government's response to covid-19 criticised

Government’s Response to Covid-19 Condemned

Sunday Times Report Criticises UK Government’s Response to Covid-19

In a damning Sunday Times investigation published just two days ago, the national newspaper has exposed critical failures in the UK government’s response to COVID-19, highlighting its role in the thousands of Coronavirus-related deaths reported across Britain so far.

“A pandemic was always at the top of our national risk register — always — but when it came we just slowly watched. We could have been Germany but instead we were doomed by our incompetence, our hubris and our austerity.”

Those are the words of one senior Department of Health insider as relayed within the report.

Despite the government’s attempts to rewrite history – now denying ever taking the approach of ‘herd immunity’ – its misinformation campaign has been shattered by evidence which suggests that the government’s failure to act and persistent dismissal of the severity of the disease has had a catastrophic impact on the UK’s ability to contain and tackle it.

Crucially, austerity is largely to blame for the extent to which the UK was unprepared to deal with the current pandemic. The investigation tells of how emergency stockpiles of PPE (personal protective equipment) had declined – with much of it having passed its expiry date – after becoming a low priority throughout the previous decade of austerity cuts.

governments-response-to-covid-19-condemned

Similarly, routine training which aimed to prepare key workers for a pandemic had been placed on the back burner for two years as the government diverted its attention solely to dealing with Brexit.

The last rehearsal for a pandemic was in 2016. Unsurprisingly, this rehearsal had demonstrated that the NHS would collapse in the event of a global pandemic, with lack of PPE and intensive care ventilators cited as two key factors for this. Such findings were, however, never addressed by the Conservative government. One source told The Sunday Times that focus on a no-deal Brexit “sucked all the blood out of pandemic planning”. 

Despite the government’s attempts to rewrite history […] its misinformation campaign has been shattered

Yet, it is not only previous governmental failures which contributed to the position we find ourselves today. The government’s response to news of the rapid Coronavirus outbreak in China was one of indifference, arrogance and disregard. By 2nd March, the Prime Minister Boris Johnson had been absent from four Cobra meetings on the Coronavirus – by which point, his eventual attendance would prove too little, too late.

From late January through February, the government neglected to implement or devise an emergency response to COVID-19, instead reassuring the public that the risk to the UK was low.

This is despite having received an urgent warning by Professor Ferguson on the day of the first Cobra meeting on January 24th, in a report which estimated mass casualties and warned that there needed to be a 60% cut in the transmission rate through stopping contact between people.

And it was not only Ferguson’s findings that the government dismissed. On February 26th – with 13 known cases in the UK – ministers were once again warned by an advisory committee that the country would face ‘a catastrophic loss of life unless drastic action were taken’.

Health workers within one NHS Trust have been encouraged to avoid commenting on ‘political issues’ via social media

John Edmunds, one of the leading infectious disease modellers from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, presented his team’s predictions that ‘27 million people could be infected and 220,000 intensive care beds would be needed if no action were taken to reduce infection rates.’

Yet it would be a further four weeks before the UK government imposed nationwide social distancing measures, despite watching how the pandemic had unfolded in the likes of Italy.

We cannot allow our health workers to become sacrificial lambs through glorifying their deaths as ‘heroic’

Now, as the UK reports over 16,000 deaths as a result of COVID-19 – including at least 100 health workers – the government is continuing to expose frontline staff to the disease.

With lack of testing still a critical issue along with inadequate and scarce PPE, health workers within one NHS Trust have been encouraged to avoid commenting on ‘political issues’ via social media. The ‘political issues’ in question refer to the many NHS medics who have come forward to tell of having to use aprons, bin bags and hospital gowns to create makeshift protective wear.

There is something deeply jarring about such allegations of ‘politicising’ the current crisis, when we know that there is a direct correlation between government policies, inaction and public safety (or a lack thereof).

Yes, we are living in unprecedented times, with each and every nation bearing its own burdens. However, only when looking at the approaches of various other countries – some of which are located far nearer to China than the UK and with far fewer resources, such as Vietnam – do we begin to recognise the extent of the UK government’s neglect.

We cannot allow our health workers to become sacrificial lambs through glorifying their deaths as ‘heroic’. It is a tragedy and one that could have been prevented had the government taken the correct approach and had it not spent a decade underfunding our health service.

Written by
Holly Barrow
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