Lots of people both expert and pseudo-expert have questioned the UK Government’s strategy in dealing with the Covid-19 pandemic. Many have suggested massive incompetence of the Executive which announced it was alternately following then ignoring then selecting then directing ‘The Science’ and since science logically is based only on facts and is essentially unchangeable then this seemed an impossible task.
Some have sympathised with Johnson’s position, having successfully cut us off from all our European trading and support partners at the beginning of 2020 he would have expected a relaxed discussion over the detail of the Withdrawal Agreement in the twelve months until the tarmac had set on the Kent lorry parks. However this was not to be as the inscrutable orientals had other plans.
His chief adviser, the equally inscrutable Dom Cummings, realised the potential of Covid-19 early on. By February he had spotted the opportunity to rid his fiefdom of all its unproductive elements in one go. Supported by rogue elements of SAGE – the ‘Scientists‘ he embarked on promoting a plan of something called ‘herd immunity’, dripping the poisonous idea into the blond buffoon’s ear. It seemed ideal, let the virus pass through the population and create a permanent immunity in record time making him, via his blond puppet, the Superman of Capitalism. This would get rid of swathes of the old, the poor and the infirm, a permanent drain on the public purse. It had worked with measles, smallpox and chicken pox. Simples!
The only snag was that these examples were generally non-lethal and most had a vaccine to protect those most vulnerable. When the world at large pointed this out, the strategy of ‘herd immunity’ was quickly dumped, never to be spoken of again. Or was it? Let’s look more closely.
The general strategy adopted by the rest of the world except Sweden was to restrict contact through lockdown, test for infection and trace those potentially infected, isolating, testing again and reducing the numbers of infected as fast as possible. New Zealand, with a land area of 268,000 square kilometres similar to that of the UK, but with a tenth of the population, was hugely successful by immediately closing borders and locking down its population with a ‘zero-Covid19’ strategy.
And it worked. Twenty five deaths overall, comparable to the Isle of Man which had 24 deaths over the same period. Extrapolate upwards to account for the difference in population and the comparable death rate would be 300 while the UK boasts a ‘world beating’ 42,000 using the most sympathetic measuring protocol or 65,000 excess deaths if measured by the Office of National Statistics. So why do we seem to be doing so badly?
- Our first deviation from the advice offered by the World Health Organisation was to keep our borders fully open throughout the pandemic. Where Spain closed its borders within weeks (and New Zealand within days) this conveniently situated island opened its borders to every potential carrier in the world, only latterly imposing a voluntary two week ‘stay at home’ instruction to visitors from a rapidly changing list of countries with still no testing at ports or airports.
At the height of the pandemic in March we were still taking in 1.4 million visitors a month. Now we are locking down selective towns and cities we are still taking in 3,800,000 visitors a month (Source: visitbritain.org). More than half a million of those came from the most infected country in the world, the USA. If we had closed our ports and airports to foreign visitors on the same date as Spain stopped flights into Tenerife on 12th March then our infection rate would have been measured in hundreds rather than tens of thousands per week.
So why would we not do this? We had almost a month advance warning of what every other country was trying to do. Importing infection into the country would only spread it wider and faster across the population. Which would be the best way to achieve herd immunity….. oops!
- Next the WHO recommended a strategy of ‘test, test, test’ suggesting that countries put all their efforts into a testing and tracing regime which quickly identified infected people and then traced and, where possible, isolated those capable of spreading the infection. Most countries like Germany, Italy and inevitably New Zealand took this to heart and rapidly created and then improved a testing regime which did the job and gave them a platform on which to prioritise their health services.
What did the UK do? After ignoring the testing regime for some time it then offered a paltry 4,000 tests a day. Clearly the Executive didn’t see the need for mass testing. In fact even in late September the Prime Minister was saying: “Testing and tracing has very little or nothing to do with the spread or the transmission of the disease.”
Most recently the ‘NHS Test and Trace’ app has experienced a huge number of problems by being inefficiently designed. The fact is that it isn’t an ‘NHS’ app but one developed privately by a company linked to the Tory party and under a massive £12billion contract which was never subjected to competitive tender. The app failed to track thousands of contacts of infected people, its software was designed to set too high a level on purpose and the private company operating the ‘trace’ component of the system failed to contact even half the affected contacts.
One has to be concerned about a process which may tell you at any given moment that someone you may have been in contact with may have contracted the virus and therefore you must isolate yourself for fourteen days. This might well cost you your job, your livelihood, your possible promotion or even your relationship. Who, under the circumstances, would answer the call from an unlisted number bearing such news. The lack of an effective testing system and inability to trace infected people is crucial to reducing the spread of the disease. Promising then failing to deliver a system seems almost deliberate considering that the lack of control inevitably leads to much higher infection rates and eventual progress towards herd immunity. Umm!
- The final part of the slow progression towards widespread infection is the contradictory series of restrictions, u-turns and selective lockdowns which change on an almost daily basis. If you had to point to areas of societal activity where infection spread was most likely then that would be schools, universities and social gatherings.
So what does this government do? It bans outdoor meetings with friends but allows indoor drinking with strangers. It bans children playing football together – the same children who spend all day together in the foetid environment which is the modern school. It insists that you go to your unsterile workplace wherever possible, travelling on enclosed public transport and, with ‘Eat out to Help Out’ to encouraging city lunches and busy dining the spread is almost guaranteed.
If you then encourage young adults to mix in a carefree university environment and then confine them to their halls of residence you are doing almost everything you can to create super spreading environment. Super spreading leads to a higher percentage of the population becoming infected and progressing towards the holy grail of herd immunity.
The Government did all this and more under the guise of ‘following the science’ while conveniently ignoring the science if it conflicted with more mercenary considerations. Whatever we may believe, some facts are indisputable. The UK has an unenviable record in comparison with the rest of the world both in the number of cases and the appalling level of additional deaths. A considerable number of Tory donors, friends and hangers-on will have made a considerable amount of money after this pandemic dies away. The effect of the Government’s actions combined with the disastrous negotiations of a ruinous exit from the European Union will be with us for a generation.
There is an old Chinese curse – “May you live in interesting times”. It’s impossible not to imagine that these are ‘interesting times’ brought on in part by a virus which originates in the Chinese city of Wuhan. Which sci fi author could have imagined it?