Updated: Jan 31, 2021
On 2nd April, Matt Hancock, the government’s health secretary, asked premier league footballers to take a pay cut and donate to the NHS. While masked as an attack on excessive pay, the statement serves to cover up the fact that his government did not sufficiently prepare for the pandemic despite being given enough warnings to do so. As of 14th April 2020, 11,005 people have died in hospitals due to COVID 19. Many more deaths have likely taken place elsewhere. This catastrophe was by no means an inevitability and could have been prevented if the government, led by Uxbridge and South Ruislip MP Boris Johnson, had heeded the words of health experts. A 2016 government drill, entitled Exercise Cygnus, highlighted the country did not have enough mortuary space, intensive care beds or vital equipment required to cope with a pandemic. Given a 2015 Cabinet Office report had already warned the government a pandemic was the greatest civil risk facing the country, they had no excuse to avoid addressing the issues laid out by the exercise. In addition, in the early months of this year, upon seeing a pandemic was on the horizon, the UK government had a short but significant window to do last minute preparation to ensure that the country was prepared for the pandemic. However, despite being asked three times if they wished to be part of the European Union scheme to bulk buy ventilators, they did not act. In fact, it was only in mid-March, weeks after the first COVID 19 cases were confirmed in the UK, that the government began to implement crisis measures. This is a national scandal. Had the government heeded the warnings of health experts sooner, our National Health Service staff would have their personal protective equipment, our hospitals would be sufficiently equipped with ventilators, and our country would have had significantly less deaths from COVID 19. For the government to deflect blame for their own inadequacies onto footballers (and even the NHS staff themselves), is an admission of failure. The fact that the UK is one of the hardest hit countries in Europe by COVID 19 is not simply down to the selfishness of Premier League players, it is because our government has failed to act. Moving forward, while it is welcome the government are now putting in a ‘herculean effort’ to get PPE for NHS staff, that will do little to compensate for their failure to act earlier.