I RECALL an old Air Cadets manual which informed me that “in the event of nuclear war your first duty is to avoid becoming a casualty”.

Now one’s duty is to avoid becoming infected with coronavirus, which could result in needing the attention of the NHS, and to avoid passing it on to anyone else, who might similarly take up NHS resources and could lose their life.

The Government has made the transition from giving advice to issuing instructions. It is explicitly a switch from voluntary to mandatory action. This is also implicit since advice is generally concerned with the recipients’ own interests which (with exceptions such as wearing seat belts or crash helmets) would be seen as ultimately a matter for the person’s own judgement. Now the issue is duty towards the collective interest, which is not entirely a matter for us to decide upon individually.

The direction of travel, from immediate self interest to group interest, is natural enough but also unfortunate. It would have been in the group interest to have a mass change in our behaviour stopping the virus in the earliest days of its spread. But there were simply not enough infective people at large then to be presented as a credible threat to the safety of an individual going out and about.

This balance of motivation between following the rules for the sake of one’s own family and doing so for the good of the wider community is still relevant. The danger the virus poses to previously healthy younger people is being emphasised to encourage their compliance.

But any distortion of the facts is liable to limit our capacity to pursue the optimum course of action later on.

It is fair to say that for some young people Covid 19 proves not to be a safe or comfortable experience. Similarly, the ‘harmless’ measles of my childhood did actually kill some children. But economies around the world would not be closing down if the coronavirus lethality rate for the general population were as low as that for the young and healthy.

One of the possible exit strategies from the lock-down would be to strengthen the shielding of the very vulnerable, treating the present restrictions as a means of buying time to achieve this.

We would then take account of the spectrum of vulnerability across the population, assigning people accordingly to tasks in maintaining essential services and progressively reopening the economy.

But we can’t tell a cohort of people they would be in danger out of doors when it suits us and then that they are safe taking on front line roles when we want them to do so.

John Riseley, Harrogate