On 21 September, the influential SAGE group produced a paper with a simple message: introduce a ‘circuit-breaker’ lockdown or else the virus will play havoc. Action at that point would likely have been sufficient to reduce infections to a level where the virus could be controlled without shutting businesses and curtailing livelihoods in the medium term. In the short term, it would have meant restricting social mixing, closing pubs, offering university classes online and working from home.
But unfortunately Prime Minister Boris Johnson remains wedded to dither, delay, disaster. Now we have a confusing three tier system that still falls far short of what SAGE advised back in September.
The UK is one of the richest countries in the world and to have made such a mess of things and lost so many lives is both unforgivable and horrific.
Johnson might have got away with the delayed original response, the unacceptable death rates, and crippled economy first time round, but he won’t again. The Treasury doesn’t have the cash to extend the furlough scheme. The economy is in ruins. Elderly patients and people with comorbidities are frightened as they know they are facing a long period of isolation. The NHS family knows the uncertainty they are heading for.
This is the greatest tragedy since World War Two. We find ourselves occupying the worst of all worlds: a limbo where the pandemic drags on and causes more damage, leaving us hopeless and praying for a vaccine.
A national lockdown will surely happen soon, but little will be achieved by a temporary lockdown unless we have a workable strategy. The Prime Minister talks about tactics, not a strategy. Not a word was said this week by Boris Johnson – either in parliament or at his press conference – about examining test trace and isolation, providing support for those self-isolating or improving regulations. He is oblivious to the errors of June, and has given no consideration to how we might avoid repeating them. Meanwhile, the health secretary is incapable of a vision or a strength of purpose. The response by this Government to Covid-19 is a national scandal and there is no light at the end of the tunnel,
The Prime Minister has deluded himself that a function of a public health test-and-trace system could be run by his cronies in private sector. It has failed miserably. The testing was inadequate, with few contacts found and no meaningful follow-up of the infected or their contacts. More than £12bn has been spent on a system that has contributed to rising rates of R in entire country, more hospitalizations and deaths. In my honest view, Dido Harding should be replaced by a competent public health expert and the system handed over entirely to local authorities and the local NHS organisations.
The Prime Minister and the health secretary must stop playing politics with their confused plans and should instead follow science and learn from countries that have suppressed the virus. Only then can the country can move on.
Dr Kailash Chand OBE is a retired GP in Tameside