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Opinion Tory recipe for disaster

IAN SINCLAIR charts the last six months of governmental decision making riddled with ineptidude, bloody-mindedness and plain ignorance

“WE’RE seeing cases rise fairly rapidly – and there could be 50,000 cases detected per day by the 19th [July] and again as we predicted, we’re seeing rising hospital admissions,” Boris Johnson explained at a Downing Street press conference on July 5. “We must reconcile ourselves sadly to more deaths from Covid.”

Frustratingly, as epidemiologist Dr Deepti Gurdasani told the Morning Star last month, “what is happening now was entirely predictable and predicted.”  And incredibly, despite the rising number of hospital admissions endangering the NHS’s recovery, over one million people living with Long Covid and an increasing risk of a new variant resistant to vaccines, on July 5 the Prime Minister announced plans to fully open on July 19.

In short, UK government policy is to let the virus “rip” in the UK.

How did we end up in this mess? 

January 21: The minutes from the day’s Sage meeting warns the “evidence from the continued spread of the South African and UK variants suggests that reactive, geographically targeted travel bans cannot be relied upon to stop importation of new variants once identified.” The minutes also note: “No intervention, other than a complete, pre-emptive closure of borders, or the mandatory quarantine of all visitors upon arrival in designated facilities, irrespective of testing history, can get close to fully prevent[ing] the importation of cases or new variants.”

January 25: Speaking to a Confederation of British Industry webinar, Dido Harding, the head of test and trace, says fewer than 60 per cent of people asked to self-isolate actually do so.

March 24: India announces it has detected a new “double mutant variant” of coronavirus.

April 1: According to the Times, ministers are told about the arrival of a variant in the UK that has originated in India (aka the Delta variant). Chief Medical Officer Chris Whitty says the idea that Covid variants can be stopped from entering the country is “not realistic,” reports the Guardian.

April 12: The government proceeds with step 2 of lockdown easing, with non-essential shops, hair salons pubs and restaurants with outdoor seating all reopened.

April 15: Public Health England announces the Indian variant has been found in the UK. Speaking to the Guardian, Professor Christina Pagel, director of UCL’s clinical operational research unit and member of Independent Sage, says “It is ridiculous that India is not on the travel red list yet – or many other countries for that matter – when India is seeing 200,000 new cases every day at the moment.”

April 23: The government adds India to the red list, banning travel to the UK from India. The Sunday Times later reports “Analysis of Civil Aviation Authority figures suggest that 20,000 people arrived in the UK from India from April 2 to April 23.” A Whitehall source told the newspaper: “It’s very clear that we should have closed the border to India earlier and that Boris did not do so because he didn’t want to offend [Indian Prime Minister Narendra] Modi.”

May 4: Teaching unions the NEU and NASUWT, along with support staff unions Unite, Unison and the GMB, sent an open letter to Education Secretary Gavin Williamson, co-signed by around 20 scientists and public health professionals, urging the government to keep face coverings in secondary schools until at least June 21.

May 7: Public Health England identifies the Delta variant as a “variant of concern.”

May 12: The Prime Minister announces the public inquiry into the government’s response to the pandemic will start in spring 2022. Layla Moran, the Liberal Democrat MP who chairs the all-party parliamentary group on coronavirus, says delaying the inquiry “means vital lessons will go unlearned,” the Guardian reports.

May 13: The minutes of the day’s Sage meeting warns “If this [Delta aka Indian] variant were to have a 40-50 per cent transmission advantage nationally compared to” the so-called Kent variant the modelling “indicate that it is likely that progressing with step 3 alone… would lead to a substantial resurgence of hospitalisations (similar to, or larger than, previous peaks).”

May 17: The government proceeds with step 3 of the lockdown easing. People are now allowed to socialise indoors in limited numbers and visit pubs and restaurants inside. The government announces pupils are no longer required to wear face coverings in schools and colleges. International travel is allowed again, governed by a new traffic light system.

June 3: Professor Pagel tells the Guardian: “It is clear that schools are a major source of transmission and that outbreaks in primary and secondary schools have been growing a lot week on week.”

June 8: Keep Out NHS Public co-chair Dr John Puntis tells the Morning Star: “To reduce the spread of the virus, we need proper support for those asked to isolate, improved ventilation in indoor environments, face masks for secondary school children, stricter controls on borders and international travel, speedier vaccine rollout and a serious global vaccine initiative.” 

June 11: Public Health England reports the Delta variant is 64 per cent more transmissible than the Alpha (Kent) variant.

June 15: The Prime Minister delays plans to lift most remaining restrictions (step 4 of the lockdown easing), planned for June 21, by a month, warning that thousands more people could die if the government opened up as planned, because of the rapid spread of the delta variant.

June 16: During Prime Minister’s Questions, Boris Johnson states the UK “has the toughest border measures anywhere in the world.” The Guardian notes this is “hard to square with the fact that some countries, including Australia and New Zealand, bar almost all overseas arrivals.”

June 17: Speaking to the Morning Star, Dr Deepti Gurdasani, a senior lecturer in machine learning and epidemiologist at Queen Mary University of London, says “I do think the May 17 reopening was a mistake but I think we would have likely seen a rise in cases even then because we know that cases of the delta variant were actually doubling even prior to May 17.”

June 18: Nearly two-thirds of workers in England seeking grants to help them self-isolate are refused help, according to research from the Trade Union Congress.

June 20: Hosting The Andrew Marr Show, the BBC’s Nick Robinson quotes Jeffrey Barrett, Director of the Covid-19 Genomics Initiative, Wellcome Sanger Institute: “Looking back it’s clear that a major part of why we are now faced with a growing wave of cases of the delta variant is because there were hundreds of introductions from abroad during April.”
 
June 23: The deputy chief executive of NHS Providers, Saffron Cordery, tells BBC Breakfast: “Trusts on the front line are really coming under huge pressure ... they have plans in place to tackle the backlog, but with more Covid cases and demand for emergency care going up, that’s really challenging.”

June 28: Newly appointed Health Secretary Sajid Javid says the country must “learn to live” with Covid-19.

July 1: The European Parliament’s committee on public health describes allowing 60,000 fans into Wembley for the European Championship semi-finals and final as “a recipe for disaster,” the Irish Times reports.

July 3: The British Medical Association urges the government to keep some targeted measures to control the spread of Covid-19 in place after July 19 in England, including face masks in enclosed public spaces and improved ventilation.

July 5: Emphasising “personal responsibility,” the Prime Minister announces the loosening of all restrictions on July 19. The one-metre social distance rule will and the work from home guidance will end, and mask-wearing will be voluntary. This opening up will make England “the most unrestricted society in Europe,” the Guardian reports. Anthony Costello, Professor of Global Health and Sustainable Development at University College London, describes it as “libertarian public health.”

July 6: The health secretary says the number of infections could rise above 100,000 a day over the summer.

July 7: Over 100 global experts publish an open letter in the Lancet medical journal arguing the government's plan to lift nearly all restrictions on 19 July is “dangerous and premature.”

In April, Ian Sinclair and Rupert Read published A Timeline Of The Plague Year: A Comprehensive Record of the UK Government’s Response to the Coronavirus Crisis, available as a free PDF and EBook, and as a pay-to-print book at https://covidtheplagueyear.wordpress.com/

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