Should we let the government off the hook?

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The government hasn’t given us very much to praise them for during this crisis. The UK’s Covid-19 response has been characterised by leaders who have inspired little confidence and decisions that came too late. Whilst MPs came out to clap for the NHS, the NHS was struggling to cope with the large amount of patients being admitted because the UK ignored World Health Organisation advice for too long, and became one of the last developed countries to introduce a lockdown. We can’t ever let the government forget this.

Professor Neil Ferguson told the Commons science committee that if lockdown had been introduced a week earlier, 20,000 lives could have been saved. This is pretty damning testimony from a former government advisor. However, it’s a shame it had to come from someone who was sacked for failing to follow the rules they helped to create.

[blockquote author=”” ]They have also categorically failed at timing any of their measures correctly[/blockquote]

Ferguson isn’t the only member of the government to have disregarded their own rules during lockdown. Robert Jenrick, the Housing, Communities and Local Government Secretary was forced to explain himself after he travelled 150 miles to visit his parents. And, of course, we musn’t forget about Dominic Cummings who drove 250 miles to Durham with his wife, who was infected with the virus, and his son. Cummings wasn’t sacked, presumably because Boris can’t actually run the country without him, which isn’t great for a Prime Minister who has to lead us through a global pandemic.

Following their own rules isn’t the only department the government has failed in. They have also categorically failed at timing any of their measures correctly. Ultimately, the government failed to adopt the test, trace and isolate policy quickly enough for it to work as effectively as it should have done, as Neil Ferguson’s testimony suggested. This is why the UK is one of the worst hit countries in Europe, with one of the highest death counts at 41,279 at the time of writing.

Measures introduced by the government in recent weeks include the introduction of a new contact tracing app which doesn’t actually do any contact tracing. The programme is also being led by Dido Harding, the ex-CEO of Talk Talk who resigned after 4 million customers had their personal data leaked, which doesn’t do much to fill you with confidence in the app’s security.

[blockquote author=”” ]The UK government has been playing catch-up in recent weeks to compensate for their earlier failures[/blockquote]

A two week quarantine period for new arrivals into the UK was also introduced recently, and it is now compulsory to wear a face covering on public transport. These measures would have been all well and good if they’d been introduced in the early stages of the pandemic, they could have helped to protect key workers and high risk individuals. Instead, entry into the UK via airports remained unrestricted, and public transport, relied upon by key workers to get to work everyday, went without any safety precautions during the peak of the virus.

Now is not the time to let the government off the hook. The UK government has been playing catch-up in recent weeks to compensate for their earlier failures. They failed to keep the public safe by ignoring calls to introduce lockdown, and when they did, many members of the government thought that the rules didn’t apply to them. Timing is everything in a pandemic, and we can’t turn back the clocks now. Not every one of the over 41,000 deaths was preventable, but we did not need to share the title with the US and Brazil as the worst affected countries by Covid-19. Every decision the government has made during this pandemic has been tainted by their lack of action in the early stages, and I hope this fact will be remembered when we go to the polls for many years to come.

Image: Matt Brown via Flickr

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