“Leading the world in living with the virus”?

Sajid Javid’s bluster is the exact opposite of reality. The UK is 25th in the world in death rates. 182 other countries have done better in keeping their people safe – the first duty of government they used to say – and only 24 have done worse. So, perhaps, leading the world in dying with the virus might be a better way to put it.

Diane Abbot’s article in Labour Outlook pointed out that, when compared with the death rates in countries with an active covid suppression strategy, the UK has done spectacularly badly.

  • The UK has had a death rate of 2,274 per million.
  • Australia’s death rate is 112 per million.
  • New Zealand, just 10.6.
  • China, a minds bogglingly small 3.47.

In the press here, this is used as evidence that these countries have been quite mad in not letting their people die in numbers comparable to ours, with headlines like “China’s Zero Covid Tyranny” in the Daily Telegraph.

The single minded ferocity of this line is explained by a simple calculation that they really don’t want people to do, or think through.

If you multiply the per million death rate for these countries by 65, for the 65 million people who live in the UK, you get some very startling figures for how many people would have died had we adopted their policies and had a comparable death rate.

  • A comparable death rate to Australia would have meant that 7,280 people would have died here.
  • A comparable death rate to New Zealand would have meant 687 deaths.
  • A comparable death rate to China would have kept deaths to just 226 during the whole pandemic so far.

That looks like this.

So, who has got this right, and who has got it wrong?

This policy, that we have to “live with the virus” means an acceptance that we will continue to die from it in large numbers. It invites us all to participate in a gigantic piece of disavowal: to look straight at the reality that this virus is ten times as deadly and infectious as the flu and continuing to evolve, and pretend that it isn’t.

The Labour and trade union movement – despite the line of the leadership (Wes Streeting’s surreal “plan to live well with Covid”) should resist going along with delusions of a “return to normalcy.” There are always elephants in the room, but with this policy, there will be viruses too.

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