England are preparing to enter their third lock down, while Scotland have already enacted one. Both Wales and Northern Ireland introduced home stay measures in December; the first since the closure of schools and the second promising to re-formalize the measures into law.
The four nations of the United Kingdom, like the rest of Europe, have been battling the winter wave of COVID-19, which was feared to be much worse than in summer due to the virus lasting longer and people spending more time indoor.
But the UK, it seems, has been hit particularly hard. Multiple times in the past week it has broken its own records for daily case numbers, starting with 53,135 on December 29, which was surpassed after 55,892 cases were reported on New Year’s Eve.
Another record was reached on January 2 with 57,725 cases, only to be eclipsed again on Monday when 58,784 cases were reported. This also marked the seventh consecutive day that cases exceeded 50,000.
New variant or mixed government messages?
The rapid rise in infections has been widely attributed to the new variant of the disease, which is said to be between 50% and 70% more communicable than previous variants, although the British have also questioned whether the government’s confusing strategies they are partly to blame.
” We here in the UK have probably seen the worst of mixed messages,” said Alastair Campbell, who once served as communications director for former Prime Minister Tony Blair. He went on to tell Euronews: “I think it stems from something that is affecting politics in many parts of the world, which is populism.” […]
” When you have this conflict between a very fact-based approach from the scientific community and this populism, we are seeing it infect parts of the European body politic, notably in the UK, Poland and Hungary and elsewhere, where, frankly, they take the parts that they want to listen to tell the public what they think [the public] want to hear.”
Such an example might include the promised four-nation joint approach to special restrictions on Christmas, which began with an assured relaxation of the five-day rules, but ended with even stricter measures than before, including canceled holidays, bans on travel, a new level of heavy restrictions and closures.
Photographs taken in London the week before Christmas showed thousands of people crowded into major train stations as they ran to get home after the U-turn was announced and before the last minute rules went into effect.
Now, retroactive coronavirus case records show that more than 80,000 new infections were recorded in the UK on December 29 alone.
There are also more people receiving treatment for COVID-19 in hospitals now than at the peak of the April pandemic, and doctors are preparing for more in the future as the delayed effect of Christmas is expected.
A “serious incident” was declared last week in Essex County in the south-east of the country due to pressure on health services, and a similar “critical incident” was declared in Lincoln on Tuesday.
In Birmingham, a doctor’s experience went viral after posted a photo of a queue of ambulances waiting outside a hospital that was said to have no beds, while facilities in London said they were postponing operations to deal with the surge.
Another U-turn in schools
Fast forward to Sunday, and Boris Johnson was seen once again on British television encouraging parents to send their children back to school, a line he had repeated for weeks.
Prime Minister of the United Kingdom told the BBC that “I had no doubt that schools are safe,” adding that the risk to children was “very, very low.”
However, twenty-four hours later, after many children had already had their first day back, Johnson announced another closure in England, including the closure, again, of schools. He said: “I want to emphasize that the problem is not that schools are not safe for children, it is highly unlikely that children will be seriously affected even by the new variant of COVID.
” The problem is, however, schools can act as transmission vectors, causing the virus to spread between homes.”
According to Campbell, this was a good example of conflicts of interest. “Why the change?” I ask. “Because science has caught up with populism.”
” The prime minister has to step in, and there comes a point where he has to master himself. You literally have to control the whole decision-making process; all the facts; all the science; and then you have to lead from the front.
” That is what I think has been lacking in the UK.”
Campbell continued, ” In the end, that’s why I say it’s about having an honest conversation with the public.
” The public is going to take a lot […] as long as leaders are honest about the decisions they are making and the reasons behind them, and are honest about the consequences of the decisions they are making. “
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism