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【The Standard】Why the UK’s approach to coronavirus is bad for boarding schools

UK chitchat


As a hongkonger who was educated in the UK and whose life and business is dedicated to promoting the benefits of British education for international students, I cannot help but feel angered and dismayed by the coronavirus policy in Britain.

My experience in education also tells me that UK boarding schools could potentially see a huge drop in interest from pupils in Asia due to this policy.

The UK government’s initial approach appeared to involve the development of herd immunity – that is, the resistance to the spread of a contagious disease within a population that results if a sufficiently high proportion of individuals are immune to the disease.

To me, this is just totally reckless and illogical.

First, take a look at the figures.

Around 60 percent of the population have to contract the virus in order to achieve herd immunity. In the UK, that’s around 30 million people. The mortality rate of the virus, though, is around 2 percent. So this plan means potentially 60,000 deaths.

However, this is just a low estimate. If hospitals end up turning away huge numbers of people and leaving them to cope on their own and suffer at home, as happened in Wuhan early last month, the mortality rate is going to be far greaterthan 2 percent; in Iran, some sources put the rate at around 20 percent.

Secondly, this is a virus that currently has no cure.

The assumption of this UK policy is that immunity will develop.

But how can anyone actually be sure of this? Has there been immunity to AIDS and Ebola after three decades of widespread human infection?

Really, then, this policy amounts to the government proudly giving up on at least 2 percent of the population’s right to live.

Thirdly, there is the UK’s face mask policy – or lack thereof. Britain has been watching the mainland, Taiwan and Hong Kong for two months now, but England’s chief medical officer has warned the public that wearing face masks will do little to combat the outbreak.

Many boarding schools in the UK discourage students from wearing masks and some go as far as not allowing them to be worn at all.

Only recently, I wrote to boarding schools urging them to be open-minded about face masks and to consider and respect their international students. I highlighted that the advice from the Hong Kong department of health is that students should wear face masks.

On a daily basis now I find myself feeling absolutely infuriated by the situation and, particularly, by Boris Johnson.

Despite being a Brexit prime minister, he is not even closing the UK’s borders to Europe. He is worse than Neville Chamberlain – the UK prime minister whose appeasement of Hitler led to World War II.

Believe it or not, Johnson has actually said that he is a fan of the beach manager character in the killer shark movie Jaws – who is supposed to be the baddie!

In the 1975 thriller, this character makes an extreme decision in the face of a crisis. In spite of reports that sharks have been spotted in the water, he refuses to close down his beach so that he can make a profit.

The idea is that he is ridiculed by the audience, not admired. He is an example of complete selfishness, because his decision is the exact cause of the shark attack tragedy, and if he had closed the beach, it could have all been avoided.

The whole thing really leaves you lost for words.

But ask Steven Spielberg, the director of that classic movie, what he thinks of it all. He must be laughing his jaws off over the stupidity of the Old Etonian.