Updated: Mar 6, 2021
Tier 4 could have been prevented if Boris Johnson and his Government had made different choices. Their action, and inaction, is the cause of this current crisis.
The Government argue they had no other choice but to impose Tier 4 on London and the South East; given the situation the country is now in, they would be correct. Allowing for the Christmas bubble plan to continue would result in hundreds of unneeded deaths and force an even more socially and economically damaging lockdown after the Christmas period.
The country’s current dire COVID situation however is entirely of the Government’s own making and was very much preventable.
At the end of September, the Government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE) advised decision makers that the UK should undertake a short and sharp circuit breaker lockdown to curtail the spread of the pandemic. It was ignored.
In October, the leader of the Opposition Kier Starmer repeated SAGE’s call for a short sharp circuit breaker, demanding the Prime Minister instigate a national lockdown for a two week period over the October half-term. This too was ignored. In Prime Ministers Questions on 21 October, Johnson told Starmer his proposed 2-week lockdown would cause “psychological” and “emotional” damage.
'The Government locked down for 4 weeks and kept schools open. With infection rates falling only marginally over that period, this failure helped lay the groundwork for the COVID spike we are currently seeing'.
It was only in November that the Government did finally take action to tackle the growth in infection rates. However then, given the delay, the action required of the Government was considerably greater than it would have been had they acted earlier.
Independent SAGE analysis suggested that, with schools closed, a 3-week lockdown was needed to reduce infection rates to the level needed for the country to persistently be able to keep R below 1. If schools were to remain open, they highlighted 9 weeks of lockdown was required to make create the same impact. The Government locked down for 4 weeks and kept schools open. With infection rates falling only marginally over that period, this failure helped lay the groundwork for the COVID spike we are currently seeing.
In addition to lockdowns, the Government could have developed a functioning track and trace system to stem the spread of the virus. Whilst the Government did bring in their NHS Test and Trace system in late May, it has been broadly ineffective. In September, SAGE noted that the system, which has been mainly run by the private company Serco, was only "having a marginal impact on transmission".
Some countries brought in a functioning track and trace system very early on in the pandemic which helped them bring the virus under control. Such countries include Vietnam, Taiwan, New Zealand, China, Australia, Thailand, Singapore, Thailand, and South Korea.
South Korea had a functioning test, trace and isolate system in place by March. It managed to bring down the number of daily infections from just over 900 at the end of February to single digits by the end of April- all without the need for a severe lockdown!
In the past month, the UK has faced over 4,000 deaths from COVID. South Korea has only had 674 COVID deaths in total!
'When leaders set rules which they themselves don’t comply to, it undermines people’s willingness to follow them'.
I have seen some blame the high number of cases in the UK on the fact there are people not wearing masks. Whilst it is true that people's non-compliance with the rules is having an impact on cases, Government policy has undoubtedly significantly shaped this behaviour. For example, despite the Trade Union Congress highlighting that the UK’s £95.85 per week Statutory Sick Pay was not enough for 43% of of the work force to actively afford self-isolation, the Government have stubbornly refused to raise it.
In addition, the Government hasn’t exactly led by example when it comes to following the rules. Who could forget the Dominic Cummings to Barnard Castle fiasco…..? When leaders set rules which they themselves don’t comply to, it undermines people’s willingness to follow them.
As we approach the end of the year, and are separated from loved ones at Christmas, let’s not let the Government off the hook. They could have managed things better: yet chose not to. For this, the UK Christmas crisis is on their head.