Independent addresses COVID challenges as government handling faces criticism

The general direction the Johnson government has taken with COVID has been very unsuitable. It was claimed in March 2020 that the aim of the lockdown policy was to protect the NHS. It was implied that lives would be saved as a result of protecting the NHS, though it was never specified how many could be saved nor from what causes. By controlling the virus, it was suggested the NHS would not be overwhelmed when it came to treating coronavirus cases therefore ensuring a good standard of healthcare available for those who really needed it.

Through their mismanagement, the data shows the government has clearly failed to get a grip on the virus using the approach of lockdowns, social distancing and the wearing of face coverings. These were all policies of the government’s choosing, and they are duty bound to stick by them now regardless of their apparent efficacy. It is important to note that, despite claims to the contrary, there is no scientific consensus on the policies governments have adopted towards the coronavirus; there are experts on both sides of the argument (https://www.thelancet.com/journals/lanres/article/PIIS2213-2600(20)30555-5/fulltext). I question whether an alternative approach, such as Focused Protection, would have been more effective in resolving the issue.

Ten months on, we’re still protecting the NHS, but lives are not being saved. It must be acknowledged that not every life can be saved, and that it would be impossible to eliminate every death from a single cause even under the best of circumstances. Control of the virus belies the logistical and moral difficulties in controlling every factor relating to the virus. Unfortunately, the virus has now mutated and this will only add to the devastating effect of the original variant (https://www.bmj.com/content/371/bmj.m4857). The number of coronavirus deaths reached its highest recorded level two days ago (https://www.worldometers.info/coronavirus/country/uk/).

As much as COVID is a serious and real issue, so too are the ever-present deaths from influenza, pneumonia, heart disease, cancer and suicide experienced as a result of people being unable to access treatment during the succession of lockdowns. There is a sickening implication stemming from the government and mainstream media that a death from any of these causes is somehow preferable over a death from COVID-19. All lives are important, and such anti-human attitudes would be thoroughly unwelcomed as a reflection of their philosophies if true.

As can be seen from the ONS data, this is a virus displaying a significant effect weighted towards those of old age and seasonal factors (https://www.ons.gov.uk/peoplepopulationandcommunity/birthsdeathsandmarriages/deaths/datasets/weeklyprovisionalfiguresondeathsregisteredinenglandandwales). The range of vaccinations being rolled out will provide a great degree of reassurance to the elderly, though I maintain the view that such vaccinations having been developed in less than a year need to be held to the strictest of testing standards. I congratulate the many private companies around the world who’ve committed their own financial, human and technical resources to developing an effective treatment to protect against the virus. I genuinely hope for the sake of saving lives that the vaccinations work safely and effectively.

It is likely that the COVID-19 jab will in time be seen in the same way as the flu jab, and as such we need to start preparing for the cautious transition towards normality. We can’t keep going round and round in circles with lockdown. All three have demonstrated negative effects on people’s jobs, businesses, families, mental health and physical wellbeing to name but a few areas (https://www.bmj.com/content/371/bmj.m4352). We need to be planning for life after the virus. We also need a more local, devolved approach to tackling COVID-19. By way of illustration, ONS data confirms that no COVID-19 deaths occurred in Lichfield during 2020 (https://www.ons.gov.uk/peoplepopulationandcommunity/healthandsocialcare/causesofdeath/datasets/deathregistrationsandoccurrencesbylocalauthorityandhealthboard).

There are many important issues at hand than just the virus. For a significant period ahead, life will not be the same as it was before. The money that can be spent on government services at both a local and national level will be less and harder to come by. Local economies will recover at different speeds on the back of a general national recovery, and difficult spending decisions will have to be made at a council level that must prioritise what services people need versus what services people would prospectively desire.

By the spring, we’ll have entered a new phase; a great number of people will have received a vaccination, and favourable seasonal factors will bring about an easing of healthcare pressures again. Political representatives, especially at a local level, need to demonstrate their practical flexibility when addressing this continually developing situation over the next few months. Throughout, we need actions based on high quality information and detailed evidence, not ideological preferences or political pseudoscience. It’s a task we must all rise to.

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