The attempt to look competent by providing regular updates the government is just trying to hide its inadequacies, says David McAllister
The latest government briefing has launched a new initiative to provide weekly statistic round-ups on infection and death rates from Covid-19. We were treated to a series of graphs by the Chief Medical Officer, all apparently to illustrate that the government has been effective in reducing the rate of the spread.
Since being left humiliated by its dreadful ‘herd immunity’ approach, and having to change course under public pressure, the government has spent the last ten days trying to appear ahead and in control of events, despite being caught lagging behind the initiatives of ordinary people less than two weeks ago.
The daily briefings have had some effect in fostering this image, particularly as ministers often appear in these news conferences flanked by experts providing what appears to be impartial information. All of this gives the impression of a highly proactive government in crisis-mode, as well as allowing them to completely shape the debate.
But what of the information we are given? The chief medical officer reports 9,000 patients in hospital, up from 6,200 on Friday – an increase of around 1000 each day – but that the increase is not expected to accelerate. I am not sure what this is based on, especially given that the figures do not include cases or deaths outside hospitals which have not been tested. These figures are of course much harder to trace, but there is also a considerable lag in the reporting of deaths in hospitals, with one death reported on Monday having actually occurred over two weeks ago.
Two of the reasons given for this lag are staff absences and choosing to report over a longer time period due to ‘capacity reasons’ – for which we can probably read a lack of resources. All of this continues to indicate a healthcare workforce which is overstretched after decades of cuts and privatisation and still denied appropriate PPE.
The graphs also show the much lower death rate in South Korea, yet there is no mention of the extensive programme of testing and contact tracing in that country, which has enabled well-informed quarantining of the virus without any total lockdown. Vietnam, which has far fewer resources, has followed a similar strategy.
Yet here, in one of the richest countries in the world, the government is clearly holding fast to a strategy of focusing on individual behaviour and desperately trying to prove its effectiveness. Meanwhile, testing is being denied even to the majority of frontline healthcare staff.
In addition, the social distancing measures themselves continue to fall short of intervening where employers continue to expect their staff to turn up to perform non-essential jobs. 500 workers walked out of the warehouse of fashion retailer ASOS in protest at its failure to protect the health and safety of staff terrified of being infected.
This contradicts the heavily interventionist image being projected by the government. We are still under a system which is concerned only with carrying on with business as usual in spite of the clear risks it is posing. But this also shows the capacity of workers’ resistance in tipping the balance the other way.
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