Dr Peter Moore: Covid-19 risk must be balanced by risk if we allow businesses to collapse

A hospital Spanish flu ward

A hospital Spanish flu ward - Credit: rawpixel.com

On September 30, 1918, 200,000 people celebrated in Philadelphia with a ticker tape parade. They were raising money for government bonds to pay for the troops in World War One. But there was also a worldwide flu pandemic.

Within 72 hours emergency hospitals had to be opened and there was an urgent appeal for volunteers to act as nurses. Within four weeks, 12,000 people died rising to 16,000 in six months.

Philadelphia was not in 'lockdown' before the parade and the medical officer of health had given the parade the go-ahead.

With the lockdown easing on Saturday, are we seeing the end of Covid 19 or are the crowded beaches the 21st century version of the Philadelphia ticker tape parade?

One of the problems with the 1918 outbreak was the secrecy. As we were at war, the full extent of the outbreak was kept quiet.

They did not have the daily televised press conferences. It would not be possible to close the ammunition factories.

As Spain was neutral, they published their figures and so it appeared that they had a far more serious outbreak.

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It then became wrongly labelled Spanish flu.

We cannot be sure of the exact worldwide death rate from 'Spanish' flu but it is possible that the first epidemic in March 1918 killed up to five million people. The second wave may have killed as many as fifty million.

So, as we open up our pubs, restaurants, hairdressers and cinemas are we repeating the mistakes of 1918 or is this a sensible, safe move?

There are some major differences.

The second wave of influenza in 1918 was different and far more deadly. So far, Covid 19 has not mutated to a more virulent strain.

We also understand far more about viruses and spread than was known in 1918. And coronavirus is not flu. It behaves differently.

Unlike Spanish flu, for any healthy person under 50 the risk of Covid 19 is very low.

In a normal year someone under 50 in good health is more likely to have been killed in an accident over the past three months than to die of Covid-19 this year.

The risk increases with age. Will the younger people on the beach or even attending raves take the virus home to their parents or grandparents?

But keeping all the restrictions also carries a serious risk.

If the Torbay tourism industry stays shut throughout the summer, some pubs, restaurants and other attractions may never open again.

We have already lost Living Coasts. We could even loose our zoo.

As well as directly leading to poverty, unemployment itself leads to poor mental and physical health with increased prescriptions for medication and a reduced life expectancy.

Unemployment can lead to long-term illnesses including heart disease, mental health problems and even suicide.

In other words, unemployment is bad for you.

As we open up, we have seen the lid come off the pressure cooker; some people get drunk, fight and generally cause problems after months of being trapped at home. Again this has a history.

After the Black Death in the 14th century came the peasants' revolt. Admittedly it was 30 years later but people rioted, burnt down the Savoy Palace in London, broke into the Tower of London and killed the Archbishop of Canterbury.

And they weren't even celebrating Liverpool winning the Premiere League. Even the worst behaviour at Exmouth does not come near the peasants' revolt.

All the evidence is that the risk from Covid-19 is low and must be balanced by the risk to the health of the population if we keep everything shut and allow businesses to collapse.

By continuing social distancing, close monitoring and isolating any cases and their contacts, we can reduce the risk even further.

So let's enjoy the summer, enjoy the Bay, enjoy the sunshine and hopefully we'll get through the summer with our businesses intact.