• Dr Hugh Willbourn

CC6 Podcast ramble and Catch-up




Last week Alex McCarron very kindly invited me to chat with him on his excellent podcast, “Escape from Lockdown.” Click here to listen.

I enjoyed talking to Alex and it turned out to be a somewhat rambling conversation, so if you want to know more about the ideas behind our talk you might want to have a look around some other posts on my site. Alternatively email me if there is a topic about which you would like to hear more.

In my conversation with Alex I mentioned an early experience in hypnosis, but we never got back to explore the significance of hypnosis in our current situation, so I will put up a post about that in the next few days.

I thoroughly recommend Alex’s podcast, he has persuade some very interesting guests to talk to him.

A piece of writing from a bygone age

Sometime before the 16th March, thus before the UK lockdown and before I put this website up, I wrote a small piece about the coronavirus threat, which was not published until 2nd of April when my friend Adrian Hart volunteered to put it up on his website. Months have passed since then, but the central point seems more pertinent than ever so I’m putting it up again here.

The Herd Immunity We Lack First Published 16th March 2020

The spectacular global reaction to COVID-19 shows us that we have a bigger problem than coronavirus. There are not enough sane and sensible voices in the public discourse to prevent the spread of disproportionate fear. In other words we lack psychological herd immunity. Politicians have been no better than their populations and so they have allowed a real, but very small, danger to cause a huge, worldwide economic crisis. In the long term that will cause widespread hardship, and even illness and premature death as it impacts employment, well being and mental health.

Furthermore it is very likely that when we look back on this panic we will see that the diversion of resources to deal with COVID-19 had detrimental outcomes for patients with other, more deadly, ailments. In addressing the very, very small risk to millions of healthy people we will have significantly increased the risks to the minority of people who have known, immediate, life-threatening conditions.

On the 5th of March the first person in the UK identified as dying from coronavirus was a woman in her 70s. On 15th March the thirty-fifth victim of coronavirus in the UK died in Bristol. He was 59 years old, he had serious underlying health issues, and he was the youngest victim of the virus to date. COVID-19 is rarely striking down young, healthy people. It is overwhelmingly taking from us people who are already at risk of dying from other causes, not least of which is old age.

Every death, from whatever cause, is a cause for grief. It is a painful and enduring sadness to accept we will never again see the smile of a loved one, feel their warmth or our irritation at their annoying habits. But death is the only certainty in life. I will die, and you will die, as will every single person we ever meet.

Every day in the UK, the total number of deaths from all causes averages 1,400. In other words in the time that coronavirus killed 35 people, 15,400 people died from other causes. Perhaps the saddest cause of death is suicide. In the UK on average 16 people per day kill themselves. It is the biggest killer of men under 45 in UK. So while coronavirus killed 35 people, five times that number killed themselves.

It is only to be expected that epidemiologists will make the most of their moment in the spotlight but they should not let this virus render them innumerate. They, and anyone else who is given a platform by the current hysteria, should put the COVID-19 threat into context and spread the word that a healthy diet and lifestyle will not only assist your immune system but it will protect you against far more persistent and dangerous threats than COVID-19.

It would be more intelligent and more compassionate to put even one tenth of the current manic anti-COVID-19 effort into reducing premature deaths from cardiovascular disease (which kills 49,000 people a day worldwide), or cancer, (which kills 26,000 people a day worldwide) or diabetes (which kills, 4,300 people a day worldwide).

Furthermore while we do not have a vaccine for COVID-19 we have overwhelming clear evidence that heart disease, cancer and diabetes positively correlate to obesity, poor lifestyle choices and ultra-processed foods.

Beyond the medical issues however, this crisis is showing more clearly than ever that our public discourse does not contain sufficient grounded, numerate, emotionally mature voices. Perhaps that was always the case, but the problem has been exacerbated by the internet.

Over the last few years disagreements about Brexit, the American President, Global Warming and Transgender issues have been alarmingly unbalanced and public behaviour has turned out to be at odds with the voices in media-dominated public discourse. Social media over-represents the extremes. Rather like a school playground almost all the trouble comes from the few raucous kids fighting in the corner while everyone else is getting on with each other and having fun. But the troublesome kids get the most attention. Under commercial pressure traditional news providers look to social media for headline making conflicts, so they amplify the distortions again.

So sure, let’s wash our hands often and be vigilant about hygiene when we visit elderly relatives, but as we recover from hysteria and gain immunity from the COVID-19 virus let us be aware of the need to establish psychological herd immunity. A first step would be to put COVID-19 into the context of all causes of death and recognise which cohorts are at serious risk. We could also remember the grossly over-shared slogan from a time when we faced a greater long-term threat to the whole population: Keep Calm and Carry on.