued on behalf of County Councillors:

  • Hilary Ackland (Exeter, Pinhoe and Mincinglake)
  • Marina Asvachin (Exeter, Wonford and St. Loyes)
  • Martin Shaw (Seaton and Colyton)
  • Nick Way (Crediton)
  • Claire Wright (Otter Valley) 

(All members of the Health and Adult Care Scrutiny Committee, but this statement is issued in our personal capacities.)

2 thoughts on “Statement by five Devon County Councillors calling for more assertive social distancing measures against the Coronavirus

    James Semple said:
    March 13, 2020 at 10:20 pm

    Martin, Dr Halpern is making the case for the standard epidemiological solution to a pandemic.

    There is no cure, vaccine or immunity for this virus, so we must fall back on herd immunity. We need to infect the healthiest 60% of the population while isolating the oldies – who are not only more endangered but also have degraded immune systems. When 60% are immune, the virus becomes isolated and much less infectious. The oldies can then be let out of their social distancing camps, and almost everyone will remain safe until a vaccine is developed. This has been shown to work in lots of other cases.

    Of course, there will be some fatalities – that is why they need a politican of unusual courage or personal social isolation to support it – just right for Boris; but the total of fatalities is lower than just hiding everyone from the virus.


      Martin Shaw responded:
      March 14, 2020 at 7:54 am

      Actively encouraging the spread of the disease will cause a tsunami of cases which will flatten the health service, as well as huge-scale death and suffering. The old will not be protected. You’re also assuming that only the old are at severe risk. Not so. In China, although the death rate was higher among the oldest groups, the majority of deaths were of people under the age of 60, with the highest number of 50-59 year olds and a high level among 40-49s. The strategy is a recipe for disaster and it’s good that public pressure is forcing the Government to move on, but too slowly, which will cost many lives.


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