A flying concert pianist’s Corona diary

The British pianist Peter Donohoe, 66, had a close encounter with Covid-19 whole on China tour at the end of last year. His personal diary of the dawning storm will reflect the experiences of many far-flung artists and musicians.

We present the diary unedited.

CORONAVIRUS DIARY

I wrote this timeline originally for private purposes, then decided to share it – once edited for public consumption – at a time when it seemed that most of us were still not only being denied full disclosure about coronavirus, but also convincing ourselves that it was not so serious. That it has now become very obvious that it is one of the most serious threats we have ever faced, as well as it being now accepted that many more people may have caught the virus and recovered than is suggested by the statistics – these things perhaps makes this post less relevant than it may have been earlier. Nevertheless I am aware that my experience may help a little towards putting the appalling situation of this outbreak into perspective.

In retrospect, it seems to me possible that the mild cold I caught around 1 November, along with jetlag, may have made me vulnerable to viral infection of some kind when I was in China for most of the last three weeks of November. I was travelling virtually every two days from one freezing cold city to another – sometimes by train, sometimes by plane – surrounded – other than in the many hotels – by a rather democratic level of hygiene (particularly in university concert halls and certain restaurants). I caught what I now suspect was coronavirus at some point up to around eight weeks before it was announced by western media that China had revealed news of a new and highly contagious virus, thought to have started in Wuhan. After the announcement I first dismissed the thought that what I had could have been this new virus because I was back home in the U.K. four weeks before it was mentioned.

Then I heard about the whistleblower doctor Li Wenliang originally being harassed by police for spreading rumours; he first submitted a report on 30 December and eventually died in February from the virus. This made me think that there was a possibility that it had been around in China long before 31 December, and that I had been exposed to it, making me feel not only awful, but quite unlike anything I have known before, and it was longer-lasting too. Of course, many people who didn’t visit China experienced an unusually long-lasting flu or cold this last Winter. So maybe all I had was the same as them, and I am making a silly claim. Or perhaps they all caught coronavirus too.

Perhaps it was some other virus – I may never know, and I do not wish to make a big deal out of it, but in my opinion it may well have been coronavirus. What I know for sure is that I am incredibly grateful that whatever it was has finally gone, and that for those thousands and thousands of people who have not been, and will not be, so lucky, this is a tragedy whose profundity and seriousness can not be overstated. My own gratitude is also for the fact that, although it was very unpleasant and long-lasting, it did not prevent me working i.e. I still had enough strength to breathe and remain upright when necessary; really serious cases, including some from which people have recovered, take those abilities away. I was even able to travel back to London from Beijing – admittedly feeling dreadful. The retrospective vision of my going down with a very serious bout of coronavirus whilst in China, where its existence was not yet officially acknowledged, doesn’t bear thinking about.

November

1 LSO St Luke’s recital, which is when I thought I may have contracted the cold that comprised the beginning of this very long episode that became the most prolonged period of ill-health in my life.

3 Flight to St Petersburg, Russia.

4 – 8 in St Petersburg a recital, several orchestral rehearsals and a concerto performance. Developed ordinary cold symptoms – sore throat, and runny nose – began to appear on or around the 5th lasting until around 8th.

8 A rather stressful evening – the concerto was Bartók’s 2nd, and it was followed by a late night flight to Moscow’s Sheremetievo Airport, arriving at around 1.00 a.m, plus searching for airport hotel (Sheremetievo is a gigantic airport) and checking in etc. However, the cold symptoms appeared to be fading.

9 Early flight from Moscow to Shanghai. My cold seemed to have essentially gone away, but not completely.

11- 30 Recital and Masterclass tour of China, working in 9 cities;

10 Shanghai

11 – 13 Nanchang

14 – 15 Neijiang

16 Chengdu – where I had a rather serious haircut, which may have been unwise, given winter temperatures in northern China.

17 – 19 Mianyang – where it was unreasonably cold in the venue, and I had to wear an extra layer under my concert suit.

20 – 21 Neimenggu – a province of Inner Mongolia – the city name was Hohhot, where I was treated to the most wonderful welcoming celebratory traditional lunch ceremony; I rather rashly ate a small piece of raw meat from the hotpot before it was submerged in the boiling water – I think it was beef, but who knows. The people with me, who were a mixture of Chinese and Japanese were visibly concerned. However, whatever it was that I ended up being severely ill with, I believe I already had it at this point.

22 – 23 Zhongbei Taiyuan – where I insisted upon three oil-filled radiators to be placed near the piano, and wore two shirts, and a pullover underneath my concert outfit (a lounge suit), as it was minus 2C onstage. I was shaking onstage with the cold, and it was only the outlay of energy required for Pictures at an Exhibition that warmed me up to a tolerable state.

25 – 26 Xi’an

28 – 29 Tianjin

N.B. Not Wuhan, although I did play there the previous year.

[I always enjoy such tours, as they bring me to places I had not even heard of before, meeting and working with some great people who offered splendid hospitality. However, as far as concert conditions (particularly temperature) in university concert halls, hygiene, and eating conditions were concerned, the (excellent) hotels comprised an oasis. Almost none of the venues, or even restaurants, offered acceptable lavatory and hand-washing facilities – I will not give any further details, other than to say that there is for me no less holy [or should that be more unholy?] smell on the planet than that of a typical Chinese public convenience, including those meant for the audiences in university concert halls, and there was an almost complete absence of soap, warm water or towels/hand-drying machines. Given that the average temperature was well below freezing – including in dressing rooms, and in two cases onstage – one cannot help think about the inevitability of viruses. The exceptions were – almost predictably – Shanghai, Xi’an and Tianjin.]

During this tour, I experienced an occasional mild fever, a permanent sore throat, and gradually increasing muscular aching, the latter reaching its worst on the night before leaving China (30 November). Also I developed a hideous itchy rash on my back from shoulder to shoulder, that felt like sunburn, and several patches all over – particularly lower legs – that bled when I scratched them. I also went through several bouts of shivering for no reason. However, at no point did I feel energy-less, or inclined to lie down all day, as many people say they do if they contract flu, or anything similar. On the other hand I did, because of truly awful muscular aching, feel completely unable to use my legs for any purpose other than to walk slowly. [I regularly do a squatting exercise 20 times or so – I have been up to 100 on one day before now – to counteract and mitigate the effects of endless sitting at a piano, a computer, in a restaurant, on a plane, in a train, in a car, that is an intrinsic part of this profession – no advice required or needed, thank you – and on that particular evening I couldn’t manage even one squat because of leg muscle pain.]

December

1 Arrived back home from China.

2-17 Very unpleasant symptoms, including occasional fever, endless sneezing and most of all, a painful dry cough and tight-chestedness. During this time, I travelled to Belfast to get a US visa, gave a Masterclass at the RBCM, followed the next day by a recital, rehearsed and performed a Royal Festival Hall concert with the London Philharmonic, and gave a recital in The Lake District. The latter was held in a large private house, where the family of the promoter were riddled with what I thought were very bad coincidental cold symptoms. During all this, the only way I could go ahead with the engagements was by keeping the symptoms down by using Lemsip, paracetamol etc.

17 I took a flight to Munich and a train to Bayreuth. By then my cough and aching had returned.

18-21 Recording sessions in Bayreuth, blighted by recurrent coughing and aching, although far less extreme than had been the week before.

22 I flew home. Got worse and worse again over Christmas. Endless coughing, tightness of chest, streaming cold, aching muscles. I began to suspect pneumonia.

AND THEN, on or around 31 December, news began to filter through regarding the new coronavirus, originating in Wuhan, at first suppressed by the Chinese government, and now causing serious concern.

January

6 I went to the funeral of an old friend and colleague, Malcolm Rowson – ex-chairman of Warwickshire SO of which I am a patron. At the service I was stifling coughs and aching, but mainly managed to avoid being too near anyone. I dismissed any thought that my symptoms might have any connection with what had just been announced by China, given the dates, and despite the cover-up instigated by the Chinese government.

7 flew to Philadelphia slightly improved.

8 Rehearsal and concert with orchestra in Philadelphia – symptoms prevailed but not extreme

9 A social gathering a Philly restaurant, in which the excellent food was completely spoiled by coughing painfully and general flu symptoms

13/14 Flew back from home from Philly; extremely unpleasant flight due to symptoms.

15 A ‘repertoire’ performance – i.e. a rehearsal without a concert – of Mozart K271 with Birmingham Wednesday Band. Symptoms continuously having to be suppressed by Lemsip etc.

17 Went to Russian visa office in London with the same symptoms yet again, and began to feel it would never end.

23 RBCM Masterclass cough sweets and lemsip helped and the class quite good and energetic, but still symptomatic

24 Attended a family funeral in Bournemouth. – Despite trying to avoid it, I was hugged by quite a few elderly people*, but no one to my knowledge later came down with whatever I had.
* It is remarkable how many people come over and do that, and then say, “I suppose we shouldn’t do that should we?”

25 Social gathering at a pub/restaurant for Rabbie Burns Night. I felt terrible.

27 Churchill Competition jury member. Terrible coughing and spluttering during the performances.

28 Perse School, Cambridge, recital with appalling coughing and runny nose.

I finally decided that I may have contracted coronavirus – about which we had only heard 4 weeks after my symptoms started. With this came the realisation that I had been on several planes, at several family events, several post concert receptions, and to several restaurants since possibly contracting it. This was horrifying, but I received advice from my GP by phone that I should not go to the surgery because they were overwhelmed, but should phone 111 if symptoms persisted. He said that given the dates of my China trip, it was extremely unlikely that this was coronavirus, and that if I really did have the virus I would be unable to get up and would be totally debilitated. Phoning 111 proved fruitless.

29 Reassured by the doctor’s advice that what I had was ‘very unlikely’ to be coronavirus on basis of the dates involved, I went for a drink in a local pub with my son-in-law and coughed and streamed the whole time. We kept a reasonable distance apart, but not two and a half metres (That advice was yet to be mentioned).

30 RBCM Masterclass – symptoms still there but improved, particularly in the early morning.

February

Although I detected a very slight general daily improvement, the symptoms now remained pretty well the same for another week. It had settled into a pattern of seeming to have much improved overnight, giving the false hope that it was finally going, and then returning later in the day and making each evening progressively more depressing. I alternated between agreeing with the doctor when it seemed to improve most mornings, and wondering again when it lapsed during most evenings. There was an upward trend however – just very slow. However, there was one symptom whose connection is admittedly very tenuous – that if being progressively absent-minded. It slowly dawned on me that I was forgetting all manner of things – fortunately not the memory aspect of the music I was playing – things like clothes in hotel rooms, showing up to concerts having left the music in a taxi, a plane, or on a train. I began to think that this was early-onset dementia.

1 On this day I did two concerts during the same evening – a rehearsal and concert in Bradford with EU Chamber Orchestra followed by a furious drive to Manchester’s RNCM to take part at the end of a multiple piano concert supporting the John Wilson scholarship.

5 I gave a Masterclass and recital at St Albans School for Girls, coughing and sneezing throughout, although again Lemsip and paracetamol helped.

6 Rehearsal with Sacconi Quartet in Hampstead in advance of next week’s Russian tour. N.B. I left a score of Haydn sonatas on the train.

7 Private concert with Sacconi Quartet in London

8 Shrewsbury School recital – symptoms slightly improved

11 I conducted an evening rehearsal with Stockport Symphony Orchestra – Very tough as it was the first of five rehearsals on Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring (the second and third being taken by Robert Guy whilst I was back in Russia from the next day onwards). The symptoms were still in evidence, but there was a noticeable improvement.

Stayed the night in a Manchester Airport hotel

12/13 Manchester/Heathrow/Moscow/Krasnoyarsk. Very very long travel day, but symptoms not so bad. N.b. I left the score of the Taneev Quintet – the piece we were touring in Russia – on the third plane. Fortunately a local guide and translator and organiser of everything – Alexei – was well on the case and retrieved it successfully from Aeroflot.

The next 7 days comprised a Russian chamber music tour – mainly in Siberia – with the Sacconi String Quartet. The symptoms were definitely less aggravating, but they were still there.

14 Krasnoyarsk
15 Kemerovo
17 Novosibirsk
18 Barnaul
20 Moscow

Unfortunately, to add to the feeling of being under the weather, as a result of having a skinful at the British Embassy reception and trying to take off tight trousers over flight socks whilst hopping around the hotel room on my left leg, I fell over and seriously tore a shoulder tendon after this concert, the last of the tour. This may even have been yet another symptom – after all I taken my trousers off several thousands of times – including after receptions – with no trouble at all. The fluey symptoms remained, but far less extreme.

21 flight back to U.K. from Moscow – symptoms still niggling [and as for the shoulder…]

22 class Tonbridge School ditto with added problem of arm and shoulder injury. I found it very difficult not to cough whilst listening, but somehow kept going. Later on I played a short recital of a Mozart Sonata and a Haydn Sonata, during which my cough was kept at bay by adrenaline and Jakeman’s cough sweets – apart from between pieces – because I was so bothered by my sore shoulder.

24 Stockport SO my second rehearsal of The Rite of Spring. Very painful shoulder, which took my mind off the flu symptoms, but they were still there, although lessened. N.B. The Rite of Spring is not an ideal piece to conduct when one has a torn shoulder muscle…

27 A repeat of 24th

29 Stockport SO concert (Mendelssohn Midsummer Night’s Dream Overture, Mozart Piano Concerto K 503, and Stravinsky Rite of Spring. Went well, flu symptoms lessening, shoulder killing – unexpectedly worse during the Mozart.

March

1-4 seemed to be better

5 Could not believe it, but I started with another cold – not an achy, or sore throaty one, and not really with much of a cough, but a very runny nose

8 Young Musician of the Year jury member in Cardiff. The cold made it necessary to dose up for TV interview. Again, just a runny nose and a bit of a cough – nothing like previously.

12 RBCM Masterclass, felt as if I was finally out of the woods

13 My 3 year old grandson’s birthday party, for which the symptoms seemed pretty well gone

16 FINALLY completely symptomless on the very day we were told to self-isolate by Boris Johnson. Overnight it all disappeared like a cloud was lifted, and ever since I have felt good, other than the shoulder problem, and including that my fuzzy-headedness and memory for losing things and leaving things all over the world had completely gone. It felt so good that I will never take feeling healthy for granted again. [Sadly, I have no concerts or anything else to do during this feel-good period, as the music world has been cancelled for the foreseeable future. But at least there is a good chance of recovery from the shoulder incident – I had been booked in by now for an operation on 27 March, which is something I could not have considered had there been any concerts in my diary. ]

17 My son-in-law – who had been obliged by his work to attend one of the few sporting events not to be cancelled – the Cheltenham Races – appeared to have coronavirus symptoms, so his wife – my daughter – and their two young children are in self-isolation for two weeks.

27 I entered hospital for keyhole surgery on my shoulder, as the injury was career-threatening. I was told – via conversations with the surgeon, physiotherapist, and three nurses regarding being lucky to have got my operation in just before the hospital was taken over for the sole purpose of treating coronavirus patients – that, on the basis of my visit to China, my symptoms and the length of time it took to recover, I had almost certainly had a bout of the virus, and that as a result my close family has had it too – they certainly all had something unpleasant, long-winded, and different to anything before. And now it seems we will never know.*

* The news now seems to be that there is, or will soon be, a test for coronavirus antibodies, so that one can know in retrospect if one has had it, and has some level of immunity.

UPDATE: Here’s a further diary section that Peter has asked to add:

I still do not know that it was coronavirus that I had, and I probably never will. I believe it to be likely, but the official line is still that there were no cases – particularly outside China – until December, and until very recently no information was available about its existence before 31 December. That I may have caught it in November before it was ever acknowledged horrifies me, because it means that – given that that we now know retrospectively that self-distancing of 2 metres is the minimum safe distance to avoid infection – I was probably quite close to several people, even though I was obviously trying to avoid exposing them to what I thought was a bad cold [as far as I know, I have never had real flu – only bad colds – so I have no first hand experience of what it feels like]. I began to think of myself as a possible unknowing carrier, the thought of which terrifies me, but fortunately not a single person with whom I had any contact, other than my own family, seems to have developed symptoms. Had they done so, I could have found myself being responsible for terrible consequences, possibly including deaths – it does not bear thinking about, and makes me feel very frightened and guilty. Perhaps it is the case that I never had coronavirus, although I cannot imagine what else it might have been otherwise.

share this

Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on linkedin
Share on google
  • Fascinating read. Pleased to hear that Mr Donohoe is feeling better, and hope that the shoulder surgery has been successful.

    For anyone looking for musical gems to pass the time during lockdown, Mr Donohoe is a very engaging speaker, as well as being a wonderful pianist. There are some lengthy interviews on You Tube available to watch, as well as at least one hour long podcast, which is an hour wonderfully spent.

    Hopefully everything is up and running again soon as he opens the LSO season in September with the Tippett concerto, that will be quite an event!

    • Frankly, Covid or not Covid, travelling so far and coming into contact with so many people when suffering the symptoms he describes was totally irresponsible.

        • As I said – Covid or not Covid. Travelling on those symptoms and meetings so many people, even if only with flu, is antisocial.

          • Managers at work like to set an example so if they are ill they come into work. The problem is a lot of the staff catch it and then go sick.
            Especially if you work in an open plan office. Of say 24 people
            Also irresponsible.

      • The life of an international soloist is not easy. Especially if you are unwell.
        Unlike the 9 to 5 office job where one phones in sick

        • I’m afraid I’m with Erich here. I understand the desire not to let people down, and to fulfill artistic commitments (and earn one’s living) — but all the socializing whilst coughing and spluttering, for weeks on end, seems too much.

          I certainly respect Mr Donohoe, wish him all the best, and thank him for his frankness in sharing his diary.

    • One can only hope the virus has been controlled by then. Many scientists suggest the danger might continue for two years.

      • The virus is already “under control” in most of Europe and Asia. However, it won’t ever be eliminated, and will continue to cause a small number of deaths for ever.

        I don’t know where you get the “danger might continue for two years” from. If you are suggesting finding a vaccine, it is entirely possible that a vaccine will never be found; there is no guarantee one will exist in two years time, we just don’t know. Waiting for it to arrive is not a sensible strategy.

  • How irresponsible of him. If you even had a feeling that you were carrying the virus, you should have stopped. Look at all of the destinations that were traveled to and the potential people that were infected. Not to mention all of the people who were exposed and the individuals that they went on to infect. There is really no excuse for this and then to not get tested. I mean to say that you didn’t know about COVID-19 or what it was is not an answer. I certainly would not openly write about this is any publication or a blog that is widely read. To me this is to put engagements above the health of others and then say, oh well…At 66 one certainly knows better.

      • In December, news was out (if buried in the inner pages of the papers) about an odd severe pneumonia-like disease in Wuhan, apparently originating in the so-called wet market. When the local authorities claimed there was no evidence of human-to-human transmission, I (even though only a physicist, not physician) was immediately skeptical: no evidence *yet*, in the best of cases. I even considered canceling a vacation to the Caribbean, but decided the risk was still very low that it might have spread that far at that point; we returned home on December 22 and I sensed it was in the nick of time.

      • He was flying around well into March and said that he had symptoms…if you live without access to any media then it is excused. By then he should have been seen by someone in a medical capacity. Please don’t excuse this behavior. I mean come on…

        • Have another read of the section re March. The last time I flew anywhere was 21 February, when I returned home. During the first few days of March the symptoms seemed to have gone. Then came what seemed to be normal cold symptoms. As any decent person would do, I obviously kept as far away from others as I could for the 2 remaining professional obligations I had before the lockdown, as I had done in February, and had already pulled out of anything for the foreseeable future.

      • AND THEN, on or around 31 December, news began to filter through regarding the new coronavirus, originating in Wuhan, at first suppressed by the Chinese government, and now causing serious concern.

        Taken right from the article…

      • Forget about covid 19. Even if it was the ‘just’ the flu, how inconsiderate it was to sputter and cough on his hosts, masterclass students, fellow jurors, and passengers for weeks on end. Even great performers and teachers can spread the flu and their contribution, while significant to society and the arts, is not ‘essential’. Just a total lack of judgement IMHO.

          • That is untrue Brian. Large numbers of artists perform with colds – including many conductors and other instrumentalists with whom I have worked under those circumstances. If one is a singer – like Mick Jagger… – there is more of a reason to cancel, and many classical singers will do so for obvious reasons. They still legally need a doctor’s note, although in the real world the more clout an artist has the less that will be enforced. In any case, Mick Jagger is hardly a typical case – he is in his 70s, he is a rock performer, and he is iconic.

        • You may be right Humphrey. However, at no point did I write that I ‘sputtered and coughed’ on anyone, and indeed I didn’t.

          • It must have felt absolutely awful for you during those months feeling so downright rotten physically and I cannot imagine how you managed to summon the strength to keep going with an arduous schedule and keep your commitments. Is it mind over matter or is it that a brilliant mind (and talent) like yours just has to find an outlet and kindly advice to ‘rest up’ is anathema? I find this quite fascinating to ponder; no doubt also related to the question of capacity, work ethic, passion, determination. Or perhaps you had never really experienced such a prolonged bout of ill health so it was an unfamiliar beast? All that aside, I am extremely glad to hear you are back in good health.
            From a pianist Down Under

          • Dear Catherine, Thank you for your kind post and wishes! Yes it did feel pretty bad, but, whether I had coronavirus or not, it didn’t stop me from performing, practising or travelling, so I guess I couldn’t have been a very serious dose. The worse thing was the painful dry cough, which resulted in a bad headache almost every day. But I really shouldn’t complain, when one considers what others have been going through, sometimes dying from it.

            It is true that I have never suffered a serious illness – I have been very lucky so far. I don’t know about a work ethic – I guess I do have one, but only because I love doing what I do – I think a real work ethic is when you faithfully do your job as long as you need and then go the extra mile when you actually don’t like the work – you just value your own integrity. I feel like I am simply engrossed in a hobby that I am paid for.

            Thank you again

  • There is the antibody test that one could take in the UK now. I did it in London last week and it only took 10 minutes or so to tell the result. Therefore, as said in this blog, one can know in retrospect if one has had it, and has some level of immunity.

    • Thank you for the information. I would be very eager to take this test, even though government advice is that it is unreliable. If it involves travel to London I guess it would be possible to claim that it was essential travel.

      • There is no reliable antibody test for COVID-19. There are some very inaccurate tests that pretty much won’t tell you anything much at all. It really is not “essential travel”. And, I am afraid, you aren’t a priority case (nor am I, unfortunately, otherwise I too would like to get it).

  • I applaud Mr. Donohoe for his willingness to share this thoughtful account, and I wish him the best.

    It brings up a nagging concern. As some others have commented, In light of the pandemic, it can be considered irresponsible for someone with flu symptoms to travel and socialize globally, even if it is all in a day’s work for an artist such as Mr. Donohoe. Coupled with concerns for climate change, this really calls into question the viability of a touring performer.

    Being a great admirer of pianist Nobuyuki Tsujii, I have enjoyed making occasional holiday trips overseas to see him perform at world-class cultural centers. It is a privilege that I value and would very much like to be able to continue.

    I fear that one immediate consequence of the pandemic is the demise of global touring for performing artists. Someone like Mr. Tsujii, a superstar in his homeland, may end up performing exclusively in Japan, while the rest of us can only watch his performances online.

    My heart sinks at the thought.

    • Thank you Mr. Liu. Yes it is very difficult to visualise what the future holds for any kind of public event. All we can hope for is that after the virus is defeated – and there seems little guarantee of that so far – our world will gradually return to some semblance of what it was before. It will be a slow process for all kinds of reasons, but the performing arts are vital to my society, so we are not yet defeated!

      However unpleasant the virus is for those who do survive it, let us remember just awful it is for those who don’t and their families. It is difficult to imagine that a war could be worse than what is happening now [I know it could, and probably would, but nevertheless, this is a tragedy to the whole world of immense proportions.]

      • Mo. Donohoe: It is an honor that my comment gets a response from you. Your follow-up posts clearly indicate you care deeply about this matter. Indeed, my concern about the future for touring performers pales in comparison to the immensity of the crisis and the tragedy of losses suffered all over the world. The lives of everyone has been affected by the pandemic, overnight. But I do hope the world those fortunate enough to return to, post COVID, will have a place for “flying concert pianists.” Regards, Melissa L.

  • He was by his own admission into late April and still showing symptoms…I’m amazed he’d admit to that. Utterly irresponsible on every level. Even if it it was just a cold/flu it’s inconsiderate and dangerous.

    • Perhaps would care to think again. It is only 20 April now and I haven’t been out of the house any more than is allowed by government guidelines since 16 March. I don’t suppose you will post a reply to this, so I will take this opportunity to thank you for your contribution.

  • Here follows an expansion of a bit from the end of the previous post that I had redacted, partly in order to try to keep it short, and also because I – mistakenly it seems – assumed that readers would realise that any sensible and considerate person would avoid getting close to anyone else, even if all they had was a cold. At no point in my article did I say I was ‘spluttering and coughing’ over hosts and masterclass students or anyone else. Like most people who have a bad cold or similar, I distanced myself as much as seemed reasonable at the time before we had any knowledge of coronavirus, and spluttered and coughed on my own, or several metres away from other people.

    Here is the previously removed section:

    I still do not know that it was coronavirus that I had, and I probably never will. I believe it to be likely, but the official line is still that there were no cases – particularly outside China – until December, and until very recently no information was available about its existence before 31 December. That I may have caught it in November before it was ever acknowledged horrifies me, because it means that – given that that we now know retrospectively that self-distancing of 2 metres is the minimum safe distance to avoid infection – I was probably quite close to several people, even though I was obviously trying to avoid exposing them to what I thought was a bad cold [as far as I know, I have never had real flu – only bad colds – so I have no first hand experience of what it feels like]. I began to think of myself as a possible unknowing carrier, the thought of which terrifies me, but fortunately not a single person with whom I had any contact, other than my own family, seems to have developed symptoms. Had they done so, I could have found myself being responsible for terrible consequences, possibly including deaths – it does not bear thinking about, and makes me feel very frightened and guilty. Perhaps it is the case that I never had coronavirus, although I cannot imagine what else it might have been otherwise.

    Right – this is me in the present reacting to some of the comments I have read here:

    Every winter, like everyone else, large numbers of performing musicians catch colds and sometimes flu; most of us go ahead with our contractual obligations because we have no choice unless a doctor’s note can be produced to confirm that the performer is too ill to play – I have myself played concertos several times with conductors who have had bad colds, and on one occasion recorded a Brahms Concerto under those circumstances. If one can supply a doctor’s note promoters will usually be sympathetic and very willing to release the artist and do whatever it takes to arrange a stand-in. Without a doctor’s note, it constitutes a breach of contract.

    Anyone contributing anything akin to the judgemental oafish comment that it is irresponsible to go ahead with engagements when one has a cold or flu needs to learn to see further than the ends of their noses. If you believe that any serious promoter would tolerate the pulling out of an artist without a doctor’s confirmation that it was serious enough to prevent the performance, you are living in Cloud Cuckoo Land.

    After knowledge of coronavirus began slowly to seep out – and it was certainly slow, particularly in the U.K. – I began to think that I should get myself tested and if proved positive, that I would cancel any forthcoming engagements – using the certificate testifying that I had the virus. But what started as an outside possibility became a sneaking suspicion, dismissed at first; it seemed very unlikely that I had been exposed to the new virus on the basis of the dates on which I was in China – a point of view confirmed by a G.P. on 29 February, who told me not to come to the surgery, and that I shouldn’t try to get a test unless the symptoms got worse – as my crisis had been before New Year, that didn’t happen. I did try dialling 111, but fear had gripped the nation and there was no result.

    Once the U.K. lockdown started on 16 March there was obviously no way any of the usual rules regarding contractual obligations and cancellations applied any more [in any case I was suddenly in better shape at that point than at any time since November.] But until that day, they did apply. I did not seriously entertain the possibility that what I had was coronavirus until the end of February – I drew that conclusion myself very much against the prevailing point of view, including that of medical profession and governmental advice. By that point, those people who had more self-evidently contracted it had overwhelmed the NHS, whose preparedness for such a situation was seemingly inadequate; as far as I know it is still not possible for everyone in the U.K. who needs it to be tested. Dialling 111 was hopelessly futile, and doctors’ surgeries were overwhelmed and under-equipped. My belief that it was CV that I had has grown since my symptoms had disappeared, having gained much more knowledge of it – as we all have – over the last few weeks.

    Complacently judging others from a position of hindsight is a wonderful thing; I have been tempted down that path myself many times, but I don’t think it would ever have been right to indulge in it – particularly anonymously.

  • I think if everyone self isolated in more normal times the way some folk have suggested Peter should have done would cause the economy to spiral out of control every winter. This is a one off lethal virus that does need the country to shut down for a while but we shouldn’t compare it to seasonal sniffels and mild flu that most of us are immune to.

    • Absolutely right, Leo. Thank you. And as far as the music world is concerned, it is essentially divided into summer festivals and the winter season. I think only the former would stand a chance of survival if we all cancelled – doctor’s note or otherwise – if we started with a cold.

    • Actually, the flu kills around 17,000 people each year in Britain, and in particularly bad years it kills 30-50,000 people. Of course, it mainly kills older people with existing serious health conditions (as does COVID-19).

      In years to come, as most people develop immunity, this virus is likely to fade to have the same effect as the regular flu, which most of us shake-off without too many problems. At the moment the problem is that almost nobody has any immunity to it, and the only way to develop immunity is to catch it. But if too many catch it at once, the health care system will get overwhelmed since many more than 50,000 would die.

  • Peter Donohoe : ignore the clever clogs who now with hindsight always know better than anyone else what was the right thing to do . One of the most depressing features of the present situation is that it always brings out the inadequates who have nothing better to do than criticise, criticise, criticise . Ask them for positive advice on what should be done, however, and they become strangely ( but mercifully ) silent. I hope we shall hear you many times more when your shoulder is back to full fitness

    • Thank you for posting your kind message Christopher. It is of course true that it is easy to stand back and judge in retrospect, and whinge and say silly things – particularly anonymously.

      However, it is also true that if it ever did turn out that I had CV, and had infected other people, I would feel devastated that I hadn’t cancelled. It is food for thought. And of course it is an unprecedented situation.

      I am extremely critical of most governments, but even on their behalf I am conscious that everything is a leap in the dark for them; they inherited a health service situation from a succession of other governments, and are having deal with a new threat that no one with any authority had anticipated. To throw criticism and to snipe at anyone at present – particularly in retrospect and even more particularly anonymously – is all too easy an opportunity for self-importance.
      Thanks again

  • >