Breach is a bitch.
So is karma.
And a leg-over with your girlfriend — who came clear across town for the booty-call — has proved a shame-shag from hell for “Professor Lockdown,” the British epidemiologist whose computer modelling of the coronavirus helped shape social distancing orders for all the United Kingdom.
Neil Ferguson was caught with his pants down, a story broken by The Daily Telegraph earlier this week, which revealed the professor enjoyed at least two visits at his London home with his paramour in recent weeks. That’s a no-no — romantic rendezvous definitely not an essential service — as per his own strict guidelines. The upshot: On Tuesday Ferguson quit his position as government adviser amidst wildly prurient gotcha reportage in the riotous redtops.
A prominent member of the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE), leader of the team at Imperial College London, Ferguson, 51, had gained gobs of fame with frequent appearances on TV and radio talk shows, shaking his lockdown tambourine. It was Ferguson, in particular, who convinced Prime Minister Boris Johnson to issue a lockdown directive on March 23.
Now he’s fallen on his, er, sword.
“I accept I made an error of judgment and took the wrong course of action,” Ferguson said in a statement. “I have therefore stepped back from my involvement in SAGE. I acted in the belief that I was immune, having tested positive for coronavirus and completely isolated myself for almost two weeks after developing symptoms.”
Ferguson contracted COVID-19 in mid-March and allegedly had no physical contact with his lover, Antonia Staats — married mother of two, said to be in an open marriage with her husband — until two days after his quarantine ended, then again on April 8. Ferguson is separated from his own wife.
If nothing else, the scandal has provided an entertaining distraction for the public, the UK this week surpassing Italy in COVID-19 deaths — more than 30,000 having succumbed to the disease, numbers that don’t reflect the true mortality rate because of systemic under-reporting. Department of Health and Social Care, cited at daily media briefings, don’t include those who’ve died outside hospitals, including long-term-care homes and hospices.
It was on March 16 that Ferguson delivered a 20-page report to Prime Minister Boris Johnson, urging social distancing and vast shutdowns, afterwards telling media that more than 500,000 could die if the government continued its herd immunity strategy. Johnson quickly pivoted from the government’s initial “herd immunity” approach.
“We might be living in a very different world for a year or more,” Ferguson said at the time.
For him, not so much, turns. Can you spell H-Y-P-O-C-R-I-T-E?
“That story itself speaks to how challenging this is,” understates Jessica Wood, research specialist with the Sex Information and Education Council of Canada (SIECCAN), which provides guidance for educators and policy-makers on evidence-based sexual health. SIECCAN has put out a fact sheet for safe sex practices in the time of coronavirus.
“Given that COVID-19 has important implications for sexual health and relationship, we wanted to put something out there that people could easily access. People need to be familiar with the guidelines and need to determine their own level of risk.’’
Bluntly speaking, tread carefully with new sexual partners. And there shouldn’t be any contact with persons outside the household family anyway, as per public health directives.
Safest of all, says Wood: Masturbation.
“You are your safest sex partner. Especially when it comes to risks for COVID-19. Whether you have a relationship with someone inside or outside your household, masturbation is something everyone can engage in without worrying they’ll increase their risk.”
With caveats, Wood adds: Wash your hands, wash your sex toys. And, as stipulated elsewhere on sex tip fact sheets, DO NOT apply hand sanitizer to those toys.
“The next safe person to have sex with are your household partners,” Wood continues. However, there are various reasons why that other might not want to have sex — perhaps they’re front-line health workers and don’t want to risk it, even if asymptomatic. Or they’re tired — that old excuse. Or they’re not in the mood. Or — this goes for anybody — they’re plain stressed out.
“We shouldn’t assume that just because people live together that it’s easy for them to maintain a sex life.”
As well, partners should take heed of out-of-COVID dimension sexually transmitted diseases because it may be difficult to access medical treatment at this time.
Of course, some people won’t follow guidelines, even if in places such as Italy, at the height of the outbreak the Carabinieri were stopping cars and demanding explanations for being out during the lockdown. Visiting your boyfriend didn’t cut it.
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There are means to maintain intimacy between non-live-in partners, Wood notes. “There are ways to be creative and build those relationships while following distancing guidelines. Virtual dates using virtual sex toys is one option.”
The heart wants what it wants. So do the cha-cha genes in your jeans.
“Sex is a pretty powerful drive,” says Dr. Jennifer Blake, an obstetrician and president of the Society of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists of Canada. “The soul is not always the most rational.”
The society also has issued a guidance fact sheet. “Can you have sex?” it asks. “Yes you can!”
Again, masturbation is least risky. Next safest is a consenting partner “that you live with.” Although not entirely safe, unless you’re wearing a full-body condom. “Even a giant bottle of water hanging over a couple having sex in their bed doesn’t make it perfectly safe,” says Blake.
The society stresses that public health guidelines should be followed but tacitly realizes those in the throes of sexual desire might not comply, either making carnal visits or bringing a partner into the home. Core advice: Avoid having sex with someone who doesn’t live with you. Which is fine for spouses and couples but full of tactical obstacles for the dating set. Toronto may have, on Wednesday, shifted its recommendation from stay-home to keep-your-distance, as of this week, but that doesn’t fit for sex.
“If you choose not to follow that advice,” according to the Society fact sheet, “please consider minimizing travel back and forth (can one of you stay over for a few nights?)” And: “If you plan to travel consider making this exception for only one partner to limit potential spread of COVID-19 (wait to see other partners post-COVID-19.”
Or, as Blake puts it: “Do you really want to go there? Is it not possible to just wait?”
For many, apparently not, although not necessarily going in-person Full Monty. So, swipe-left and swipe-right. The “lonely normal” has sparked a massive spike in people using dating apps whilst romancing the coronavirus. OKCupid has recorded a 30 per cent increase in usage since March 11; Tinder — with its proud reputation for casual dating (euphemism for sex) — says daily conversations have surged by 20 per cent. Match.com, video-chatting wasn’t a thing, with only six per cent of users expressing interest in its new in-app video service pre-pandemic, its CEO Hesam Hosseini recently told Fast Company magazine. But since launching its in-app feature on April 15, that interest has crested to 60 per cent.
Text-based interaction can get awfully stale awfully fast, however. Dating sites have thus set up virtual happy hours and group-mingling while also providing connection suggestions. Participants have built playlists together, tackled crossword puzzles in tandem, even — purportedly — doing their taxes virtual cheek to virtual cheek, which sounds horribly unromantic. One fellow even ordered wine delivery to both households, so they could virtually taste-test.
OKCupid, by the way, was reportedly where Neil met Antonia a year ago, the professor and his inamorata, his-and-her sex scofflaws.
From Ferguson’s mea culpa: “I deeply regret any undermining of the clear message and the continued need for social distancing to control this devastating impact.
“The government guidance is unequivocal and is there to protect all of us.”
Pedant hoisted on his own petard.