‘Focus on the important risks!’ Economist rages at WHO in wake of coronavirus pandemic

Mark Littlewood, director-general of the Institute for Economic Affairs, suggested a change of emphasis was needed, whereby active preparation for health emergencies took precedence over more trivial, day-to-day concerns about diet, smoking and alcohol consumption. There are now than 1.6 million confirmed cases of COVID-19 worldwide, according to Johns Hopkins University’s Coronavirus Resource Centre, with the death toll now past 100,000. The damage the crisis will inflict on the world’s economy is still to become fully apparent – but Mr Littlewood suggested when the cost, both in terms of lives and to standards of living, was eventually calculated, a great deal of soul-searching would be required.

He told Express.co.uk: “Almost every nation-state will be saying ‘what have we learned from all this?’

“There are a million questions really.

“What or what have we learned about how are we learned about Public Health England?

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“Do we configure Public Health England, so it’s spending all of its resources on how we might deal with pandemics rather than a fairly large chunk of its resources, worrying about what’s written on a sweet wrapper, or what food adverts they can have on the London Underground.

“Is that what public health should be doing?

“They seem to be spending an awful lot of resources on that rather than worrying about what we do if a massive pandemic hits us.

“The World Health Organisation has not come out of this terribly well either.”

Mr Littlewood added: “I think the economic terms is that we fall for what’s called the bathtub fallacy.

“The bathtub fallacy is that we spend a lot of time sort of saying, oh, if we fall over in the bathtub, we might sprain our wrist or break our arm.

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“If you consider things which are high risk, but low hazards, fall over in the bathtub, it doesn’t kill you and it doesn’t knock 25 percent of the world’s economy.

“But we have not shown ourselves to be very good at dealing with what you might call low risk, very high hazard effects.

“So even if the chance of this happening was only one percent or two percent, obviously, the consequences of it happening are absolutely devastating in terms of economic damage.

“The human race has probably got a bit unlucky here this only happened once every 30 years, 50 years or whatever, we probably got unlucky.

“But I’m not sure that we had in place gamed what we would actually do about it.

“We have scenario-planned in the past things like what we would do under a massive terrorist attack or, you know, or a nuclear explosion or some such like.

You might want people to eat less, drink less and smoke less but that really does pale in comparison with what we are facing at the moment

Mark Littlewood

“I would have thought we’ve got to take the sorts of risks in future, these sorts of hazards, more seriously.

“Perhaps at the expense of not worrying so much about sort of what you might say are more trivial day-to-day things.

“You might want people to eat less, drink less and smoke less but that really does pale in comparison with what we are facing at the moment.”

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