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Coronavirus – UK vs Europe: Different political policies and their social outcomes

Facts, figures and policies

You may approach this essay with a deep sigh and pass over to a more lighthearted read, after all I’m sure we have all had our fill of information on Coronavirus. It is not something we can really avoid when the majority of us are in enforced lockdowns across the world. Coronavirus is an unwelcome visitor to everyone. Some people see it from a safe distance, others have a more intimate liaison with Coronavirus and the outcomes are variable depending upon where in the world you are located, your social and economic status, and what political leadership you fall under. 

This essay is from a British perspective in comparison with the rest of Europe and other parts of the world. If you do keep reading I hope you find something to think about and bear in mind when this global pandemic has receded into the history books instead of stalking the streets, the aisles of the supermarkets and the repurposed ICU wards of local hospitals.

How did we in the UK enter this dystopian reality? Not willingly, but the writing has been on the wall for over a decade of Conservative rule in Britain; during this time they have systematically decimated the NHS, in 2017 it was still ranked as the best free primary care healthcare system in the world.  However, by 2019 the NHS was ranked 18th in a new index, so it is no longer the leading health care system in the world but a poor second cousin, twice removed. The Conservative Party promised £350 million a day to the NHS upon the completion of Brexit – this has not materialised. In April 2020 the Conservative Party are highlighting the fact that a 99 year old retired soldier, Captain Tom Moore, has raised in excess of £25 million for the NHS‘s fight against Coronavirus by walking 100 laps of his garden instead of the Government increasing central funding for the NHS to save the lives of the British people.

Dominic Cummings, PM Johnson’s Chief of Staff and Strategist, suggested in February 2020 that if 20,000 older people in the UK died from this pandemic, that would be acceptable as the Government’s strategy was ‘herd immunity, protect the economy and if that means that some pensioners die, too bad’.

So how has this policy of ‘herd immunity’ and underfunding the NHS affect everyday Britons faced with a pandemic? How do the Conservative policies in Britain compare to the policies of other national leaders across Europe and the world? How has the rest of Europe dealt with the spread of Coronavirus? The daily reported facts and figures tell the history of the Conservative handling of this Coronavirus pandemic.

23 January 2020 was the start of the lockdown in Wuhan, China.  On 30 January 2020 the World Health Organisation (WHO) declared Coronavirus was a“public health emergency of international concern”; at that time at there were 9,826 globally confirmed cases. In February, the PM Boris Johnson, ignored advice to take preventative action against Coronavirus and did … nothing for almost two weeks. Now, almost three months later the pandemic has claimed over 16,000 UK lives (as at 19 April 2020), and the office of the Prime Minister now holds, mostly, daily press briefings where senior members of the Conservative Party stand behind podiums with the message ‘Stay Home. Protect The NHS. Save Lives.’ This is a case of much too little, far too late.

At the beginning of March 2020, when the first UK Coronavirus death was announced, it became imperative that the British people continue to practise social distancing and self-isolation, this was the time when many thousands of British people followed the advice of their European neighbours and continued to practise their self-imposed social distancing and self-isolation behaviour. In the meantime PM Johnson avoided essential COBRA meetings and press queries. Johnson remained elusive as has he had no public policy to share apart from ‘herd immunity’ because simulations from Imperial College London, and the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, showed that this policy to ‘do nothing’ would lead to the NHS becoming overwhelmed by healthcare demands as Coronavirus was fast becoming the worst global epidemic since H1N1 (the 1919 Spanish Flu),  and was predicted to cause 550,000 deaths in the UK. This failing policy changed on 23 March when PM Johnson introduced the lockdown in line with the procedures of our closest European neighbours; the number of globally confirmed cases had risen from 9,826 (30 January 2020) to 332,930 with 14,509 confirmed deaths – the number of UK hospital cases was 6,650 with 335 confirmed deaths.

Table 1

Before this date the UK was following the same broad policy as Sweden and the Netherlands who have also have implemented a procedure of an ‘intelligent lockdown’ and ‘herd immunity’; these two countries are next to the UK in the table for the second and third highest Mortality Rates for Hospital deaths from Coronavirus. 

Netherland is at a 94% mortality rate, and Sweden has a 73% mortality rate. Italy and Spain implemented their countries  lockdowns on 9 March and 14 March respectively; France introduced a full lockdown on 17 March. Germany, a country with 142,614 cases and the lowest Coronavirus mortality rate in Europe (5%), first introduced a clear system of social isolation, widespread testing and social distancing in the state of Bavaria on 20 March. The British policy of ‘herd immunity’ has led to the highest Coronavirus Mortality Rate in Europe – 98% of hospital cases are resolved by the death of the patient: only 2% (344) of the 114,219 people admitted to hospital with Coronavirus have survived. 

Table 2

Prime Minister Boris Johnson is one of that small minority. He was admitted to hospital on 5 April leaving his residence in Downing Street, Johnson spent several days in the care of NHS staff at St Thomas’ Hospital, and was discharged to recuperate at Chequers on 12 April. Very few British people will have the same good fortune as the PM. He has left the hospital with a good chance of a full recovery. 

World data shows that there is an average 79% recovery rate and a 21% mortality rate. The three European countries (UK, Netherland, and Sweden) who have partially or wholly followed a ‘herd immunity’ policy have mortality rates of between 73% and 98%.

Like the PM leaving St. Thomas’ NHS Hospital, the UK has left the EU. The question is, in what state? The Conservative Party were determined to ‘Get Brexit Done.’ In theory it has happened. The start of 2020 saw the Conservatives focused on a national Brexit party, minting new Brexit coins, and celebrating British independence from the EU. It is a contention that the Conservative Party was so distracted by Brexit and the EU withdrawal that they ignored the growing global concern of Coronavirus and its potential impact on the citizens of the UK. Has this official and fractious departure from the EU had an impact on the arrival and spread of Coronavirus on British soil? Reports have been uncovered that the PM ignored emails relating to vital PPE and ventilators available from Europe through the EU Procurement scheme. Opportunities missed and thousands of lives lost because of an apparent ‘email error’. 

Britain was a member of the EU from 1973 until 2020 when the citizens of this nation  no longer enjoyed certain rights and privileges, including the right to free travel, study and residence. For British people the geography of open European access was reduced, however this pandemic is a reminder that physical borders hold no barriers for the spread of viruses and infections.

Brexit has seen a tightening of UK border controls. In theory the Coronavirus has increased the restriction of movement throughout the world. However, the reality is that a steady number of flights are still arriving and departing from the UK on a daily basis. Amongst them, despite the new immigration policy of the UK, is a special flight carrying Romanians workers who were flown in to the country to harvest the produce of British farms; it is reported that many British people refused these farm jobs because they’re too far from their homes, the contract lengths were not suitable, and they had caring responsibilities that prevented them from working full-time jobs.

These farm situations are some of the occupations that the Conservative Party demeaned as low-skilled and low-waged in February 2020 in the wake of Brexit and tightening immigration controls, these same people are now reclassified by the Conservative Party as holders of national key worker positions: the nurses, the carers, the shop workers, the refuse collectors, the postal workers, the delivery operatives, the food preparation workers … all essential since March 2020, vital people needed to keep the country’s economic and social systems afloat.

The first confirmed Coronavirus death in the UK was recorded on 05 March 2020, 45 days later the UK has 16,006 confirmed hospital deaths related to this virus and pandemic and 120,067 confirmed hospital cases (19 April 2020); care and nursing home data is still excluded from these figures. Data confirms that there is a disproportionately high concentration of minority communities in the initial casualties of Coronavirus – especially amongst the frontline NHS staff.

On 5 April the Queen addressed the nation as she spoke about the need to follow the social distancing rules; her messages ended with, “Better days will return. We will be with our friends again. We will be with our families again. We will meet again.” In a statement released 26 March, the country was informed that the Queen’s heir-apparent, Prince Charles tested positive for Coronavirus and he self-isolated before being reunited with his wife, Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall.

The Coronavirus pandemic has touched every part of the globe and reminded the entirety of humanity of who and what is important to each of us. When this scourge of the earth has passed, we will do well to remember how we fared during these unusual times, and to recall our own behaviour, and that of our friends, neighbours and political leaders. Coronavirus may also be named Covid-19 after the year it started, but at the time of writing, in April 2020, it has given the world 20/20 vision on people, relationships, social and political systems and the environment: it’s a lesson we should not forget.  

19 April 2020

More data, more comparisons. It’s clear which policies are life saving, and which policies are life shortening.

Table 3

N.B. Recovered figure is available from many data sources, where not readily available it can be derived using the following formula as applied to the figures in Table 1 for the UK:

Total Cases (114,217) – Total Deaths (15,464) = 98,753 – Active Cases (98,409) = Recovered (344)

Resolved Cases = Total Deaths (15,464) + Recovered (344) = Resolved Cases (15,808)

Recovery Rate is Recovered (344) as a percentage of Resolved Cases (15, 808) = 2 %

Death Rate is Total Deaths (15, 464) as a percentage of Resolved Cases (15,808) = 98 %

Apply this same formula to the other country’s data and get accurate results.

21 April 2020