How much would we pay to halt coronavirus, asks Robert Peston

As I have repeatedly mentioned, the view of the chief medical officer Chris Whitty, which has shaped the government’s response to Covid-19, is that the virus is the equivalent of unstoppable bad flu.

But to make policy on that basis is to impose an epidemiological judgement on what is a social, ethical and political issue.

The fact is that for most British people, 20,000 people or so dying each year from flu is just one of those horrible facts of nature.

But that does not mean all, or any of us, will or should accept as a fait accompli that 100,000 or more have to die so that we can acquire the “herd immunity” I cited earlier on Thursday, as the government’s goal.

The evidence from around the world is that people will accept coercive social distancing - painful restrictions on our precious freedoms to go where we want and when we want - to save the lives of our loved ones.

And even if that were to cause the worst recession since the war, most of us would give up any amount of money to protect those we love.

The evidence of South Korea, Hong Kong, Taiwan and Singapore is that we are NOT powerless to slow and halt the spread - and will pay almost whatever is necessary.

The response from Whitty and Johnson might well be that halting the virus in that way is not a cure, that it would return with a vengeance as and when we leave our quarantines.

But at least we will have bought precious time to invest in better testing and treatments - until that desperately needed vaccine arrives.