Thoughts on ...                                                                           6/5/21


Our Covid carnage – why it was avoidable and how it can be prevented in the future


The past year has seen incredible heroism from our key workers in health and social care, in food provision, and in essential public services. We can never repay them enough. The past year has also seen great acts of kindness from volunteers and neighbours. It has seen resilience in the face of adversity in many forms – the virus itself, lockdown restrictions, and the anxieties of lost income and financial hardship. It has seen a willingness from the majority of people to comply with legislation and advice from the government in order to reduce the spread of infection. And it has seen outstanding endeavours from those working to produce new treatments for the virus and, of course, the different vaccines to inoculate us against it.


But our death toll from Covid has been appalling. It has brought the most unimaginable carnage which in turn has brought unimaginable suffering and grief. As members of society we must all share responsibility for this through our actions and inactions. Our political leaders have let us down badly with horrific and tragic consequences and by allowing them to do this we have let ourselves down.


The high death toll has, in my view, been completely avoidable and a different strategy would have kept mortalities to the similar low levels seen in Australia, Singapore, Taiwan and China. Clearly the government took the virus seriously by implementing the lockdown restrictions and providing financial support to individuals and businesses but it massively underestimated how lethal it was and how rapidly it could spread.


The government and its advisers, along with Members of Parliament, the right wing press, spokespersons for many sectors of the economy and individual members of the public, felt it was possible to strike a balance between saving lives on the one hand and economic activity and normal everyday life on the other. These people felt, and mistakenly still feel, that it was possible to suppress the virus to a level which we could live with rather than try to eliminate it.


My view has always been that there was, and is, no balance to be struck. It must be lives before livelihoods and the morality of the “balance to be struck” argument should be seen as highly questionable. Moreover, as well as having profound ethical limitations, aiming to return to economic and social normality by lifting restrictions too soon has been a wholly misguided strategy. 


It has resulted in the government not being completely focussed on measures to eliminate the virus with the result that the general public has not been completely focused either. It has encouraged the right wing press and a small group of MPs to pursue unfeeling and irrational arguments against restrictions and it has probably heartened those who, for various reasons, are in denial about the magnitude of the disaster.


Not with the benefit of hindsight but from the start of the pandemic some of us have been urging the government to show leadership to fight the virus not surrender to it. We should have had immediate, and much tighter, national and local lockdowns which were properly enforced by using the military as kindly but firm Covid marshals. We should have had a government of national unity which would have generated the right spirit of shared endeavour. In this way non-compliance with the restrictions would have been seen as completely anti-social and unacceptable.


The government and MPs across the political spectrum should have listened to those of us who were arguing that the only way to defeat the virus was to virtually eliminate it, and that the individual and collective virtues required to achieve this were large quantities of discipline, patience, caution, determination, compassion and kindness. 


Tens of thousands of lives would have been saved if the government and decision-makers had led the country with a much more committed and determined attitude. From the outset it should have been fully committed to resolutely defending against the virus and determined in its strategy to destroy it. This could possibly have kept the death toll to under five thousand and it would not have had such a disruptive effect on economic and social activity.


Despite the resilience and unselfishness that most people have shown over the past year there has been a lack of discipline from far too many. Large private gatherings should not have taken place, nor should protest marches, and nor should footballers have been hugging each other at the end of a match or when a goal was scored.


Sadly, as well as a lack of discipline, there has been some extremely unpleasant innuendo from certain people about the relative value of older and younger lives. I have raised this with those concerned but I am not confident it has had any effect - see open letter.


I bear no malice towards the government or our political classes. I am grateful, as everyone should be, for their tireless efforts on our behalf especially in organising lockdowns and, of course, rolling out the vaccines. But their overall strategy has been flawed and ill-judged. They have not led us well and in due course must consider their positions. Above all, they, and all of us, must learn from our mistakes as we go forward. We must be determined to eradicate the virus and not learn to live with it. We must be committed to reducing mortalities to single figures in any given week or better still to zero.


This must be our future direction. Further national lockdowns should not be necessary but localised restrictions will probably be required for some time to come. We can bring infections right down by introducing Covid certification; having no foreign travel and no arrivals from abroad unless there are urgent personal reasons; continuing with test and trace and monitoring self-isolation; and aiming to vaccinate everyone who is medically fit to be vaccinated. It should go without saying that everyone must comply fully with all restrictions and regulations and meticulously follow guidance on hygiene, social distancing, masks and fresh air.


There will be many more unnecessary deaths and no return to normal life until the virus is virtually eliminated from the UK and the rest of the world. It is utterly defeatist to say we must learn to live with it. This deadly enemy of humankind must be chased down and destroyed whenever and wherever it appears. This can and must be done.


And it can be done with large quantities of the virtues mentioned above which I will restate: discipline, patience, caution, determination, compassion and kindness.


May I suggest to the government, in all humility, that those of us who for the most part were correct in arguing for the strategies that were necessary, must be listened to this time.



For Coronavirus comments made since the start of the pandemic click here


For building back better see: Quercus Manifesto