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Is it really about health?

Mar 10, 2020

I write this having learned that OMNI and FIDI have postponed their conferences in Japan because of Coronavirus.  I have also just returned from the IMA conference in Cambodia at which 30% of delegates cancelled at short notice leaving the organiser with a serious financial problem to manage.

I fully understand why these organisations cancelled the events and I do not blame them, I would have done the same: the risk of too many no shows could be financially devastating and the risk of an isolated case causing the lock down of the conference hotel, with all the resulting trauma, is unthinkable. I applaud both organisations for their courage in making an early decision.

But it does seem to me the decisions to cancel events, of which there have been many, including the Six Nations Rugby, is more about economics than health. Now I am no statistician, so my reasoning is probably fundamentally flawed, but, according to the Johns Hopkins university (8 March) Japan has had about 450 cases out of a population of 126m with six deaths. So you have a 1:26,000,000 chance of death from the virus; a 1:280,000 risk of contracting the disease while you are there; and, if the hotel holds 500 people, that brings the odds down to around 1:560 that someone will get the virus, causing you some inconvenience. Not a high figure, I think. Compare this with the chances of being killed in a car accident in the USA, which is 1:77, and you’ll see what I mean. 

We seem to have developed a society in which no risk, however small, is acceptable. Of course, we need to do what we can to limit the spread of this annoying pathogen, but surely not at the price of destroying the global economy, which we are on course to do. How many deaths and emotionally destroyed families will there be when half the world loses its livelihood? My son is an entertainer on a cruise ship, and I genuinely fear for his career, not his life.

It is, I believe, largely a product of the blame culture in which everything that goes wrong is somebody else’s fault and, therefore, there’s a claim to be made. We have done this and it’s only when the chips are down, as they are now, that it really matters. It’s time for a little balance.



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