Six weeks ago, Boris Johnson’s best team of science advisers came to him with a chilling warning. He had to put in place an immediate two-week national lockdown to prevent the spread of the coronavirus from spiraling out of control, they said, and failing to do so would likely result in what they called “a very large epidemic with catastrophic consequences. . “
The warning has been largely ignored. Only one of the measures proposed by the advisory group – telling people to work from home if possible – has been implemented by the government. Stricter rules have been introduced for some virus hotspots in England, but Johnson has refused to consider a national lockdown, and has even publicly mocked the idea as ‘the height of absurdity’ that would inflict ‘misery’ useless to the nation.
But the scientists were right. On September 21, the day they gave their warning, the UK reported 5,596 new COVID-19 cases and 29 related deaths. As of Friday, 274 people died and there were 24,405 other confirmed cases. As expected, the virus had slipped out of government control and an advisory group stepped in again.
In a Friday meeting reported by the Times of London, government science advisers told Johnson their data predicted hospitals would be overwhelmed by December, and deaths could soon peak at 4,000 a day – four times worse than at the height of the pandemic in the spring. After weeks of delay, the warning left him no choice but to impose the lockdown which he had categorically rejected just days ago.
Not only that, but with the situation now so much worse than it was in mid-September, Johnson’s lockdown will have to last twice as long as the two weeks originally recommended by his scientists to stand a chance. interfere with the spread of the virus.
“I am afraid that no responsible prime minister can ignore the message of these figures,” he explained to the nation, adding that the coronavirus is now spreading faster than in the “reasonable worst case scenario” before him. premiered in September. “If we do not act, we could see deaths in this country multiply by several thousand a day … A mortality peak, alas, much more important than the one we saw in April”, warned the Premier minister.
From Thursday, England will enter a month-long lockdown – and government officials already warned on Sunday that it could last even longer if it fails to reduce the infection rate. Pubs, restaurants, gyms, non-essential stores and places of worship will be closed, although, as in other European lockdowns, schools and universities will remain open. The hope, as Johnson explained during his Halloween press conference, is to reduce infections in time to allow families to come together over Christmas.
The other three UK countries – Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland – are monitoring their own responses to the pandemic through their decentralized governments, and are therefore unaffected by the announcement . Their three leaders have all taken preemptive action quicker than Johnson and as a result are not in such a critical position as England and they have no intention of aligning with Johnson’s lockdown of November.
Johnson’s announcement has come under attack both by those who think it goes way too far and by those who think it came way too late. Opposition leader Keir Starmer of Labor called for a lockdown three weeks ago. He wrote: “The delay in introducing these restrictions will have an economic cost and a human cost. I’m glad the government finally made this decision – but it should have done so weeks ago.
A mutiny is underway among Johnson’s Tory colleagues, who believed the PM when he insisted for weeks that he would not ask businesses across the country to shut down. Iain Duncan Smith, a former party leader, described Johnson’s announcement as a “blow to the British people” and accused his leader of “yielding to science advisers” who “gave public sermons” to the government.
The problem Johnson is now facing for the second time is that throughout his political career he has relied on his personal popularity, ultra-confidence and optimism. While these have served him well in many situations, his reluctance to do anything to hurt his popularity, overlook scientific advice, and try to fight his way, is what led to a lockdown. retarded which infuriated almost everyone.
Johnson has always tried to rule with hopes for the best – as his science advisers have now proven twice during this pandemic, the Prime Minister needs to spend more time anticipating the worst.
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