As the coronavirus continues to spread, a little-known Englishman has emerged as a valued source of information on the pandemic and how people can protect themselves. Melanie Reid reports.

In January, Dr John Campbell, a 62 year-old retired nurse with a PHD, began posted videos on the internet about a deadly new virus, Covid-19. Now, he is YouTube’s latest star with 500,000 followers tuning in to his daily updates on the global situation.

“I want to promote the health of my countrymen. It’s not about me. It’s about preventing the spread of the disease.” Campbell, told Britain’s Daily Mirror.”

“Governments and official bodies didn’t seem to be very proactive about it so I made the videos to get people thinking about it. I’m surprised it has become so popular, but clearly there is a thirst for information.”

Campbell’s calm delivery has won him praise from viewers and health professionals at a time when panic is sweeping many communities.

“I think it’s important at this time to have a calm and measured approach that is as informed as possible,” Campbell told American online news site,

“Given that no one can be fully informed because it’s such a massive subject now, it’s good to have someone that tries to examine this objectively.”

Three weeks ago, before anyone else, Campbell was talking about the need for countries to “flatten the curve” and before that, when the virus was all about China, he predicted it would become a pandemic.

He lamented as the World Health Organisation procrastinated before finally calling it one, and now his messages are increasingly frustrated: Europe and the US, unlike South Korea, Hong Kong, Taiwan and China, are not implementing strict enough controls, he says, to stop the spread.

Campbell forewarned that vast numbers of people were in danger as health systems are swamped with the critically ill.

Campbell has worked as a nursing educator at the University of Cumbria and is an experienced A&E nurse himself.

He spent years teaching health workers in India and Cambodia and has contacts in Iran and health-clinician friends in South Korea.

He doesn’t trust the official statistics coming out of Iran or China. He says the number of Chinese who have contracted Covid-19 is grossly under-estimated, yet they’ve done a “good job” of controlling the disease with “draconian measures that were needed, once they worked out what was happening.”

“Terrible things” are happening Iran, he says and North Korea? “Well. Their figures are not available.”

Campbell says the US and the UK – have been too slow to in controlling the spread of the virus. Their Covid-19 testing regimes for their populations have been inadequate. But he acknowledges that the US is starting to ramp up its testing now and seems to be understanding the gravity of the situation.

In a local news report on March 16, he told a reporter that “hundreds” could die in his hometown of Carlisle (about the same size as Dunedin) if the UK’s coronavirus strategy does not change. What he wanted early on was a wide range of testing (not just overseas travellers), quarantine for those who had the disease, vigorous tracing of their contacts and stricter social distancing measures; essentially closure of social facilities.

In his broadcast on Saturday March 21, with the UK facing an exponential growth in cases and higher and higher deaths, he despaired that the UK pubs had put on cheaper beer, and packed in the punters, for their final opening night on Friday. This “shameful” disregard for human safety would “almost certainly” result in deaths, he said.

He believes up to 80% of the UK population will be exposed to this disease if the Government there does not heed advice to contain it. “Not tomorrow, but now.”

He says both governments and individuals are not taking the virus seriously enough.

In his Saturday broadcast entitled ‘Let’s learn from others’, Campbell pointed to an update from Johns Hopkins Centre that states there are 275,000 officially confirmed cases worldwide (this has now jumped to 307,000 since his live stream) and 11,000 deaths (currently 13,000) but says “we know its way more than this, of course”.

“The world’s population is currently 7.7 billion people and I’m expecting at least half of them to get this infection at some stage over the next year. I’ve always hoped I’d be wrong; I still hope I’m wrong, but it’s looking less and less likely unfortunately.”

He says the World Health Organisation has now replaced its social distancing advice with physical distancing, meaning people needed to stay separate and in their homes.

“Everyone in the world at the moment basically needs to be separated from everyone else and certainly every family unit or household needs to be separated from every other family unit or household with physical distancing. We need physical spaces between individuals.”

“This is a matter of life and death – this is not a turn of phrase; this is literally true. This determines whether people live or die. There’s nothing more important.”

Countries that are showing reductions in the number of cases, notably South Korea and Taiwan, have implemented a strategy of five strict protocols: testing, tracking, tracing, isolation and quarantine. “And this strategy is working.”

Campbell says extensive testing has “made the enemy visible. You can’t fight what you don’t see. They’ve attacked every case with tracking. These are very technological countries, so they’ve used (mobile phones) a lot. Extensive tracing. Isolation of people that have been infected. Quarantine of people that came into contact with people that were in isolation because they were infected.”

“What we see is successful countries. This is an enemy we can fight. We have to fight this. We can’t accept these losses, it’s not acceptable. For most countries, until we get this vaccine, which isn’t going to be in 2020, it looks like we need a combination of the South Korea and Taiwan strategies, and the China strategies. And this depends on government and it also depends on individuals.”

“So where does that leave us today? The pandemic in increasing. It’s now affecting everyone. The number of cases are going to go on increasing over the next week. The strain on hospital systems and medical facilities all around the world are going to carry on increasing. More medical systems will become overwhelmed and the case fatality rate is probably going to increase as a result of that, especially in the poorer countries. Let’s work how we can have a proactive response for the people of the world from now on.”

He says countries that will struggle the most are those suffering from war and poverty and predicts high death rates among those populations.

“I can just shut myself up in my house – a lot of us can. Many people in refugee situations can’t do that. They are very vulnerable.”

Melanie Reid is Newsroom's lead investigations editor.

Leave a comment