Sunday Blog 11: April 19 2020: Pressure Building on Government

For a government that prides itself on doing the right things at the right time, there is a lot going wrong. There is an increasing disconnect between ministerial statements delivered in the familiar self congratulatory tone at the daily Downing Street briefings and the realities across the Covid 19 landscape, especially in England. Moreover lone voices hesitantly questioning,  have become something of a chorus and a good deal more strident. Of course it is not all bad news. The extraordinary response of the NHS and its ability to up its critical care capacity is already a legend. The admiration of the whole country for not just NHS workers, but all those essential people who keep the country running at all the basic levels involving care and services, is at an historic high.

The State, previously seen as a drain on taxpayers and the enemy of choice and  individual freedom, is suddenly the friend and critical supporter, one way or another, of every family in the land. Credit must be given to the government for driving the NHS expansion and for having no qualms whatever in building at breakneck speed the biggest expansion of the state since the post WWII era. Moreover when the question is asked by fiscal conservatives about paying for it all, the chancellor does not talk of austerity. No. He talks of massive government investment in industry, infrastructure and communications to invest our way out of the crisis and grow the economy to meet the need.

But there remains mounting evidence that a  failure of testing and procurement, with woolly science and muddled planning at the start, led to a lockdown much too late. It has also led to acute shortages of everything across the piece and significant logistical failures, many if not most still unresolved, in spite of eye catching promises made by a procession of ministers at the daily briefings in Downing Street. This in turn is leading to a longer peak, a bumpy curve and a much longer period of restrictive living than was envisaged or prepared for. Now the WHO tells us there is scant evidence of lasting immunity and that few people tested who have had the virus have much in the way of antibodies. That puts a question mark over the whole programme of antibody testing which was supposed to be a key part of the government’s elusive exit strategy.

Worst of all, these problems appear to be showing through in a grim death tally. Currently our total death rate, calculated as a percentage of the total of those infected, as reported in the daily statistics, is now running at 13.5%. This is higher than Italy 13.2,  France 12.6,  Spain 10.5,  USA 5.2. and Germany 3.2. It could be said that because we have not tested properly, we are understating the critical cases, but as everybody is using the WHO standard of hospitalised confirmed cases, this may not be a valid explanation. On the contrary many experts are now predicting we will head the table as the worst in Europe.

At the very least there are questions the government must now answer on a range of anxieties. Self-justification and fudge will no longer do. It has much to be pleased with, but the central issue of confronting the virus and resolving the threat, remains unanswered with sufficient conviction and enough evidence, to give the country the hope and confidence, upon which ultimate recovery will depend. Positive news of vaccine development at pace is certainly encouraging, but even if such vaccines work they are not for today, or even tomorrow but at least the days after that. The problem for the government seems to be that it has locked itself into a syndrome of planning for yesterday.

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