Government incompetence must not be allowed to derail urgent improvements in our pandemic infrastructureby Philip Ball / November 3, 2020 / Leave a comment
As the UK enters its second lockdown, there’s less sense of déja vu than might have been expected. Nothing has changed for the virus: the infection curve has (even adjusting numbers for the greater extent of testing this time round) the mathematical precision of the classic second wave. But it is spreading in a different social climate. Whereas in March there was a general sense of relief when the government finally (and belatedly) committed itself to a national lockdown, and a feeling of unity in the face of the crisis, this time there is a volatile and fissiparous mix of emotions and responses: anger, fury, despair, desperation, confusion, all against the nerve-wracking backdrop of events across the Atlantic that could determine the future of western democracy.
In March there were a few sceptics who doubted that such severe restrictions on individual freedoms were necessary or desirable. Now those voices have swelled to something approaching a political movement—and which opportunists like Nigel Farage are mobilising as precisely that. For a populist government like Boris Johnson’s, the dilemma is agonising: to hitch your flag to this bandwagon, which would require Trumpian levels of science-denial, or to heed the statistics plainly telling you that without new measures, the death toll could be even worse than before, but in doing so surrender your self-image as a defender of personal liberties (like going to the pub)?
Characteristically, the prime minister managed to choose the worst of both worlds: opting for a lockdown (and trying not to call it that) too late to avoid what is likely to be several thousand more unnecessary deaths, while unwittingly feeding the conspiracy theory that he has been forced to capitulate to a scientific community that is fabricating Covid-19 figures for unspecified personal gain.
It’s hard to find an aspect of the coronavirus crisis that the British government has not made worse. There’s the Treasury’s clumsy attempt to kickstart the economy by subsidising one of the worst spreading activities—eating out—which now seems likely to have fuelled infections in the late summer. There’s the car crash of the Test-Trace-Isolate (TTI) system that was supposed to save us from another lockdown, but which failed at the crucial moment when schools returned and infections began inevitably to climb. There’s the failure to engage with and challenge the false…