There was a lot of uncertainty about COVID19 at the beginning of January. Was it a local problem? How did it transmit? While most experts and politicians were still busy trying to figure out what was happening, the coronavirus started to pop up in Europe. The WHO gave very clear statements on the threat this virus was posing and its rapidly escalating spread around the world.
The escalation of urgency in the reports by the WHO were constantly underlined by new cases and extending spread across Europe. Skiing resorts in Italy and Austria were hit hard, causing a rapid spread with tourist returning home throughout Europe. Carnival pushing the virus further through the population. What looked like a few isolated cases suddenly became a widespread epidemic which rushed towards the ultimate global pandemic we see now and will not be freed from for a long time.
Counter measures kicked in across Europe. Counter measures escalated with the escalation of the virus. Mass gatherings were cancelled. Traveling restricted. Traveling prohibited. Shops closed. Lockdown. Stay at home. Readying healthcare for the coming pandemic. Quarrels about economic impact and support. All European countries were at or approaching the state of counter measures they decided upon by mid-March, most of them even sooner.
Flatten the curve was the main objective. We could not stop this but we had to make sure that we kept it within the capacity of our healthcare systems. There was no doubt about that within Europe, especially not with the horrible events in Italy and Spain right underneath our noses. Flatten the curve, that is what we had to do. All countries in Europe agreed on that and started to push the counter measures to make it happen.
All but one. One country bravely went against the stream of measures to slow the spread. One country wanted to face it head on. ‘Take it up the chin’ was the policy of the United Kingdom until mid-March, as expressed by Boris Johnson in several speeches and interviews. Where all other countries opted for some form of slowing the lethal curve, the United Kingdom decided to let it ‘move through the population in one big wave so we will develop immunity’ as stated by Boris Johnson himself on several occasions. And again, Boris Johnson kept stating this approach as the formal policy of the United Kingdom in interviews and during speeches. Crowned only by his statement ‘I shake hands with everyone’, several weeks after the WHO informed the world that coronavirus infections spread through handshakes and other forms of physical contact.
Even when it changed its course mid-March, the United Kingdom Government continued to follow a policy which still indicated that it was swimming against the stream and in many cases not even following its own advice. Champions League games in stadiums packed with spectators, including football fans from virus struck Italy and Spain still took place. Travel restrictions nowhere to be found. Not even self-isolation after arrival in the UK until now. Indeed, no travel restrictions and self-isolation rules until the end of April…
A lot has been said about the half-hearted response to the coronavirus pandemic by the British Government. Political analysts of the BBC and Guardian see a recurring preference of Boris Johnson to make decisions that are based on the most optimistic scenario and hope for the best, and to surround himself with people who have demonstrated the same preference. When he stated that he was hearing in his team ‘let it move through the population in one big wave’, he probably was not lying. It also confirms that he once again surrounded himself with people who will tell him what he wants to hear.
The same political analysts recognized that Boris Johnson might have been led by his personal aversion of governmental control and likeminded cabinet members who supports him unconditionally in this aversion. Another interesting observation is that Boris Johnson and his administration continued to put a much higher priority on BREXIT throughout what is now know as the Lost 6 weeks. In addition to that, Boris Johnson himself decided to devote his time to a lingering power struggle within his own Conservative Party, which came to light with the “rebellion” against his decision to allow Huawei to be a partner in the upcoming 5G rollout in the UK and other struggles for unity in his party. Even the BREXIT strategy led to disagreement within his party, which got more attention from Boris Johnson than the coronavirus pandemic got during the Lost 6 weeks.
The consequences of the Lost 6 weeks are felt throughout the United Kingdom, especially among the heroes in healthcare and social care, who not only have to deal with the coronavirus itself, but also with the impact of the leadership failures of Boris Johnson and his administration. Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), which would save lives when available wherever it is needed, is a scarce commodity in the United Kingdom. All countries around the globe struggle to supply their frontline workers with PPE, but no country struggles with it like the United Kingdom.
Testing capacity is crucial to contain this pandemic for the duration and avoid uncontrolled spread, which happens to be the reason it is called a pandemic in the first place. The United Kingdom started working on testing capacity very late into the crisis, even after the Lost 6 weeks. It set itself a target for daily testing capacity by the end of April, which was still significantly below the daily testing capacity of for example Germany at the beginning of April. If that isn’t bad enough, we now know that the United Kingdom did not achieve that goal. Not even half of it.
The Lost 6 weeks are however just the tip of the iceberg. The Leadership Crisis in the United Kingdom started long before the coronavirus pandemic and the consequences are seen by the world and felt by the population. The PPE shortages are not just the result of the very slow respond of Boris Johnson and his administration during the Lost 6 weeks. A decade ago, the Conservative Government decided to significantly reduce the emergency stockpile and throughout the following years decided to not even fulfill those reduced stockpile levels.
The emergency stockpile is designed to buy time during an emergency. Adequate emergency stockpiles would have bought the Government of the United Kingdom an additional 6 weeks to procure replenishments of PPE stock. Would have, but didn’t. Within 2 weeks, the majority of the hospitals depended on resupplies. Resupplies that in too many cases didn’t come in time and certainly not in the required amounts.
Add to this the fact that Boris Johnson’s Government of the United Kingdom refused to join the PPE procurement program of the European Union, and it becomes clear that the Leadership Crisis in the United Kingdom is almost beyond repair, and Boris Johnson is not the person who will fix it.
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