A Warning from History

In October 1347, twelve ships from the Black Sea docked at Messina in Sicily. Some sailors staggered ashore leaving dead ship-mates on the decks. That was the day bubonic plague (The Black Death) arrived in Europe. It killed more than 20 million. A few years later there was a second outbreak, in Sicily again. This time the port authorities refused entry to ships’ crews for forty days - probably the first known example of social distancing.

This warning from history tells us that travel can accelerate the spread of disease. That’s why I was happy that Peel Ports reversed its decision to anchor ships at Greenock. The original plan was a bit insensitive. Inverclyde has the highest infection rate in Scotland and its health services are under great pressure. Clearly, the focus now should be on minimising risk, not Russian roulette with people’s lives. The council was right to stand firm on this.

Inverclyde and Covid-19

Over a hundred men and women from our community have died from Covid-19. At the time of writing, our figures remain the worst in Scotland. The number of our deaths is slowing down here but, sadly, rising in other parts of Scotland. Deprivation, an older population, chronic illness have all played their part in these grisly statistics. What we, in Inverclde, know for certain is that this virus has been unusually deadly here and it has dealt our community a savage blow .

Some of our people died alone. Close relatives just couldn’t be there to comfort them. Bereaved wives, husbands, families and friends were denied the consolation of the usual funeral rites. It is beyond sad. It is beyond tragic.

Even for scientists, this thing is fiendishly difficult to get to grips with. But this too shall pass. There are some genuine grounds for optimism. The UK’s ‘R’ number is down - lower than 1. It is not certain, but it is likely, that if you’ve survived the illness you’ll have some immunity. The other thing is that the world’s very best scientists are

now working together flat-out to beat this disease. That has never happened before. Sooner or later there will be a vaccine or effective drugs – or both.

Right now, the best thing we can do to slow the infection rate is to heed the official advice – stay at home and keep social distancing going. As Andrew Cuomo said to New Yorkers, ‘It’s about ‘us’. Not about ‘me’’. In this crisis, selfishness can kill.

This illness is cruel and it’s random. But it has shone a spotlight on the bravery and goodness of so many here in Inverclyde – key workers, NHS staff, care workers and amazing volunteers. Thank God for them. There are also very fine people like Emma Thompson who generously donated PPE equipment to our hospital. I applaud her but I find it sad that her donation was necessary.

In the next ‘Chain Reaction’ I hope to say something about mental health and I have to explain myself to a lady in Gourock.