A typical (August) Norwich pub scene at the excellent White Lion at 22.29pm – photo © Julian Swainson
The Covid 19 pandemic has left no corner of the world unaffected and while it has spread rapidly it has also progressed in an easily predictable manner following the first known experiences of the outbreak in Wuhan in China.
Different countries have rated in different ways according to their political position and their leaders’ abilities. There are many ways of measuring the impact, but the most potent must be the number of premature deaths attributable to the virus. The UK sadly has spent most of the last six months in the top five of national Covid deaths. Countries with similar or even larger populations have been greatly more effective than Britain in protecting their citizens from this surge in early deaths. We need to look more closely at these regimes and administrations to try and learn how our government has got it so badly wrong. We also need to focus ever more on the science behind infection and the intelligent analysis of how to control and contain it.
The spread rate characteristics are well known now, but the fact that this virus is often symptom free (at least initially) makes testing in large volumes an absolute essential. Other countries such as Germany seem to have mastered this with a concerted and co-ordinated effort, with testing widely and freely available on demand. In Britain testing seems to have been used mostly by Johnson and his cohort as a pretext for giving vast contracts to private contractors with no apparent competence. Bluntly, we are all paying heavily through our taxes for this incompetence, but worse our family members are often paying with their lives for the inadequacy of this approach.
UK citizens are generally well educated and readily compliant with laws and even advice from government and public authorities. However the sheer confusion of the garbled and contradictory messages from Tory ministers has left this country confused and increasingly resentful. I have little time for the current wave of anti-restriction protests that have brought out many unsavoury right wing and eccentric figures, yet I can understand the frustration and confusion of people who are tempted to join them. There is little logic in the bizarre sequence of dictats that we are supposed to observe on pain of punitive consequence. Tory ministers wilfully ignore skilled advice and evidence and chop and change according to whim, while exempting themselves and their coterie from the application of these harsh new rules. Where there is clear evidence of the need for restriction they bumble and delay for days, allowing the problem to escalate severely. They also introduce measures which are more likely to exacerbate than cure the problems of virus spread.
Vietnam offers an interesting comparison. A country of over 95 million people, yet only 35 deaths from Coronavirus. A friend who lives there points out their effective stance. When a single case of the virus is identified, they promptly enforce a complete lockdown. ‘Get home now or we put you in jail’ is the accepted rule. A thorough and effective lockdown can be relatively quickly ended and a full return to normal life obtained quite quickly. In Britain however in spite of the clearest evidence of travel spreading the virus there was no attempt to rapidly shut down or quarantine air travellers and we had an idiot PM championing his hand shaking hospital visits to a selected handful of virus sufferers. No surprise that the clown prince himself was soon fighting for his life from this illness that he had been so clearly warned about.
The yo-yo messaging about pubs and restaurants highlights the danger of the Johnson approach to Covid 19. Throughout August we were being bribed by taxpayer billions to eat out on a few days a week, cramming restaurants with strangers pushed unsafely close to each other. You cannot wear a mask and eat. Then no surprise that at the end of this gobfest the infection numbers start to climb rapidly once again. Schools and colleges were forced to reassemble in the teeth of wise advice from trade unions and now there are large numbers of serious Covid outbreaks amongst school and college pupils. Any parent who has experienced a child going to university knows how tough this can be at first, now for thousands they are locked into isolating accommodation with very little to show for their inflated fees and told that they may even not be allowed home for Christmas. Chaos. Avoidable chaos.
British pubs suffer the highest level of regulatory interference on the face of the planet, but in my experience are usually competently run with a clear duty of care to their customers. Many have been tentative in their re-opening and all that I know have been rigorous in applying social distancing and keeping their premises clean. The completely arbitrary 10pm curfew just imposed is a disaster. Many are seeing their trade cut below a sustainable level as even government ministers have had to admit that there is no scientific basis at all for this curfew. My observation is that it creates new risks. What trade there is, is now compressed into many fewer hours, so people are much more likely to be crammed unhealthily close. At ten o’clock on Saturday I cycled around the city and observed large numbers thronging together outside just-closed bars, with little social distancing or mask use, and taxi offices were deluged with grumpy crowds of freshly evicted grumpy pubgoers. Messy. Allowing later opening spreads this departing crowd much more thinly and healthily. As is so often the case, the Tory government initially exempted themselves from this pointless curfew with the alcohol still flowing in Parliamentary bars long after 10pm until they were caught out in the press.
What this complexity does do is allow the Tory narrative of blame shifting to dominate the discussion. Not one Tory minister has ever said ‘sorry’ for their catastrophic approach. They bang on about ‘world beating’ but the only area in which this country now excels is in the number of grandmas, dads, aunts, uncles etc who have died quite unnecessarily because of a dithering and corrupt incompetence in government.
Not one Tory MP has died of coronavirus. They live lives protected by extreme wealth, expensive private healthcare and spacious houses to hide within. They simply do not care about the rest of us, as long as we keep making them and their friends ever richer. We deserve better.
© Julian Swainson – September 2020
Covid death by country statistics: https://tradingeconomics.com/country-list/coronavirus-deaths
Article about pub closure ‘science’: https://www.theneweuropean.co.uk/brexit-news/westminster-news/oliver-dowden-on-andrew-marr-show-96168?fbclid=IwAR1uC7eA9J2igEfS645vSYjly2sVMlN2qrmPqbhf1qkIMqONP-HSLl8q1KA