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Dr Philippa Whitford on Coronavirus

Written by on 12th April 2020

On 23 March, we asked Dr Philippa Whitford, MP if she’s do a guest spot on IndyLive Radio to talk about the coronavirus situation. She talk to use for nearly an hour. Here is the audio. After it is a summary of the topics she covered. It is now three weeks since we spoke to her and a great deal has happened in that time. Some of what she said has turned out to be prophetic. All of it worth listening to.


  • the risks worldwide, eg in Gaza, sub-Saharan Africa
  • that people are flying so much more which has added hugely to spread of coronavirus, compared even to the SARS virus in 2003
  • on the plus side now is that science is so more advanced, and people are working on it worldwide & collaboratively
  • Its level of contagiousness and and how that leads to an exponential growth in cases. People don’t understand that yet.


  • At beginning test was either you’re OK and you don’t need to self isolate or you’re positive you need to stay at home and not go near anybody
  • But once it took off and there wasn’t the possibility of testing everyone with a possible symptom, it moved to if it’s even possible that you have it, you have to stay at home and self isolate. So the test is no longer the decider on whether you stay at home or not . If you have symptoms you stay home.
  • if someone is ill enough to need interventions then they get tested so that medics know what they’re dealing with, covid or not.
  • then there’s testing NHS workers and their families 
  • then we get to expanding the testing. Scottish Government is looking to quadruple it from present levels.
  • then in the background there are GP surveillance practise and they have been doubled in number and are getting random testing done to build up a broader database on which to make decisions about how to come out of the lockdown.
  • So the current test only tests if you have covid right now. We need a test which can let us know if we have had it and now have immunity from it.

How the Commons is operating

  • Plenty of MPs asked about remote working but that was dismissed, saying that asymptotic spread was uncommon. But that was plainly wrong as we now know.
  • There is a lot of resistance to changing practices say by running a virtual parliament. Two weeks ago (beg of March) they were still having visitors.
  • Now, on 23 March, Political parties are now only sending representative numbers of MPs
  • (Note from editor: we have since learnt that the a virtual Common is going to be set up and will be running by 21 April)

Are UK borders secure enough? other countries have stopped anyone entering.

  • No, but that ship has sailed.

Herd Immunity. 

  • The four National Chief Medical Officer’s agreed to work together, and the CMO of Republic of Ireland joined them for good reasons. But we saw our First Minister beginning to diverge from the idea of herd immunity while Prime Minister &No10 advisors were still taking about it as a policy going forward.
  • Their figures said that you’d need to accept that 60% of the population would have to have Covid19. That’s 40 million people. 80% of them would manage at home & recover. But 8million would be severely or critically ill and half of those would be ill in first month’s peak.
  • There’s no possibility that way NHS could cope with those sorts of numbers. And their model showed a possible half million dead, maybe reduced to quarter a million.
  • Herd immunity is something you try to achieve with vaccination not by letting people get ill with a diseased that is 10x worse than a bad winter influenza and will kill 10x the number. Obviously when they saw those numbers they changed direction. 

The four Governments still working together but are there now different issues that each is dealing with?

  • Yes there are different issues. Scotland has people coming up in their camper vans trying to get to remote islands. FM has had to get ferry companies to shut that down
  • Its like they think it’s a a disaster movie and they’ll camp out for few months in an untouched remote spot. But these people are using up local food resources in remote areas, and may have brought virus with them
  • other differences may come from our older population demographics and the rurality of our population.  We may get hit at different times to other UK Nations.

Legislation that’s coming through now… Should there have been more cross party input? 

  • Not many MPs have a STEM background (science, technology, engineering, medicine) It’s only about 5-6%. You need a broad range of expert help and public health input to help. 
  • There a few medics in Tory party at Westminster but they’re not close to the Covid task group
  • Westminster Government could be working cross party and they’re not.

Does Immunity follow infection?

  • We do usually develop immunity to CV like SARs and MERS. What we don’t know is how long we keep immunity. Also viruses mutate so next one might reinfect people.

Charles going to Balmoral – was that the right message?

  • Well it’s prob their designated survival plan. But it looks like the royal Family are just using their second homes and that’s not a good look.
  • But prob they are trying to separate various senior members of the Royal Family.

PPE – is there enough?

  • Some things are complex like intubating a covid patient and require highly sophistatted PPE. The rest isn’t so complex but it’s the delivery that presents a challenge. Once it’s established then supplies should be smoother.

Elderly relatives and maintaining help and human contact with our neighbours 

  • There is a group of people who need to be shielded. They need to be completely isolated.
  • Then our over 70s are also more vulnerable particularly if they have underlying conditions. But we have many fit people who are over 70 and it’s important that they, well all of us, make sure we exercise during the lockdown.
  • Humans are creatures of groups and we need to be in emotional contact with each other. 

Where now?

  • We’re having to look at different ways of working and also of supporting each other.
  • It’ll be important at the end of this that we step back and look at the lessons we had learnt. and keep the best of that .