Cancel rugby internationals to tackle the coronavirus outbreak | Letters

Matt Hancock should have the courage to do the right thing and face the unpopularity that will follow, writes Keith Wilson, while other readers air their views on issues related to Covid-19

Your article (Matt Hancock: shutting down UK cities ‘may become necessary’, 1 March) quotes the health secretary as saying that measures taken by the government to tackle the spread of the Covid-19 coronavirus might include banning large gatherings of people at sporting events. What is he waiting for? Has he ever travelled to and attended a rugby international at Twickenham? This Saturday 80,000-plus people from all over England and Wales will be squashed in like sardines on London transport and congregate in overcrowded bars and pubs with inadequate hand-washing facilities in and around Twickenham.

The virtual impossibility of effective hand-washing, the alcohol-induced abatement in personal and food hygiene standards often observed at these events, and the propensity to eat fast food in the hand creates an unprecedented cocktail of opportunities for this disease to spread. The following Saturday the same opportunities will be created at Cardiff, where another 80,000 people, including many from Scotland, will mingle at very close quarters.

The existence of asymptomatic carriers of the virus has been demonstrated. We have at least one case where the virus appears to have been acquired within the UK. The demographic of rugby supporters suggests that a significant number of people attending will be “older people” and the World Health Organization director general’s advice, given last week, was that older people should avoid crowded places.

John Harris’s article(Journal, 2 March) suggests that the coronavirus outbreak will show us what this government is really made of. Here is a first test for Mr Hancock. He should have the courage to do the right thing and face the undoubted unpopularity that will follow. He must require the English and Welsh RFUs to postpone the mass gatherings totalling 160,000 individuals, many of them over 60. These internationals – I have tickets for both – can be played in the autumn alongside the already postponed/cancelled Italy matches against England and Ireland. By then, hopefully, Mr Johnson’s battle plan will be showing results.
Keith Wilson
Former associate professor in primary and community care, Doncaster, South Yorkshire

• I agree with John Harris that Boris Johnson’s tendency to self-isolate in a crisis – and his response to the coronavirus outbreak in particular – will test the government’s ability to cope and lead from the front. Part of the problem is that like so many senior politicians, Matt Hancock has a degree in philosophy, politics and economics, not science, with the prime minister himself being a classics graduate. While I accept that ministers have expert advisers, this cannot instil public confidence during science-based emergencies such as flooding (climate change) and Covid-19 (epidemiology) if their leaders are scientifically illiterate.
Stan Labovitch
Windsor, Berkshire

• I’m just what Matt Hancock is looking for: a retired doctor with international experience in general practice, tropical medicine, epidemiology and public health. Twelve months’ retraining should get me ready to man the medical barricades – if Covid-19 doesn’t get me first.
Dr John Doherty
Stratford-upon-Avon, Warwickshire

• Matt Hancock advises children to wash their hands while singing “Happy Birthday”. Under the circumstances, would not Ring a Ring o’ Roses be more appropriate?
Matthew Heaney
Bochum, Germany

• With handshakes off the agenda due to the coronavirus outbreak, I prefer the traditional form of greeting – the clenched-fist salute. In the unlikely event of encountering Boris Johnson in the wild, a two-finger salute is substituted.
Keith Flett
Tottenham, London

• Jacob Rees-Mogg exhorts us to wash our hands to the tune of the national anthem, but I prefer Beethoven’s Ode To Joy. It cleans, it refreshes.
Marcia Saunders

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