Many countries are enduring new waves of the virus, but Britain is among the worst, coming after a horrendous 2020. More than 3 million people in the UK have tested positive for the coronavirus and 81,000 have died, 30,000 in only the last 30. days. The economy has contracted by 8 percent, more than 800,000 jobs have been lost, and hundreds of thousands of unauthorized workers are in limbo.
Even with the new shutdown, London Mayor Sadiq Khan said on Friday that the situation in the capital was “critical”, with one in 30 people infected. “The stark reality is that we will run out of beds for patients in the next two weeks, unless the spread of the virus drastically slows down,” he said.
Medical personnel are also at a critical point.
“Whereas before, everyone was going into a mode of, ‘We just have to get over this,’ (now) everyone’s saying, ‘Here we go again, can I get over this?'” Said Lindsey Izard, a senior intensive care nurse from St. George’s Hospital, London. “That is very, very difficult for our staff.”
Much of the blame for Britain’s poor performance fell on Johnson, who contracted the virus in the spring and ended up in intensive care. Critics say his government’s slow response when the new respiratory virus emerged from China was the first in a series of deadly mistakes.
Anthony Costello, professor of global health at University College London, said in March that “wasting time” on whether blocking the UK cost thousands of lives.
“And the problem is that they have repeated these delays,” said Costello, a member of Independent SAGE, a group of scientists created as an alternative to the government’s official Emergency Scientific Advisory Group.
Most countries have struggled through the pandemic, but Britain had some downsides from the start. His public health system was worn out after years of spending cuts by austerity-minded conservative governments. It had only a small capacity to test the new virus. And although authorities had planned a hypothetical pandemic, they assumed it would be a less deadly and less contagious flu-like illness.
The government sought the advice of scientists, but critics say its pool of advisers was too small. And his recommendations weren’t always heeded by a prime minister whose laissez-faire instincts make him reluctant to crack down on the economy and everyday life.
Johnson has defended his track record, saying it’s easy to find fault when you look back.
“The retrospectroscope is a magnificent instrument,” Johnson said in an interview with the BBC last week.
“Scientific advisers have said all kinds of different things at different times,” he added. “They are by no means unanimous.”
A future public inquiry is likely to scrutinize the flaws in Britain’s response to the coronavirus, but the inquisition has already begun.
Parliament’s Science and Technology Committee said in a report released Friday that the government was not transparent enough about the scientific advice it received, did not learn from other countries and responded too slowly when “the pandemic has demanded that policy be make and adapt faster. ” timeline “.
The government correctly points out that there has been great progress since last spring. The initial problems in obtaining protective equipment for medical workers have been largely resolved. Britain now carries out nearly half a million coronavirus tests a day. A national test and trace system has been established to find and isolate infected people, although it is struggling to cope with demand and cannot enforce requests for self-isolation.
Treatments that include the steroid dexamethasone, found to be effective during a UK trial, have improved survival rates among the most seriously ill. And now there are vaccines, three of which have been approved for use in Britain. The government has pledged to give the first of two injections to nearly 15 million people, including all people over the age of 70, by mid-February.
But critics say the government has kept repeating its mistakes, adapting too slowly to a changing situation.
As infection rates fell in the summer, the government encouraged people to return to restaurants and workplaces to help jump-start the economy. When the virus began to rise again in September, Johnson rejected the advice of his scientific advisers to blockade the country, before finally announcing a second month-long national blockade on October 31.
Hopes that that move would be enough to slow the spread of the virus were dashed in December, when scientists warned that a new variant was up to 70 percent more transmissible than the original strain.
Johnson tightened restrictions on London and the South East, but the government’s scientific advisory committee warned on December 22 that that would not be enough. Johnson didn’t announce a third national lockdown for England until almost two weeks later, on January 4.
Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland develop their own public health policies and apply similar restrictions.
“Why is this prime minister, with all the scientific expertise at his disposal, all the power to make a difference, always the last to understand what must happen?” said Jonathan Ashworth, health spokesman for the opposition Labor Party. “The prime minister has not lacked data, he has lacked judgment.”
Costello said Johnson shouldn’t take all the blame. He said a sense of “exceptionalism” had led many British officials to see scenes from Wuhan, China, in early 2020 and think that “all of that is happening in Asia and it is not going to get here.”
“They found us wanting,” he said. “And I think it’s a wake-up call.”
John Bell, Regius professor of medicine at Oxford University, said people should be more forgiving of official mistakes.
“It is very easy to be critical of how we have done it, but you have to remember that there is no one who has really handled a pandemic like this, who has done it before,” he told the BBC. “We are all trying to make decisions on the fly, and some of those decisions will inevitably be bad.”
“Everybody should be doing the best they can, and I think generally people are doing it, including, I have to say, politicians. So don’t hit them too hard.”