Incompetence or deliberate intent? That is the question in the minds of many observers as they look at the muddled strategies the government and health services in the United Kingdom are pursuing as they struggle to contain local outbreaks of the coronavirus pandemic. While the UK seems to have rowed back from its initial policy of promoting “herd immunity” in the general population, which was fiscally shortsighted, scientifically dubious, and morally vacuous, not much else appears to have changed as the Boris Johnson administration continues to stumble from chronic confusion to cold calculation and back again. Domestic critics are now talking in apocalyptic terms about the challenges facing the country with predictions that some regional hospitals, particularly in London and the north-east of England, may be overwhelmed with COVID-19 patients in the coming weeks, with knock-on effects for others.
Despite the widely expressed fears of an imminent health crisis the Conservative Party government is still reacting in a half-hearted – or half-arsed – manner, more concerned with ideological continuity and data-modelling than saving lives. This can be seen in its erratic behaviour towards the European Union as the politics and acolytes of Brexit continue to cast a baleful influence over events even at a time of international disaster, with literally unbelievable excuses offered by the UK in recent days for ignoring or rejecting cooperation and assistance by or through the EU institutions. It can also be seen in the bizarre decision by Downing Street to place a contract for medical equipment with a vacuum-making company when existing businesses supplying those devices were publicly pleading for orders.
The respected and normally placid publication, The Lancet, has issued an excoriating article on the controversies in Britain:
The UK Government’s Contain–Delay–Mitigate–Research strategy failed. It failed, in part, because ministers didn’t follow WHO’s advice to “test, test, test” every suspected case. They didn’t isolate and quarantine. They didn’t contact trace. These basic principles of public health and infectious disease control were ignored, for reasons that remain opaque. The UK now has a new plan—Suppress–Shield–Treat–Palliate. But this plan, agreed far too late in the course of the outbreak, has left the NHS wholly unprepared for the surge of severely and critically ill patients that will soon come.
I receive examples daily of doctors having to assess patients with respiratory symptoms but who do so without the necessary PPE to complete their jobs safely. Health workers are challenged if they ask for face masks. Even where there is PPE, there may be no training. WHO standards are not being met. Proper testing of masks is being omitted. Stickers with new expiry dates are being put on PPE that expired in 2016. Doctors have been forced to go to hardware stores to buy their own face masks. Patients with suspected COVID-19 are mixing with non-COVID-19 patients. The situation is so dire that staff are frequently breaking down in tears.
The NHS has been wholly unprepared for this pandemic.
The result has been chaos and panic across the NHS. Patients will die unnecessarily. NHS staff will die unnecessarily. It is, indeed, as one health worker wrote last week, “a national scandal”. The gravity of that scandal has yet to be understood.
According to several experts on the subject the United Kingdom may find itself not far behind European neighbours like Italy or Spain in terms of confirmed COVID-19 cases if it does not dramatically escalate its response to the pandemic. Which, as pointed out previously, has serious implications for this country as the UK policy remains the default one for the unionist-led power-sharing administration in the Six Counties. Despite attempts by their media defenders and apologists to tar the different parts of the Stormont Executive with the same brush, it is the DUP’s Arlene Foster, the UUP’S Robin Swann and the APNI’s Naomi Long who are keeping the disputed region in lockstep with Britain, despite the objections of Sinn Féin and the SDLP. And, indeed, other minor parties and organisations in the north-east. The unionist bloc in the cross-community assembly, whether hard or soft, is again putting a political “union” before flesh and blood lives with potentially fatal implications for tens of thousands of vulnerable people across Ireland.
New Scientist also raised serous questions about the UK government approach during this week.
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Would the vacuum making company happen to be Dyson, by any chance? Wouldn’t surprise me if it was. Its owner, James Dyson, was an ardent, loudmouth Brexiteer – which didn’t stop him buying a £43m penthouse in Singapore, mind you.
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Yep! The most bizarre decision of the lot!!!
Good God, what next? The equally ardent loudmouth Brexiteer, Tim Martin (the POS that owns Wetherspoons; refused to pay staff and brewery suppliers) is asked to head up a string of hospitals, perhaps?
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SF of course sitting and paid in the Brtish created Assembly giving full legitimacy to British rule
Sweden is following a policy very like the one originally proposed and abandoned by the UK; https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/mar/28/as-the-rest-of-europe-lives-under-lockdown-sweden-keeps-calm-and-carries-on
It seems to be doing OK so far. The Netherlands has a similar approach.
The Netherlands appears to be taking the same general approach now as the rest of the world – 23rd of March they announced much stricter measures than hitherto.
Sweden has been an outlier, but even there on the 24th and 27th new measures were instituted which while still a long way from what is happening elsewhere are moving in that general direction. The numbers of those who have caught it went from 2k to 3k in four days.
Germany for some reason has an unusually low mortality rate from this: less than 1%. That’s lower than China (2-3%) and the US (just over 1%) but it’s really, really low for Europe. I’m wondering if that the medical system (universal but not rationed!!!), the fact they tested more people, and/or if there are cofactors such as pollution in death.
I saw this discussed on the BBC yesterday evening. It seems Germany is, as always, ahead of the game. Apparently their testing is far more widespread than, for example, the UK’s. As a result, they are catching (and treating) infected people earlier, and they are also finding the virus in many non-symptomatic people who wouldn’t even be on the radar for testing within the UK. This will naturally skew the mortality percentages but, I would guess, also ensure that many more infected people survive the virus.
Agree T and G. That catching and treating is the key to this. Contain, contain, contain. The problem with atypical approaches is that they fly in the face of knowledge about transmission of the virus, the numbers who get severe to critical cases (and ‘moderate’ cases are no picnic to put it mildly), how those impact on health systems, the dangers of the virus in institutional and care settings, etc, etc. The only way to ameliorate this is to prevent humans interacting with other humans outside the home setting at anything like the level they usually do.
Actually there seems to be a pretty overwhelming correlation between how many tests per capita are being done and how well this bug is contained-regardless of whether extreme measures such as lockdown are used. South Korea is the obvious case with a very high testing rate, proximity to China, few social restrictions and an excellent job controlling this virus.
In the US, the hole thing about getting tests available has been off-the-charts horrible. I know people (who either have no known Irish origins or are patently from an ethnic background that makes it improbable- ei Armenian woman from Lebanon) who are actually comparing the Trump administration’s approach to making testing available to Trevelyan’s handling of The Great Famine. Although honestly, I see much, much stronger parallels to how the USSR (mis)handled Chernobyl- It’s not like either one is great!!!
With PPE there are volunteers sewing fall-back masks for medical personnel using sewing machines, cloth, and elastic pieces form Joann’s (a popular craft store) and makeshift face shields of pieces of plastic gleaned from office supply stores, baseball caps or visors, pieces of foam rubber, elastic straps cannibalized from shorts or underpants, and glue guns. While conventional mfg have gone to extreme lengths to scale up production, desperate measures have been adopted.
While a bunch of factories have retooled to make ventillators or medical supplies breweries and distillers have temporarily retooled to make hand sanitizer and disinfectants. Ordinary people have also emptied liquor stores of vodka, whiskey, #40, rum, and more not to get drunk but to mix the stuff with dish soap, peroxide, rubbing alcohol, aloe you name it, to create makeshift disinfectant sprays. Mostly the breweries and distillers have produced much more pleasant smelling hand sanitizers than the makeshifts or the conventional ones sold by Purell and other soap companies. However we are under a peculiar law from The Volstead Act (Prohibition 1920-1933). Basically during Prohibition all alcohol containing products sold for purposes like cosmetics or disinfectants had to be “denatured” or have a chemicals added to so it could not be drunk and would also have a very unpleasant taste and smell. When Prohibition ended it turned into a situation where to avoid an excise tax of 18% people selling anything with ethanol still have to denature it to avoid paying more taxes.
One distinct possibility here is that there are cofactors (other than known ones like age or chronic illness) that influence how dangerous the virus is.
Air pollution has been named. Is it possible that Germany has done better at reducing a specific indoor and/or outdoor pollution and/or some pollutant related, dietary, household, workplace or medical practice has meant Germans win-out based on some cofactor? Perhaps its a certain pollutant that Germany is better at controlling. Or a certain household cleaner Germans eschew but Italians and Spaniards embrace. Or some food, vaccine, or supplement that is either less or more common in Germany than Italy or other nations with high mortality rates is a cofactor/co-villian.
Another possibility is stress as a factor. It could be that the German medical system produces less stress for patients due to its universal but low-rationing nature. (I’m actually a fan of the German system here.) It could be that some otherwise young and healthy Chinese doctors died of it because of the tremendous stress. One whistleblower who died despite being young and healthy had to contend with not only a terrible epidemic, but being censured by his own government for speaking out about it. To have a pandemic you are dealing with but your government won’t recognize and indeed tries to punish you for saying anything, has to be rather devastating.
At this stage, everything I say is speculation. However, my guess is that with such a radical difference between Italy and Germany, that people are going to be asking the question for some time.
If I were a British Republican, I would be praying for the speedy recovery of Prince Charles.
Yep, I agree. I even suspect Johnson noticed the wave of sympathy for Charles and that’s why he came out positive himself the next day. 😉
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Update on the UK situation: It’s beginning to emerge that, because of the time lag in official accounting, many more people have died than has thus far been reported. One London hospital has had THREE TIMES the number of deaths than are officially attributed to it.
Equally, if not even more, depressing: Such is the lack of ventilators in the UK, only people with “a reasonable chance of survival” are being put on them.
We’re really into Dominic Cummings territory now.
Which London hospital?
Who has unofficially reported it?
How do they know?
Not sure, Jim. A Daily Telegraph headline on it came up on my newsfeed, with a link to the full story (behind their paywall, of course). There was no way I was going to subscribe to that Tory rag, but for that very reason (it being a Tory mouthpiece) I’m assuming the report to be true.
Even worse rhan the Torygraph in opinion, but their actual reporting of facts isn’t bad: https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-8166709/Coronavirus-death-toll-London-hospital-TRIPLE-official-NHS-statistic.html
It doesn’t make much difference to final totals, but when – as here – cumulative differences and rates of change are being emphasised it is an important matter.
So the arch fake-news people at No10 find themselves having to battle daily with… fake news. Karma or what!
Here you go, Jim. It’s the best I can do for you:
Coronavirus: Questions over true death toll after London hospital records almost three times more deaths than official figures show
Trust has recorded 31 deaths, but national figures show 11 deaths at its three hospitals
30 March 2020 • 6:44am
The official death toll for coronavirus is lower than the true number of casualties reported by hospitals, it was claimed on Sunday night.
Channel 4 News reported that an email sent to staff at one of London’s biggest hospitals suggested that the daily tally, made public by Government, did not tally with the actual number killed by Covid-19.
The message sent to staff at King’s College Hospital Trust stated: “The number of deaths reported at King’s in national figures is below what they are experiencing. It is not just King’s but a number of other trusts and the centre has been made aware.”
The message was read out by Channel 4’s Simon Israel at the televised Downing Street press conference. According to official figures, the death toll rose by 209 yesterday to 1,228 victims….
To continue reading this
Another one for the “You couldn’t make it up” folder:
Covid-19 risk was deemed moderate by scientists
Coronavirus was judged a “moderate risk” to Britain by the government’s scientific advisers five weeks ago as cases began to surge in Italy, The Times has learnt. Scientists on a government committee, including the key pandemic modeller Neil Ferguson, met on February 21 and discussed the Covid-19 threat level. Recently released minutes show that the experts and Whitehall observers raised “no objections” to holding the risk level at moderate despite alarming figures from China. The advisers on
Read in The Times and The Sunday Times: https://apple.news/AeeqMtHKfTAW0Pw25BANQ8g
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