The crisis facing Britain this winter is familiar: The order to stay at home and the streets is empty. The hospital is overcrowded. The daily toll of hundreds of deaths from the coronavirus.
Britain is once again the epicenter of the European COVID-19 outbreak, and Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s Conservative government faces questions, and outrage, as people demand to know how the country ended up here – again.
Many countries are experiencing a new wave of the virus, but Britain is among the worst, and it is 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 just the last 30 days.
The economy has shrunk by 8%, more than 800,000 jobs have been lost and hundreds of thousands more workers are on leave in uncertainty. Even with the new lockdown, London Mayor Sadiq Khan said Friday that the situation in the capital is “critical,” with one in every 30 people infected.
“The real reality is that we will run out of beds for patients in the next few weeks unless the spread of the virus slows down drastically,” he said.
The medical staff is also at a breaking point. “Whereas before, everyone went into the fashion of, ‘We just need to go through this,’ (now) everyone was like, ‘Here it is again – can I get through this?'” Said Lindsey Izard, senior intensive care nurse at St Hospital. George in London. “It was very, very difficult for our staff.”
Much of the blame for England’s poor performance has been put at the door of Johnson, who caught the virus in the spring and ended up in intensive care. Critics say his government’s slow response when a new respiratory virus emerges from China is the first in a series of deadly mistakes.
Anthony Costello, professor of global health at University College London, said it was “wasting time” in March on whether shutting down Britain took thousands of lives. Britain was locked up on March 23, and Costello said if that decision came a week or two early, “we would be backing off at 30,000-40,000 deaths … More like Germany.”
Most countries have struggled during the pandemic, but Britain has had some weaknesses from the start. Its public health system has been damaged after years of spending cuts by the strict-minded Conservative government. It only has a small capacity for testing new viruses. And while the authorities had planned a hypothetical pandemic, they assumed it would be a less lethal and less contagious flu-like disease.
The government seeks advice from scientists, but critics say its advisory pool is too narrow. And their recommendations were not always heeded by a prime minister whose laissez-faire instincts made him reluctant to suppress the economy and everyday life. Johnson maintains his record, saying it’s easy to spot mistakes when looking back.
“The retro-spectroscope is a wonderful instrument,” Johnson said in an interview with the BBC last week. “Scientific advisors have said all kinds of different things at different times,” he added. “They totally disagree.”
Future public investigations are likely to investigate failures in Britain’s coronavirus response, but investigations have already begun.
The Parliamentary Science and Technology Committee said in a report published Friday that the government was not transparent enough about the scientific advice it received, failed to learn from other countries and responded too slowly when “the pandemic demands that policies be developed and adapted on a faster time scale.”
The government correctly demonstrated that great progress had been made since last spring. The initial problem of obtaining protective equipment for medical workers has been largely resolved. The UK now conducts nearly half a million coronavirus tests a day.
A national test-and-trace system has been put in place to find and isolate infected people, although the system struggles to cope with demand and cannot enforce self-isolation requests.
Treatments including the steroid dexamethasone, whose effectiveness was discovered during trials in the UK, have improved survival rates among those who are most seriously ill. And now there are vaccines, three of which have been approved for use in the UK.
The government vowed to deliver the first of two shots to nearly 15 million people, including all people over 70, by mid-February. But critics say the government continues to repeat its mistakes, adapting too slowly to changing situations.
As infection rates drop in the summer, the government encourages people to return to restaurants and workplaces to help restore the economy. When the virus started surging again in September, Johnson rejected advice from his scientific advisers to lock down the country, before finally announcing a second, month-long national lockdown on October 31.
Hopes that such measures would be enough to curb the spread of the virus vanished in December when scientists warned that the new variant was up to 70% more transmissible than the original strain. Johnson tightened restrictions for London and the southeast, but the government’s scientific advisory committee warned Dec. 22 that would not be enough. Johnson didn’t announce a third national lockdown for Britain until nearly two weeks later, on January 4. Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland create their own public health policies and impose 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 one to understand what needs to happen?” said Jonathan Ashworth, health spokesman for the opposition Labor Party. “The prime minister isn’t short on data, he doesn’t really make up his mind.”
Costello says Johnson shouldn’t be blamed. He said the feeling of “extraordinary” had led many British officials to watch the scene from Wuhan, China, in early 2020 and think “it’s all happening in Asia and it is not going to get here. We turned out to be short,” he said. “And I thought it was a wake-up call.”
John Bell, professor of medicine at the University of Oxford Regius, said people should be more forgiving of official missteps. “It’s easy to be critical about what we’ve been doing, but you have to remember that nobody has really gotten over a pandemic like this who has done it before,” he told the BBC.
“We all try to make decisions on the run, and some of them are bound to be wrong decisions. Everyone has to do their best, and I think the whole – including, I have to say, the politicians. So don’t beat them too badly. . “
The country’s Health Minister Matt Hancock said on Sunday that the UK has now given about 2 million people vaccinated against COVID-19 ahead of an increase in injection launches on Monday.
“Over the last week we have vaccinated more people than the whole of December, so we are accelerating the rollout,” he told BBC TV, according to Reuters.
Asked how many people have been vaccinated, Hancock said: “It’s about 2 million, but we will publish the exact figures tomorrow and beyond every day.”