Disclaimer: The views expressed within this article are entirely the author’s own and are not attributable to Wessex Scene as a whole.
On Tuesday 26th of January 2021, the United Kingdom reached the terrible landmark of 100,000 deaths of Covid-19. 100,000 people. To put that into context, that is more than the Great Plague, Aids Pandemic, and every terror attack and war since 1945 combined. It’s greater than the entire populations of Bath, or Lincoln, or Durham. It’s greater than the capacity of Wembley stadium (90,000), the biggest in the UK. This number represents an appalling loss of life. But how did we get here?
Prime Minister Boris Johnson, in a press briefing where this figure was announced, said he took ‘full responsibility’ for the actions of the government during the Covid-19 pandemic, saying that he was ‘deeply sorry for every life lost’ and that ‘we truly did everything we could’.
The sentiment that they did everything they could is an insult to every single one of those 100,000 lives, to those affected by their deaths, and to the rest of us left powerless as things get worse. Let’s unpack a few reasons as to why 100,000 lives lost was not inevitable:
Back in January and February, Boris Johnson missed five consecutive Cobra meetings which discussed how to deal with the increasing spread of Covid-19 worldwide, because he was at his country retreat at Chequers.
In the early days of the virus, ministers pushed a herd immunity strategy, which would have caused unimaginable loss of life. Early language surrounding the virus dismissed it as ‘just the flu’, and that those who died would have died anyway. We now know this to be wrong.
There was not enough PPE for NHS staff.
Hospitals were told they could discharge the elderly into care homes without testing for coronavirus. 30% of deaths in the first wave happened in care homes. Another 10% of the total were care home residents who died in hospital. Many thousands more residents have died since then.
Test and Trace is a failure. It cost over £22 billion, significantly more than it should have done, largely because it was outsourced to private companies. It underperformed and it arrived too late.
The list would not be complete without mentioning Dominic Cummings, the Prime Minister’s former chief advisor. In April 2020, Dominic Cummings travelled across the country with symptoms of Covid-19, making an unnecessary trip to Barnard Castle to test his eyesight before making the 300-mile drive back to London. He also continued to travel into work while suspecting his wife may have Covid-19. This debacle was made worse by the Prime Minister and cabinet backing Mr Cummings, saying that he acted as a responsible parent. This greatly undermined the government’s public health message. It was an insult to all the parents and children who had made sacrifices to follow the rules, and the goodwill towards restrictions was greatly reduced.
In Autumn 2020 there was the Eat out to Help Out. Whilst a great idea to get the economy up and running again after the complete shutdown earlier that year, gathering people into restaurants at the same time in pursuit of a good deal was never going to end well. Sure enough, this was the event which heralded a second wave.
In September, schools and universities opened again with insufficient resources to prevent major outbreaks. Outbreaks occurred in universities around the country, because telling people to travel from all over the country and mix would inevitably result in this. Equally, schools were always going to be breeding grounds for infection, from crowded classrooms to packed school buses. Yet the government threatened to fine schools who dared to close their doors. The Prime Minister’s obsession with having schools open has killed both teachers and parents, while prolonging the outbreak. Mr Johnson was so reluctant to see this that, upon his insistence that schools were safe, they opened for one day in January before closing again, the hubris of the government buckling in the face of the facts.
The government is also responsible for not one, not two, but three late lockdowns. According to the rate by which cases were doubling at the time, locking down just a week earlier in March could have saved 20,000 lives. On the 11th of November, midway through the second lockdown, the UK reached 50,000 deaths. Ending the lockdown 2 weeks later, allowing Christmas to happen, schools to reopen, and a third late lockdown has doubled that death toll in just two months. Had the second lockdown not lifted so quickly and the third lockdown not taken so long, cases would not have climbed so rapidly.
In particular, the handling of Christmas was appalling. Firstly, there were serious issues with the Tier system leading up to the holidays, and Mr Johnson’s insistence on having multiple households mixing for Christmas Day, until the last minute, was inevitably going to lead to an increased loss of life. The obsession with ‘saving Christmas’ over lives and yet another late response to the new variant of Covid-19 were bound to make cases soar in January.
This is nowhere near a complete list, but it illustrates the point.
So much of the government’s response has been to blame people for breaking the rules, when much of this was a government-made disaster, especially considering adherence to rules is actually quite high. Every effort to kickstart the economy, or go looking for normality, has resulted in increased transmission, which has killed people. In dealing with the increasing case numbers they helped bring about, the government has been unable to support the NHS, track or prevent further spread, or act quickly enough to prevent further outbreaks.
Mr Johnson’s excuse is an insult and a lie. They are not, as they claim, taking ‘full responsibility’. This government has the blood of 100,000 people on their hands and counting. Taking responsibility means resignation. Instead, they blame us for their incompetence.
We cannot forget what they have done. We cannot say it was inevitable. Most of all, we cannot forget the tragedy of 100,000 human lives.