In Depth

‘Boris Johnson’s dithering over Covid-19 has left the UK fatally exposed – again’

Your digest of analysis and commentary from the British and international press

1

Martin Fletcher in the New Statesman

Boris Johnson’s dithering over Covid-19 has left the UK fatally exposed – again

on the need for a lockdown

“Not all the blame for this sorry state of affairs can be laid at Johnson’s door. Governments everywhere have struggled to counter this fierce pandemic, and having the highly transmissible new variant erupting in the UK first was an additional misfortune. But it is legitimate to ask this: why has Britain suffered one of the world’s highest death tolls and worst economic recessions despite spending more (nearly £300bn) on countering the virus than almost any other country? Why was the UK so unprepared, not just when the pandemic first erupted last March but again this winter when ministers knew full well there would be a second wave? Why has the government repeatedly imposed lockdowns and other restrictions days or weeks too late? Why has it failed more robustly to enforce rules on social distancing, and on shopping or travelling with masks? And why, despite roughly £40bn of expenditure, is the UK’s ‘world-beating’ test-and-trace system still so inadequate?”

2

Adam Kucharski in The Guardian

How modelling Covid has changed the way we think about epidemics

on a tragic ‘natural experiment’

“Past epidemics have brought mathematical tools to new audiences, but the scale of Covid-19 has resulted in epidemiological ideas being exchanged across disciplines and borders as never before. If sustained, such collaborations and networks could be hugely valuable in tackling other global epidemic challenges in future. The events of last year have altered the dynamics of many diseases, beyond Covid-19, as seen in the disappearance of certain seasonal infections or the disruption of vaccination programmes. Had the pandemic not happened, I would have spent much of 2020 abroad, setting up studies of influenza, Zika and dengue. When these projects eventually resume, will we see smaller outbreaks than before, or belated large epidemics? The pandemic has created a tragic ‘natural experiment’, a once-in-a-century jolt to disease ecosystems that could produce unexpected insights into immunity, social behaviour, seasonal effects and evolution. We’ve learned a lot about Covid-19 in the past 12 months, but there’s much more that modelling will help us discover in the coming years.”

3

Libby Purves in The Times

Just tell us how many jabs mean freedom

on the inoculation race

“I lay this out because government doesn’t. There is not even a provisional road map about the great dismantling of restriction. What’s the order? Indoor visiting? Classrooms? Cafés? Public entertainment? If it turns out that vaccinated people can still transmit it, which minimum precautions will last longest? Nobody demands exact dates, not after wild talk of Christmas, Easter, ‘spring’, and dark mutterings about the autumn term. But any evidence of clear planning is better than the sense of helpless drift. A prime minister who seemed rigid enough to convince European negotiators that he would face a no-deal Brexit should at least share his philosophy of risk. Which vaccination levels will earn which freedoms?.. Basic trust has to be earned, because without it there will be a further fraying of obedience even to sensible regulations. An authoritative Nuffield-funded study of 51,000 people found that despite financial worries, loneliness and fear, the strongest factor in compliance was confidence in government. So that apparently superficial matter of ‘messaging’ is key.”

4

Stephen Dorrell in The Independent

Dear Keir, the need for political reform in Britain has never been more urgent

on redrawing British politics

“It is not that our political system is unfair to politicians; it is that it is unfair to voters. In short it does not express the balance of their political views. It magnifies the voices of the factions in control of the two major parties and suppresses all others. It is a system that could have been designed to make large sections of the electorate feel disenfranchised. Whatever its purpose, that has indisputably been the result. A widespread sense of disenfranchisement was palpable in 2019; it abated somewhat in 2020 but will return with a vengeance when the combined consequences of Brexit and Covid manifest themselves and people begin again to ask who speaks for them. I understand that many in the Labour Party will resist the case for reform; they will advance the conventional arguments in favour of our two-party system and urge you to allow the pendulum to swing.”

5

Tim Stanley in The Daily Telegraph

What is the point of making resolutions when our lives have been put on hold?

on a groundhog year

“We have got to be hopeful, otherwise we despair, but steel yourself for failure, delay and the knowledge that we will be sitting on our backsides for a while yet. In that context, I think pushing oneself to give up pleasure, wallowing in guilt, is psychologically unhealthy and puts too much onus on individuals who, at this moment in time, are not in control of their own lives. I’m not sure I’ve kept a single resolution I ever made anyway. If I had, I’d be healthier, better read and have a body like a Greek god. Covid is an exercise in submission. My friends who have resisted the situation – either in terror of disease or disbelief that it could be that bad – seem less healthy, in mind at least, than those who surrendered to the inevitable. I take my lead from the brown bear. Winter is for eating and sleeping. Save the diet for spring.”

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