For the past nineteen months minister after minister, in attempting to explain away the Government's omissions, delays and errors in dealing with the COVID crisis,have repeatedly claimed that the situation is "unprecedented," with the implication that, that being the case, a few missteps and mistakes are perfectly understandable and to be both expected and excused.
As such their PR exercise has been reasonably successful, and so far, according to the opinion polls , a goodly proportion of the electorate is prepared to give them the benefit of the doubt in spite of their serial bungling.
However, it is not strictly true that the pandemic is unprecedented. There have been plenty of pandemics before: not just regular bouts of the the Black Death in the Middle Ages, the "Great Plague" of 1665 which we all used to learn about at school, and cholera in mid nineteenth century London. All of those, you may say, are too far disant in history to be relevant to present-day governments, though the worldwide Flu Pandemic, of 1918/19, which caused more deaths than the First World War, is sufficiently recent for records to have been kept and studied.
Even so, if the argument that the COVID Pandemic is not unprecedented can be dismissed as pedantry, that cannot be said of its prediction. .Exercise Cygnus was a three day operation in the UK October 2016, to assess the readiness of the country to deal with a pandemic, which it was assumed was likely if not inevitable, and could be expected at any time..
To repeat, this was October 2016, not lost in the mists of history. The Conservative Party, this Conservative Party, was in power, many of the present Conservative MPs were already in parliament and (I haven't checked , but I think it is highly likely) some of the present ministers were already members of the Government. (To avoid fake implications, if not news, Mr Johnson was not Prime Minister, it was David Cameron.)
The findings of the Cygnus Exercise were that the country was far from sufficiently prepared for a pandemic. Among other things, resources for such things as PPE and ventilators were inadequate, and there were insufficient plans to protect residents and staff working in care homes.
Instead of taking action our Conservative Government hushed up the findings, which one newspaper later described as "too frightening to be revealed."
The matter is topical because yesterday Dame Sarah Gilbert, one of the leading scientists in the development of the Oxford Zeneca Vaccine, delivered the annual Dimbleby Lecture. She argued that more pandemics are to be expected. They may be variations of COVID, of Flu, or something else entirely. Adequate vaccines will be needed and needed quickly.. Hence those scientists such as herself, in Oxford and other universities, must not be pushed into the background and left to languish in underfunded obscurity until, surprise surprise, the next pandemic comes along. They must be fully funded, resourced and encouraged now
Paring down resources to the minimum in search of short term profits or minimal taxation is an endemic feature of the Tory economic philosophy of privatisation and low regulated small state capitalism. As outlined in a previous post, our NHS from 2010 was starved of adequate funding so that, when the pandemic stuck ,there was insufficient spare capacity to deal with routine cases along with COVID emergencies.
I'm sure that, when the circumstances surrounding the breakdown of the electricity supply in parts of Northern England and Scotland, leaving many households without power for over a week, it will be found that the privatised companies have paid too little attention to keeping the supply system in good repair. Similarly we shall probably discover that the water companies have neglected the collection and treatment of sewage, which is why they need to pump raw sewage into our rivers and the sea whenever there is heavy rain.
In the public sector our child welfare provision has been pared to the bone, so that the horrifying treatment of the six-year-old Arthur Labino-Hughes escaped attention until his murder.
In the private sector we need to devise a system which forces companies to look to the medium and long term. I suspect it will not involve aggressive take-overs and hedge funds.
In the public sector we need politicians with the courage to tell us that we cannot have adequate levels of provision and protection on minimal levels of taxation. Those who pretend to offer both should be recognised for the charlatans they are.
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