How well are the government handling the COVID-19 crisis?

18th September 2020

These are tough times but the reality is that even tougher times are ahead of us. That might sound like a complete downer but unfortunately it’s a reality that is becoming more and more apparent as each day passes. I posted a survey on facebook a couple of weeks ago to ask my friends to grade the governments performance to date and it was a resounding “Fail” or “Unclassified”.  I am both frightened and angry at the same time. Frightened because I can see alot more unnecessary deaths and angry because I feel that we have had ample time to prepare for a second wave and we have not used that time well. I have heard people saying that “no government could have done better in the circumstances”. I disagree. I accept that these are challenging times but this is exactly when you need strong leadership. This is exactly when you need your national and local community leaders to demonstrate good behaviours (such as social distancing). What we get from this government is lots of sound bites and rhetoric but very little substance. They are in a difficult position in balancing the impact of lock downs on the economy with saving lives by reducing transmission but they have failed on many fronts; they have failed to implement a test & trace system that is fit for purpose let alone the “world beating” service promised by Boris Johnson. Operation Moonshot pledges £100,000,000,000 to implement a mass testing programme to “utilise the full range of testing approaches and technologies to help reduce the R rate, keep the economy open and enable a return to normal life.” The government says that Moonshot has been described by the prime minister as the “only hope for avoiding a second national lockdown before a vaccine, something that the country cannot afford.” The clear objective from this government is to keep the economy moving until a vaccine becomes available.

Will a vaccine work? This is not guaranteed. Think about the common cold and how we have failed to produce a vaccine against that. The problem with COVID-19 is that it causes problems with oxygen transfer at the part of the lung where it interfaces with the outside world (ie the air sacs in the lung). Even if you have antibodies to COVID-19 there is no guarantee that they will be present in adequate amounts to prevent infection. We can’t pin our hopes on a vaccine alone. What we can all do is to change our behaviours, continue to employ social distancing and so on. I think that we are going to need a real effort over the next 6 months until we get to the spring. This winter is going to be a challenge for the NHS, the elderly and vulnerable. We should not be travelling unnecessarily. Holidays are not an essential in the current climate (unless you own an airline).

I am concerned about how scientific advice has been hushed up amid a propaganda campaign designed to allow this government to place the emphasis on keeping businesses open and the economy moving. Of course this is important but how many deaths are we willing to consider as acceptable? That really is the question isn’t it? There have been over 20 scientific advisors come and go from the daily briefing platform some of whom have been ushered “back stage left” when they started to say things that didn’t quite fit with the governments message. I think particularly of Professor Neil Ferguson who now wishes that he had been more forceful in his advice.

Could another party have done any better in the current climate? I think Jeremy Corbyn would have put more emphasis on saving the old and vulnerable but he didn’t have the trust of the people, he was too far over to the left for the majority. Sir Keir Starmer is however showing some really strong stateman like characteristics. If you watch him at the despatch box he has an air of integrity, balance, fairness and logic. I watch his encounters with Boris Johnson at PMQ time with incredulousness. I see him repeatedly challenge the prime minister with facts (in a way that you would expect from someone who is legally trained and who has a logical enquiring mind) and in return we get jokes and soundbites. No substance. This government is continually behind the curve, reactive rather than proactive.

The emphasis on beating this virus is going to come down to each one of us. We will all have our roles and responsibilities to control the spread of the virus. And that is really where I am heading in concluding this piece. We will never completely get rid of COVID-19, it will be with us for a long time (think about the Spanish flu outbreak that persisted in a significant way for 3 years). What we can do is to CONTROL the virus. We can impact its spread by:

1. Socially distancing
2. Avoid unnecessary travel
3. Good hand washing & Gelling
4. Use face masks
5. Be considerate to our fellow human beings.

Our behaviours will impact the people that we interact with, a mild infection in one person could spell death to someone they happen to meet or bump into. This is the social responsibility that we need to consider.

 


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Posted in: Health Politics by Dr Tim Ubhi

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