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EXPRESS OPINION: We already have the leader we need

EXPRESS OPINION: We already have the leader we need

Wednesday 25 March 2020

EXPRESS OPINION: We already have the leader we need

One of the most challenging aspects, of this most challenging of times, has been the need to sip sensibly from the fire-hose of information washing over us.

We have more leaders, experts and future-gazers than we can socially-distance from - if only self-isolation kept their fingers off their keyboards - when actually what we need is calm, clear and well-thought through advice. By the way, and I mention it here, because it is becoming very easy to miss...that is exactly what we already have. He's called Dr Ivan Muscat.

Amid the growing hysteria around our political leadership, we need to remember that the Ministers are acting on the advice of those who sit behind them. In our political culture, our Ministers are just accountants, lawyers, hoteliers. Not one of them is a medic or a scientist. And not one of them has, ever, dealt with something remotely like this before. 

In Dr Muscat we have someone who islanders are used to hearing from every year about infection control, usually in the context of seasonal flu or norovirus.

Video: Dr Ivan Muscat providing an update on the modelling being used to underpin Jersey's health decisions.

Since the beginning of this national crisis, he has been present at media briefings, calmly and rationally answering questions, admitting openly where he simply doesn't, yet, know the answer (the mark of a real expert) - but basing all his advice on the actual scientific evidence in front of him. 

It is on the advice of Dr Muscat and his team that Ministers, including Senator John Le Fondre, are basing their decisions; they have quite clearly said that telling islanders to stay at home is likely to happen, but not quite yet. Why? Because once we are at home, we will be there, realistically (look at China) for the next two months - and once that restriction is released, we may well see a resurgence of the virus. 

For the strongest of families, that time at home will start off as quite fun, with lots of technology to play with; as the weeks go by, it will get tiresome; and by the end (whenever that may be) it will leave them deeply stressed and fractious.

Now imagine what that process is like for broken families; for children who aren't safe at home; for those with mental health problems; for those who are alone or unwell. That's what the Chief Minister means when he says implementing that measure too early will cost lives. 

Video: Dr Ivan explains that social distancing is the single most effective measure to 'flatten the curve'.

Telling everyone to stay at home too early is a narrow and dangerous alley that some will never find their way out of. It will happen, and probably soon, maybe even within hours; but every day that goes by we are becoming better equipped to both enforce it, and mitigate its dangers. 

Currently, Ministers have said they will ask people to stay home - but only when the scientific evidence confirms it is the right time. Dr Muscat, and others, have calmly, repeatedly, delivered that reassuring message.

But already there is a covert political agenda building to use the current national emergency as a vehicle to remove the Chief Minister, for a perceived lack of leadership. Some of the 'experts' on social media calling for that to happen are the exact same people who three weeks ago were criticising the media for scaremongering about a virus which was no than the common cold. How times change. 

Since war-time phasing seems to be fashionable, rather than the tired (but still apt) "Keep Calm and Carry On", how about the more spiky and pertinent "Careless Talk Costs Lives"?


Pictured: Once a lockdown restriction is released, we may well see a resurgence of the virus.

The Government's reaction has not been (anywhere near) perfect. All of us can easily find fault and criticise, but the people leading us through this crisis are also subject to the same worries, fears, stresses, fatigue, illness, family pressures and insecurities as everyone else. Everyone is finding their way through this horrible time. 

But most of us don't have the added responsibility of actual decision-making which will (within weeks) cost lives and jobs on a society-wide scale - whatever you choose to do. 

Now is not the time to settle old political scores; now is the time to help, to come together, to work through problems, to stay positive, to be strong...to be a community. 

Now is the time to listen calmly to people who have spent their lives studying viruses, who have made it their job to understand how they work, and how we should contain them.


Pictured: We must put our faith in people who have spent their lives studying viruses.

We already have that person, we hear from him every day, and he is the real leader who is actually guiding the actions of our politicians.

He is Dr Ivan Muscat. 

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Comments on this story express the views of the commentator only, not Bailiwick Publishing. We are unable to guarantee the accuracy of any of those comments.

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Posted by Sara Gascoigne on
A very coherent comment James. You completely nail the main points here and I hope people share this widely. I personally think if the comms guys at the states continually explain in simple form the reasons WHY we are not locking down too early and be brutally honest with this - we may stop some of the hysteria taking over social media and the like. Thanks again.
Posted by June Summers Shaw on
I have been a patient of Dr Muscat for 20 + years and could not agree more as to the very wise person that he is. We, as an Island, are very lucky to have him.
There is a temptation to " close the borders" and I admit to once being of that opinion too. I then reminded myself that Dr Muscat is behind the advice and we accept that he has our best interest at heart and go with what he says. It is disappointing to think that there may be political interests at play and what we are seeing in the media is not borne out of fear.
To Dr Muscat I say, keep up the good work and to others, lets put our trust in him.
NB: Written by a liver transplant, immune suppressed person at high risk and who is in isolation.
Posted by Salman Zaman on
I am writing to express my and I'm sure all healthcare worker's appreciation for the comments made.
Ivan Muscat is truly an unsung hero, as are the myriad of staff, from porters through to the Hospital managers. This cataclysmic event would be difficult to manage at the best of times. The speed with which medical staff like Ivan and numerous other colleagues, drs nurses, managers, have responded and set out action plans has been truly phenomenal. As someone whose whole family work in the frontline of the health service(myself,wife and son) I would advocate all and sundry armchair critics, who base their opinions on the latest whatsapp/ facebook posts or sensationalized media utterings, to be quiet and just let us do our jobs. We are best placed to respond and decide how to respond and when to do what, in keeping with the unique sociodynamics of Jersey. This is by no means a quick battle. Rather a long drawn out war and the circumstances of what happens next, is by no means clear to anyone, anywhere in the world. The only valid endpoint is the development of an effective and safe vaccine, which is quite a way off. Till that time please support the likes of Ivan and our other healthcare workers, who are in the frontline and are already under immense pressure. Trust us. Our States government does and hopefully we will be able to fully justify such trust.
Posted by Bill Dempsey on
Shame on you JEP, I may not stand on the top rung of the Chief Ministers ladder, but your attack on him with a full front page article today was uncalled for under most situations, but especially at this time. Stupidly I bought the paper this morning as I believed we were all in this together, but clearly not The Voice of the JEP. Shame on you.
Posted by John McGill on
Well done James a really good article I have been trying to get this accross to so many people who just rely on no marks on social media,, JLF is just the same as Borris he is the guy we have chosen to speak for us but he makes his speach on the instruction of people who have more in depth knowledge on the subject. Also yes to some other comments the JEP should hang their heads in shame.
Posted by John McGill on
Thank you
Posted by Steve Pearce on
Good article, thank you
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