The UK Cabinet will meet today to review the lockdown, with all the mood music suggesting that Prime Minister Boris Johnson is preparing to announce measures to ease quarantine. The BBC understands the “stay at home” message could be scrapped. Johnson has already spoken of announcing an “unlockdown”on Sunday.
This is wholly premature. Even talking about significant easing sends out the wrong message to a country that registered 649 deaths yesterday. It doesn’t matter what metric you use, it all points to the fact that Britain has dealt with Covid-19 horrifically badly. The official death toll stands at over 30,000, the worst in Europe and second worst in the world behind the US, while excess mortality, the number of deaths above normal for this time of year, is at 42,900, 61 per cent above normal. That excess mortality figure manages to be slightly higher than every other country: Spain 60 per cent, Belgium 60 per cent, Italy 55 per cent, Netherlands 52 per cent, France 36 per cent, Sweden 28 per cent, the US 16 per cent, Germany 3 per cent, and Norway no excess deaths.
And whereas a country like Italy had one huge outbreak in Lombardy, only two other Italian regions have an excess mortality rate above 50 per cent, whereas in the UK seven regions, including Scotland (55 per cent), have excess mortality over 50 per cent. Italy largely contained the virus geographically, while the UK let it spread across the whole of the country through a late, slack lockdown, a negligent approach to care homes and a disastrous shortage of PPE for health and care workers. Now, we still can’t get to 100,000 tests-a-day for any of the last four days, with the pathetic excuse that “capacity exceeds demand”, as if there is some sort of mass testing boycott by over 60 million people. There is a strong case to be made that the UK, with its Prime Minister who contracted the virus after boasting about going around shaking hands with Covid-19 patients in a hospital ward, has dealt with Covid-19 worse than any other country in the world.
Let’s not have any nonsense about ‘it’s too early to compare’. That trick has been tried after Sage member Professor David Spiegelhalter wrote in The Guardian that we don’t have the data yet for international league tables. Thankfully, Spiegelhalter has himself responded to those twisting his words by saying the UK “should now use other countries to try and learn why our numbers are so high”. Obfuscation won’t work: tens of thousands of lives have been lost which didn’t have to be.
Why would we trust that the person who took the key decision to delay on lockdown until 23 March because of a ‘libertarian instinct’, after the LSE report on 16 March could not have been clearer, is right about beginning exit now? This is the man who spoke in early February, just as the pandemic was brewing, about the need for Britain to lead the world in recklessly defending globalisation come what may.
He said: “There is a risk that new diseases such as coronavirus will trigger a panic and a desire for market segregation that go beyond what is medically rational to the point of doing real and unnecessary economic damage, then at that moment humanity needs some government somewhere that is willing at least to make the case powerfully for freedom of exchange, some country ready to take off its Clark Kent spectacles and leap into the phone booth and emerge with its cloak flowing as the supercharged champion, of the right of the populations of the earth to buy and sell freely among each other.”
This is almost as ludicrous as anything Donald Trump has said. ‘Empire 2.0’ to the rescue, really? A country in a chronic decline that has only been intensified by this latest shambles. Britain can’t even save its own people, never mind the world.
Thankfully, it does look like the Scottish Government is not going to follow Johnson down the re-open early path. The Scottish Government’s latest scientific advice is absolutely clear that the country is not ready. But it’s time to go much further than differentiation; the Scottish Government must openly resist the free-market super-villain in No.10, who is dicing with other peoples lives, because the sort of extensive contact tracing and testing system is not currently in place that is needed for an exit plan.
As Scottish medical statistician James Urquhart has argued on Sceptical Scot: “The proponents of ‘herd immunity’ haven’t gone away. They have just undertaken a tactical retreat…By refusing to criticise the government’s appalling record on dealing with the virus, proponents of bipartisan politics risk allowing a sustained level of deaths to become the accepted norm.”
It’s time for the First Minister Nicola Sturgeon to openly resist the “unlockdown”. Demand lives and livelihoods are both protected, and the cataclysm so far is not wilfully continued.
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