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It is time to think about a cruise. Or, how about a visit to a stately home or an empty school?

All of these are places where beds could be placed for the victims of Coronavirus. And places to put are the first things needed for the anticipated thousands, possibly tens of thousands, of patients with which the already overstretched NHS hospitals will be unable to cope.

There are other accommodation possibilities. Top of the list– private hospitals. They already have administrative and nursing staffs. Most of the doctors work in the public and private sector. There are 28 private hospitals in London alone. In the UK as a whole, there are an estimated 30,000 private beds.

Schools are shutting and will remain shut until September. There are 32,770 schools in the UK. Empty classrooms, halls and corridors can be filled if necessary. Also available are leisure centres with their vast sports halls and universities. All of these will be empty and could be pressed into service and low-paid staff who would otherwise be at home worrying about how to find money for food and rent could be very usefully employed.

Stately homes are a traditional source of instant hospitals. There are 1,650 stately homes in the UK. Many of them saw hospital service during World War I and World War II. People will not be visiting these homes during the pandemic. They will be empty and waiting to contribute as they have in the past.

Back to the cruise ships. President Trump has offered New York City a military hospital ship to help that city cope with the coronavirus crisis. There are an estimated 550,000 passenger berths on ships involved in the world cruising industry. These ships and their crews are now idling in ports. They and their crews can be pressed into service, not just in developed counties, but in developing countries practically devoid of proper medical facilities.

It is vital that facilities are available to the developing world. Covid-19 is a pandemic which means it is a global problem which can only be solved by international cooperation. Checking the spread in just the relatively wealthy UK, Europe and America would be short-sighted. The virus could easily take hold in the developing world in such a way that those countries become a launch pad for a renewed attack on the developed world.

Identifying and preparing the physical infrastructure is only part of the solution. Also needed is the medical equipment and staff to run it. Respirators are the biggest problem. The British government is pressing the manufacturing sector to retool to produce more respirators. As for staff, retired nurses and doctors are being urged to return to work. The government may also want to consider pressing into service those who have recovered from the virus and are now immune. There also about 7 million 16 to 22-year-olds with several vital qualities: they are less vulnerable to the disease; they are out of school and university and bored stiff; and they are generally keen to help. If necessary, introduce a conscripted Health Army to help maintain essential services and do the basic hospital work that could help free up trained medical staff.

All of the above may appear to some as spreading alarm and despondency. Well, the medical experts are unanimous that things are going to be worse. Yesterday (18 March) 417 people died in one day in Italy. As the scout motto goes: Be Prepared.

Tom Arms is a regular contributor   


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