UK government response to coronavirus

The Politics of Pandemics

In the midst of a pandemic, the importance of strong leadership truly hits home. It shouldn’t take such horrific circumstances for this to be the case but, for many people, life tends to crawl on in its typical fashion no matter which Prime Minister is elected or which political party gains a majority – even when the most vulnerable are suffering right before our eyes. It is the reason so many are apathetic towards politics and politicians; nothing will change, they say.

Day to day, we see crises surrounding us at every turn: increased homelessness and crime, foodbank reliance, an NHS bursting at the seams and crying out for help, not to mention the deterioration of the planet as a result of climate change.

Yet only when every person feels the burden of an inescapable threat – one that doesn’t discriminate by race, gender, religion, or socioeconomic background – does society as a whole begin to recognise the crucial powers of those that govern us.

Despite this, those who publicly express their anger towards the UK government’s dire and frankly dangerous response to the Coronavirus outbreak are met with accusations of ‘politicising’ a health crisis.

Politics influences every aspect of our lives, whether we care to admit that or not. The decisions of those we elect and the policies they choose to implement directly determines the conditions of society – as terrifying and far-fetched as that may sound. 

The government’s response to the coronavirus, therefore, is inherently political. 

Boris Johnson is set to deliver daily briefings amid the UK’s Coronavirus outbreak [Image: WPA Pool/Getty Images/The Guardian]

The government’s ‘strategy’ thus far has contradicted those incorporated by all other affected countries. ‘Herd immunity’ – the widely condemned government approach to the Coronavirus outbreak in the UK – has been described by some as ‘Tory genocide’. While this may seem a drastic and severe assumption, it would realistically be the case that vast swathes of the population simply could not survive ‘herd immunity’, thus resulting in hundreds of thousands of deaths. 

Only when every person feels the burden of an inescapable threat – one that doesn’t discriminate by race, gender, religion, or socioeconomic background – does society as a whole begin to recognise the crucial powers of those that govern us

Patrick Vallance, Chief Scientific Advisor to the government, revealed that 60% of the UK population would need to catch the Coronavirus in order to develop resistance to it (which in itself fails to take into account that herd immunity only works when a vaccine exists already). 

Even with a 2% mortality rate, this would see 800,000 lives lost in the UK. Considering that the WHO (World Health Organisation) have estimated the mortality rate of Covid-19 to stand at around 3.4%, this figure would likely be significantly higher. It was deemed a recipe for disaster from the moment Johnson announced this plan, putting the most vulnerable, elderly and immunocompromised people at risk. 

Despite having had seven weeks to prepare robust measures of support for the country and given the opportunity to witness how the disease has played out in other countries, only yesterday did the UK government change its course from one of ‘taking [the virus] on the chin’ to one of suppression, clearly recognising the grave failures of its previous approach. 

Conservative MP Pauline Latham tells Twitter user to ‘get a life’ after he asks if Statutory Sick Pay is sufficient to survive on [Image: Twitter]

Now, rather than his life-threatening ‘keep calm, carry on’ method, the Prime Minister has urged the public to avoid all ‘non-essential social contact and travel’ and to work from home where possible.

Yet, once again, he does so without providing any form of financial support to those who are self-isolating, those who cannot work from home, those who run small businesses which rely on human interaction, and NHS workers who do not have the adequate resources nor protective wear to face this crisis. 

Only yesterday did the UK government change its course from one of ‘taking [the virus] on the chin’ to one of suppression, clearly recognising the grave failures of its previous approach

This, however, has not stopped right-wing journalists from swallowing and regurgitating the government’s narrative, ensuring that they tow the line at all costs – existing within an unpoppable bubble of privilege. 

While leader of the opposition, Jeremy Corbyn, continues to fight for the suspension of rent payments for coronavirus patients, for mortgage holidays, for an increase in Statutory Sick Pay and for income protection for insecure, low-paid and self-employed workers, he continues to be the target of abuse on social media by those who consider this a form of ‘political point scoring’ and not simply evidence of him actually performing his duties: holding the government to account. 

The idea that this is no more than a game to those who dare to defend the rights of groups who will be overwhelmingly burdened by the current pandemic seems symptomatic of a sycophantic nation utterly bereft of self-awareness.

Why is anger directed towards the man who is fighting for the protection of all, while Tory MP Pauline Latham responds to the imperative question: ‘Is £94 a week SSP [Statutory Sick Pay] enough to live on? How could you manage on it?’ with ‘Get a life’. 

With a Prime Minister who once said his political hero was the mayor in ‘Jaws’ – a character who disregards mass hysteria by keeping the beaches open after a visitor is eaten by a shark – the UK is in desperate need of strong, reliable and trustworthy leadership. Tragically, this is not what we are receiving.

Written by
Holly Barrow
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