LONDON (AP) – The crisis Britain faces this winter is sadly familiar: Lockdown orders and empty streets. Hospitals overflowing. A daily cost of hundreds of deaths from coronavirus.
Britain is once again the epicenter of the European COVID-19 outbreak, and the government of Prime Minister the Conservative Boris Johnson faces questions and discontent.
Many countries suffer from new waves of the virus, but the British one is among the worst and has occurred after a terrible 2020. More than 3 million people in the country have tested positive for coronavirus and 81,000 have died -30,000 in just the last 30 days -. The economy has shrunk by 8%, more than 800,000 jobs have been lost, and hundreds of thousands of workers are in limbo on temporary layoff.
The situation in London is “critical” even with the new quarantine, London Mayor Sadiq Khan warned on Friday, noting that one in 30 people had been infected. “The grim reality is that we will run out of patient beds in the coming weeks unless the spread of the virus is drastically curbed,” he said.
Medical personnel are also on the brink of collapse.
“Whereas before, everyone was in ‘We just have to pass it’ mode (now) everyone is like ‘Here we go again, can I handle this?'” Said Lindsey Izard, an intensive care nurse at the St. George’s Hospital in London “That’s very, very hard on our staff.”
Much of the blame for Britain’s poor situation has been attributed to Johnson, who contracted the virus in the spring and ended up in intensive care. Critics say his government’s slow response when the new respiratory virus left China was the first in a deadly succession of mistakes.
Hesitation in March over whether to order a quarantine in Britain cost thousands of lives, said Anthony Costello, professor of global health at University College London.
Britain decreed a lockdown on March 23, and Costello noted that if the decision had been made a week or two earlier, “we would be at 30,000 or 40,000 deaths (…) More like Germany.”
“And the problem is that we have repeated these delays,” said Costello, a member of SAGE Independiente, a group of scientists formed as an alternative to the official Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE), which advises the government.
Most countries have struggled during the pandemic, but Britain had some downsides from the start. His public health system was battered after years of conservative government budget cuts focused on austerity. Their ability to test for the new virus was minimal. And although authorities had made plans for hypothetical pandemics, they assumed they would be less contagious and deadly diseases.
The government asked scientists for advice, but critical voices pointed out that a diverse enough group of advisers had not been consulted. And its recommendations were not always heeded by a prime minister prone to deregulation and reluctant to limit the economy and everyday life.
Johnson has defended his management, saying it’s easy to find fault with hindsight.
“Scientific advisers have said all sorts of different things at different times,” Johnson said last week during an interview on the BBC. “They are not unanimous in any case.”
A future public inquiry is likely to review the flaws in Britain’s response to the coronavirus, but the questions have already begun.
According to a report presented Friday by the Parliamentary Committee on Science and Technology, the government was not transparent enough about the scientific recommendations it received, did not learn from other countries and responded too slowly when “the pandemic has demanded that policy be made and adapts to a faster pace ”.
The government rightly points out that tremendous progress has been made since last spring. The initial problems in obtaining protective equipment for health personnel have been largely resolved. Britain now does nearly half a million coronavirus tests a day. A testing and tracing system has been put in place to identify and isolate those infected, although it has trouble meeting demand and can request but not force people into voluntary isolation.
Different treatments have improved survival rates among the seriously ill. And now there are vaccines, three of them already licensed for use in Britain. The government has promised to give the first of two doses to nearly 15 million people, including all those over 70, by mid-February.
However, critical voices say the government has reiterated its mistakes in adapting too slowly to a changing situation.
When contagion rates fell over the summer, the government urged people to return to restaurants and workplaces to help jump-start the economy. When the virus rebounded in September, Johnson rejected the advice of his scientific advisers to re-confine the country, before finally announcing a second month-long national quarantine on October 31.
Hopes that this would be enough to slow the spread of the virus disappeared in December, when scientists warned of a new variant of the virus that was up to 70% more contagious than the original.
Johnson tightened restrictions for London and the southeast of the country, but the scientific advisory committee warned on December 22 that it would not be enough. Johnson didn’t announce a third quarantine for England until almost two weeks later, on January 4.
Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland decide on their health policy and have similar restrictions.
“Why is this prime minister, with all the scientific experts at his disposal, all the power to make a difference, always the last to take in what to do?” Asked Jonathan Ashworth, health spokesman for the opposition Labor Party. . “The prime minister does not lack data, he lacks good judgment.”
Costello noted that not all blame was on Johnson. He noted that a sense of “exceptionalism” had caused many British authorities to look at the images from Wuhan, China, in early 2020 and think “all this is happening in Asia and it will not get here.”
“We were not up to par,” he said. “And I think it’s a wake-up call.”
John Bell, a professor of medicine at the University of Oxford, pointed out that people should be more understanding of government mistakes.
“It is very easy to be critical of how we have done it, but you have to remember that no one has managed a pandemic like this, there is no one who has done it before,” he told the BBC. “We all try to make decisions on the fly, and inevitably some of those decisions will be the wrong ones.”
“Everyone should do the best they can, including, I must say, politicians. So don’t punish them too much. “