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The way people live is important

Updated: Nov 30, 2020

We are living with hyperarousal generated by fear of COVID-19. It was uplifting during this past week of escalating tension and conflict reflected by the media to find some oases of calm thoughtfulness.

One was a comment as we compared illness and deaths amongst patients and staff of English mental hospitals from TB during the First World War and residents and staff of care homes during the COVID-19 pandemic. Dreadful at the time, but largely forgotten is the comment from 1917. Lessons learned – none as far as we could see. But this led to the related observation on the present: ‘To listen to some epidemiologists you would think there is only one illness – and that is COVID-19.’ The burden in terms of other physical illnesses and mental disorders is many times greater than that directly attributable to the virus. Much more damage is being done by the gross knee-jerk reactions of government.

The other source of sense came in a letter from Professor Anand an economist from the Open University. His research with colleagues in Oxford, Manchester and New York finds that transmission of COVID-19 is dependent upon people’s living circumstances – shared kitchens and shared accommodation being powerful predictors of spread. This is linked to lower incomes. Blunderbuss reactions which require everyone to stay at home compound this problem rather than alleviate it, and cause additional damage to others who live in other accommodation when they are deprived of chance to meet others and engage in humane, useful social activities and work.

Government ‘really should be engaging with communities about ways in which they can protect themselves rather than handing out overly simple messages that fail to account for important differences in the way people live’.

Time to think and take small steps with humility.

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