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By Jason Michael
BRITAIN’S PRIME MINISTER, Boris Johnson, last night put the people of the United Kingdom on lockdown, introducing a sweeping set of measures and restrictions on the population designed to limit the spread of the COVID-19 virus. These measures, unprecedented outside of wartime, are to be welcomed and are entirely urgent and necessary, but it simply cannot go unsaid that these steps have come late – and perhaps too late to avoid a catastrophic loss of life across Britain and the north of Ireland. Yet, in his address Mr Johnson was at pains to convey that this lockdown is consistent with the approach ‘the UK has been taking.’ This is not true. This is not the approach the British government has been taking, in spite of early warnings from the Chinese government, the actions of other European states, and the sharp criticism of the World Health Organization.
Mr Johnson, who on the 3 March downplayed the dangers; saying ‘we already have a fantastic NHS,’ finally acknowledged that there ‘will come a moment when no health service in the world could possibly cope.’ The National Health Service in England, despite the wonderful commitment of its dedicated doctors and nurses, is far from fantastic. Over a decade of austerity cuts have utterly crippled the British health service. Writing for the New Statesman in January 2018, George Eaton reported:
Since 1950, health expenditure has grown at an average annual rate of 4 per cent; over the last parliament it rose by an average of just 0.5 per cent. An ageing population, the rising cost of drugs and technology and the growth of chronic conditions, such as obesity and diabetes, all mean that the NHS depends on above-inflation increases. The £4.5bn cut to social care funding has only intensified the pressure on the service (with the NHS acting as a provider of last resort).
Much like its tired Spirit of the Blitz propaganda – used for everything from international soccer fixtures to European politics, London’s mantra of a fantastic NHS is nothing more than hot air. In Scotland, the NHS is doing better, but even this is the result of increasing mitigation by a Scottish government faced with continuing cuts from the Westminster regime. The cold, hard truth is that the NHS is not fantastic. It is creaking and growing under the pressure of ordinary and routine demands. No NHS in the UK is in a fit condition to meet the challenge of a pandemic poised as we speak to claim the lives of millions around the world and comprehensively wreck the global economy.
Covid-19 marks a sharp break in history just as the Blitz did econ.st/33x6vRa—
The Economist (@TheEconomist) March 22, 2020
On 3 March, days before Italy announced a nationwide lockdown, 32 days after the first case of the virus in the UK, and two weeks after the Chinese President, Xi Jinping, personally alerted Mr Johnson of the danger, the message of the British government – on the advice of its ‘world-leading scientific experts’ – was that ‘the vast majority of the people of this country … should be going about [their] business as usual.’ He was saying this live to the British public after seventy-nine people had died in Italy and as ten towns in Lombardy were already under lockdown. All over Europe – including the UK and Ireland – confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus were mushrooming, and the official advice of the British government was ‘business as usual!’
Sure, Downing Street was taking some advice from the Chinese government. Mr Johnson wasn’t interested in the actions the PR China had taken to control the outbreak. He and his ‘world-leading scientific experts’ were only interested in the numbers – numbers which could be used in the UK to downplay the danger and keep a usually ill-informed British public ignorant. Professor Chris Whitty, the Chief Medical Officer, said:
We are reasonably confident that, overall, probably around one percent of people who get this virus might end up dying based on the Chinese experience. Now, to be clear, what that therefore means is ninety-nine percent of people will not.
Great news for the ninety-nine percent! Johnson and his experts had clearly done some statistical gymnastics and selective reading of the available data. China, like South Korea, Japan, and Vietnam, was the wrong place from which to predict a ‘reasonably confident’ forecast for the UK’s expected death rate from the virus. China and other far-eastern and south-east Asian countries have been through this before. Experience and a developed social discipline act to protect them in ways that we in western Europe are not protected. Social distancing, the wearing of masks by the public, and good personal and public hygiene are second nature in China’s large urban centres during epidemics. Moreover, the People’s Republic of China – a totalitarian dictatorship – can quickly deploy repressive measures of population control our democracies cannot. Expecting a one percent mortality rate in the United Kingdom was always a fantasy – and the British government knew it.
A whole week before Boris Johnson told the British public it was business as usual, the Director-General of the WHO, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, had reported that ‘globally, about 3.4% of reported COVID-19 cases have died.’ In an article dated 3 March, the day Johnson told the people of the UK to go about their business as usual, CNBC reported:
The World Health Organization had said last week that the mortality rate of COVID-19 can differ, ranging from 0.7% to up to 4%, depending on the quality of the health-care system where it’s treated. Early in the outbreak, scientists had concluded the death rate was around 2.3%.
In no reality was the British NHS a healthcare system capable of dealing with a surge any better than Italy’s, Iran’s, France’s, Germany’s, Belgium’s, Ireland’s, or Spain’s healthcare systems. And in full knowledge of these limitations Britain went about its business as usual; not closing schools, pubs, and restaurants, and not ensuring people were properly informed. As its neighbour Ireland cancelled its rugby match with Italy and closed down its schools, colleges, universities, and childcare facilities, the British government was still preaching a gospel of ‘herd immunity’ from a virus for which there was no human immunity, no vaccine, and no effective treatment. And it did this knowing the British healthcare systems did not have enough ventilators, intensive care beds, protective equipment, doctors, and nurses. It was a fully informed and wilful suicide mission into which it had locked the people of England, Scotland, Wales, and the north of Ireland.
But why? Guardian headline (22 March): ‘No 10 denies claim Dominic Cummings argued to “let old people die.”’ Well, of course Downing Street is going to deny this, and without a smoking gun we are forced to presume innocence, but it isn’t exactly as though this social Darwinist thinking is foreign to the British Conservative biosphere at the bottom of the moral pond. On the 3 March The Telegraph newspaper published an article by Jeremy Warner in which he suggested ‘COVID-19 might even prove mildly beneficial in the long term by disproportionately culling elderly dependents.’ This callous reasoning was being mainstreamed by the British Conservative Press, and given that the British government’s overriding concern from the beginning of the crisis has been the health of the economy over and against the health of people – especially those considered to be economic dead weight, there is no reason to think this was not also the opinion of Dominic Cummings and indeed the Prime Minister himself.
I can't quite believe this sentence that appeared in the Telegraph this week: "COVID-19 might even prove mildly be… twitter.com/i/web/status/1…—
Nicholas Pope (@nick_pope) March 14, 2020
Of course, we cannot be absolutely sure, and, given the gravity of this situation, we should be prepared to give them the benefit of the doubt. But it remains, the best indication of present and future motives are past actions, and the British Conservatives hardly have a glowing record. The evidence of its behaviour, especially in the face of the warnings from other countries and the criticism of the WHO, is accumulative. Applying Ockham’s razor, the simplest explanation is that Boris Johnson was aware of the consequences of his original course of action. It was as sick as the staff manning the bars at the Cheltenham Festival. Knowing the dire consequences, he picked his ‘experts’ – experts who would take another direction from the whole of the rest of the world – to give him the answers he and his government wanted. The plan, one might assume, was to streamline Britain and set it on an economically healthier course for a new global Britain.
But let us be absolutely clear on one thing, no matter what he has said in his latest panicked announcement, neither Boris Johnson nor the British government have been on this track from the beginning. In fact, they are extremely late to the party. Our hope – and it is a sincere hope – is that these measures will be enough, but the greatest likelihood is that the gate has been closed long after the horse has bolted. People were always going to die of this virus. There is no way to stop a virus. But Boris Johnson has by his wilful inaction and arrogance set Britain up to fail – and fail bad. It is now likely, though hopefully not certain, that many, many more people will die in the UK than ever needed to. And, no matter what is said or done, this is all on the British government.
Boris Johnson announces strict new curbs on life in UK