This blog by our branch chair, Richard Fullerton, is his view alone and is not representative of branch members nor UKIP. (15/4/20)
At this time of year and in this glorious weather, the skies above me would normally be resonating with the nostalgic and uplifting sound of Merlin engines as Spitfires from RAF Duxford fly lazily around the Newmarket area, occasionally delighting onlookers with some acrobatics.
However, life is different with COVID-19. The skies are empty, the roads are much quieter and the only man-made noise where I live is from lawnmowers which have sprung to life as a result of the rain which, thankfully, fell on Easter Sunday after three dry weeks.
Largely stuck inside, we’re enduring a bizarre social experiment of quasi house-arrest and with no end in sight.
But it’s not just the lockdown that I find surreal, but the complete lack of questioning of the wisdom of it. It’s as if it is a ‘no-go’ subject. True, people are asking when
the lockdown will end, but why has no one of prominence called directly
for it to end?
The answer I suggest is because no one wants to be seen as a heartless voice whilst scenes of patients struggling on ventilators and exhausted nurses being interviewed continue to fill our screens.
In these days of spin, appearance is everything. Of course a government’s first job is to protect its citizens, and the lockdown and ICU bed expansion is designed to do this. But it’s not just for humanitarian reasons. It’s the optics too.
The Tories are haunted by the NHS because the Left has successfully accused them of starving it of funds, most recently during the austerity after 2008. A markedly higher death toll from COVID-19 than comparable countries, coupled with pictures of patients lying and dying on trolleys in hospital corridors could have ended the Boris Johnson premiership and put paid to another Tory election victory in 2024. This is a lot about maintaining the new Tory brand. The ‘nasty’ party label is something they don’t want to re-gain.
Before I continue, let me say that every death from COVID-19 is a tragedy and it’s clear that the early media narrative of people who were dying from coronavirus had ‘underlying health conditions’ was wrong. People of all ages are dying ‘before their time’. Some healthy and sometimes young people are succumbing to the virus. The virus seems random in its selection process. It’s cruel and unfair.
But please let’s put this in perspective. The mortality rate from this virus is around 1%. But whilst 1% of 65m people is a lot, not all 65m will get the virus. And this virus is not airborne plutonium or black mamba venom, both of which are 100% fatal, but simply a new virus to which we do not yet
have any level of natural or medical immunity in the way we do from established viruses. Its real danger is because it is highly infectious, much more than flu.
Early on in the crisis, faced with new data from its retained scientific advisory group from Imperial College in mid-March which predicted 250,000 deaths if the ‘mitigation’ i.e. treatment strategy was continued, Boris Johnson executed a volte-face to a ‘suppression’ strategy.
Out went the policy of ‘herd immunity’ whereby the majority of the population get infected and a natural and national resistance is built up to the virus. This lockdown is aimed at ensuring only a small fraction of the country will be infected until a vaccine can be found. A ‘target’ of 20,000 dead is now seen as realistic.
Assuming you believe the Imperial College modelling, in the short term this is good medical science, but bad economics. The lockdown is a prescription for a recession the likes of which we haven’t seen since the 1930s. But in the long-term it’s also bad medical science because the downturn could end up killing more people than the virus.
We know this because after the 2008 financial crisis, the ensuing recession resulted in elevated death rates due to a rise in poverty, violent crime, suicide, health cuts
and cuts in spending on education and action on preventable diseases
. The COVID-19 recession will be worse and non-virus death rates will soar.
And recession aside, the FT has reported that almost half of beds in some English hospitals are currently lying empty ‘in a sign that people may be failing to seek help for other life-threatening conditions during the pandemic’.
One UK government modelling exercise trying to assess the potential scale of this came up with a figure of 150,000 avoidable non-COVID-19 deaths. But these deaths will be invisible unlike the very visible ones now - so this explains the strategy. It's the optics.
So, sorry folks, but it’s time to get back to work
Whether you’re a fan of Donald Trump or not, you have to agree that the cure for a disease must not be worse than the disease itself. And we have reached that stage.
The Centre for Economics and Business Research (CEBR) says the lockdown is costing the UK £2.4 billion a day, so thus far the lockdown has cost us more than £50 billion. Unemployment is increasing exponentially and 20% of small businesses will go bust.
The retail and hospitality sectors have probably suffered irreversible damage. For the High Street, already reeling from the assault by online shopping and exorbitant rents and business rates, COVID-19 is the final nail in the coffin. Manufacturing had already declined by 0.4% in February
and is much worse now, the fishing industry is in virtual shutdown, and the Road Haulage Association (RHA) warned it is reaching crisis point with many transport firms on the "brink of collapse"
The National Institute of Economic Research predicted recently that UK GDP could shrink by 15-25% between April and June. But yesterday the Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) doubled down on this
and predicted curbs staying in place for three months will slash GDP by 35% for April-June, with unemployment soaring to 10 per cent and the government's budget deficit hitting £273 billion (up from the pre-crisis £55 billion).
I have to ask you – is it worth it?
Is decimating our economy and burdening ourselves and the next generation with a debt millstone far greater than that from the financial crisis really the only way to defeat the virus?
Frankly, are the few thousand lives we will save in the short term by this hugely damaging shutdown worth the damage
I suggest that ‘defeat’ and ‘beat’ (as frequently used by the government regarding the virus) are the wrong words. We must learn to live
with coronavirus until such time as a vaccine is produced. If we try and beat the virus at its own game – starving it of potential hosts – we’ll destroy our livelihoods in the process. There will be no winners.
The lockdown is a crude, blunt instrument and by using it we’ve adopted a ‘herd mentality’ and joined countries like China, India, France, USA, Italy and Spain.
Meanwhile, enlightened countries like South Korea, Singapore, Sweden and Germany have shown the way. They either have no or limited lockdowns and using technology, mass testing and common-sense measures like mask-wearing have restricted damage to their economies and retained greater freedom of movement for their citizens.
Quite why we are not mass testing has not been explained, nor why the UK gave up on contact tracing early on – a vital tool to identify virus spreaders. Part of the problem here is lack of scrutiny. Parliament isn’t sitting so the government cannot be held to account by the Opposition and the daily press conferences at 5pm are insipid as a clutch of journos ask questions via video link, most of which are never answered directly or are batted aside.
As well as a failure to mass test, it’s clear the government failed until recently to provide enough Personal Protection Equipment (PPE) to frontline staff. Again it’s not been established if this is because not enough has been produced or if the distribution has failed. Frontline NHS staff have apparently had to take huge risks because of this failure and some otherwise healthy NHS heroes have died as a result.
And let’s not forget the initial – and continued – failure of the government to protect us from new infections from abroad. Flights from coronavirus hotspots like China, Iran and Italy were not stopped and we never apparently checked passengers disembarking for their temperatures, nor tracked where journeys originated. We are still
not doing this.
It’s like running the bath with the plughole open – pointless. As one UKIP colleague has said, ‘keeping the border open is a form of mental illness borne out of globalist ideology’. Anyone from arriving in the UK should be quarantined on arrival as a precaution. This is what Australia and New Zealand are doing now. And despite Lombardy clearly being a COVID-19-infested region we still allowed our own citizens to fly there for skiing and other holidays in February!
And whilst the government is failing, bureaucracy in our institutions that should be stepping up to the plate reigns supreme. The government has admitted that just 1.4% of businesses
(just 4,200 out of 300,000 firms) that sought help online via the new scheme to help SME businesses have received rescue loans from banks. The same banks that WE rescued in 2008!
The NHS – whose frontline staff have performed wonderfully – has reverted to type. Not only has it and Public Health England (PHE) maintained their natural hostility to the private sector to help it out on expanding testing, but there has also been the debacle of under-used drive-thru testing centres for NHS staff.
Apparently, NHS bosses also opposed the Nightingale hospital
for two weeks after it was suggested – and it was the Army and private sector that ended up making it happen. NHS reform cannot happen sooner.
Through no fault of their own, scientists across the world have been behind the curve as they have worked at breakneck speed to understand the virus. There are more unknowns than knowns about the virus. Additionally, countries are clearly using differing methods and metrics in their fight which make comparison on infection and death rates difficult.
Even our own UK scientists are polarised. Modelling by Oxford’s Evolutionary Ecology of Infectious Disease suggests that perhaps half of the UK population
has been infected already. Meanwhile, Professor Neil Ferguson at Imperial College, London suggests that only 5% has been infected. Which is correct?
We should recognise that the Imperial College team was also the one that came in for much criticism
after its recommendations for culling millions of healthy livestock in the 2001 Foot & Mouth epidemic were implemented. Another example of the government using a sledgehammer to crack a nut after listening to some nutty professors.
A final note: the latest news is that the lockdown will continue into May. The British public will only tolerate their loss of freedom and livelihood for a limited period. A Summer lockdown would see mass disobedience, as people begin to comprehend the crudeness of the government’s strategy and realise that the current trade-off is too costly.
It’s all very well wealthy government ministers telling people to stay at home in the heat but they’ve got large houses with gardens in the suburbs or country. Pity the family in a two bedroom high-rise flat in a deprived inner city borough. It is imperative that the government works to a solution that enables people to go out and go to work but limit infections. Mass testing and tracing is vital but surely mask-wearing is an effective means of reducing infections? Why are all other countries wrong on this and we are right?
All the talk by our political leaders is of the need to ‘flatten the curve’. Meanwhile, the same people are happily flattening the economy whilst being unable to look beyond the 24hr news cycle. We need an exit strategy from lockdown. We need herd immunity and not herd mentality. We have the beds, the ventilators to handle fresh casualties. Those old and those vulnerable must remain in isolation. We must tolerate mask-wearing inside and on public transport. And we must test. A new NHS app is due which promises to aid contact tracing. Let's hope it works better than the abandoned £10 billion NHS IT system.
The rest of us must get back to work and save the economy. The ‘whatever it takes’ promise is irresponsible governance and cynical politicking. When this is over we will need some sort of public enquiry to rake over the coals and provide a template for the UK to fight any future pandemic. Oh, and China must pay!