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A week in the COVID 19 crisis from a UK perspactive.

COVID-19 in the UK. A Week in an Underprepared Nation

A week in the COVID 19 crisis from a UK perspactive.
A week in the COVID 19 crisis from a UK perspective.

New research from the University of Huddersfield has starkly warned that the local authorities of the UK are unprepared for the sheer numbers of deaths likely to be caused by the spread of the COVID-19 novel strain of the coronavirus.

In a paper published in the journal Emergency Management Review, the authors warn that major increase in mortality rates and staff absences will mean a struggle to issue death certificates, leading to a bottleneck in burials and cremations, with mortuaries filled beyond capacity, adding that even if fatality rates are at the lower end of expectations — one per cent of virus victims — it is highly likely that death and bereavement services will be overwhelmed.

The UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson has tested positive for Coronavirus. Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

As well as analyzing the readiness of local authorities, the authors including Dr Julia Meaton, Dr Anna Williams and researcher Helen-Marie Kruger, drew on data from previous pandemics. Their findings are based on research conducted in 2019 which aimed to assess how well prepared the UK was to handle a potential flu pandemic.

This is by far from the first time that medical professionals have warned the UK authorities that their response to the coronavirus pandemic sweeping that the globe is insufficient. Much of this criticism has focused on the UK authorities failing to secure sufficient medical equipment to handle the growing crisis.

When future generations look back at the handling of this crisis by Boris Johnston’s government they will likely be forced to navigate a litany of lousy excuses, u-turns, bluffs, under the table deals, incompetence and the collapse of the NHS after a decade of neglect. An NHS already at breaking point before the onset of a global pandemic and the health crisis it has wrought.

What follows are revelations of mishandling and blunders that have unfolded during just one week of this crisis. 

Missed emails and missing ventilators

Even as the aforementioned paper was being published, the Government was facing accusations of failing to secure 25,000 ventilators — a potentially life-saving piece of equipment — from UK manufacturer Direct Access. 

The Cheshire based company claim that it informed the UK Department of Health that it could secure the 25,000 ventilators and 50 million coronavirus testing kits, yet its e-mail went unanswered for two weeks. During this intervening period, Direct Access says that the equipment was purchased by other countries. Cabinet Minister, Michael Gove, has apologised for the error and promised to investigate the situation.

“No one seemed to be taking us seriously,” says Andy Faulkner, the manager of Topland, a Dubai firm helping Direct Access obtain ventilators, adding that the two companies offered the government 5,000 units a week over five weeks — but initially received no response. “They asked us to register on the ventilation website, which we did, and then waited another five days for any response.”

Faulkner concluded by saying that it could be as late as July before the companies could offer the NHS any further equipment, even were it to be ordered immediately. 

“Brexit over breathing”

The error comes on the heels of the revelation that Johnson’s government had failed to enroll in the EU scheme to jointly obtain ventilators to avert the predicted shortfall over the following critical weeks. 

The official line from Downing Street was initially that as they were no longer part of the European Union then it had been believed they could not be part of the scheme, an excuse so flimsy that the Independent referred to it as “Brexit over breathing.” Downing Street later clarified that the failure to register in the programme was a result of a communications mix-up. A claim that has been dismissed by Brussels.

On Friday a spokesperson for the EU made it clear that the 11-month transition period during which Britain makes its exit includes an allowance for the country to join in any “joint procurement” programmes. They continue: “The member states’ needs for personal protective equipment have been discussed several times in the meetings of the health security committee where the UK participated.

“At these meetings, the commission stressed its readiness to further support countries with the procurement of medical countermeasures if needed, so member states and the UK had the opportunity to signal their interest to participate in any joint procurements.”

Number Ten did state that they would take part in any future measurements to procure ventilators undertaken by the EU.

To many, this may be seen as an assurance that is both too little and too late. It is estimated that the UK will need 30,000 ventilators to deal adequately with the deepening COVID-19 situation. The NHS currently has an estimated 8,000 machines, with a further 8,000 expected to be ready for the end of April. A deeply worrying shortfall. 

What has come as a shock to some, is that the Government has approached a manufacturer to produce ventilators, albeit one with no prior history in building medical devices and equipment. 

Help from unusual sources

The company Dyson unveiled a prototype ventilator — the Co Vent — just last week, immediately garnering an initial order for 10,000 units from Westminister. The deal will be based upon the device passing tests from expert clinicians and health regulators, according to a spokesperson for Boris Johnson. 

The involvement of the company, founded by billionaire Brexit-supporter and Tory-part donor James Dyson, has garnered a great deal of scepticism, with a representative from Penlon-part of the ventilator Challenge UK consortium — stating that it is deeply unrealistic to design a new ventilator and rapidly begin producing tens of thousands of the device. 

Why have a ventilator by a leading manufacturer in the field when you can buy 10,000 unbuilt prototypes from a Tory donor? Credit: Dyson.

There is, of course, some crossover between the ventilator and the machine that made Dyson a household name, the vacuum cleaner. Both machines are designed to pump air efficiently, and some of the parts are similar. If this doesn’t inspire much Dyson have employed the Technology Partnership — a company that employs some scientists with experience in designing medical interventions — to assist them. Dyson has also pledged to donate 4,000 Co Vent units globally to help fight against COVID-19, as well as promising to donate a further 1,000 devices to the UK.

Fortunately, the NHS is receiving help from a somewhat unexpected source to help tackle other shortages. A medical fetish website — MedFet Uk has donated its entire stock of disposable scrubs to the NHS after it was approached by procurement representatives. 

“Today we donated our entire stock of disposable scrubs to an NHS hospital. It was just a few sets, because we don’t carry large stocks, but they were desperate, so we sent them free of charge,” the company said in a statement posted on their Twitter account. 

The scrubs donated by medical fetish website MedFetUK

Whilst the company has received rightful praise, it seems utterly terrifying that so many years of abuse, neglect, and cost-cutting measures by the Tory Government has left NHS is such dire need of essentials they have to appeal for help from a fetish website. 

The MedFetUK Twitter statement went on to reflect this sentiment, concluding: “So when it’s all over…and the doctors, nurses and other staff have done an amazing job (as they undoubtedly will despite the circumstances)… let’s not forget, or forgive, the ones who sent the NHS into this battle with inadequate armour and one hand tied behind its back.”

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson tests positive for coronavirus

“I’ve developed mild symptoms of the coronavirus, that’s to say a temperature and a persistent cough and on the advice of chief medical office I have taken a test that has come out positive,” Johnson said in a Twitter announcement minutes ago.

In a Twitter post, the British Prime Minister announced what he says are mild symptoms. In seemingly good health and decent spirits, Johnson addressed the nation (and the internet), saying that he is still coordinating the effort against the coronavirus in the UK:

“I’m working from home, I’m self isolating, that’s the right thing to do.”

“But thanks to the wizardry of modern technology, I can communicate to all my top team and lead the national fightback against the coronavirus.”

Johnson became the most prominent politician to test positive for COVID-19, days after Prince Charles announced that he is also positive, with mild symptoms.

Prince Albert of Monaco also tested positive, as have several high-ranking members in several countries, including Australia, Brazil, and the US — where Senator Rand Paul has also tested positive.

It’s unclear what this means for other high-ranking officials who have been in contact with Johnson over the recent days. It’s also not clear if Johnson will continue coordinating the anti-outbreak efforts alone or will delegate some of his attributions. This is still an emerging situation.

UK sees climate change as more important than Brexit

Despite the messy negotiations of Brexit — i.e. Britain leaving the European Union — United Kingdom citizens believe that climate change is a more important issue and should be a top priority to the newly-appointed Prime Minister Boris Johnson, according to a new survey.

London’s skyline. Credit: Wikipedia Commons

 

Up to 71% of the UK public agreed that climate change would be more important than the country’s departure from the EU in the long term, the ComRes survey showed. Six out of 10 adults said the government was not doing enough to prioritize the climate crisis. The study, commissioned by Christian Aid, found that women and young people were more likely to say that action over climate change is a more pressing priority than issues around Brexit. The trend was also more pronounced on residents from Wales and the East Midlands.

“It’s clear that beyond the present political turmoil, UK adults know there is a bigger crisis which is potentially catastrophic for the whole of humanity – particularly some of the world’s poorest people, who are more vulnerable to the effects of this climate emergency,” Christian Aid’s director of advocacy Laura Taylor said.

Almost two-thirds (61%) of respondents said the Conservative Government led by Johnson is not doing enough to prioritize climate actions, despite its recent setting of a net-zero goal for 2050. Key concerns voiced included a lack of policy around decarbonizing transport.

When taking office this week, Johnson gave an inaugural speech and briefly mentioned the environment. He said Britain was “leading the world in the battery technology that will help cut CO2 and tackle climate change and produce green jobs for the next generation”.

“I hope the Prime Minister will hear the challenge from the majority of the UK public to do more to tackle this climate emergency. We need a rapid and radical shift to reduce emissions in the UK and we need global action for climate justice in which the most vulnerable communities are supported,” said Taylor.

The survey came at the same time the UK tries to solve its exit from the EU, now with a new Prime Minister. The UK voted to leave the EU through a referendum in 2016, with leave winning with 51.6% of the votes. Since then, the exit has proven more difficult than initially expected.

The UK was supposed to leave the EU on 29 March 2019, two years after it started the exit process. But the withdrawal agreement reached between the EU and the UK has been rejected three times by UK MPs. A six-month extension was now granted until 31 October.

The consequences will likely be severe. The UK government has projected that in 15 years, the country’s economy will be anywhere from 4 percent to 9 percent smaller under Brexit than it would inside the bloc, depending on the exit arrangement. Europe is Britain’s most important export market and its biggest source of foreign investment.