The landmark figure of 100 000 coronavirus related deaths was officially reached yesterday though I'd thought I'd seen the figure earlier. The Prime Minister has said he is "sorry," and he may be genuinely so, but it has the sound of the routine "sorry for your loss" which features on funeral condolence cards rather than an admission of responsibility for errors made.
Though the 100 000 deaths indicates not just lives cut short but several hundred thousand grieving friends and relative, the total figure itself is not a measure of the competence with which the pandemic has been dealt. For that a more useful measure is number of deaths related to population size. For that, on yesterday's figures, the UK comes fourth from the bottom, above San Marino (194 deaths per hundred thousand) Belgium (180) Slovenia 163) and UK (148) .
The table of related countries then reads:
UK: 148 deaths per hundred thousand population
New Zealand: 0.53
World beaten rather than world-beating, Prime Minister Johnson refuses the Opposition's repeated requests for an enquiry into why we are doing so badly. His argument is that the government needs to concentrate all its resources on dealing with the pandemic - an argument that held no sway when it was suggested that the Brexit transition period should be extended for a year.
Given that one medical expert has predicted there could easily be a further 50 000 deaths before control is achieved, it would seem to be in the nation's best interest, if not the government's reputation, that an enquiry be held now in order to establish what went wrong and how to avoid similar errors in the future.
On the whole criticisms of the government can be summed up in the phrases: "always behind the curve," "too little too late," with trust diminished through "muddled messages" and a "bad examples," from those making the rules but not obeying them
Here's an outline, as comprehensive as I can make it, of the issues which should be examined.
- inadequate funding of the NHS as a result of the of the austerity programme since 2010, so that it lacks the spare capacity to deal with a major emergency;
- the failure to act on the report of the Cygnus simulation of a pandemic in 2018;
- the consequent lack of personal protective clothing and an effective planning, implementation and communications network;
- the casual, even flippant, attitude towards the virus in the early stage (Johnson shaking hands with people possibly infected and his attendance at an international rugby match, Goodwood held);
- the delayed lockdown in the Spring, 2020, which it is estimated cost 10 000 avoidable deaths;
- discharge of elderly patients from hospitals to care homes without first testing them for Covid;
- failure to complete the promise of laptops to households without them to facilitate home learning;
- inadequate restrictions on visitors from outside the UK;
- the failure of the test and trace system outsourced to the private sector and costing £12bn;
- contracts for services and supplies to apparently ill-qualified "friends" rather than through established procedures;
- the less than adequate furlough scheme;
- the premature exit from the first lockdown;
- the "eat out to help out" scheme which helped spread the virus;
- Dominic Cummings's trips to the North East and to Barnard Castle, and failure to sack or even censure him;
- the insistence that most university students resume their courses on campus;
- the failure to have a "circuit breaker" in the October 2020 half-term;
- the failure of the tiered lockdown scheme;
- the offer of a five day household mixing period permitted over Christmas, only reduced to one day at the last moment;
- schools forced to return for the Spring term (cancelled after one day);
- the delayed New Year 2021 lockdown.
Further suggestions will be welcomed
A fair-minded enquiry will no doubt rate some of the above as understandable and perhaps excusable. Most important is to examine the alleged trade off between preventing the spread of the virus and keeping the economy going.
Without it, however, the government continues to repeat its mistakes and tackles the pandemic though up-beat language rather than evidence-led thinking