Recognise the courage of those at forefront of battle against coronavirus

First published in the Daily Mirror on 03 April 2020.

During the “Blitz”, the bombing campaign by Germany targeting mainland Britain during 1940-1, our monarch realised that we did not have a way of sufficiently rewarding the courage of our civilian bomb disposal teams.

This was because the Victoria Cross (VC) could only be awarded for gallantry in the face of the enemy.

George VI and his advisors were quick to respond, creating the George Cross (GC) in September 1940 for “most conspicuous courage in circumstance of extreme danger”. The GC, which became affectionately known as “the civilian VC”, will celebrate its 80th anniversary later this year.

Today we face a new and unprecedented crisis in the form of coronavirus, or Covid-19, and our heroic 1.2 million-plus NHS workers and many others have not been slow to step up to the plate.

I applaud the fact that The Mirror has launched a campaign to recognise our frontline heroes and, as a collector of gallantry medals, including the VC, and as the author of six books on bravery, I would like to add my support to this campaign – and to explain a way forward on this issue.

As our medical teams and others risk their own lives to treat tens of thousands of Covid-19 sufferers, we once again need to respond in terms of finding an appropriate way of rewarding exceptional service and, in some cases, outstanding bravery. Indeed working in the face of a lethal virus, in cases without sufficient protection, is nothing but exemplary courage.

It is clear that the Government is already addressing this question and so it should. Yes, of course we have our Honours System whereby twice a year the Queen, in her New Year and Birthday Honours, announces a long lists of graded awards for public service.

However, the current medical emergency, which has led to the “lockdown” of our country, requires a new approach.

When members of the Armed Forces take part in short, but dangerous wars (as well as long conflicts), they are awarded “campaign medals” by the Ministry of Defence.The General Service Medal, for example, was awarded to military personnel from 1918-62 for their commitment in such far away places as Kurdistan, North West Persia, Palestine and Malaya

Today’s “trouble spot” is not thousands of miles away but is instead on our doorstep – but the extent of the crisis is no less grave and the levels of commitment and bravery are no less formidable.

I would like to see the Government create a new medal, perhaps one called the “Covid-19 Medal”, which is awarded to all those people who have worked full-time, or even part-time, to help beat the virus and to save lives.

It could be specifically awarded for “merit” or “selflessness” in the battle against Covid-19.

There is some sort of precedent for such a medal – and this took place within the last decade too.

The Ebola Medal for Service in West Africa, usually known as the “Ebola Medal”, was awarded to both members of the Armed Services and to civilians who had worked for either British Government or Non Governmental Organisations (NGOs) in West Africa between March 2014 and March 2016.

The circular, nickel-silver medal, which is 36mm in diameter, has an image of the Queen on one side and on the other side is a flame depicting the Ebola virus with the words “For Service West Africa Ebola Epidemic”.

The medal was announced on June 11 2015 when it was stated that the Government wanted to “recognise the bravery and hard work of thousands of people who helped to tackle Ebola in West Africa”.

I believe that the new “Covid-19 Medal”, or whatever it is eventually called, should be modelled very much on the Ebola Medal and it could easily end up being awarded to all our NHS staff, along with tens of thousands of other medical and emergency workers.

It would be up to civil servants to establish the precise criteria for the award of such a medal but it could be based on a minimum number of working hours for those who have battled coronavirus.

The criteria for the Ebola Medal was 21 days of continuous service or 30 days accumulated service on working visits of 48 hours or more to the operating area.

Other medals awarded for non-frontline service this century include the Iran Reconstruction Service Medal created in 2004 and the Civilian Service Medal (Afghanistan) created in 2011.

Either the Covid-19 Medal, or even a new and different medal, might be awarded for specific incidents of exceptional public service or bravery.

For example, it emerged this weekend that Amged El-Hawrani, 55, a consultant ear, nose and throat specialist, had become the first frontline hospital worker to die in the fight against Covid- 19.

It would be unthinkable, for example, to deny him and other fatalities such a medal simply because they had not “clocked up” sufficient hours to qualify for the award.

One thing is certain: these are extraordinary times and they require a similar scale of response to recognise the service and courage of those who are at the forefront of the battle against this dreadful virus.

Read this article on the Daily Mirror’s website.

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