Government failings mean the UK is set to overtake Italy and Spain for coronavirus deaths

Boris Johnson
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The latest data from the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDPC) indicates that the UK will likely overtake Italy and Spain for coronavirius (Covid-19) deaths. This follows significant delays by the UK government to organise ventilators, personal protective equipment (PPE), and wide-scale testing.

More deaths than Italy and Spain

A Financial Times graph published on 3 April 2020, based on data from the ECDPC, indicates that in regard to coronavirus deaths, the UK is now on a steeper trajectory than Italy was at the same point in time. The graph also indicates that the UK may overtake peak daily coronavirus deaths in Spain:

Meanwhile, the latest figures from Public Health England list 3,605 deaths from coronavirus as of 4 April 2020.

The trajectory of deaths mapped by the FT must be seen in the context of government failings to combat the disease, which include insufficient testing, a lack of ventilators, and inappropriate PPE.


The UK government appears to be getting nowhere with the polymerase chain reaction (PCR) testing for those who may have the virus:

Indeed, it’s reported that out of 500,000 NHS staff, only 2,800 have had the tests in England. In contrast, Germany is testing 500,000 people per week.


Obtaining sufficient numbers of ventilators to treat patients with the virus also appears farcical.

The UK government has claimed it didn’t participate in the EU’s health security committee meetings to discuss the outbreak because it missed an email invite to attend the meetings. But EU minutes seen by the Guardian reveal this is untrue and that Britain was represented at eight of those meetings.

A spokesperson for PM Boris Johnson subsequently explained that the reason the government didn’t proceed with the EU bulk purchasing of ventilators was “because we are no longer members of the EU”. This explanation failed to take into account how the UK is still in the transition period and so could’ve collaborated on this bulk purchase.

The dysfunction of the UK government continued with the revelation that Nantwich-based company Direct Access contacted the Department of Health to offer 5,000 new ventilators. According to Nantwich News:

But five days later, Health bosses still had not made a decision and the supplies were then snapped up by other customers.

The NHS reportedly has around 8,000 ventilators, although a further 30,000 are needed to cope. However, it was admitted that the initial delivery will consist of just 30 ventilators from Penlon, an Oxfordshire company that is “part of a consortium including Ford, Siemens, Mercedes, McLaren and Meggitt”.


Moreover, the supply and delivery of PPE to frontline health workers has been woefully inadequate and puts their lives at risk.

Royal College of Nursing chief executive dame Donna Kinnair stated:

It is completely unacceptable that weeks into this crisis, there are colleagues in all settings – hospitals, community or care homes – who have not been provided with personal protective equipment.

Every minute we wait is a minute too long. All nursing staff, no matter where they work, must feel safe…

The RCN has said repeatedly that we will not accept anything less than aprons, gloves and masks for all staff, in all settings.

But this is a minimum – and that is why we are so disappointed even that level of protection has yet to be provided.

Unite the Union added:

The safety of NHS staff must be the top priority as they risk their own health, and even their lives, to save others.

As The Canary recently reported, a letter from NHS staff with 4,000 signatures called on the government to urgently address shortages in PPE.

Herd immunity

The UK government also wasted valuable time toying with the ‘herd immunity’ approach. But, as The Canary reported, 600 behavioural science experts signed an open letter questioning:

behavioural science evidence that may have been used to justify this decision— though a lack of transparency from the government has made it hard to discern what the official policy is.

And The Canary also reported how leading US epidemiologist William Hanage pointed out that:

We talk about vaccines generating herd immunity, so why is this different? Because this is not a vaccine. This is an actual pandemic that will make a very large number of people sick, and some of them will die. Even though the mortality rate is likely quite low, a small fraction of a very large number is still a large number. And the mortality rate will climb when the NHS is overwhelming.

Lancet editor-in-chief and ‘herd immunity’ critic Richard Horton also told MPs:

We thought we could have a controlled epidemic. We thought we could manage that epidemic over the course of March and April, push the curve to the right, build up herd immunity and that way we could protect people… The reason why that strategy was wrong is it didn’t recognise that 20% of people infected would end up with severe critical illness. The evidence was there at the end of January.


In summary, the Johnson-led government has failed to combat the disease at every level. In particular when it comes to testing those who may have the virus and supply of PPE, ventilators, and other essential equipment. Valuable time has been wasted, and lives lost or livelihoods ruined. The government chose to make an ideological point about leaving the EU instead of prioritising the acquisition of life-saving ventilators, and put the economy ahead of saving people’s lives – all while a decade of Tory austerity had already left the NHS in crisis.

Under normal circumstances the government would be forced to resign – as its handling of the crisis has been shambolic at best and criminal at worst.

Featured image via Youtube

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