By Christophe Jost and Tony Attwood
As you may have heard, the UK in general and England in particular has gone its own way in dealing with the coronavirus crisis.
And inevitably that has meant a certain amount of uncertainty and worry about what Britain is doing, and what effect it will have.
Now that might seem an odd thing to write about on a football blog, but there is a point here. Because if the UK (or just England) is doing its own thing, one group of people who will be affected are the footballers. If living in England is perceived to be less safe than living elsewhere it will result in players being less willing to come and play in the Premier League.
Here’s how it goes…
The government in London has been criticised for suggesting they want as many as 60% of the population to get coronavirus so that a general immunity is built up, the virus stops spreading, and the rest of the population does not get it.
Speaking on the leading BBC morning news programme the chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance said, “Our aim is to try and reduce the peak, broaden the peak, not suppress it completely; also, because the vast majority of people get a mild illness, to build up some kind of herd immunity so more people are immune to this disease and we reduce the transmission. At the same time we protect those who are most vulnerable to it. Those are the key things we need to do.”
The Health Secretary, Matt Hancock, (the most senior government minister in relation to health) wrote in the Sunday Telegraph, that the plan was “based on the expertise of world-leading scientists”.
But he then said, “Herd immunity is not a part of it. That is a scientific concept, not a goal or a strategy. Our goal is to protect life from this virus, our strategy is to protect the most vulnerable and protect the NHS through contain, delay, research and mitigate.”
So a spot of backtracking, and there now seems to be official denial that the approach has anything to do with “herd immunity.”
But there is clearly an element of this in government thinking as immunity can be gained by recovering from an infection or through vaccination (although we don’t have a vaccine at the moment). Once enough people have the disease, infections reduce, and the disease goes. It is what we did with smallpox in 1977.
The criticism of the approach is that this is a sort of Russian roulette played with a people of close to 70 million people. It may work. It may not. But then, it is a concept reminiscent of Churchill and the UK fighting alone against all odds. Which might appeal to some UK citizens, but not necessarily to footballers from across the world.
The UK Prime Minister warned his people that loved ones will not survive. The fact that people will die in the process of building this herd immunity is, at least at the level of the government, a known and accepted one. Enough so that people are told about it.
So let’s move the cursor six months down the timeline. Let’s say the Prime Minister’s decision has been successful. Hopefully with a minimal number of victims.
So the 70 million UK inhabitants find themselves immune to that virus and everybody is happy. Immune, but maybe, probably, carrying the virus, and the probability that they can infect non-immune people is real.
But…and there is a but, in the meantime the rest of the world has chosen to protect people from the virus – to avoid them getting exposed to it – and as what is happening in China shows, hopefully winning the war on the virus with this strategy.
Now. say you are head of the European Commission. You’ve seen all countries go into lockdown. You’re aware of the economic mayhem this has provoked and now need to lead the effort to rebuild the economies of all these countries and of the EU.
And John Smith from East London wants to enter Europe. John Smith who may be carrying an infectious disease against which he is immune but the European population is not immune.
Does John Smith get a visa? Would the UK government hand out visas easily to Ebola victims who survived?
This is the same problem as we’ve had in the past decade with measles, not only in Europe but in many countries, including the USA.
So do we really believe UK citizens may be able to roam freely with their new royal blue passports and be welcomed around the world with such a question mark over their health? [Although apparently some people are still being issued with EU coloured passports because the new covers haven’t arrived from the printers yet].
So what does this have to do with football? Well, everything….
Will 5,000 travelling fans of Liverpool be given entry to see a game in Europe? Will European fans want to take that sort of a risk?
Will UK players or foreign players actually playing in the UK be allowed to cross the Channel or board a plane to any country hit by that virus? Will foreign players want to take the risk to come to the UK and catch that virus?
Strangely this subject has not come up in any of the media coverage we have seen. It seems that the consequences of the choices being made are not always being explained clearly.
Life in the UK may never be the same again. Life for residents in the UK who want to travel elsewhere may not be the same again as a result of this different policy. Footballers from Europe may be just that little bit more cautious. After all it only takes a few people to say, “You don’t want to play in England… you’ll catch coronavirus,” for the attraction of the Premier League to diminish somewhat.
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