As the Coronavirus pandemic abates in Britain, the analysis has begun of where things went wrong. ‘Not Britain’s finest hour’ concluded The Economist this week, a publication which up until now had refrained from pointing the finger of blame directly at the government. A nation so keen to detach itself from its European partners via Brexit has now succeeded in setting itself apart from Europe in another way: it has the highest death toll to Covid-19. The timeline of events in the build-up to lockdown on March 23rd will likely be gone over again and again in a bid to figure out exactly where the government went wrong in their reaction to the pandemic, and we can expect a host of literature, documentaries and films on the subject. The consensus seems to be already that Britain simply had the wrong government for the time.
Ironically, these journalists are the same ones that were arguing only a few months ago for a Boris Johnson victory. A Jeremy Corbyn government would be ‘dangerous’, The Economist said before the December election. Well there can’t be a more ‘dangerous’ situation than the one we are in now, in the midst of a pandemic with a government at the helm in which people don’t trust. According to a recent poll, 55% think the government has handled the coronavirus pandemic badly, and 76% believe lockdown was imposed too late. Professor Neil Ferguson, an epidemiologist at Imperial College London, has said that had Britain locked down a week earlier, at least half of the 50,000 or so lives lost could have been saved. For a Prime Minister who was constantly referring to being guided ‘by the science’, the blase attitude of Boris Johnson to the oncoming storm was concerning.
Who could blame people for panic buying? Statistics now show that Britain’s production of flour went up by 2000% in March, with yeast at 400%, as people went into survival mode, preparing themselves for baking their own bread – as if people even know how to make it. Seeing how the virus was spreading across the globe, and in particular how our European neighbour, Italy, was struggling to cope, sent shockwaves across the country. And yet, all we were told was ‘wash your hands’ while singing God Save The Queen – as if we were living in the 19th century. For someone who was supposedly listening to ‘the science’, it seemed as if Boris Johnson was leaving everything up to fate, and to God.
Restrictions are gradually being lifted across the UK as the number of cases subsides. Only 15 deaths were reported on Monday with no deaths in Scotland. People can now visit relatives outdoors, some outdoor pursuits have resumed and shops in England have opened. But we are still some way to go until normality is resumed. Masks and social distancing are now compulsory in certain situations, like travelling on public transport, and this may be the case for some time. Most school pupils will only return in the Autumn, and even then only part-time. This has caused uproar amongst parents, already tired of months of home-schooling, who wonder how they will cope with their jobs and kids at home for half the week.
But there are no certainties yet. Airlines may be preparing to transport passengers again to newly opened resorts in the deserted beaches of sunny Spain, but we don’t know how long this will last. It’s too early to say the virus has been beaten. There are now almost 9 million cases in 188 countries, with cases peaking in several South American countries. And in countries which were thought to have fought off the virus – like China and Germany, for example, we have seen recent resurgences. In Iran, there are also fears of a second peak, as cases have begun rising once again to around 100 a day for the first time in two months. Governments therefore need to act with extreme caution when lifting restrictions.
And yet it’s essential for the health and sanity of the nation, that people are given a breathing space. Life, after all, is for living, not for pickling like a cucumber in a jar. The relief felt by relatives being able to meet each other after months of isolation was huge. Prolonged lockdown can have a considerable negative effect on the physical and mental health of society. In short: it can destroy it.
But not only society suffers. It was revealed today that the Bank of England had to step in to save the UK economy and bail out the government. Governor of the Bank of England, Andrew Bailey, said that the government had come close to ‘insolvency’. He said that the dislocation in markets in March so serious, that the Bank had to intervene with £200bn of quantitative easing – the biggest single cash injection in its history. He also warned that the British economy would be permanently scarred by the crisis and that many companies would simply not survive.
So the economic crisis is only just beginning. As time goes on, it’s likely that more and more often the finger of blame will be pointed at Boris Johnson and his cabinet. He may have come to power with the promise to ‘Get Brexit Done’, but he will be remembered as the Prime Minister who ‘washed his hands’ of coronavirus.
The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The Duran.