The Four Horse(manure)men of the Apocalypse
It’s a wonder the UK government’s daily press briefing retains any audience at all, beside the journalists paid to be there. It breaks all known rules of audience engagement, being pompous and repetitive. Flanked by flags and behind a slogan-strewn rostrum, another of a carousel of suits posing as cabinet minsters presents statistics in numbing detail and dutifully stonewalls any hard questions that follow, as they have three-score-and-more days.
To call it “unedifying” is to flatter the event.
The idea itself is fine: daily updates to keep an anxious public informed of progress combating the worst crisis in 75 years. Recovering from a dose of Covid-19 himself, Prime Minister Boris Johnson promised “open and transparent communication”. That was three weeks ago. Even senior medical experts—especially those in the thick of epidemiology—are speaking out.
“The UK Government is dangerously deluded. They may be kidding themselves, but it is entirely irresponsible and profoundly shocking that the UK’s leaders are so blind and misguided on Covid-19.” —Prof. Gabriel Scally, Bristol University
What is going on? Tony Blair’s former adviser Alastair Campbell (who knows more than most about spin) has observed:
“Boris thinks he is fighting a campaign, not a crisis.”
Even if the carousel of suits, each media-trained within an inch of their lives by Boris’ Chief Puppetmaster, Dominic Cummings, are soft-soaping us, is criticism fair? Might this ‘handling’ of the public simply conceal a masterminding of brilliant solutions to the virus problem behind the scenes?
One way to find out is to compare UK progress with other countries. But, when asked, the suit in question demurs, claiming that other countries count statistics differently so comparisons are not meaningful.
The apparent pin-point accuracy of the statistical cataract at each daily briefing, makes this seems plausible.. But UK figures for deaths don’t bear scrutiny. The figure of 35,704 deaths given on May 20th is dwarfed by the 55,000 extra ‘unexplained’ deaths over what would be expected for the period, we are, therefore, dealing with qualitative, not quantitative figures here. Selecting comparable countries should therefore be valid guides, despite what the puppets say..
To list comparable countries, they need to have developed affluence, have open governments and a robust health care system. Such a list should therefore exclude:
- untrustworthy statistics—e.g. Russia;
- states making scant control efforts—e,g, Brazil
- states with even profound problems—e.g. Syria
- undeveloped/Third World states
The table below compares nine other states by three key statistics, adjusted for population by quantifying them per million inhabitants. (Source: worldometers)
The ranking by total cases is useful to indicate where Covid-19 infection is worst, but not for comparison of country’s performance in dealing with it.
At first glance, the UK’s position between Italy and Spain—the worst-hit countries in Europe—is not good. These two countries were the bulk of the ‘PIGS’,—member states carpeted by the EU for fiscal mismanagement in the wake of the 2008 banking crisis. Despite what the carousel of suits claim, several key lessons for the UK’s future can be gleaned from this table alone:
- South Korea came through with flying colours. This is because, in the wake of the SARS epidemic, they planned for and invested in a simular epidemic. They performed massive Testing and Tracing (T&T) from the word go. The UK had no such plan.
- New Zealand performed almost as well. Besides prompt T&T, they shut down access to the country promptly and tested everyone who did arrive. The UK let over half a million people enter freely, including 40,000 from Italy and the Dolomite ski resorts origin of early outbreaks in Europe.
- Germany had significant T&T resources already in place and deployed them rigorously. The UK had little but delayed and already inadequate effort by insisting on centralised testing and ignoring >100 private labs They also abandoned tracing for over two months.
- Although Singapore suffered a resurgence (i.e. “second peak”) it was traced to a migrant worker suburb and the outbreaj targeted and contained. The UK has no equivalent regional task force to deal with local anolmalies.
- Sweden was chastised for taking a voluntary approach to lockdown, with most business and most retail staying open. Their economy has not suffered far anything like the 25% GDP drop and £62bn month borrowing in the UK.the
None of this offers a shred of justification for the UK government to wilfully ignore experience hard-won by comparable countries, still less to argue they lead a ‘world-beating’ strategy by “following the science”, when they have done no such thing. It resembles more of a seat-of the-pants snow jobb
So, if neither our neighbours, nor our own scientists are responsible for shoddy national performance that will cost dear in prosperity, as well as lives, then who is? Though justice may come slow—certainly not in time, and perhaps not ever— in the scapegoat hunt that follows, the prime candidates must be:
- Boris Johnson, where the buck must inevitably stop. He may be bright and affable but he is lazy, lightweight and lacks even the echo of his hero Churchill.
- Dominic Cumming. You may not have seen him but his baleful and malevolent hand steering a positive message has been behind most of the mis-steps and the odious side-stepping of responsibility.
- Duncan Selbie, Chief Executive, Public Health England and therefore responsible for the flawed UK medical strategy, including tardy lockdown, abandoning early T&T, centralised (=slow) testing, absence of tracking system, scupperimg the economy through ssevere lockdown and not being prepared for ant pandemic
- The Seven Dwarfs, viz Dominic Raab, Matt Hancock, Grant Shaps and the rest of the suit carousel, all of whom dutifully mouthed indistinguishablr rent-a-quote performances mouthpieces. The country deserved better in its hour of need.
“What does it profit a man if he gain the whole world but lose his soul? But for Wales, Richard...for Wakes.” —Sir Thomas Moore‚A Man for All Seasons