Alan Hubbard

Those of us at home - and abroad - who are fans of the wonderful television comedy series Dad’s Army no doubt will recall the catchphrase made famous by Corporal Jones, so superbly played by the late Clive Dunn: "Don’t panic! Don’t panic!" 

He would yell as danger threatened, running around like a headless chicken and, of course, panicking like mad.

This would be followed by the lugubrious Scot Private Frazer, played by John Laurie, wailing: "We’re all doomed!"

Now it would seem we are, if you believe all you read in the papers or see on the box.

Armageddon is nigh thanks to the impending pandemic of coronavirus, or COVID-19 as it is formally known. And of course despite all the warnings not to panic, we certainly are doing a Corporal Jones. As the small number of new cases continues to rise in Britain, with 92,000 people infected worldwide, some are clearly preparing for the worst.

Only yesterday I saw a neighbour of mine loading her car as she came out of a local supermarket with three dozen bottles of water, a dozen six-packs of toilet rolls, 20 packets of antiseptic wipes and several trolley loads of food and other provisions that could last a family for months. And she was clearly miffed that the store - as well as a nearby chemist - was displaying a notice which said it had run out of facemasks and hand gel.

Okay, so coronavirus is getting serious but isn’t such a reaction - and there are plenty more like her - just a tad over the top? Such panic measures are fed by a media apparently hell bent on scaremongering. Yet so far the impact of coronavirus is minuscule compared to many other epidemics. It isn’t the Black Death or even Spanish or Asian flu, all of which called killed millions. Just as common or garden flu does, notably among the elderly, globally each year.

As Dad's Army taught us: "Don’t panic! Don’t panic!" ©Getty Images
As Dad's Army taught us: "Don’t panic! Don’t panic!" ©Getty Images

This isn’t to say things will not get worse. Of course they will. Even our usually upbeat Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, says so. But he also assures us preventative measures are up and running. And, as they say, prevention is better than cure.

At the moment, what alarms me more than the obvious threat of coronavirus is that some of the measures of prevention being talked both here and around the world could bring nations to a standstill, putting cities in lockdown, closing all forms of transportation, bringing about a grim isolation and banning all public gatherings - especially sports events up to and including the Olympic and Paralympic Games in Tokyo.

Other less extreme measures suggest that some events could be held behind closed doors to cope with any mass spread of the virus. In Britain, talks at Government level have included the exploration of playing all Premier League and other football fixtures with no fans in attendance.

And if necessary, only television cameras would be permitted at events such as the FA Cup final and golf’s Open Championship.

Not only would this cripple sport’s economy, but the nation’s.

Then there is football’s Euro 2020, due to take place across 12 countries. What would happen to this, not to mention the Olympics, which have survived terrorism, insurgency and boycotts over the years?

Organisers of the Tokyo Games rightly say postponement or cancellation is out of the question for now. But could they take place without the paying public? Isn’t the threat of coronavirus among the 12,000 or so competitors and officials from more than 200 countries, so many of which have been hit by the virus, as prevalent as it would be among the hundreds of thousands of would-be spectators?

Ludogorets players arrived in Milan last week wearing facemasks ©Getty Images
Ludogorets players arrived in Milan last week wearing facemasks ©Getty Images

True, it is said that the effect of the virus on young, fit persons, especially those who play sport, is less than us old ‘uns who merely watch.

Hundreds of sports events, major and minor around the world have been either cancelled or suspended do far, ranging from Serie A matches in Italy to international rugby in Dublin. As well as are just about everything in China, of course, including the World Athletics Indoor Championships which were to be held in Nanjing next week, now postponed for a year. The Formula One Chinese Grand Prix scheduled for April 19 has also been postponed.

To date, the only continent unaffected by coronavirus is Antarctica. Obviously penguins are immune. So perhaps they should consider scrapping the Summer Games and bring forward the Winter Olympics to the South Pole instead.

The Tokyo Games, naturally, has been one of the biggest concerns in the wake of the virus, not least because of Japan’s proximity to China where the outbreak originated.

One advantage the Olympics seem to have is time, as many health officials are hopeful that the virus will be better contained by the summer.

Me too. Especially as I have a holiday booked which takes in one of the most affected areas.

So instead of panicking and worrying that we are all doomed, I suggest another catchphrase made famous in an insurance ad by a former television celebrity, film producer Michael Winner: “Calm down, dears…”

Meantime, does anyone have a spare facemask?