It’s becoming clearer that the government needs to order urgently, immediately even, a proper ban on people congregating. Schools, bars, restaurants, churches remain in business now and this no longer seems wise.

No doubt the government is always wary to act in a way that stops the economy. Even shutting down schools has a wider economic impact because it forces parents to stay with children at home. But preventing a breakdown of our national health service, or at least reducing the risk of that, would save the sustainability of our way of life for the future.

All members of this community need to get their act together. If you’ve travelled to a high risk area, do not lie about it. If you scheduled a dinner party, cancel it. If you have your annual festa coming up, cancel it indoors and out. If you run a shop which is not selling food or medicines, shut down. If you provide delivery of foodstuffs and medicines ramp up your services. If you’re a bank tell your mortgage clients you will give them a hardship holiday on repayments.

If you own a school, shut it down.

And if you’re a government with the power to impose rules on people who do not care, do so. Now.

Doctors in Italy are collapsing at work. Part of that is physical exhaustion. The other is that they have to make daily choices which patients to save and which to let die. We’re nowhere near there but two weeks ago Italy did not really expect its present situation.

Italian doctors have now stopped assessing patients aged 60 or over for access to intensive care units. Sixty is nothing. It’s young. It’s when people today rightly expect to start a new stage in their life not to be beyond saving because a treatable virus has afflicted them.

This is nowhere near any triage procedure we know in time of peace. These are choices made in time of war.

It is up to us then, to treat this as an oncoming crisis comparable with war.

Medical professionals have been speaking up for days with the the doctors’ association MAM leading the way. Professional groupings are following one by one. They point to measures in Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Singapore, Hong Kong, Poland, Denmark and other countries who, like us, perhaps even less seriously than us, face tough limitations if they were to face a crisis comparable with the situation in Italy.

It does not sound right that we take the risk of this happening so that we can continue to have a drink at the bar or to keep up the yearly festa calendar.

The economic impact must be provided for to discourage people from feeling they are justified in ignoring warnings to shut down shop and stay home. The government must implement emergency measures to compensate for the economic loss. If they do this we can do what we must and shut down our places of business for the next days.

There are a number of things, expensive things, they can do:

  1. Pay for sick leave from day one for all employees in isolation or sent home because of temporary closure of business;
  2. Pay direct allowances to self-employed people in self-isolation;
  3. Where changes to sick pay rules are insufficient, provide businesses with help with rent payments and individuals and families meeting mortgage obligations;
  4. Commit to re-investment and marketing funds to be available as soon as we emerge on the other side of this.

The government will need to borrow more to fund this commitment and we’ll have to pay that debt when we’re done. But if our health services collapses, we are going to have a bigger financial and human bill to pay for.

It seems to me that we need to go into a state of emergency because whether we declare it or not we are in one. Children have no place in schools. Adults have no place in bars and churches. Funerals, weddings and gatherings of the type need to be called off.

Hopefully two weeks will be enough to avoid the biggest danger. Maybe we will need some more.

We can’t just look at Italy and hope it won’t be that bad.