Ten Thousand Deaths and Rising. Paying the Price for a Slow Response?

This week we saw the death toll from Covid-19 pass the 10,000 mark in the UK. This is only the figure for hospital deaths. It will be much higher when all the figures are collected. Yet if you saw the front pages of most of our Tabloids we are all meant to be grateful that Boris is home and in good spirits.

It is perfectly possible to be both delighted the the Prime Minister survived and has returned from intensive care (I am), as it is to be angry that it has come to this. Now is the time to be holding the government to account for its inaction early on and the lack effectiveness now on issues like PPE and testing. We can’t wait for an Inquiry.

Things are happening so quickly and some of us aren’t sure what day of the week it is, but it is only four weeks ago we were watching the virus ravage Italy and then Spain. The highest daily death toll in italy was 971 and Spain 950. This week we lost 980 in a single day in hospitals alone. We can’t say we were not warned.

It is not playing Party politics ot trying a blame game to ask serious questions about the performance of Ministers and their decsion making over the last few weeks.

On a personal level I feel I was about 10 days ahead of the government. This is not to say I was right, but it seemed obvious that we would have to follow these other countries examples and go into serious lockdown. We personally went into lockdown ahead of the governments late intervention. Even then I was probably a week or two too late in hindsight. We skipped major events and other invitations. But I still look back at major conferences and sports awards with a sense of horror and ‘what were we thinking’ Pictures of busy gyms petrified me. I told anybody who asked they should avoid them.

We will have to pin the government down on its decision making timeline. I recall those press conferences when the graphs showing us mirorring Italy were shown so why weren’t we using the lessons being learned to lockdown sooner – thereby preventing many of the thousands of deaths we will witness. Frankly the answers were not good enough. And the questions were not pressed enough. Press conferences now look very glib when you look back. And Boris at times was the worst offender. Enthusiasm and Positivity have a role, but not at the expense of serious and competent leadership.

Each of thes 11,000 deaths is an individual family grieving. We have to personalise this tragedy. Grieving is tough enough at the best of times, but not being able to say goodbye or your loved one just becoming a statistic makes this even harder.

In my own world of sport some serious questions will have to be asked about the validity of allowing the Cheltenham Races to go ahead. With 250,000 people in attendance the pictures of the event now seem surreal. Official advice at the time was still going not to close gyms and pubs. It doesn’t take hindshight to realise the final decision to recommend lockdown was weeks too late.

As I say this is not about blame at this stage. This is the hard bit. We are going to have to get through this crisis with the PM and Ministers we have at the moment and ‘help’ them get into the right place on PPE and testing and an exit strategy. We need to be learning lessons fast from our own mistakes and what other countries seem to be doing successfully to maintain lower death rates and a way forwards. Minsters will have to accept that tough questioning and decisions being called out is not playing politics but a genuine attempt to get the best decisions making. This is always done when there is openness to debate, challenge and the basis upon which decisions are made is also open a and transparent. Hiding behind the phrase ‘The scientific advice’ no longer washes. Everybody knows there is not one set of science! Not all scientists agree. There is always a judgement call.

We only have to look at countries like Germany and South Korea. At the heart seems to be testing. We had a promise from Matt Hancock a couple of weeks ago that we would be doing 100,000 tests a day in the UK. We are still woefully short. We can point this out easily. But we need to help them find solutions. Their inadequacy throught this crisis will be exposed at the right time.

As you can tell I am angry. People will have died over this period needlessly. We have every reason to be angry.

Our coverage of the crisis and lack of accountability is probably best summed up better than I can manage below:

If there was any chance of that interrogation happening, it was made even less likely by Boris Johnson’s illness. The nation’s tragedy became secondary to his infection. It is understandable that the hospitalisation of a nation’s premier – a unique and destabilising event – should concern the media and government. But Johnson’s illness was folded into a larger, editorialised narrative about his martyrdom and indefatigability, turning his sickness and recovery into a virtue of character. And as that hagiography was being enthusiastically written in large parts of the press, the stories of the thousands of dead and grieving were buried under daily updates of the prime minister’s “high spirits” from his ICU bed. Questions over his responsibility for the national carnage – his complacent messaging over shaking hands with the afflicted, his delay in shutting down the country, his “herd immunity” policy, the ongoing lack of testing, of equipment and of ventilators – were not asked. The organisers of Cheltenham festival, which attracted more than 250,000 people from 10 to 13 March, justified going ahead by citing the presence of Johnson at an international rugby match a few days before.

The Guardian Editorial

We no must take every opportunity to make the tough decisions necessary to save more unnecessary deaths from Covid-19. No more messing about because of the libertarian tendency that now occupy No 10. No more non- answers. Now more than ever we need a more grown up politics where challenge is welcomed not dismissed.

Some of our media are rising to the challenge, but I am afraid there is still too much deference across many sections of the Tory press. Now I’d the time for them to put aside their Party loyalty and play a role. Their sycophancy will look pretty awful in the weeks and months ahead.

I don’t envy the task for any Ministers involved in this. There are tough days and really tough decisions to be made. Having been on the fringes of a few crisis (Foot and Mouth and the Economic Crash) I can only imagine how tough this will be. No Minister makes a bad call through malice. Yes mistakes are made, but a willingness to listen and amend policy is vital. Doubling down and diversion are not necessary at this time if we give the government the space to admit where its going wrong, not delivering. Just pushing them into a defensive corner is no use to anybody.

There will be plenty of debates about what the country will look like after this crisis and I want to play a full role in them. But today I feel even more concerned about reducing the number of deaths across the UK by us all collectively taking the right decisions – no mater how tough they may seem.

Andy Reed – 13/04/2020

One Reply to “Ten Thousand Deaths and Rising. Paying the Price for a Slow Response?”

  1. Another excellent piece Andy. Last night I went to bed with my wish list:

    1) Jacinda Ardern should be our PM
    2) The UN to be made the new governing body supercedeing national parliaments.
    3) an international court to be set up to try the likes of Johnson, Trump, Bolsenaro, Modi, Putin and their supporters and enablers.
    4) a new Green Deal to tackle climate change.

    and then I woke up!

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