The pandemic has ravaged all corners of the world.
However, the British Government’s reluctance to suffer a public relations nightmare has caused an avoidable, catastrophic loss of life in the UK. Here’s how our representatives failed us to the most damaging degree.
12 months ago, the UK and many of its Western allies were optimistic that they would remain untouchable as the coronavirus ripped through East Asia. Prime Minister Boris Johnson played hooky from a string of COBRA meetings and he appeared to pretend the whole thing didn’t exist.
The frustrating back-and-forth involved in coronavirus responses is making it glaringly clear that the government constantly has one eye on the TV. Other states with similar demographics took harsher action earlier on, but UK politicians feared losing support more than they feared the momentous death toll that we see now.
Johnson’s “sorry” from late January will do little to console the hundreds of thousands of people who have lost loved ones as a result of sheer incompetence and brazen cronyism.
When the first wave of cases was sweeping the nation, scientists advised the government to take a ‘maximum suppression’ strategy to get cases to zero as quickly as possible. In spite of this, the government’s aim was to slow the spread rather than end it altogether. This ignorance towards the experts has allowed the virus to spread massively and even mutate.
Many months later, here we are, faced with the reality that if restrictions are relaxed, we will face another peak.
Advisers warned long ago that this would happen if we tried to live alongside the virus. The frightening rise over the Christmas period illustrated this – we went from a seven- day average of 14,200 new daily cases on the 14th December, to 59,600 on the 9th January.
The failure to close borders earlier on, to implement quarantine measures for those returning to the country, to build an effective tracking and tracing system, to supply the National Health Service with personal protective equipment, to take the virus seriously and the failure of MPs to serve those that elected them has left much of the public stunned and apathetic.
The public services upon which we rely, particularly during unprecedented times like this, have been suffering under austerity for over a decade; we were nowhere near as ready as the government had us believe.
Professors of criminology at the Liverpool John Moores University and the Open University have implied the British government may be guilty of what Friedrich Engels called ‘social murder’.
As indifferent ministers fumbled towards an elusive and ultimately non-descript notion of national interest, thousands lost their lives prematurely.
Interesting ideological and moral questions have come to fore about how to strike a balance between saving the nation from long-term economic woes and minimising the loss of life during the pandemic. This is undeniably a complex question, but the UK appears to have got the answer catastrophically wrong.
The economy appeared to be at the top of the list throughout 2020 as lockdowns were started and ended, started and ended. Despite this questionable prioritisation of trade over health, the UK GDP shrunk by almost 10% in 2020.
A report published by the Science and Technology Committee at the beginning of the year highlights multiple government errors.
Information sharing and transparency from SAGE was poor. Our politicians missed the opportunity to learn from what was happening in other countries; ministers did not acknowledge that hundreds of thousands of citizens would need to eventually be tested for the virus. Flawed data management and slow testing infrastructure contributed to the chaos that has ensued on our lives.
These mistakes have not come at the expense of those that made them.
Unsurprisingly, much of the British public has become desensitised to high death tolls and corruption. It has often seemed like one set of rules established for us, and another set for them.
Former senior adviser to Johnson, Dominic Cummings was found to have broken the lockdown measures that he himself worked to forge.
His infamous road trip to Durham was a tremendous display of hypocrisy – “I don’t regret what I did” says it all doesn’t it.
The PM did not condemn the actions of his adviser.
As Britons died without their families by their sides, the government stomped all over the legitimacy we so kindly afford them.
A High Court ruling this year found the government broke the law by neglecting to publish hundreds of COVID related contracts within the 30-day period allotted for those worth more than £10,000.
The Department of Health and Social Care has spent around £15bn since the beginning of October 2020 on PPE, but as of the 19th February 2021, only £2.7bn worth had been published.
Not only is the delay breach enough, but a number of the contracts raise questions about Hancock’s motivations when responding to the pandemic.
A £252m contract for face masks went to a finance company called Ayanda Capital. A £108m contract went to Clandeboye Agencies – a company who had, until then, only produced confectionary.
Accusations of corruption are flying and as they say; there’s no smoke without a fire.
PPE suppliers with connections to senior politicians were given a direct channel for contract bids and were 10 times more likely to be successful than other bidders.
Around 500 suppliers were referred to this channel and their proposals were automatically granted as credible by the government staff responsible for PPE procurement.
This came to light after a report from the National Audit Office (NAO).
The exposition explains why so many Tory-linked firms received major contracts so quickly. Ministers and advisers saw an opportunity and took it, shamefully looking for personal gain as the nation was being slapped by unemployment, quarantine and loss.
According to the NAO, over £10.5bn of contracts were awarded without competitive tender – there is missing paperwork regarding why certain firms were chosen and, in some cases, contracts came out of thin air after the companies had already started work.
Hancock has dismissed the ruling against his department.
The country turned to Westminster for instruction and protection, but there is an obvious lack of personal regret from MPs and senior figures who acted inappropriately.
Perhaps the cherry that tops the cake of monumental blunders is the recent court order that has ruled Johnson misled Parliament in relation to covid related contracts.
The PM claimed they were “on the record for everybody to see”, but the final order passed on the 5th March states at least 100 contracts remain unpublished.
Perhaps the word ‘blunders’ is a poor choice, as it implies that these were accidents, quick decisions in a high-pressure situation with unintended consequences. In actuality, politicians have flaunted their power unapologetically and details of their betrayals just keep on coming.
Vast sums of taxpayers’ money have been poured down the drain on PPE that was not even fit for use. Nurses donned bin bags as the country’s elite bagged lucrative deals.
Some are reluctant to make global events like this political – but I find the opposite to be preferable. Whether we like it or not, our politicians make decisions on our behalf and they affect every minute aspect of our lives.
Crises like this pandemic reinforce the impact a government can have on a population, and highlight the importance of holding them to a high standard.
We should expect more from those charged with representing our views and needs. Countless errors and a heinous disregard for public wellbeing and political responsibility, mean this government has blood on its hands.