BBC QT panellist demands Boris Johnson dispatch British Army to tackle coronavirus

Coronavirus cases in the UK increased to 16 on Thursday after a patient showed symptoms of the deadly disease upon returning from a visit to one of the hotbeds of the virus in northern Italy via Dublin. The UK Government reiterated its commitment to monitor the situation to delay the coronavirus from spreading further through Britain. But BBC Question Time panellist John Bird urged Boris Johnson to bring together the British Army and all medical staff available in the country to keep the outbreak from developing into a pandemic threatening millions of Britons. 

Lord Bird said: “A pandemic is something where something really, really big happens to the world.

“In 1918, more people died of influenza than died in the First World War so we’re talking about an enormous social movement. This is not just a health crisis, it is a social crisis.

“To expect the NHS, irrespective of whether it had every available bed, to respond to a crisis that could lead to a rerun of 1918 we need a lot more. We need the Army.”

The crossbench peer continued: “We need all of the medical facilities in this country, and there are many, and say to them, ‘you’re in, whether you like it or not.’

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“The nationalisation of the health service in the truest sense of the world, for a particular time, in order to deal with this pandemic.

“We cannot deal with this pandemic simply on the basis of the existing services that are offered by the NHS. We have to look beyond it.”

The demand comes after one doctor warned hospitals may be forced to turn coronavirus patients away should the NHS be unable to cope with the number of cases they have on their hands.

Speaking to The Independent, an NHS staff member suggested the so-called “Three Wise Men” system would have to be applied to decide who can get admitted to hospital and who has to be turned away. 

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The system would see three senior consultants in each hospital forced to ration care such as beds and ventilators if hospitals were unable to cope with the sheer scale of the crisis.

Under the protocol, weaker patients with less of a chance of fighting off the sickness would be pushed down the pecking order.

The doctor said: “If you can imagine the real worst-case scenarios where supply is massively outstripped by demand we would have to refuse to admit many people who would normally get ventilated.

“The Committee on Ethical Aspects of Pandemic Influenza developed Three Wise Men for that circumstance – everyone matters equally, but not everyone gets treatment equally – the goal is to minimise the harm the pandemic causes.”


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The World Health Organisation (WHO) declared coronavirus (COVID-19) a global risk but despite warning the situation could become worse, they have yet to declare the outbreak a pandemic.

According to BBC Newsnight’s policy editor Lewis Goodall, the Cabinet Office is working with local councils on “excess death contingency planning.”

Mr Goodall wrote on Twitter: “I understand the Cabinet Office has been in communication with local authorities about ‘Excess Death Contingency Planning’ – effectively their ‘mass death preparedness’ plans in the event of coronavirus being at the upper end of a worst-case scenario.

“I am told that the topics in the Cabinet Office discussions include potential new (and perhaps mass) burial sites”.

In his latest update of the coronavirus outbreak, Health Secretary Matt Hancock said: “We’re also planning to introduce home testing, and some of this has started already, so that people don’t have to go to the pod in front of A&E which has been put there to ensure people don’t actually go into A&E where they might infect others.

“The home testing is the safest place to be tested because it means you don’t have to go anywhere, and that will allow us to roll out testing in a much larger number of people.”

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