Guest column by Roy Lilley

I’m going to confess something.  I’ve never eaten a Pizza.

They look like a traffic accident on a plate.  I just can’t bring myself…

On the other hand, pasta, ragout, chianti.  I’m yer man.  Ferrari cars, Georgio Armani, the beaches of Sardinia, opera, Borsalino hats and when in Venice, tucked in a side street, not far from San Marco, Cristina Linassi’s silk and lace.

Oil from Tuscany, cashmere shawls and did I mention wine?  Yes, I think I did.

And, their healthcare system isn’t too bad either.  It’s modern, routinely ranked as one of the best in the world, access is good, overall quality is good and the general health and life expectancy of the population is very good.

The system is free to use.  They have GPs and you can change who looks after you.  They spend about 9% of their GDP on healthcare.

So, when I read in the press and see on the telly, the Italian healthcare system is in Corona-virus trouble, I pay attention.  When I see Italian patients being ventilated on beds, in corridors, I start thinking.  When I read, on Twitter, Italian doctors and nurses are exhausted, I take notice.

When I’m told up to 15% of Coronavirus cases are likely to need intensive care and the Italian system is overwhelmed, I sit up straight.

There’s a lot we must learn from Italy.  Not China.  The response of a totalitarian state, their management of news and manipulation of data tells us little that is reliable.

When Italy, whose version of the NHS is on a par with ours, are at the point where they’ve stopped closing-down towns, given up closing cities and decided to shut the door on the whole country, it makes me ask a simple question…

What is Italy telling us, and if I was BoJo, what would I be doing differently?

Right now, the message here is; listen to the experts and follow the science.

Experts…  is there a more reassuring man than Chief Medical Officer, Prof Chris Whitty, the nation’s uncle? The reassuring manner of an airline captain announcing we have landed safely.  If he were a ballroom dancer, he would be a champion, gliding the floor, to a waltz.  If he were a car, he’d be a Bentley.

On the other hand, BoJo looks like he’s slept in his suit and is out of his depth.  The PM is a man-made for japes and jibes: he’s not built for serious or sober.

He says he’ll follow the science, but that does not absolve him from making some serious decisions.

The rightness, or otherwise, of serious decisions, are judged by history.  Will he be remembered as the man who saved the corona-economy from a crash, or the man who saved 300,000 corona-infected lives?

What would I do differently?  I’d certainly sit at the feet of the Prof and listen to every word.  But, by now I would have, in place, a simple subsistence system, for people who are on insecure contracts, to draw money to keep their families and households going, through self-isolation.

By now I would have stopped football matches… sorry.  Closed theatres, sorry, sorry.  Shut down the London Tube… very sorry, sorry and make all but essential personnel work from home.  I would ban all but vital travel, make arrivals into the UK self-quarantine for 14 days and send uni-students home.  They could look after their grannies.  I’d close the schools.

As for the Secretary of State’s idea of a Dad’s Army of volunteers, supposedly coming back to work in the NHS… no thanks.  They are mostly at the age where they are vulnerable to infection.  Best use them to befriend and look after elderly people in their own homes.

All these measures will have to be taken in the next three or four weeks.  BoJo wants to keep the economy going for as long as possible but there are no effective, workable public-health restrictions that do not impact on the economy.

My view… in the modern context, ask; what did the Romans do for us?  They showed us what’s next.  Gave us a glimpse of the future.

We may not be in Rome, but we should do like the Romans do.

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