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Thu 22 October 2020
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Dr John Ashton explains how we can all help save lives and cement social cohesion in his first column as Byline Times‘ Chief Medical Officer.

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Dr John Ashton is a leading international authority on public health, with more than 40 years of experience of putting theory into practice at local and global levels. His intervention on behalf of the victims of the Hillsborough Disaster has been acknowledged as being instrumental in allowing their voice to be heard; his pioneering work with syringe exchange on Merseyside has been copied around the world and saved countless lives, and he was one of the founders of the World Health Organisation’s Healthy Cities Project.

He is a member of the Crown Prince of Bahrain’s Corona Task Force and has been highly vocal and critical of the the UK Government’s approach to the Coronavirus. His interventions over the past few weeks have helped to force a u-turn. Dr Ashton will be providing regular public health updates as Byline Times’ Chief Medical Officer.


Fellow citizens and fellow professionals, we are living through a global public health emergency unprecedented since the so-called Spanish Flu of 1918/19, which killed more than 50 million people worldwide. This is no time for talk, but for action. Each of us must play our part to minimise the harm, the deaths and distress. We must keep cool heads and warm hearts.

You will have seen the television pictures from Italy, where the health services have been overwhelmed and thousands of people have died. Hard as this may be to believe, it is likely that the UK will be in a similar position within the next few weeks. Only by pulling together can we avoid the worst case situation.

There have been many failures and incorrect decisions, but now is not the time to dwell on them or for recrimination. We must all now buckle down and play our part.

Remember – always – that this is a highly contagious virus that is especially harsh on older people, but that younger people may also be at particular risk especially if they have long-term conditions associated with heart disease, diabetes or respiratory conditions.


First: Reduce Social Mixing

Reduce social mixing to the absolute minimum – whilst ensuring full social mobilisation to keep the country moving – to prevent further spread of the Coronavirus and to care for the sick and dying. We must ensure full bio-security in our homes or wherever we are.

This means that we must adhere strictly to the Government requirements about gathering in groups and not let selfishness prevent us.

We must only move outside the home if it is absolutely essential. These people who are currently moving from a high virus area to elsewhere must isolate themselves for 14 days on arrival.

We must avoid younger people mixing with the over-70s. It may be necessary for younger people from households with elderly relatives to be out-posted to other households with other younger people for the duration of the crisis. It is necessary for us to review our household arrangements so that, if necessary, it is possible to isolate individuals in a bio-secure part of the house or flat.

It is essential to maintain absolute bio-security in the house remembering that the virus may live for 72 hours on work or other surfaces. As we move to home-working, home isolation and social distancing, the home will become the most important place for the spread of infection.

If it is safe to do so, we should get fresh air and find a safe way to exercise. It is wise to aim for at least seven hours sleep, to eat healthily, stop smoking or vaping and adopt relaxation techniques such as mindfulness meditation.


Second: Support Each Other

Each of us must play our part as much as possible by supporting each other including through phone calls, messaging and other non-contact communications whilst being careful not to overload the telecommunications system.

Younger, fit people should identify their skills to the local community group or organisations in order to offer their services and fully engage. Others may be able to play their part by offering support remotely.

Dr John Ashton

We should not panic buy. Rationing to ensure fairness is probably just around the corner.

We must, each of us, be prepared for what is happening next by listening to the media, talking it through together and planning ahead. Now is the time for cool heads and planning, not panic.


Third: Discover the Strengths that Bind Us

Each of us must look after ourselves and each other – gathering our loved ones, family and friends close, spiritually and emotionally if not physically. We must look out for the vulnerable, the alone and the strangers who are lost.

If your family or other groups are in lockdown isolation together, now is the time to rediscover the strengths that bind us. Family meals and board games round the table, storytelling, listening and providing emotional support.

I am especially reminded this morning of the stories my father, an insulin-dependent diabetic told us of the May Blitz of 1941 in the darkest days of World War Two. As a fire-watcher in the Liverpool docks each night, he walked those streets under the hail of bombs from the Luftwaffe. More than 6,000 died in Liverpool and tens of thousands around the country, not least in London.

In the coming days and months our generation will be tested as much, if not more, than that heroic and noble generation.

We will rise to the challenge. Let us each play our part.


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