Matt Hancock delivers coronavirus briefing, 21 April 2020. Photo: Number 10 via Youtube Matt Hancock delivers coronavirus briefing, 21 April 2020. Photo: Number 10 via Youtube

The Tories have brought back their election spin team to cover up their hideous failings in this crisis, reports Shabbir Lakha

With every passing day, the government’s daily briefing carries less information and more spin. It shouldn’t be surprising that the daily PR blast contains ever more obfuscations, question-dodging and straight-up lies given that the government re-hired its “election messaging” crew to be in charge of the briefings.

One thing that does help frame the numerous failures of the government are the targets they keep setting themselves that they cannot meet. The current death toll in hospitals stands at just over 17,000 with a daily increment of 852. The ONS’ latest figures up to 10 April suggest this could be as much as a 40% underreporting after deaths in care homes quadrupled in that week and the estimated deaths from care homes to date is 5 times higher than the government’s estimate.

So it is more than safe to assume that the death toll is already well above 20,000, and even just by the hospital death figures, it will hit that mark sometime this week. On 28 March, the Chief Medical Officer said the government will have done well if we have a death toll of under 20,000. So by their own standards, they have failed.

Matt Hancock, at today’s briefing, somehow remained committed to his 100,000 tests a day by the end of April target (which the rest of the government has tried to distance themselves from). It has taken us 3 weeks, since he made that promise, to go from just under 10,000 tests a day, to just under 20,000 tests a day – something Hancock says is “higher than our planned trajectory”. It hardly seems likely.

But in reality, we shouldn’t be judging them by their standards anyway, which are far too low. 20,000 deaths was never an acceptable figure, it was never inevitable and that it has reached that and will certainly surpass it is entirely the government’s fault. 100,000 tests a day by the end of April was never an acceptable target when Germany was carrying out more than that at the beginning of April. It’s the government’s dithering over procurement of testing materials and deploying the facilities for testing that has meant we have some of the most unreliable data on coronavirus cases on the planet, and that so many people have not got the treatment they needed.

Even now, Hancock boasted that 100,000 NHS workers have so far been tested – so about 7%. This was in the same briefing where one of the advisers mentioned –as a defence for why people were not being tested at airports – that testing a person once is pointless because they could very well catch the disease the next day. So 7% of NHS workers having been tested when they should all be being tested regularly is hardly a brag. Even less so, as Mona Kamal said at a Keep Our NHS Public meeting on Tuesday evening, because the government has prioritised testing health workers who are self isolating and not frontline workers in Coronavirus wards.

Similarly, Hancock’s claim that we have a record number of ICU beds available and that “no one who needed critical care has been turned down” falls flat on its face. It was revealed that the new Nightingale hospital has turned away more patients than it’s treated (41) despite having a capacity of 4,000 because of nursing staff shortages. Three weeks ago, a woman in Peckham died after being told by a paramedic a hospital won’t take her because she’s not a priority. And the same goes for all the elderly and disabled people in care homes asked to sign DNR forms and told not to call for an ambulance.

The government is doing everything it can to fudge the data. Matt Hancock completely avoided the question about how his repeated claims that they are procuring and distributing enough PPE flies in the face of the widespread reporting of PPE shortages, of NHS England changing its guidelines to suggest single-use items of should be re-used – something that dovetailed Hancock blaming key workers for overusing PPE.

It is in this context, one of abysmal failure and grand efforts to manipulate the public, that we need to view the debate on whether or not the lockdown should be lifted. As the economic crisis becomes more acute, so will the pressure within the government to ease lockdown restrictions even though we are still far from meeting the WHO’s 6 tests.

The Tories’ main priority is to return to business as usual, and we have to do everything we can to stop them doing that. We can see where this thinking is going with the United States, where Trump has allowed southern states to reopen this week despite having the greatest and fastest growing death toll in the world.

The clamour has already begun to reopen schools as early as the middle of May which is utterly irresponsible not only because it puts vulnerable relatives of children at risk, but because we’ve seen children as young as 5 die from the virus. The National Education Union has received widespread support for its petition opposing the reopening of schools until it’s safe and we need to increase this pressure.

It is a mark of woeful ineptitude that with the government getting things so obviously and catastrophically wrong, the knight of the realm Leader of the Opposition, Keir Starmer, has prioritised pushing them for an exit strategy after refusing to criticise their handling of the crisis for the umpteenth time. He did however take the time out to wish the Queen a happy birthday, who on the plus side had to suspend the usual ceremonies to mark the day, as she remained holed up in Windsor Castle, away from her usual residence in the heart of the nation’s coronavirus hotspot.

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Shabbir Lakha

Shabbir Lakha is a Stop the War officer, a People's Assembly activist and a member of Counterfire.

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