Johnson’s disaster capitalism approach to coronavirus will test his government to the limit

Coronavirus
Tom Coburg

Boris Johnson has recommended that everyone should take the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic “on the chin”. But this ‘disaster capitalism’ approach to healthcare ignores findings from the clinical evidence and risks many more fatalities, especially for the elderly. And there will be economic casualties, too.

Johnson’s dangerous response

As of 12 March 2020, figures for the UK show 460 confirmed cases of coronavirus and eight deaths. The government’s own figures show similar findings.

Johnson’s message on how the virus should be tackled, meanwhile, has been at best confusing and at worst highly dangerous:

The death rate for over-80-year-olds, according to one US website, is “closer to 15%” and from another source is 21.9%.

Current UK and WHO guidance

A video from scientific journal specialists Elsevier explains what a coronavirus (generic) involves.

Likely transmission of the virus, according to government guidance, is by:

  • secretions [that] can be directly transferred into the mouths or noses of people who are nearby (within 2 metres) or could be inhaled into the lungs
  • it is also possible that someone may become infected by touching a surface or object that has been contaminated with respiratory secretions and then touching their own mouth, nose, or eyes (such as touching a door knob or shaking hands then touching own face).

The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends:

Regularly and thoroughly clean your hands with an alcohol-based hand rub or wash them with soap and water. …

Maintain at least 1 metre (3 feet) distance between yourself and anyone who is coughing or sneezing. …

Avoid touching eyes, nose and mouth. …

[cover] your mouth and nose with your bent elbow or tissue when you cough or sneeze. Then dispose of the used tissue immediately. …

Stay home if you feel unwell. If you have a fever, cough and difficulty breathing, seek medical attention and call in advance.

In addition:

If you think a surface may be infected, clean it with simple disinfectant to kill the virus and protect yourself and others.

The Department of Health’s action plan further informs government with regard to proposed interventions.

UK government approach

But it can be argued that the UK approach to the coronavirus outbreak, when compared to interventions from other countries, is comparatively conservative:

Clinical evidence

In addition to taking note of the WHO guidance, meanwhile, it’s important that we all learn from history.

For example, in 2011, a Cochrane systematic review of randomised controlled trials and other clinical studies on flu pandemics (such as SARS) was published. Disturbingly, it found that antiviral drugs were not enough to contain the spread of the infection. But there were some useful observations regarding containment, and it concluded:

Respiratory virus spread can be reduced by hygienic measures (such as handwashing), especially around younger children. Frequent handwashing can also reduce transmission from children to other household members. Implementing barriers to transmission, such as isolation, and hygienic measures (wearing masks, gloves and gowns) can be effective in containing respiratory virus epidemics or in hospital wards. We found no evidence that the more expensive, irritating and uncomfortable N95 respirators were superior to simple surgical masks. It is unclear if adding virucidals or antiseptics to normal handwashing with soap is more effective. There is insufficient evidence to support screening at entry ports and social distancing (spatial separation of at least one metre between those infected and those non‐infected) as a method to reduce spread during epidemics.

It’s important that such valuable studies are not ignored.

Reassuringly, a more recent, large-scale Chinese study found that for the vast majority of people who contract coronavirus, symptoms are mild.

Economic casualties

The casualties will not just be medical, though. If businesses close down (or lay off workers) because of the outbreak, there will be economic casualties too. Moreover, in the UK:

There is no statutory right to pay if you are not sick but can’t work because a medical expert has advised you to self-isolate or go into quarantine. According to Unison, up to two million workers with no sick pay may not be able to afford to take two weeks off work if they develop symptoms.

As for those on zero-hours contracts:

Statutory Sick Pay [SSP] does not cover people who earn less than £118 a week.

As The Canary has reported, “SSP in the UK is the second-lowest in Europe”. And while the British government appears to be planning some support during the coronavirus crisis, it seems woefully inadequate.

An editorial in the Lancet, meanwhile, argues that one of the more vulnerable groups to the pandemic are homeless people.

Getting it right

Politicians literally have our lives in their hands, especially when it comes to a pandemic such as COVID-19.

The evidence on how best to combat the disease is still evolving. And it’s so important that authorities get things right by adopting a measured approach that aims to reduce mortality while ensuring people’s finances are only minimally disrupted.

This will test the Johnson government to its absolute limit.

Featured image via NIAID-RML/Flickr

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  • Show Comments
    1. To Boris + Cummings + Virus advisers
      Including all parties in H.O. Commons.
      ///
      Johnson’s disaster capitalism approach to coronavirus will test his government to the limit
      Some question + points
      Q-1
      Are you delaying any guaranteeing in all of U.K.?
      So, you do not loss Govt money from firms + privet places in Govt like taxes + N/Insurance payment for public money pot yes or no?
      Q-2
      Boris + Cummings have all in No10/No11 workforce been tested yet including all Minister that visit No10
      Yes or no? (if not why Boris?) (they should all be tested fully)
      Q-3
      Is it a fact you are not guaranteeing us all in U.K.?
      Just to keep public cash coming to No10/No11 to pay for your HS2 rubbish putting us a danger just for greed of cash within Tory Govt members plus rich party funders.
      Q-4
      How much new cash will you Tory Govt be borrowing to keep us safe and our country while this Virus is running it cores in U.K./Wales/N/Ireland/Scotland as well.
      //
      POINT is on each question I asked of Tory Govt + Boris + Cummings
      P-1 to Q-1
      Is the fund in our public taxpayer money pot full yes or no?
      P-2 to Q-2
      Remember the more people passing through No10-No11, they are a bigger chance of you Boris + Cumming getting the virus faster than the public in meeting now.
      P-3 to Q-3
      Delaying & delaying guaranteeing now will not make Virus go away it will spread faster putting a stop to all area of U.K. people in working jobs.
      P-4 to Q-4
      What will the full amount of new cash will Tory Govt be borrowed to keep us safe and keep your promises to voter in Dec G.E. 2019 in all areas of new cash funding Boris + Cummings? will you start a new black hole in U.K. by borrowing to much new cash but keep quiet about the amount to H.O.Commons + us taxpayer yes or no?
      FINALLY!
      Boris + Cummings all Govt parties should be checked now for Virus
      IN-addition, all in No10-No11 the handle our finances every day should be checked out now today 13.3.2020.
      ///
      If Tory party fail us resident + voters it will be the end of Tory Party in power we voters out here will not forgive your failing on Virus mess I also believe your medical advisers say they already know about the Virus problem but did nothing to prepare for it why Boris + Cumming can you tell us resident + voters of U.K./Wales/N/Ireland/Scotland as well Boris + Cummings why the delay?? was it to save cash within the N.H.S. budget for Tory Govt Treasury yes or no?
      when they withheld funding from the N.H.S. front line staff last year.

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