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World-beating Covid Conquest? Burntwood candidate speaks out

April 14, 2021 7:27 PM
By Paul Taylor - Candidate for Burntwood South

Paul Taylor 2 ()Let's have a look at how the Government has handled the Pandemic

Paul Taylor writes about the Government's management

Spring is in the air. The tremendous success of the vaccine development and roll-out have lifted the spirits. And boosted The Government's and Mr Johnson's popularity and their position in the polls. But don't be fooled: one swallow doesn't make a summer. And one good decision (or adherence to scientific advice for once) does not prove competence.

"We truly did everything we could." said Boris Jonson speaking in January of the Govt's COVID-19 response. If that is his judgement it confirms that this government is not up to the job of governing. Even without a public enquiry, so badly needed, but not yet called by the Government, we can see that all too many decisions were either wrong or taken too late.

Despite the anguish visible in Italy in February 2020, lockdown here was not introduced till 23rd March. Throughout the early part of the pandemic there was a sort of British exceptionalism: that somehow truths that applied elsewhere did not apply to us. This likely also explained our attitude to face coverings, shared with other countries who also share our very high death rate.

Boris Johnson failed to attend the first five COBRA meetings. Perhaps he would not have contributed much! But his lack of interest must have added to the complacency in political circles.

When lockdown finally came we were already on the wrong foot from bad decisions made in previous years. Hospitals were beyond their safe bed capacity and had too many vacancies especially in nursing but medics and others too. The findings of the 2016 Cygnus report had not been heeded and we were woefully short of PPE and ventilators. The urgent effort to create bed capacity caused many patients to be discharged to care homes without adequate testing and quarantining.

It was not long before there were signs that members of the Government may have felt that the rules did not apply to them. Just a few days into the lockdown Robert Jenrick did a long journey to family. Though it only came to light later, Dominic Cummings earlier journey and sight test was even more concerning. And worse was the Government's complete failure to criticise him for it. His action and the Government's inaction seriously weakened public confidence in the rules. Steadily this doubt increased as more and more U turns were made, some of them only after the Government was shamed into action by Marcus Rashford and others.

The pandemic needed urgent action on many fronts. Cases needed to be identified and isolated. That's where our world beating test and trace system, led by Dido Harding, a Conservative peer, came in. Except it hasn't been world beating. Test and trace was largely outsourced to private companies with poor integration between them. Control of the pandemic required that test results be returned quickly and then that a high proportion of an infectious person's contacts should be quickly reached by the contact tracers. Testing facilities were frequently unable to cope with the load of samples so sent results too late. Then the distant telephone tracers regularly reached less than 50% of contacts. And now, as evidence increases that people are not isolating as they should be, the failure of government to make it financially possible for many people to isolate becomes increasingly important.

Elsewhere in the management of the pandemic there was heavy reliance on the private sector too. Massive contracts were given for PPE, many to 'friends' of conservative politicians, several of which produced material which could not be used. The law requires that the terms of Government contracts should be made public within 30 days but there again Government earns more distrust by refusing to publish the contracts till forced to by legal action. Suspicion is heightened by their bullying of the non-profit organisation bringing legal action on this by its attempt to scare it off by inflating likely legal costs.

In the summer the Chancellor brought in 'Eat out to help out'. Seemed fun at the time but now we can see that it simply fuelled the second wave and likely helped to cause an even longer shut down of the economy.

Analysis of the virus variants showed that most of our cases were imported at the beginning of 2020 from Europe. With hindsight it is now clear we should have closed our borders/instituted quarantine much earlier. And, like eat out to help out, we should not have been encouraging people to go abroad in the late summer. It's only this year, a year on from the start of the pandemic here, that the Government has brought in much more stringent border controls.

In this sea of incompetence there's one bright action for which we can be grateful. The early decision to order millions of doses of vaccine. The very successful roll out of vaccination has been due substantially to its delegation to localities, unlike so much else which, in England, has been centralised. But let us not allow one correct decision by the government to blind us to all the debris along the way. Including more than 125,000 deaths and counting. We need to learn lessons so that we don't repeat them. And we urgently need that public enquiry into the Government's handling of the pandemic.