By Guy Stenhouse

On September 6, 1952 at the Farnborough Airshow a prototype jet fighter broke up in mid-flight during a display as a result of a design flaw. An engine from the plane crashed into the crowd killing 29 people and injuring 60.

What is remarkable from today’s perspective is what happened next. Nothing, or rather everything. The airshow continued.

Can you imagine that happening today? I think not. Our attitude to death and risk has changed, sometimes for the better but not always. Certainly, it has become lopsided. Millions face starvation in Yemen this winter – a few of us will send a cheque to a charity but most will do nothing. If, however, a tragedy unfolds involving even a small number of people nearby, especially of an unusual nature, above all captured on camera, it grips the nation. Millions watch, they demand something must be done, politicians listen and, assailed by accusations of chaos and incompetence, they act – often unwisely.

Covid-19 is on the rise again in terms of infections – of that there is no doubt. But the evidence – as opposed to worried experts using models of what might happen based on speculative assumptions – for severe restrictions on our liberty and economic activity is thin. On March 31 this year there were 197 new Covid-19 infections recorded in Scotland and there were 752 people in hospital with Covid-19, including 123 in intensive care, and 22 people died of Covid that day. On September 21, there were 255 new infections, 73 people were in hospital and no deaths were recorded.

Yes, we are testing more now which distorts the infection statistics – but not the numbers in hospital or deaths. People – especially older people (nearly two-thirds of those who have died of Covid-19 have been over 80) have altered their behaviour. The Scottish Government has learned the lesson that pushing people out of hospital into care homes isn’t wise. People have worked things out for themselves using common sense – including the young who realise they have little to fear. Our medical experts have developed new techniques and found drugs which enable them to treat people better.

As a society we have got smarter at blunting the impact of Covid-19. What we have not got smarter about is creating a climate of fear. The BBC described Covid-19 recently as a “hideous plague”. We treat Covid-19 like Ebola – a truly hideous disease – when the facts show that the impact of Covid-19 is in truth more like a bad – but not the worst – flu epidemic.

As we look back on Covid-19 in 10 or 20 years’ time, we may see that our response to it is perhaps the greatest over-reaction in history. In March, action to enable us to prepare for the challenge ahead by building hospitals, testing capacity and a mountain of PPE made sense. Now we must tread a more difficult but still logical path.

Without a vibrant economy we cannot generate the wealth we need to pay off the debts we are taking on, let alone pay for the public services we all want. The adverse impact on the education of our children, our ability to provide non-Covid healthcare including cancer diagnosis and treatment, not to mention mental health, of the restrictions on normal life are plain to see.

Governments have to be brave enough to say it simply makes no sense to upend our economy and society to avoid deaths from Covid-19 if it means that actually more people will die of other things in the long run. Bravery seems to be in short supply nowadays but we need leaders with the courage to tell us that protecting everybody from Covid-19 cannot and should not be our priority. Our jobs, health, education and general progress need us to regain the perspective of risk our grandparents had.

Guy Stenhouse is a Scottish financial sector veteran who wrote formerly as Pinstripe