They said that it was because of the aged Italian population. They hypothesised that it was the tendency to have extended families, in which the elderly live together with their children and grandchildren. They suggested Italians weren’t used to social distancing, and couldn’t resist a kiss and cuddle. You name it, every reason under the sun was found for why Italy, a month ago, had such a high death rate to coronavirus; in particular in comparison with China, where the outbreak began.
The commentariat now has to think again, for Britain has overtaken Italy as the worst nation in Europe to be afflicted by Covid-19. The Department of Health on Tuesday announced a rise of 693 to 29,427, which then surpassed Italy’s official figure of 29,315. The total since has risen to 30,076. Dr Chaand Nagpaul, council chair of the British Medical Association, said the figures gave cause for concern, particularly “given that the UK was originally affected by the outbreak later than many other nations, and with the government initially saying that a death toll of 20,000 would be a ‘good outcome’.”
There has also been an alarming number of deaths caused, it seems, indirectly by the pandemic. Experts, including Prof James Naismith, director of the Rosalind Franklin Institute at the University of Oxford, are calling for an inquiry to establish just how these other deaths came about. In the week ending 24th April, for example, there were an additional 3312 deaths to causes other than Covid-19. It has been suggested that they could be due to general disruption to NHS services, as a result of the pandemic, meaning delayed hospital admissions for life-threatening conditions. In many instances, regular medical appointments were cancelled and patients themselves have avoided going to the doctor or hospital for fear of catching the disease.
For weeks we watched events unfold in China and then Italy, as if it was some hollywood disaster movie. Not till Boris Johnson uttered the words in his press conference of 12th March “I must level with you. Families are going to lose loved ones before their time” did the reality of what the UK was about to face really sink in. And yet even as the horror scenes in Italian hospitals were being played out, it was not until 23rd March that the Prime Minister announced that lockdown would commence.
The analysis has long begun of what went wrong in the UK’s pandemic planning. Scientists had warned the government as early as 26th February that as many as 33 million UK citizens could be affected in a coronavirus epidemic. They were told that as many as 541,200 people could be placed on ventilators. And yet, the pace at which the government acted was painfully slow – as Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer has highlighted. The opposition leader has accused the government of being ‘slow into lockdown, slow on testing, slow on protective equipment’ and is concerned that an exit strategy out of lockdown is not being prepared quickly enough. Starmer is calling for an inquiry into Downing Street’s handling of the crisis as he says the high death rate is a ‘real cause for concern’.
The Prime Minister has hinted that some lifting of restrictions may be announced on Monday, now that Britain has reached the peak of the epidemic, and is officially on the downward curve. Johnson has set a new target of 200,000 Covid-19 tests a day by the end of May, but with the country struggling to meet the current goal of 100,000 tests a day, it’s not clear how achievable this is. The lack of testing in general is deemed to be one of the key reasons why nations such as South Korea dealt so swiftly and effectively with the virus. Its strategy of ‘test, trace, contain’ paid off. Almost as soon as the outbreak had began, the country had organised hundreds of drive-through testing centres which were assessing up to 20,000 people a day. The tests were carried out in the space of 10 minutes, and the results were sent to patients’ mobile phones within 24 hours. The country’s technological advancement and quick reaction time has set it apart in the competition of who has best dealt with this pandemic.
But even closer to home, there is another country putting Britain to shame in its handling of the crisis – Germany. Angela Merkel has now announced that the first phase of the pandemic is now over, and having lifted some lockdown restrictions recently, the Chancellor has gone further to say that all shops of up to 800 square metres may open from now on. The Bundesliga has also been given the green light to start up again and schools will open from the summer term. Social distancing is to be observed, but two households will be able to meet and eat together, and elderly people in care homes can have visits from one person at a time. The number of cases currently sits at 168,575 in Germany and continues to rise, but the country has experienced far fewer deaths than France, Spain, Italy and Britain – 7190 to date. This has also been put down to their efficient testing programme which was aided by a distributed network of testing through individual hospitals, clinics and laboratories, instead of relying on tests from a single government resource, like the way it is in the UK and US.
Comparisons are being made – although Boris Johnson doesn’t like it. He said at Prime Minister’s questions on Wednesday that it was too early to make such international comparisons, but Keir Starmer hit back, saying that that was exactly what the government had being doing from the outset with its charts and graphs showing different countries’ trajectories. The reality is that questions will continue to be asked about the UK’s response to coronavirus. In what has been one of the worst pandemics ever, the British people have a right to know why the world’s 5th largest economy has struggled to cope. The case continues…
The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The Duran.