How Boris Johnson’s Government Failed in Their Response of COVID-19

Dear Asian Youth,

Since the very beginning, Boris Johnson’s government has presented itself with indecisiveness, gross negligence of the seriousness of coronavirus, and the lack of effective responses. It conveyed inconsistent policies, and public communication of confusion and ambiguity with regards to the control of COVID-19. This article splits the timeline into three time periods: before lockdown, during lockdown, and after lockdown to the present day, to look at the main ways in which Boris Johnson’s government was weak and incompetent from the start.

The first initial reaction of the government to the gravity and intervention of coronavirus is crucial in order to control the vicinity of the population and as a result, the speed at which infection spreads. However, the delayed response and public display of triviality that was perpetuated by the government resulted in one of the top rates of infection and number of deaths in the world. Thus, the need for a prolonged period of lockdown-- which could have been avoided. The government’s modelling group stated on the 4th of February, it is inconclusive that ‘outbreaks can be contained by isolation and contact tracing’. On the 27th of February, Health Minister Edward Arger stated that there is ‘no need [for schools, concerts, and sport events] to close now’. These statements were all made simultaneous to the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies’ (SAGE as abbreviation; an advisory body to the central government in emergencies) clear assertions that limiting activities outside the household would delay the peak of the outbreak by up to five weeks, reduce overall cases up to 60%. It also stated that isolating and quarantining suspected cases and households could reduce the peak of an outbreak by 25%’. On the 2nd of March, SPI-M, a group that models how the virus spreads, informed the government that ‘it is highly likely that there is sustained transmission of Covid-19 in the U.K. at present’, and that if the U.K. continues with the lack of rigorous measures, ‘80% of the population will become infected, leading to the deaths of up to 500,000 people, as a good estimate. On the 3rd of March, Boris Johnson proudly stated that he shook hands with coronavirus patients at a hospital and ‘will continue to do so’, sending out a message of carelessness and triviality at a time when cases in Italy were exponentially rising. He also missed a string of 4 consecutive Cobra (national crisis committee) emergency meetings in the lead up to the outbreak that were about the handling of COVID-19. These actions, coupled with the fact that the U.K. nation-wide lockdown from the 23rd of March was only implemented nearly 2 months after the first cases were confirmed in York, and three weeks after SPI-M informed the bleakness of the situation, expose the most obscene government strategy that took place during the first few months, herd immunity. Multiple sources, including the Guardian, have since concluded that herd immunity, specifically a target of 60% of the population to be infected, was no doubt the strategy that delayed widespread, stringent measures, during a time which experts have said that there was yet to be evidence of immunity from COVID-19.

Indeed, Professor Neil Ferguson, the former scientific adviser to the government, told the Science and Technology Committee that deaths would have been reduced by 50% if lockdown was implemented a week earlier. However, even after lockdown was implemented, Johnson’s government consistently went through more controversies that, when analysed, decreased the efficiency of the fight against COVID-19, and maintained the narrative that human sacrifices were inevitable. On the 26th March, the deputy chief medical officer, Dr. Jenny Harries, despite the World Health Organisation’s advice to “test, test, test”, blatantly rejected the importance of testing and claimed it was not ‘not an appropriate mechanism as we go forward’, suggesting it is aimed at less developed countries. Even when the government switched this rhetoric around, it admitted on the 6th of April that not one of the 17.5 million antibody tests it bought was effective. During the peak of lockdown, numerous sources reported on the lack of personal protective equipment (PPE) for NHS staff, with guidance from Public Health England reacting to this by advising healthcare workers to reuse equipment that are supposed to be disposable, even suggesting the use of aprons if full-length gowns cannot be obtained, showing a neglect towards the staff that are saving lives on the front line. By late May, the Guardian estimated that over 200 NHS staff had died. Additionally, NHS staff also reported a shortage of the crucial, life-saving FFP3 respirator masks. Whilst the government imputed billions of pounds to ensure the economy would not collapse, the percentage of NHS salary rises during lockdown was so low that even the top consultants could only take home an extra £15-£24 per week, despite rampant NHS cuts over the last few years that resulted in many ‘suffering a 30% real-terms pay cut over the last decade’. Finally, not only did lockdown expose the unfair treatment of NHS staff, but staff were warned by central NHS bodies to not speak about the lack of PPE publicly over threats of disciplinary actions in order to adhere to a strictly professional image. This is especially ironic when knowing the performative dedication the government had at clapping for essential workers every Thursday evening.

From the 10th of May, Johnson officially announced the end of ‘stay at home’ rhetoric and instead moved to ‘stay alert’. As the U.K. death toll approaches 40,000, numerous cases of top government officials that breached quarantine rules whilst simultaneously promoting them to the public were uncovered. Professor Neil Ferguson resigned from SAGE after it was revealed that whilst stressing the importance of social distancing, he himself met up with a woman twice during lockdown. On the 22nd of May, allegations of a breach of lockdown came out, of which was directed at no other than Boris Johnson’s own Chief Advisor, Dominic Cummings. Whilst displaying symptoms of COVID-19, he drove his family to Durham to find a babysitter for his son, as well as another 30 miles to Barnard Castle to assess the severity that COVID-19 had on his eyesight, and refused to resign despite 71% of the public believing his actions to be against the law. After non-essentials shops were opened, Johnson implemented an ‘Eat Out to Help Out’ scheme whereby from the 3rd-31st August, certain restaurants had a 50% discount to mitigate the economic impact of lockdown. Exactly two weeks later, the ‘rule of 6’ was implemented, which sought to restrict indoor and outdoor gatherings to a maximum of 6 people after a sudden rise in cases. The back-and-forth, fluctuating behaviour of the government induced inconsistency, confusion, and a chaotic government policy. Further signs of gross incompetence were also shown, including a report with evidence of pages missing from recommendations of ways to protect Black, Asian, and minority ethnic groups (BAME) from the disproportionate harm of COVID-19, as well as the failure of recording confirmed cases onto its national track and trace system because of the Excel sheet reaching its maximum size, resulting in some 15,841 cases being left out of total statistics.

From the initial reaction and consistently throughout, Boris Johnson’s government displayed hypocrisy, exclusiveness and ineffectiveness to the handling of COVID-19. It is no surprise that the UK’s second wave is already in full swing.

- Jiaying Zhang

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