First, 67,000 people are dead. There is no doubt about that. And when British Prime Minister Boris Johnson tries to sleep on Christmas Eve, three ghosts will haunt him: Coronavirus Past, Coronavirus Present and Coronavirus Future. Each of them honestly look pretty terrible. With plans to ease the lockdown this Christmas, which have now been lifted after the numbers have increased dramatically, the question remains: why can’t a country that is at the cutting edge of scientific research and disaster relief deal with the virus with minimal expertise?
Coronavirus Past is the first ghost and not a pleasant sight. Britain should have been better prepared for this disaster. A pre-pandemic assessment of national pandemic preparedness ranked second – just behind the United States. It has a world-leading biotechnology sector and an extremely competent and hard working healthcare sector.
However, a national lockdown was introduced on March 23, which gives a temporary impression of competence at the beginning of the crisis. In May, only 39 percent of people believed the government had not treated the coronavirus pandemic well, but in July it was 56 percent.
After all, it was a real lock. A televised address by the Prime Minister told the public that they “must stay home”, leave for limited purposes, including buying groceries, exercising once a day and collecting recipes. Millions of people have been placed on a government vacation program. This meant workers on leave due to COVID-19 could receive 80 percent of their pay, up to a maximum of £ 2,400 (US $ 3,400) per month for three months – though the system excluded self-employed workers.
But even this blocking decision came too late. One of the Johnson administration’s scientific advisors, John Edmunds, a member of the Emergency Scientific Advisory Group, told the BBC, “I wish we had gone into lockdown sooner. I think that unfortunately cost a lot of lives. “The austerity measures imposed by the Conservative government over the past decade had already resulted in a critical shortage of personal protective equipment. Government inventories had dropped 40 percent since 2013.
And through seeming success, the government has begun to prioritize the economy over health. Chancellor Rishi Sunak launched an Eat Out To Help Out initiative on August 3, with which restaurants and cafes can offer a 50 percent discount on meals from Monday to Wednesday. The acceptance was massive and more than 100 million meals were consumed. Newspapers welcomed Eat Out To Help Out with open arms. The government specifically encouraged people to support pubs, cafes and restaurants, while Johnson called for more sociability and praised the resilience of the UK pub.
That led to Coronavirus Present, an even uglier phenomenon. The numbers have soared since September, hitting a terrible high of nearly 36,000 new cases reported on December 20th. In recent months the government has introduced new measures via a scattergun approach that culminated in the three-tier system that was an alleged attempt to clarify complex local regulations. Most of the north of England, including West Yorkshire and Greater Manchester, as well as the West Midlands, parts of Northern Ireland, west Scotland and Wales were already locally closed, with specific rules for each region. Cities that were 10 minutes apart had different regulations.
Local governments are grappling with the confused news that has tarnished the government approach from the start. In Greater Manchester, you couldn’t meet others from different households in your home or garden unless they were part of your support bubble – another widely misunderstood and poorly communicated government idea – but you could go and work in restaurants and pubs. One Twitter user wrote, “Just to check, sitting in a room with people isn’t safe until there’s a card reader.” To top it off, the three-tier system suddenly developed another tier over the weekend, with London and the South East of England being placed under a new “tier 4” with even stricter regulations. That has left plans for a Christmas break – a loosening of lockdowns to reunite families, a bizarre idea in itself – in ruins, shattering any public hope that the government might know what it was doing.
The purpose of the first national lockdown was reportedly to buy time to implement test-and-trace programs similar to those that have been successful in South Korea, Taiwan and Australia. But that also turned out to be a disaster. In mid-September, the government faced around 200,000 tests backlog, and finished swabs have reportedly been sent to laboratories in Germany and Italy for processing. People across the country are being told that they must travel hundreds of kilometers to get the tests they need. Some are sent from Greater Manchester to Scotland or Shropshire.
It’s not just the coronavirus testing system that isn’t working. The persecution is also in a shambolic state. In the northern city of Bradford, one of the hardest-hit areas for COVID-19 cases, less than half of the people who have come into contact with a coronavirus patient could be reached as of September. A data processing disaster left tens of thousands of people in the dark about possible exposure.
The government was forced to turn around in extending its vacation program. After replacing it with a less generous Labor Allowance, they gave in to the pressure and extended the original vacation program, which will last at least until the end of March. According to an October investigation by YouGov, more than a third of UK employers planned to lay off staff by the end of the year. A wide-ranging avalanche of job losses is expected to hit the UK this winter.
And what about Coronavirus Future, taking Johnson by the hand and leading him into a joyless future? Well it’s not a happy picture. Even if the lockdown keeps the numbers low long enough to introduce new vaccines and fight the pandemic, the appearance of a no-deal Brexit is only days away. This could devastate the economy and seriously disrupt supplies across the country, slowing a rollout and sparking a public revolt. A “great year for Britain”, in Johnson’s cocky words in January, has turned into an unprecedented disaster – and Johnson himself is staring at the headstone of a likely short-lived term.