The United Kingdom struggles against Covid-19


Boris Johnson, the Prime Minister of the U.K., addressing citizens on November 1st, 2020.

Forty-five days before the first suspected case of the coronavirus was announced, a scorecard was published. It ranked countries based on how prepared they were to handle an outbreak of a virus or disease and was based on certain measures, such as how well the country’s health care system would respond and how quickly the country would create a plan of action. On that list, the United Kingdom was ranked second, following the United States. A couple of months later, the same ranking showed the two countries with the most COVID-19 cases. The virus first reached the UK in late January 2020. The Department of Health and Social Care launched a campaign to slow the spread of the virus a few weeks later. When the virus started to spread widely around the world, the U.K. was clear that it would not initiate a lockdown. It was widely believed by the Boris Johnson administration that some spread was unavoidable and even desirable. They held onto the idea of herd immunity. Government officials addressed the media saying that if people lockdown too early they will become fatigued. If the restrictions came too early, people would demand them to be lifted. Thousands of critics and scientists around the world have criticized Boris Johnson, the United Kingdom’s prime minister, for his delayed response to the coronavirus. Other European countries such as Germany and Switzerland enforced lockdowns and shut down their borders early on to contain the virus and it proved to be successful. Johnson, on the other hand, massively underestimated the gravity of the crisis. England soon exceeded Italy, which was once the epicenter of the virus. Britain’s whole reputation of a country in which the coronavirus was spreading slowly was destroyed due to the British Parliament’s careless actions. In March, the government created a stay at home order, which was labelled “Stay Home,Protect the NHS, Save Lives.” This banned all non-essential travel and closed all places where there were large gatherings. The people of England did not comply and they violently protested because of their frustrations against the lockdowns.

The cause of it all was Johnson’s late response and policy missteps. If they had locked down earlier, they would have been looking at better results. They should have used the other countries as examples. Despite the minister’s reassurance that they are guided by scientists, they have not been entirely open about the scientific advice that they are receiving. The government’s main scientific advisory, Scientific Advisory Group on Emergencies, has not been listed publicly. Johnson’s lack of understanding about the virus is the reason why it became such a huge issue in the first place. Herd immunity does not work so early on in the pandemic. As of now, there is talk about herd immunity again since the vaccine is being distributed. Another way that Johnson went wrong is the abandonment of mass testing. At the start of the outbreak, public health officials tracked every case that they knew of. The policy was abandoned a month later. When they abandoned
their testing, the virus started to spread uncontrollably. In September of last year, a £500 check was given out by the government to aid people with low incomes who were staying home. The £500 payment comes with certain requirements to be eligible though. If one wants to qualify for this check, they have to already receive a form of UK government benefits such as housing benefit, working tax credit, or universal credit. More than 60% of the applications for receiving the payment were unsuccessful.

Though Johnson’s government did not do a great job with handling the pandemic, a couple of things went right. There are 100,000 tests conducted per day. Many other grand schemes were announced such as antibody tests and volunteer armies at hospitals. The UK also began to test a coronavirus tracing app which was successful and helped to curb the spread of the virus. Despite the huge toll, the UK’s health service was not overwhelmed. Overflow hospitals were barely used. In September 2020, the UK government increased the penalty for those breaching lockdowns. Those caught are now facing £1000 ($1,370) in fines.

More needs to be done with financial support, and the government needs to accommodate those who live in crowded homes and give them the chance to self-isolate. If someone tested positive, then people should be making sure that they have space to isolate or if they have paid sick leave. Low-wage workers are particularly hit by the virus and the government needs to pay more attention to them. People are desperate and are choosing between putting their lives in danger and receiving any form of income.

Currently, Britain has been under lockdown for about one year, but many are unable to keep to the rules. Breaches of self-isolation are rampant across the UK. Up to 20,000 people, a day are failing to stay home when instructed to. There is a lack of compliance in the Britain. However, the biggest concern is that people who feel ill do not come forward for testing. People are urging the government to offer support to people who are self-isolating so that people are more likely to do so. There are currently huge outbreaks in warehouses, meat-packing plants, care homes, and low paid workers who live in shared homes. A majority of infections are amongst key workers. In addition of all of these problems, a coronavirus variant was discovered in the U.K., and it is spreading rather quickly. However, it does not seem to have a profound difference from the original virus. Cases are beginning to slightly drop and the country’s vaccine rollout has been widely successful. At the moment, the Oxford vaccine appears to be effective against the U.K. variant. The highly transmissible variant, B.1.1.7, which was first detected in the U.K. The vaccine is 74.6% effective against the variant and 84% effective against the original virus. The problem is that the mutation of the virus is highly contagious, and it can contribute to the further spread of the virus. To get an idea of how viral the variant is, more than 80% of positive cases in London and at least a quarter of infections everywhere else in the U,K. are from this new variant. Additionally, the U.K. variant has now spread to several other countries.