How return to old-fashioned values can tackle coronavirus - Christa Ackroyd

Come on Britain, come on Yorkshire, whatever happened to the Dunkirk spirit? We are, to quote our leader, facing the most serious health crisis in a generation, and what do we do? We fight over loo rolls and hand gel and whinge on social media that it’s all a government plot, that we can’t possibly stay home and interrupt our precious lives for the sake of others and ourselves – and that it’s nothing worse than a touch of flu.

People pass graffiti reminding people to wash their hands on the window of a bar in Dublin's city centre, on the first day of a series of sweeping virus delay measures in Ireland, including school closures. Picture: Brian Lawless/PA Wire

What we need to do is think of the most vulnerable in our society, thank our lucky stars if we are fit and healthy, get a grip and carry on. And stop being so damn selfish.

Oh, and go back to an era when Britain faced its most dangerous enemy Adolf Hitler – up our game, batten down the hatches and start behaving like grown-ups. Because if we continue as we are doing, Churchill (and a whole generation who sacrificed a lot more than a holiday abroad and an interrupted work schedule) will be spinning in their graves. As far as I am aware, in our finest hour, Winston never coined the phrase I’m All Right Jack.

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In fact we need to go back to that time when hand gel hadn’t been invented and we washed our hands before and after meals, and more often besides, with good old-fashioned soap and water, and cleaned our homes and surfaces not with some fancy fragrant spray or environmentally-detrimental wipes, but with good old-fashioned bleach.

A sign in the window of a Lush store in Liverpool offering a free hand wash service. PA Photo. Picture: Peter Byrne/PA Wire

Let’s boil wash our precious copious amount of clothing and start soaking our non-disposable dishcloths in the Dettol-filled sink. Let us clean our toilets every day and for now abandon our touchy-feely air kissing embraces and instead ask after each other what we can do to help. Let us contact our neighbours and see what they need, if for no other reason than to show them we care. Because this is serious. And – like it or not – we are in this together. Or we should be.

I have read with horror this week the theories surrounding coronavirus, the most ludicrous being that it is a man-made plot to reduce the world’s population. I have seen dozens of people on social media describe the current situation as nothing more than mass hysteria, an over-reaction to an illness they say kills less people than seasonal flu. What total nonsense!

Worse still, I have heard that the panic has been fed entirely by the media and that, in some way, we who are here to pass on the information are to blame for the fact that the shelves are empty at the local shops.

So here goes. The media did not invent coronavirus. They did not urge people to selfishly go out and buy enough toilet paper and pasta to last for a year, regardless of others. We did not make up the fact that the World Health Organisation now considers it a pandemic. We did not say some of our loved ones will, not could, die before their time. Nor did we advocate adopting a ‘me first’ attitude.

As I know only too well, being a part of the media for more than 40 years, we are damned if we do and damned if we don’t. When we report on the facts and the advice from experts, we are accused of scaremongering. People often now prefer to rely on ‘Doctor Google’ or their friends on social media to tell them how bad things are.

Well here in the media we prefer more expert opinion, like the chief medical officer who this week told us to prepare for three months of hell before we will get through this. Get through it we will, but don’t shoot the messenger.

To not report on it, we would be accused of being part of the conspiracy. And may I remind people that when the chips are down, the media has an even more important roll to play – just ask the historians about the impact of Churchill’s use of the media. They will tell you it can and does win the battle.

Or is all just to detract from issues at home, as the conspiracists declare? Humbug! What government would invent the seriousness of a situation which will cost them billions just to divert attention away from unpopular policies?

Talking of which, I have seen more than one post saying bring back Brexit, all is forgiven. Good to see our sense of humour survives, even if common sense has flown out the window.

Or will the doubters believe it now Donald Trump has banned all flight to the States for a month from Europe with the strange exception of the UK? Perhaps someone should tell him that we have it here, too, or would that ruin our “special relationship” and scupper plans to visit Disney World in the Easter Holidays?

Perhaps the news that Tom Hanks and his wife have contracted the virus will make us sit up and listen. And if major sporting events are also under threat then it must be serious. It is – and it’s going to get a lot worse before it gets better, so we might as well accept we are in this together.

Just one final point that seems to have woken up the armchair experts – the suggestion coronavirus is not as bad as flu. It is. True, flu kills thousands every year but there is one vital difference. We know flu. We understand its patterns. We have a vaccine programme which increases every year and we know exactly how it is spread.

We do not know the same about coronavirus, which has already mutated once. And that is why scientists across the world are rushing to find a vaccine, with best guesses it will take at least 18 months.

Until then, let’s accept things are going to have to change. And let us change things for the better by going back to an era when putting others first was the main priority. Only then will we win the war.