In a week in which the Health Secretary has wept on TV claiming that he is “proud to be British” a reality check on just how badly his Conservative government have managed the COVID crisis and why is unavoidable.
The graph below shows the deaths per million of the UK – which
-flirted with herd immunity in February/March,
-went for one of the loosest lockdowns in Europe in April/May,
-reopened its economy prematurely over the Summer,
-hesitated over re-imposing restrictions as the virus rebounded in September/October,
-tightened them too late in November (while leaving schools open and allowing infections to rip among Secondary school students especially)
-and is now trying to keep restrictions loosened over Xmas, largely for commercial reasons,
with countries in the Western Pacific region that had a policy to eliminate the virus, not try to “live with” it. Because the figures for these countries are so small, here they are. Compared to the UK’s 877 deaths per million, New Zealand has had just 5, China even fewer with 3; and Vietnam with 0.5.
“Proud to be British”?
If you want to see that on a comparative pie graph of the deaths in each country compared with each other, it looks like this.
It might be argued that Vietnam and New Zealand’s strategy was primarily to close down their borders and test everyone that came in – quarantining anyone who tested positive – to prevent the virus getting a foothold in the first place. So they did. But that option was available to Britain too in late February. The government didn’t take it – and was very resistant to any quarantining measures for air travelers until the end of May, just as the first partial lockdown began to relax. The current relaxation on restrictions on “high value” travelers is a clue as to why. Such restrictions would affect business travelers – and that would never do.
The comparison with China is even more damning. The initial outbreak of the virus was in Wuhan. A city of 11 million people, slightly larger than London, the capital of Hubei Province, which has 58 million people, slightly smaller than the UK and about the same as England. As the first victim of the virus, it might be reasonable to assume that the Chinese would have been taken more by surprise and overwhelmed than anywhere else; and there was a period in late December to late January in which there was definite confusion and fumbling at a local level when it was unclear what they were dealing with; but at the same time intensive work was being done on what exactly the virus was, how it originated and was transmitting itself, all of which was being shared with the WHO. And, once it was clear just how dangerous it was, the measures taken were swift, definite and had the clear aim of eliminating it. And, they worked. So, even with a significant outbreak in a densely populated urban centre that is a transport and communications hub, a zero COVID strategy was capable of closing down domestic infections. It took six weeks. It is that that has enabled the Chinese economy to recover at the speed and scale that it has done. The UK government has no excuse – because, after the Wuhan experience, they knew what was coming. They chose not to act.
Even in a comparison with other European countries – which have all tried variations on the same policy as the UK – “balancing” the needs of health against economic imperatives – and which have therefore had a similar result in balancing an ongoing health crisis with an ongoing economic crisis -the UK is in the worst four for death rates (1) so, in football terms, we’d be qualifying for the Champions League. Nothing to be proud of.
More importantly, we are heading for a third wave in January, especially if the Xmas relaxation is maintained, so a Zero COVID strategy and movement is urgently needed and all the forces gathering in different groups around this should be coming together to push to get a West Pacific result.