Current Affairs Health Politics

The UK’s Coronavirus Response. Mad, Bad And Dangerous To Know

Over the last few days I have had a rather testy exchange by email with a commentator from a northern unionist background attacking my assertion that pro-union ministers in the power-sharing Executive at Stormont were risking the lives of Irish and British citizens on this island by adhering to the go-it-alone Covid-19 policies adopted by the authorities in the United Kingdom. Policies that have run against the advice of the World Health Organisation and the responses implemented across Europe (bar the Dutch at the start of this crisis and the still hold-out Swedes). The main plank of his argument was that Sinn Féin and others have “weaponised” the pandemic to try and drive a wedge between “Northern Ireland” and the UK by suggesting that the Six Counties align with the Republic’s heath policies in a “united Ireland” effort to tackle the coronavirus. My own response, obviously enough, was that London had flip-flopped through a series of frankly rogue plans to deal with the unfolding emergency and that these had proved wrong; and to the likely cost of many, many lives.

The evidence I presented was largely ignored by the correspondent in favour of repetitive accusations about the “untrustworthy” or “fractious” behaviour of Michelle O’Neill as Deputy First Minister in the north-eastern administration, the overweening influence of SF’s Dublin-based leadership coupled with the supposed machinations of the Republican Movement’s Belfast-based leadership, and various other bits of rhetorical nonsense. In fact, the writer managed to tie himself up in knots as he sought to defend the plans put in place by London over the last couple of months, contradicting some of his own points as he tried to excuse the callousness and incompetence of the Johnson-Cummings’ regime in Downing Street.

In that light note these points by Richard North, the conservative author, long-time Eurosceptic campaigner and a person with some expertise on the subject of disease. So, no “Shinnerbot”.

The government needed two goes at publishing the Covid-19 figures yesterday [Tuesday]. When they first came out, there had been 25,150 cases (up 3,009 from 22,141) and 1,651 deaths (up 367 from 1,284).

No sooner had they been absorbed, though, than the figure for deaths rose to 1,789 suggesting a truly massive hike in the day-on-day figure of over 500. But, almost in the manner of Winston Smith re-writing The Times in 1984, the day before’s figures for deaths jumped to 1,408, producing a more modest but nonetheless considerable increase of 381.

To give some indication of the scale of this jump, three weeks ago, Mrs EUReferendum and I were looking forward to a visit from our granddaughter, coming down from Scotland to stay with us for a few days. Watching the daily Covid-19 figures mount, I suggested that, if the cases topped 1,000 by the weekend, we would call the visit off.

As it turned out, the figure reached 1,061 by the Saturday, at which time 21 deaths had been recorded. From that point, we went into our own personal lockdown, which was just as well.

By now we have seen cases multiply 25-fold, and while the official death toll is short of two thousand, there are those who argue that about 25 percent more people have died, putting the number at well over the two-thousand mark.

And from the Guardian, the utter confusion caused by having a cabal of “ mathematical modellers and behavioural scientists” dictating government health policy in Britain:

Less than two weeks on from the lockdown that Johnson announced on 23 March, the original strategy, the decisions that came before and after it, and the UK’s inability to ramp up testing for NHS staff – let alone anyone else – are under unrelenting scrutiny.

Ministers have been flailing. What has emerged is a picture of confusion and uncertainty at the top, with ministers making promises they cannot keep and apparently with little comprehension of the global tussle for tests that may make it impossible for the UK to buy its way belatedly out of the problem.

The UK is now competing with every other nation to obtain the kits it needs, particularly the polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test, which tells someone whether they have Covid-19 or not.

The Guardian has been told that presidents and prime ministers are trying to outbid each other to secure these kits and their components, which are in short supply.

As a further illustration of where the UK is at in terms of governance and competence, from RTÉ:

The British government is resisting a request by the European Union to open an office in Northern Ireland, following the closure of the European Commission’s representation in Belfast at the end of January, RTÉ News understands.

The issue has become one of the first flashpoints between Brussels and London over the implementation of protocol, according to a number of informed sources.

The EU is insisting on maintaining an office in Belfast in order to ensure the Irish protocol is being properly implemented.

However, the UK regards the request for an EU office in Northern Ireland as contrary to the letter of the Withdrawal Agreement and tantamount to an infringement of sovereignty, RTÉ News understands.

Coronavirus crisis? What crisis? It’s all about Brexit!

8 comments on “The UK’s Coronavirus Response. Mad, Bad And Dangerous To Know

  1. Obviously someone from the lunatic wing of unionism if his main concern at the moment is that co-operation with Dublin is a Trojan Horse. Probably someone who comments rather than a commentator per se, who is contacted by the BBC (The Nolan Show?) when a unionist foaming-at-the-mouth perspective is required to keep listeners amused/frightened/feeling represented..


    • I used “commentator” in this case as the person is relatively well-known on social media with a bit of a following and aligned with some unionist-minded journalists and publications.He took particular umbrage at my “personal attacks” on his columnist friends. Most of his points served to reinforce the impression that the issue of handling the COVID-19 crisis was secondary to maintaining the appearance of the “union” by following central government in the UK. Even as he skirted around its certain flaws.


      • Some people react to crisis by feeling they need to back up “the powers that be” even if they know they aren’t doing a good job.

        In people with at least a somewhat “authoritarian” orientation towards life, the logic is basically “Even a bad decision can work out OK, if everyone stands by the authority figures. Great decisions can be undone with too many doubting-Thomases.” Some such people who aren’t full-blown Authoritarians can be good critical thinkers and even rebels in fairly stable time. “Platoon” has an unusually good portrayal for a movie of the moral dilemma between this sort of mentality versus the character’s ideas of right vs. wrong. I know people who will debate how realistic some of it was from a historical perspective, but it illustrates the dilemn. Particularly if you look at the long portions running from the sacking of the Vietnamese village and the characters arguing about what to do when Taylor claims Barnes murdered Elias.

        You rarely need to go as far as a war zone, to see those dilemmas. I know as an Iraq War protester, I had literally of people tell me in private things like “I agree with you that invading Iraq is a terrible idea. However, Bush is going to do it no matter what we think. You could be doing more harm than good by getting in the way.” Sometimes people with lifelong liberal credentials said these things to me in tears. Others, especially conservative Southerners would tell me in semi-coded ways that by opposing the war I could easily have “the blood of thousands, even millions of people on {my} hands”, sometimes this was combined with the kind of warnings where you can’t tell if it’s honest concern about what somebody the person doesn’t know might do, or a coded threat. I never believed any coded threats were likely to be followed through with, so much as calculated to scare.

        However, these things can run very, very deep in some people. Such individuals exist in every culture although they may manifest differently. Sometimes people who were raised to think that way and learned differently through experience, education, or political conviction, will turn on a dime and revert to the pattern they were raised with whenever a significant crisis emerges. If somebody was raised a British Unionist they may fall back upon a more conservative version of that than they grew up with, and certainly a more nuanced perspective they may have adopted as an adult, when a pandemic is brewing.


      • Thanks, ASF. For clarity, my “commentate” versus “commentator” point was entirely a dig at him and not you.
        Where on earth does he get the idea that you have launched “personal attacks” on unionist columnists? I have never seen any. In fact, I have always been of the opinion that you deliberately steer clear of personal attacks and instead, wisely in my view, work on the basis of if-the-cap-fits etc.
        I would suggest that his attacks on you are born of a frustration that hardline unionism has made a complete balls of things recently (re Brexit especially) and in the process has weakened the union immeasurably. Sticking like glue to Johnson and his Little Englander cohort is hardly the answer.


        • That’s no problem at all, I got what you meant 🙂 Just wanted to clarify. I’m avoiding using his name, since I take it that if someone is sending emails rather than comments on the blog or Twitter exchanges they are assuming anonymity. As I said he is very active in the online community that would include some well known Irish and British journalists of a pro-union or don’t be beastly to the Brits mentality.


          • I do feel there’s a weird disconnect in that tranche of people you describe in your last sentence ASF between the reality of this crisis and their perceptions of it. The willingness to ignore or downplay WHO guidelines. The efforts to distort the record so that quite clearly distinct approaches taken by the ROI and NI are asserted to merely be a question of timing (or the absurdity that every state is really going along the herd immunity line whatever their stated positions). The basic issue is that those who are doing this very very deliberately set themselves in a position where they dismissed and ignored the best advice internationally, the approach taken by multiple governments in favour of approaches that are clearly wrong and injurious to both the health system in the UK and to the population of the UK. Your point about ‘skirting around the flaws’ is spot on.

            If one could criticise SF it is that they shouldn’t have signed up in the first place, not that they immediately resiled. But resile they did and rightly so.

            BTW, Richard North is remarkably impressive in all this. His analysis is extremely thoughtful as it was – even from a pro-Brexit position, during the last three years.

            I think Grace’s point above about going along with ‘the powers that be’ is part of this, a sort of deference to authority. I do wonder how the events of the past two days will impact on that. It’s genuinely shocking that the British political elite should have been so personally reckless, whatever about the policies they were pushing for so long, in respect of their own health. And while I’ve every sympathy on a human level for Johnson et al I’m baffled by their seeming inability to comprehend the sheer virulence of this particular outbreak and what it might potentially mean for them as much as anyone else.


            • Sorry, just to be clear, I’m agreeing with Grace’s point above… it should read ‘I think Grace’s point above about going along with ‘the powers that be’ well describes a dynamic that is part of this’


              • Why thank you!!! It’s a tricky dynamic to spot. I’d seen it and been puzzled by the behavior over many political issues and situations for years, before I started to understand it.

                Oddly, you are seeing something like it among anti-Trump people with the Coronavirus. Yes, they see Trump as having botched his handling of the pandemic. However, as some respected epidemiologists advocate a much, much more aggressive approach to to containing the virus, such as mass testing, putting mild cases in infirmaries in buildings that are usually convention centers, closed down mall, or stadiums, and trying to find asymptomatic spreaders so as to quarantine them in hotels until no longer infectious.

                I’ve found that a lot of people respond to these ideas with “It’s not gonna happen. Get over it. We need six full months of total lockdown.”

                It’s like they are backing a sort of absent effort instead of Trump himself. It’s weird.


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