A staff member sanitizes the facilities on a train at the Garibaldi train station in Milan, Italy, Feb. 28, 2020. (Photo by Alberto Lingria/Xinhua)

British experts urge gov’t to do more to contain COVID-19 spread

As confirmed cases of COVID-19 have risen to 20 in Britain, public health experts are concerned about an inadequate government response to curb the spread of the novel coronavirus.


Professor John Ashton, who has worked with the World Health Organization (WHO), told Xinhua on Friday that people in Britain should call off any planned visits to areas where COVID-19 cases have been confirmed and they need to be alerted about the outbreak.

He said the British government should issue official advice to tell people to avoid traveling to certain areas.

People are seen in front of buildings in the City of London, London, Britain, on Feb. 1, 2020. (Photo by Stephen Chung/Xinhua)

“It could well be (that) the government is concerned about the economic losses if people are told to cancel their journeys. There are also social and political implications. But containing the virus is all about mixing less and not circulating in communities to control the spread,” he said.

He said that with today’s transport systems and air links, diseases can circulate around the world in 24 hours through passengers and air crews.

Ashton, a former president of the Faculty of Public Health of the Royal Colleges of Physicians, added: “China seems to have halted the spread of the virus in its country because of containment measures taken by the government. Similar results to contain the spread could be achieved here in Britain by people self-quarantining on a voluntary basis.”

He also encouraged people to look after their own health and boost their immune systems with good diets, sleep and exercise.

Professor Anthony Glees from the University of Buckingham urged a more serious manner with which the government should inform the British people of the virus situation, and told Xinhua that he believes the government should put Brexit on hold for a year to concentrate on the COVID-19 outbreak.

Glees added: “It has been pathetic that the British government won’t appear on news programs. I think this will come back to haunt them.”

A woman wearing a face mask poses for a photo at the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II shopping mall in Milan, Italy, Feb. 28, 2020. (Photo by Alberto Lingria/Xinhua)

“I say this because this is an issue of national safety and if the government get this wrong, were they not to heed the advice of experts and were they continue to try to inform the public via Twitter and Facebook rather than directly via the media, there will be a price to pay,” he said.

“Brexit should be put on hold for a year. If ever there were a totally wrong time to try this experiment it is now when the financial situation is already very similar to that in 2008. No experiments in times like these,” he noted.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has announced he will chair a meeting of the government’s emergency response committee, known as COBRA, on Monday.

Public Health England (PHE) will also launch a publicity campaign next week with advice on COVID-19 and what to do if people suspect they are infected.


Chris Ogden, associate professor in Chinese politics at the University of St. Andrews, said it may be necessary for Britain to behave more like China to halt the COVID-19 outbreak.

In an article for The Guardian newspaper recently, Ogden said that despite a slow start in reacting to the coronavirus, the capacity of Chinese leaders to rapidly mobilize the full power of the state led to an unprecedented response to such a public health crisis.

“From placing whole cities and provinces in complete lockdown, and quarantining entire neighborhoods, to building hospitals in a matter of days, the response has been enviable,” wrote Ogden.

Ogden added: “It is difficult to imagine the UK or other Western countries being able to react with such speed. Not only are our own capabilities less inclined and less numerous to allow for such a fast deployment, so too are our populations less conditioned to openly following the will of our leaders.”

Both factors could, he added, have a major negative impact on any measures that the British state takes to counteract a major outbreak of the virus.

“In the short term, it may be necessary for the UK to behave more like China, shutting down cities, travel networks and entire regions, and even the Internet. And if the outbreak does become any overwhelming pandemic spiralling beyond the control of our leaders and the power of the state, with a population that is increasingly scared, angry and unstable, we might end up wishing that we all lived in China until the situation has been resolved,” he said.


International public health expert Tom Wingfield from the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine said more cases in Britain can be expected in the coming weeks.

Wingfield told Xinhua: “The UK public can be reassured that we have experienced teams in place to manage the isolation and care of people diagnosed with coronavirus and perform robust tracing and screening of their contacts.”

PHE and infectious disease teams in Britain are working hard behind the scenes to protect the public, he said.

“We are all, public and professionals, part of this response to coronavirus and what we can do to continue looking after each other is (to) keep calm, wash our hands with soap and water as regularly as possible, use and bin tissues for coughs and sneezes, and follow the changing guidance issued from PHE,” Wingfield added.

Professor Neil Ferguson, from Imperial College London, admitted this week that the coronavirus is the one which probably concerns him the most out of everything he has worked on. Investigating the virus as an academic he said: “I would much prefer to be accused of overreacting than underreacting.”