Our Prime Minister is back at work and has declared the country has ‘so very nearly succeeded’ in winning the first phase of the fight against the Coronavirus. Already the PM is shifting the goalposts in terms of what is deemed a ‘successful’ response to this crisis – and the media have been more than happy to allow him to do so.
Boris Johnson’s statement outside Downing Street on Monday morning is a clear example of ‘manufacturing consent’ at play. Before lockdown measures were forced on the Government due to increasing public pressure, Boris Johnson and co. were extremely dismissive of the virus and its destructive capability. This is despite the fact the government were granted the ability to clearly see the virus working its way through the world and then prepare their response accordingly. Instead Boris Johnson went on holiday, missed five consecutive Cobra meetings and sold off vital PPE equipment.
This was all during the time the ‘Herd Immunity’ theory was being pursued by the Government, with the thinking being that a natural immunity could be created against the virus if 60% of the population were to contract COVID-19. Despite the policy always being completely at odds with World Health Organisation advice, the government were forced to U-turn on herd immunity and enact lockdown measures as confirmed cases in the UK skyrocketed. Of course the mainstream media were happy to relay the government message that ‘the science had changed’, rather than highlight the fact the fatal herd immunity policy was enacted as an attempt to save financial markets over people’s lives. Now, twenty thousand deaths later, we are told by Boris Johnson that we have successfully dealt with the first stage of the virus.
The first important point to make is that we’re not even currently looking at a 20,000 UK death toll. When deaths from outside hospitals are taken into consideration the number of deaths already looks like being more than 40,000, meaning the UK is currently heading towards having the second worst COVID-19 death toll in the world. Predictably, the likes of the BBC are already creating the narrative that it is difficult to compare UK death tolls with other countries around the world. Well here are some simple stats in comparison to our German neighbours:
Pick your measure and pick your country because, bar America, we have one of the worst death rates in the world. Despite the WHO demanding each country test as many people as possible, the government instead has set arbitrary targets with regards to testing that it has continually missed. Matt Hancock’s failed one-hundred thousand tests a day target has proven the government’s incompetent response to the crisis as we fall behind China, South Korea, Italy and Russia in terms of the amount of people that have been tested . The lack of tests is compounded by the fact the UK clearly went into lockdown too late when compared to other countries. Take South Africa for example, who after having its first confirmed case on March 1st went into a full lockdown on March 27th – decreasing the daily confirmed case rate by 38%. In comparison, the first documented case of the virus in the UK was January 29th and our lockdown wasn’t put in force until March 23rd.
On January 24th Matt Hancock had described the risk of an outbreak in Britain as ‘low’ and a PM spokesperson claimed the nation was ‘well prepared for any new diseases.’ The weeks after these blasé comments have been plagued with horrific stories about the lack of PPE for our key workers, patients being turned away from the new Nightingale Hospitals and the virus working its way through our care homes – all stories previously covered on Worcestershire Transformed.
So how will the Government duck and dodge questions about lockdown measures, high death rates and the ignoring of WHO advice? Shift the blame onto us – the public. Now the Government’s messaging is all about the public holding on, gritting our teeth and staying at home. Whilst social distancing absolutely is essential to halting the spread of the virus, and those breaking lockdown rules represent a huge risk to public health, there is a clear strategy at play here. The whole crisis has been about deflection from the Government and pointing the blame elsewhere. In terms of economics, it’s asking the “working-class lads done good” Premiership footballers for donations to the NHS, not the billionaire Tory Donors. It’s blaming NHS staff for ‘overusing’ PPE instead of providing enough adequate equipment for our frontline health workers. It’s then pointing the finger at the public for spreading the virus in an attempt to depoliticise the crisis and provide cover for fundamental errors made by the Government. In reality we have had a set of mixed messages from the Government from day one, be that Johnson saying he was still shaking Coronavirus patients’ hands in late March, claiming the British public could just take the virus ‘on the chin’ or allowing major sporting events like Cheltenham Festival to be allowed to go ahead.
A lot of people have written about the need for a public inquiry when this is all over to investigate the Government’s COVID-19 response. For 40,000+ families that public inquiry result will come all too late, and the drawn out process of both the Leveson (phone hacking) and Chilcot (Iraq) inquiries will inspire hope in very few. What makes this whole saga all the more disheartening is the dead air coming from the new leader of the Labour Party, Keir Starmer. This line of not engaging in ‘opposition for opposition’s sake’ has manifested itself into a lukewarm criticism of 40,000 unnecessary deaths and a complete failure to fight the Boris Johnson ‘success’ narrative head on. Whilst the Labour Party backtrack on their campaign for rent to be halted, and appeal to no-one with their demand for the government to publish their COVID-19 ‘exit strategy’, the Tories are polling above 50% in terms of national voting intention. History is written by the victor, and if we allow him to, Boris Johnson is going to claim 40,000 needless deaths as a victory.