Save lives and reduce hardship – nothing else matters

There will be no criticisms today (many of you will be relieved to read…). The situation is so urgent we just need to understand what is ahead of us and organise ourselves to deal with it as effectively as possible.  To explain what’s ahead, look at the case of Italy. The country had its first COVID-19 death […]

There will be no criticisms today (many of you will be relieved to read…). The situation is so urgent we just need to understand what is ahead of us and organise ourselves to deal with it as effectively as possible. 

To explain what’s ahead, look at the case of Italy. The country had its first COVID-19 death one month ago. On Saturday, it had its highest ever, 793, the biggest single day toll of any country so far. After waiting far too late to initiate a lockdown (800 people had died already), the Italian Government then waited far too late to stop all non-essential production, which it has now done. Now consider Spain. 394 people died yesterday. Spain reached its tenth death eleven days after Italy did. It also waited far too long to lockdown (only when 200 had died), and over the weekend it extended the lockdown and made it more strict, though it has still not shutdown non-essential production. Spain is on a more rapid trajectory of deaths than Italy. 

Then look at the UK. The UK hit its tenth death just five days after Spain. Its trajectory of deaths is not as sharp as Spain’s, but it is sharper than any other country, including Italy’s. The UK’s death toll has reached 281, and it has still not implemented a full lockdown. So you can see where this is going. All talk of demographics and national differences misses the fairly consistent dynamics of the virus across Europe and the efficacy of shutdowns in reducing deaths. It’s a tragedy that many people in Scotland are still struggling to get past the denial stage of grief. Pictures over the weekend of people gathering in mass numbers together are heart-breaking. I understand it can be difficult for people to grasp a threat in the abstract, especially when it is an invisible one. But if it wasn’t already clear: there’s a fire burning through Europe, it is accelerating and we have to do everything we can to contain it.

Now, on how to act. Government is broadly pushing sensible and more strict advice now about self-isolation (though they clearly should have moved to enforcement via a proper lockdown long before now). But even if everyone was sensible individually it’s not enough. And even if every person was as compassionate and humane as possible (absolutely essential), it would be insufficient. We have to convince government that they must take control of the economy so it can deal with the public health emergency: learn from the clear international evidence we have of how to contain this, and act accordingly. Save lives and reduce hardship. Nothing else matters now.