All legal COVID-19 restrictions have ended. In one week’s time, if you have been double-jabbed, you will not have to self-isolate even if you come into contact with a positive test. Over 75% of the British population has received two doses of a COVID-19 vaccine.
So there we have it. The pandemic is over and everything is back to normal, right? I mean, on a day-to-day basis, depending on how you live your life, this might be true. But the reality is, the nation is still gripped by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Flick on any mainstream news channel and you will see reporters dissecting tiny increases or decreases in daily COVID-19 infections, deaths and hospitalisations.
Sky News remains particularly gripped by the pandemic. Throughout lockdown, before its show went to a break, there would be a reminder of what rules were in place to curb the spread of COVID-19; the rule of six, the two-metre rule, and so on.
And now, despite all restrictions having been lifted, such reminders still remain – except, there are no restrictions to remind us of. And so, the reminders simply state that there are no legal restrictions in place, as if anyone could forget.
This surmounts to a nation still mentally challenged by the last 18 months, unable to break free of its sheer obsession with daily figures, or the fear of things getting out of hand once again.
Cases are not low – yesterday, 23,510 people tested positive – nor are deaths, as 622 people died in the last seven days. But things are not as bad as they may seem.
Indeed, we must ask ourselves – do these figures equate to a significant disease burden? If 622 people died every week for an entire year, 32,444 people would die from COVID-19.
Of course, that is an extremely weak way to predict a potential yearly death toll from COVID-19. More would likely die in winter, though perhaps less would die in spring and summer, with there to be no artificial rise in cases in the immediate aftermath of a ‘Freedom Day’-style event.
Given that, on average, 30,000 people will die in a bad flu year, around 32,000-35,000 deaths would surely be an acceptable price to pay, right now, if it means we can continue to live our lives free from draconian restrictions?
This always seems like quite a harsh statement, and indeed a harsh trade-off. But as silly as it may seem to say, it needs saying – people die. People have died from COVID-19 and people will continue to die from COVID-19. People have died from other diseases and will continue to do so. It is something we simply must accept.
Vaccines will no doubt continue to save lives as uptake increases, and more prescriptive remedies will be developed, too. This means that in two or three years, yearly deaths from COVID-19 could average below 30,000. Chris Whitty himself stated that 25,000 deaths per year would be acceptable.
Seemingly, then, we are not far off that reality. So why all the panic? Why the continued obsession with daily rises and falls? The way certain people continue to treat the pandemic is no longer proportionate to the risk, especially in light of a recent report presented by scientist to MPs.
Speaking to the All-Party Parliamentary Group on COVID-19, Professor Andrew Pollard, member of the Oxford vaccine team, stated: “Anyone who is still unvaccinated will, at some point, meet the virus.”
“We don’t have anything that will stop transmission, so I think we are in a situation where herd immunity is not a possibility.”
Given this reality, Paul Hunter, Professor in Medicine at the University of East Anglia, also told the Parliamentary group: “We need to start moving away from just reporting infections, or just reporting positive cases admitted to hospital, to actually start reporting the number of people who are ill because of Covid.”
“Otherwise we are going to be frightening ourselves with very high numbers that actually don’t translate into disease burden.”
Pollard went on to argue that continued mass testing would create a false sense of danger and would ultimately lead to a perpetual [and unnecessary] cycle of vaccination.
And yet, as noted, vaccines are never going to eliminate transmission. If we constantly use positive cases as reasons to re-vaccinate, the cycle will never be broken.
Pollard states that testing needs to move towards ‘clinically driven testing in which people are willing to get tested and treated and managed, rather than lots of community testing’.
Of course, all of this is easier said than done, both practically and mentally. If we stop mass testing, we might lose sight of virus hotspots and therefore find it difficult to locate those seriously ill with COVID-19, making it harder to treat them.
It is also a big leap to make considering the scale of testing in this country for the last 12 months. At times, we have been testing one million people every day. It is a remarkable feat of science. Now, though, it is simply not necessary.
Vaccines will continue to play an important role in fighting COVID-19. They will, essentially, turn COVID-19 into a very mild illness for most who catch it.
I, for one, can attest to this. Despite being double-jabbed, I contracted COVID-19 a couple of weeks ago. For a couple of days, it felt as though I had jumped in a pool and accidentally snorted the water; I also lost my sense of smell and taste. Perhaps most interestingly, I developed a crippling obsession with Hugh Grant rom-coms from the 1990s.
Two weeks later, I am completely fine, back in the gym and no longer longing for the love Grant’s characters so easily found. Ultimately, the vaccine did its job: it neutralised COVID-19 and saved my life. It is worth noting that I am a type-one diabetic and asthmatic, seemingly more vulnerable.
The vaccines work better than we could have ever hoped. They are saving lives. Now, we need to take the next big leap – it is time to truly live with COVID-19.
The government is treading dangerously along the path of compulsory COVID-19 vaccinations in all but name – we must make our voices heard if it is to be stopped.
You might need a vaccination to go abroad, they said a couple of months ago. Then they said it might be necessary to attend large-scale gatherings, such as football matches or concerts. Now, you might need a COVID-19 vaccination to go to the pub. What might it be next? To obtain employment or God forbid, leave your home?
Though it may seem totally unfeasible that the government would mandate a ‘Stay At Home’ order solely for those who have refused vaccination, this is essentially what they would be doing by mandating vaccination in order to get back to the things we love.
And in doing so, the government would, effectively, be breaking the law – the Public Health (Control of Disease) Act 1984 specifically states that members of the public should not be compelled to undergo any mandatory medical treatment, including vaccinations.
Given what this nation, and this world, has endured for the last 12 months, would the sustained removal of one’s freedom not constitute compulsion? Ultimately, government powers would be coercing individuals into acting in a certain manner – removing one’s freedoms and changing the conditions upon which they are returned.
It could even be said that it would represent a violation of Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which grants an individual the right of respect for one’s ‘private life’.
Now, the ECHR also states an important exception: when it comes to the protection of public health. However, we have been repeatedly told by a whole raft of experts that a so-called ‘COVID-zero’ policy is not an option and that we would have to live with the virus once we have achieved herd immunity.
Given the policy of herd immunity [through vaccination], and what it offers, alongside the realistic acceptance that more lives will inevitably be lost due to COVID-19, the government cannot justifiably claim they are protecting public health by mandating vaccinations.
In fact, you could argue that they would be making it worse. The mental health implications would be huge – not only would a whole manner of individuals feel ostracised by their personal choice to refuse a vaccine but for many, merely knowing that they had no choice but to get a vaccine would have devastating consequences for one’s perception of freedom.
The results would not only be devastating for individuals but for our entire society. What we would be left with is an increasingly two-tiered society, one that not only creates new forms of discrimination but encourages and exacerbates existing ones.
It is well documented that there is a relative increase when it comes to vaccine hesitancy within ethnic-minority communities – though we absolutely need to communicate with such communities to encourage take-up, compelling vaccination through passports whilst aware of this existing discrepancy would ultimately represent a very real and damaging form of state-inflicted racial discrimination, which would inevitably spill over into the rest of society.
The government needs to stop treading along this path and really embrace what it means to live with the virus: vaccine passports would not represent living with COVID-19, it would mean changing the way we live because of it, and not for the better.
Two days ago, I had my first dose of the Oxford-AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine. This morning, I woke up with crocodile skin, a third leg and visions of Bill Gates tickling my feet at the end of my bed.
Right, now the anti-vaxxers are hooked, let’s get started.
I qualified for inoculation on the basis of my Type 1 Diabetes, which puts me in group six based on the JCVI’s recommended prioritisation for COVID-19 vaccination.
It was quite a nerve-wracking experience and initially, I am not really sure why – every year, I get the flu vaccine without problems, and I have had several other vaccines too.
After all, it is a totally new vaccine, the clinical trials for which ended just months ago. That is not to say that I, a meagre 21-year old politics student, is in any position to doubt the science – nonetheless, any slight apprehension is a natural human reaction.
No matter how ridiculous some of the theories out there are, as you wait in line, seconds away from being jabbed, you can’t help but think of what the maniacs pedal on social media.
“Shit, what if Bill Gates actually will be able to track me after this?”; “I am definitely going to have an anaphylactic shock” were some of the ones playing over in my head as I waited in line.
I quickly reminded myself that Bill Gates already tracks me and that I have never had an anaphylactic shock and went to get my jab.
The overall booking system was very slick – being in group six, I had to wait for my GP to contact me, rather than vice versa, which was initially frustrating.
Soon enough, though, I was contacted. Immediately, I began to run around my flat like Anton from Love Island screaming ‘I’ve got a text!!!!!!!!!’, whilst hoping that the vaccine wouldn’t give me a wandering eye.
I received my text on the Wednesday at 12pm and I was booked in for Saturday at 9am.
When I showed up at the vaccination centre, there was a queue of around 30 or 40 people, which moved very quickly. Two men were arguing in the queue, with one screaming ‘all you have done since I have been speaking to you, sir, is complain – there are thousands dead who would love to be in your position’.
God, I thought, it’s not even 9am on a Saturday, please leave it out. Why do us Britons love to argue?
Anyway, I was inside within 20 minutes. A helpful clerk inside informed me that my particular GP surgery [in Coventry] had been inoculating patients for around seven weeks, with just five GPs, and that they had carried out over 10,000 vaccinations already – that’s nearly 285 per doctor per week – impressive to say the least.
Then the doctor called my name. I went straight in and was asked some brief screening questions about allergies, medications and clarifying on what basis I was there. He explained some of the potential side effects and ten seconds later I had been jabbed.
And just like that, I had been given protection against COVID-19. I left the surgery and waited in the car for fifteen minutes [you can’t drive immediately after inoculation] and waited for my inevitable anaphylactic shock – to my avail, it never came. Happy days.
It was a good nine or ten hours before I started to experience any side effects and even then it was just a sore arm and some fatigue.
The fatigue eventually intensified, which was followed by about one or two hours of chills, and a horrible headache. By the morning, though, the majority had passed and for the rest of the day, it felt like a mild hangover.
Two days on, all side effects are gone, bar my sore arm. No facial drooping, no microchip – no seriously, I feel completely fine and it is a relief to have some protection against COVID-19, even if it takes several weeks and a further second dose for full protection.
The NHS is doing an incredible job at rolling out this vaccine, as well as the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine – if and when you are called up, I absolutely would recommend that you take the opportunity. The science shows it’s safe, it will protect you and others from illness, so why not?
He was meant to be the man, the Lord and Saviour, the man who could pull Labour back from the brink – dare I say it, the new Tony Blair. Nearly one year on, Keir Starmer’s Labour revolution has barely even begun.
Last April, Keir Starmer replaced one of the Labour party’s most controversial leaders ever, Jeremy Corbyn, after it suffered its worst electoral result in nearly one hundred years.
It was the 2019 General Election that saw Labour lose 60 seats, many of which were thought to be part of an indestructible ‘Red Wall’ – and yet, as in Westeros, the wall came crashing down.
Labour lost Birmingham Northfield, Wrexham, Bridgend – perhaps most shocking was the loss of Bolsover; this saw Parliament’s longest-serving MP, Dennis Skinner, lose his seat.
It truly was a shocking performance and there is no doubt that the party leadership had to change – it was not resonating with the public anymore. But why?
There are likely many reasons for Labour’s shocking performance. Perhaps the British public simply was not interested in a radical, left-wing government; the party had also been unforgivably slow and reluctant to deal with a vile anti-Semitism that had spread across the party.
However, this contradicts Corbyn & co’s success just two years earlier, when they forced Theresa May’s minority government into cahoots with the Northern Irish DUP.
Rather, it is abundantly clear that Labour’s historic defeat was largely defined by Britain’s issue of the day: Brexit.
Corbyn failed to clarify his stance during the 2016 referendum and then proceeded to vote against every single solution May’s government came up with. To this day I could not tell you what Corbyn wanted out of Brexit.
Of the 60 seats lost by Labour, all but eight voted to leave the European Union – that is 52 constituencies that looked at Labour’s dreadful Brexit stance [if you can even say they had one] and thought “I’m not having any of that”.
The eventual winner Boris Johnson, on the other hand, framed the 2019 GE as the second referendum Remainers had craved for so long. The results of this make-shift referendum were so conclusive that talk of an actual follow-up all but disappeared.
It is worth noting that Keir Starmer was a ferocious Remainer himself, and frequently called for a second referendum during his time as Shadow Brexit secretary.
So, given the huge role Brexit clearly played in the last election, was it really wise to respond to the nation’s decision to double-down on Brexit with somebody who does not believe in it at all?
Of course, Starmer would tell you now he wanted the ‘will of the people’ to be respected, but his prior behaviour clearly suggested otherwise.
To make matters worse for Starmer, Boris has since ‘Got Brexit Done’, achieving a deal that, at least on some level, has managed to appease most factions across the country: Remainers were relieved to see a deal, while hard-liners were happy to see us leave the single market and customs union.
But it would be lazy to pin Starmer’s troubles solely on Brexit – the reality is, it is no longer the nation’s biggest worry.
As well all know, the UK has been gripped in battle against the deadly COVID-19 virus for over one year, which has totally upended the normal political agenda.
Perennial debates about the economy, education and the state of welfare have not disappeared, but have been re-framed in the context of a global pandemic.
It’s no longer about improving education, it’s about getting kids into school safely; it’s not about who should get welfare, it’s about who isn’t being furloughed.
I am in no way suggesting that Starmer and his party should exploit a terrible situation in what would be a ruthless and maniacal attempt to move up the polls, but these are issues Labour have dealt with before, and frankly, they should be doing a much better job holding the government to account for its inexcusable mistakes.
The ground is ripe for opposition and we are in dire need of it: the UK has the third-highest per-capita death rate in the world and has experienced some of the worst case and hospitalisation rates across Western Europe. We lack a fully functioning test & trace system, as the UK government fails to provide indispensable support to those in need across the country.
And yet, the government has been given a fairly easy ride. That is because Starmer’s priority appears to be ‘one-upping’ the government, rather than dealing with the issues that so desperately need addressing.
A common criticism has been that Labour waits until it hears rumblings of a policy that the government is seemingly veering towards; it then calls on the government to do exactly what it is already planning to already do.
One recent example is the party’s suddenly extreme stance on the issue of border control; we have been in this pandemic over one year, with this particular issue being one of concern for some time now.
Despite this, it is only now that Labour are attempting to dominate the national discourse and lament the Tories for their lack of action – even more ironic, then, that Starmer was an avid Remainer.
Unsurprisingly, the government already plans to introduce ‘quarantine hotels’ for high-risk countries.
And then there is issue of schools. This is a very sensitive moral dilemma, the solution to which is by no means easy.
Right at the start of the year, Boris and his government were hammered by the national press for dithering and delaying on the issue of school closures. In a typical-timely manner, right at the last moment, Starmer urged to the government to close schools – just days later, the government did.
Now the party’s policy has changed again: vaccinate all teachers and open schools immediately – keep in mind, the country has not yet vaccinated everyone from the four most vulnerable groups. Not only this, but there would still be 17 million more people considered to be at high-risk of serious disease in need of vaccination.
The desire to vaccinate nearly one million people who work in schools would mean one million people with serious vulnerabilities not getting vaccinated and would almost certainly lead to unnecessary deaths.
It would be understandable if teachers were at serious risk of illness or death, but the profession sits in 12th for overall number of COVID-related deaths – with lorry drivers first, why is the focus not on giving them greater protection?
Starmer’s overall position on education perfectly encapsulates the party’s approach over the last year: wait until the right moment to criticise the government, claim they are holding it to account when it inevitably enacts a policy, and then wait for a new angle on the same issue.
Seemingly, the public see right through it: the latest YouGov/Times voting intention figures show the Conservatives on 39% (+1), gaining a lead over Labour, who are down on 38% (-1).
As for a recent Survation poll, Conservative voting intentions sit at 39%(-2), while Labour remains unchanged at 37% – even as the Tories drop, Labour do not gain.
The gap is respectable, perhaps even more so given the dismal outcome of the last General Election, but the trajectory is worrying and with this government, it should be doing much better.
In a recent interview we conducted with ‘The Kunts’, a satirical-punk band most famous for its recent song ‘Boris Johnson is Fucking Cunt’, Kunt, the main act, gave us a sense of what people across the country think of the Labour leader:
“When I look at Keir Starmer, I just see Tony Blair. He’s part of the system because he’s a “Sir” presiding over the Crown Prosecution Service when they chucked out the Jimmy Saville case. I’m not saying he’s personally responsible but it’s what he represents as a leader”
Starmer’s first year as Labour leader must be considered a failure. The party is failing to hold the government to account, it’s failing to win over the public and lacks any sort of general image or policy direction.
There are four years until the next General Election, so there is some time yet to shift the post-pandemic debate in Labour’s favour.
If the last 12 months are any indication, however, Keir Starmer has shown he is incapable of leading the Labour party.
Almost one year ago to the day, the first two cases of COVID-19 were detected in the UK. It was the positive test of two Chinese nationals on January 29th 2020 which marked the nation’s fight against the disease.
One year on, the UK’s fight against COVID-19 looks very different: since then, over 100,000 people have died, while over 3.6m have tested positive, as per the John Hopkins University.
We analyse the government’s performance over the last year, outlining five things it has got right, and five things it has got wrong.
Let’s focus on the negatives first.
Five things the government has got wrong:
I am not here to scream ‘LOCKDOWN’S DO NOT WORK!!!’ – I hate them as much as the rest of you. They are a disaster for the economy and for people’s health; however, they have been shown to be effective in bringing down cases and consequently, hospital admissions and deaths.
Whether the trade-off between COVID-19 and other health conditions, mental and physical, as well as the damage to economy is justified, will be saved for another article.
What we do know, however, is that all three of Britain’s lockdown’s have come too late.
The government’s initial lockdown advisor, Neil Ferguson, stated that locking down just seven days earlier in March may have halved deaths [granted, this is the same advisor who flouted his own recommendations mid-lockdown to stay over a woman’s house].
Yet, his point stands: the government’s persistence at delaying the inevitable is not an isolated incident; when cases started to rise again around mid-September, leader of the opposition Keir Starmer called for a two-week ‘firebreaker’ to be implemented around half-term week.
In avoiding the opportunity of half-term, Boris delayed the inevitable and ultimately plunged the country into a second national lockdown at the beginning of November.
This lockdown was in place for just four weeks. Cases had started to come down but by mid-December, they were on the rise once again.
What is different about this third national lockdown was the looming prospect of a COVID-Christmas: cases were rising at a commensurate rate, yet government policy still remained that up to three households could mix for five days over the festive period.
Just days before the government eventually reduced the period to one day and to only two households, Boris claimed that cancelling Christmas would be inhumane. And yet, Boris cancelled Christmas for many.
Unsurprisingly, cases surged and this was quickly reflected in hospital admissions. As things stand, the NHS is on the brink of being overwhelmed.
You cannot help but think that had the government acted sooner and more decisively over Christmas, the NHS would not have entered this place of panic. After all, the sooner cases come down, the sooner we can all be free from this horrendous situation.
No doubt, it is easy to look from afar and accuse the government of acting too slowly – we are talking about shutting down the entire nation. It’s certainly not an easy decision to make.
Exactly why Boris and his government have dithered and delayed is unknown. There are rumours around Westminster that Boris delays the inevitable in order to demonstrate his reluctance to more hard-line, anti-lockdown Tory MPs.
In this attempt, the government appears to have allowed this pandemic to be worse than what was necessary, with lives being lost in the process.
Another one of the government’s initial failures was testing. Again, as with the lockdowns, it is easier to sit from afar and scream about what the government should and could be doing.
But testing was far too slow and too meagre at the start of this pandemic. During the first wave, daily positive cases peaked at around 7,000. To put this into perspective, the highest daily case rate during the current wave is over 68,000. Can you imagine how many more cases would have been uncovered had testing capacity been in place?
It has also failed to properly utilise one of the greatest tool’s at its disposal: mass community testing. The mass testing pilot in Liverpool was deemed a success; indeed, case rates came right down and ultimately, it was one of the last region’s to remain in Tier 2 prior to the third national lockdown.
But why has this programme not become a national one? Why is it not now the gold standard? There are many logistical challenges associated with testing an entire region, with a large number of volunteers and much of the army needed.
Liverpool’s experience cannot be considered a total success, either: in particular, the government’s programme failed to reach young, digitally-excluded males, a group thought to be prominent spreaders of the virus.
All of this is bad enough on its own, but is made significantly worse by the UK’s ineffective track and trace system.
NHS track, trace & isolate
The government ultimately succeeded on getting testing capacity up [more on that below]. One thing it has simply failed to get on-lock is an effective test and trace system – the city of Leicester can attest to that.
As Leicester left the national lockdown with the rest of the country, cases continued to surge. This is no surprise given that just 53% of contacts are being traced within the national system.
As per Gian Volpicelli from WIRED, the city has since set up its own localised test and trace system. And the contract-tracing success rate? Over 90%.
This success is not only testament to the tireless work of local officials but exposes the ineffectiveness of the government’s own national test and trace system.
The NHS test & trace app has not been much of a success, either. Over ten million people have downloaded the app, which is well below what is needed for the system to work comprehensively.
Downloading the app is also entirely optional and users can simply ignore any notification ordering them to isolate.
At this stage of the game, COVID-zero is not a possibility and would not be achieved even with a fully-functioning test and trace system; however, it would serve to break chains of transmission and bring case rates under control as the vaccine roll-out continues.
And if a failing test and trace system is not enough to dishearten you, then the isolation system might: back in September, SAGE warned the government that just 20% of people who test positive for COVID-19 fully isolate for the full duration of their period. That is up to 80% of people knowingly leaving the house with COVID-19.
Some of those people are undoubtedly ignorant, underestimating the impact of the disease and how quickly it can spread to those with certain vulnerabilities. Others, however, seem to be left with little choice.
In particular, those on zero-hour and precarious work contracts who simply cannot afford self-isolation. For a large part of the pandemic, the self-isolation period was 14 days. – without a stable income, how are people meant to buy food or pay the bills?
The government states that those self-isolating should be given support from employers, but stops short of enforcing this support, or providing it themselves.
It is against the interest of the public and government policy to allow these systems to continue to fail.
You will have heard a lot about border control over the last few weeks. The fact that it has taken this long to dominate the public discourse is worrying enough, and it only highlights this gaping whole in the government’s policy.
It has come under greater scrutiny since the discovery of several significant COVID-19 variants across the globe, which pose a great threat to any vaccination roll-out programme.
It was only the start of this year when the government mandated that arrivals into the UK must provide proof of a negative test within 72 hours, a policy that has been adopted by many European nations for nearly six months – why have we waited until the variants are already here?
Self-isolation is also a requirement but it is rarely enforced – if people are coming into the UK without a test and without enforced isolation, how can we stop the importing of international variants? The answer is we cannot.
The UK government finally appears to be getting the message on border controls. We are expecting an announcement on the introduction of an Australian-style ‘quarantine hotel’ system for new arrivals in an effort to stop the introduction of even more variants.
This pro-Brexit government wanted greater border control powers – now, it needs to use them.
This is one of the most difficult issues for the government to navigate. Whatever stance the government takes, it’s damned if it does, it’s damned if it doesn’t.
This has been highlighted by Labour’s continuously-shifting stance on the issue during the last year. For months and months, the opposition called for schools to close as infections rates sky-rocketed. When schools did close, the government was accused of acting too late. Now they are closed, Labour is pushing the government to publish a plan for schools to re-open. When schools do open, there will no doubt be people arguing that it is too soon, some too late.
As a result, it is difficult to determine whether the government has failed in terms of timing. But it has undoubtedly not protected students or teachers enough. Testing systems should have been set up in schools throughout the summer in readiness for the new academic year.
Students, at least those in secondary school, should be able to access tests readily and without stigma in an environment they are comfortable with. It is entirely unreasonable to expect children and teenagers to social distance at all times, and so transmission is inevitable. If an effective testing system can be set up prior to students returning before schools return, a huge amount of transmission will be avoided.
University students have also been neglected during this pandemic. I have a bit of a personal bias with this one, but let me tell you what is going on first hand.
Back in the summer, students were told to come back to university – we were promised an overwhelmingly-normal student experience. Six months later, we are all stuck in our accommodation, paying unnecessary rent, with little-to-no access to study spaces and just three hours of poor-quality online seminars per week.
Any prospect of a refund looks bleak, just like our futures in education.
Now, for something a bit more positive [sorry, I really cannot help myself].
Five things the government has got right:
Yes, the government has experienced successes and failures in relation to testing. Although the government was undoubtedly slow at increasing test capacity, it has improved impressively since.
The UK’s testing capacity is the relative highest in the world and is still growing by the week. From January 7th to 14th, nearly three million people were tested, a 14% increase from the week before.
This is particularly impressive given that 2.3m vaccine doses were also administered during the same period – that is over five million actions taken to try and control this deadly virus.
If the government can turn around testing, it can turn around tracing – let’s hope it succeeds.
The Furlough Scheme
This might be a bit of a controversial one. I have said it myself – those with precarious employment contracts have not been supported enough.
But the reality is that the majority of people are not in informal employment and so a huge portion of the population will have benefited from this scheme.
Paying 80% of people’s wages comes at great cost to the state and although it is largely to be expected, it is generous compared to similar schemes in other European nations: France covers 70% of its workers salaries, while Germany covers 67%.
Unemployment has just hit 5% in the UK for the first time since 2016, so the furlough scheme has not saved every job – but, it was not expected to.
One thing the furlough scheme has exposed, however, is the UK government’s policy on sick pay. Workers in Sweden are entitled to sick pay is worth 80% of workers’ salary [the same as the UK’s furlough scheme] – for comparison, in UK sick pay sits at just £95,85 per week.
Given that a huge number of people knowingly go to work with COVID-19, the UK government seriously needs to re-consider its policy on sick pay, especially during a health crisis.
Disclaimer: the public should take the overwhelming majority of praise when it comes to compliance during the COVID-19 crisis. The government does deserve some praise, though.
The average level of compliance has remained stable throughout the crisis, sitting at just above 90%, with a small dip in summer.
Its messaging on the tier system is perhaps the most confusing and some of the rules are definitely too vague.
But the overall severity of its messaging relative to the risk that is posed has been, on the whole, a resounding success.
The governent’s use of word-play rivals that of a GCSE student in an English language exam: ‘Hands, Face, Space’; ‘Stay at Home, Protect the NHS, Save Lives’. These catch-all, memorable phrases are ingrained into the public psyche; when they are uttered by ministers, the public know exactly what to do.
Seemingly, the impact of messaging is huge and the overall level of compliance reflects the effectiveness of government messaging.
It is bad enough doing an article on the issue that everybody’s most sick of hearing about, but forcing in the second most despised issue is pretty shameless. Nonetheless, it is relevant to the UK’s COVID-19 response.
Another disclaimer: I am not a fan of Brexit. Yet, I accepted it as the UK’s reality long before many of the remainers who still think that Keir Starmer will save their European dream.
It was meant to be the nation’s biggest event of the 21st century. And yet, it does not even compare to the scale of the COVID-19 crisis. The two culminating at the exact same time could have been a total disaster for the government.
Though the COVID-19 response has been far from perfect, Boris did a very good job at navigating Brexit – it was in the public consciousness enough to be scrutinised, but not to detract from the ongoing public health crisis.
His deal also appears to have appeased large sections of both sides. Those who wanted a No-Deal were happy to see us leave the single market and customs union; those who wanted to remain are happy to see a deal; those wanting a soft-Brexit are probably most pleased.
Thankfully, to the surprise of absolutely nobody, Britain has not magically turned into a third-world country.
I am aware that I may be speaking too soon when it comes to vaccines. A lot could still go wrong and I do not want to doom the nation by jinxing anything. But, as things stand, the vaccine roll-out is going extremely well.
Well over 2.3m vaccines were administered last week, bringing the total to over 7 million. This means that 10.4 people have been vaccinated per 100 – by comparison, the highest in Europe is 5.4 [Malta].
There has been some criticism over the decision to delay people’s second dose of the Pfizer vaccine. I cannot say I am a science man, but the notion that a single dose of a vaccine could be rendered ineffective within three short months seems extremely unlikely.
Not only does this decision allow for a greater number of people to be vaccinated, it also buys manufacturers time to scale up production.
Which country is vaccinated first is not a competition, as the government seems to be presenting it, since the vaccination of the entire planet is in the interests of the UK.
But the UK is doing an excellent job at covering its own base first. Long may it continue.
Donald Trump has been banned from Twitter. Ponder that statement for a moment – are you really surprised?
Former reality TV star and businessman Donald Trump has been condemned back to the sidelines of politics after completing his final day in office.
The former US President did not go down without a fight, however, kicking and screaming his way out of the White House from the moment he lost the election to Joe Biden.
Immediately after the results were announced, Trump took to his infamous Twitter page to scream FAKE NEWS!!!! and claimed that the Democrats had orchestrated a mass assault on American democracy.
What started as a typical Trump tirade quickly turned into a fully-fledged legal battle: Georgia’s vote recount came back once again in favour of Biden, while US federal appeals courts in Pennsylvania & Wisconsin refused to even consider his case.
And then, up steps Twitter. As legal battles ensued, the social media platform marked any allegations of voter fraud by Trump with a disclaimer: ‘Some or all of the content shared in this Tweet is disputed and might be misleading about an election or other civic processes’.
Twitter has always had the power to silence its users and there are certainly good reasons for it. If somebody is spouting clear hatred, discrimination or inciting violence, Twitter can and should step in.
But the lines are becoming increasingly blurred, and interventions are becoming more common. Trump’s claims about voter fraud were disputed, but is it Twitter’s job to remind of us this? Not only this, is it Twitter’s job to determine what should and shouldn’t be highlighted?
This was just the start of Twitter’s war against Trump; ultimately, it was his comments prior to the Capitol Hill riots that allowed Twitter to deal its final blow.
Despite the harrowing scenes in Washington, Trump’s subsequent impeachment and Biden’s succession into office shows that America’s democratic institutions have stood firm. This only further highlights how unnecessary and worrying Twitter’s actions were.
Twitter’s CEO Jack Dorsey has defended his platform’s decision: “I believe this was the right decision for Twitter. Offline harm as a result of online speech is demonstrably real”.
The CEO did admit, however, that it could set a worrying precedent: “Having to take these decisions fragment the public. They divide the public…and sets a precedent I feel is dangerous: the power an individual or corporation has over a part of the global public conversation”.
Dorsey is right: his company’s decision to take the highly political decision to ban Trump will have consequences, especially as long as his platform decides to silence only certain perspectives.
To clarify, I am no fan of Donald Trump; his Presidency has been a disaster and has left the United States in an extremely precarious situation as ‘leader of the free world’.
It is becoming increasingly clear, however, that Twitter only feels this level of social responsibility when it comes to politics; not only this, but when it comes to opposing a given political agenda.
How can Twitter justify the removal of Trump when countless Chinese officials, undoubtedly involved in – or at least aware of – the persecution of Uyghur Muslims, continue to use the platform to deny that this persecution is taking place? Does Twitter draw the line at genocide?
Just yesterday, former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo declared on Twitter that ‘China is committing genocide and crimes against humanity…targeting Uyghur Muslims’.
In response, Chinese state-affiliated media took to Twitter to dispute the claims; Chen Weihua’s response was to celebrate the end of Pompeo’s tenure as the ‘Secretary of Disinformation’.
There is an overwhelming amount of evidence that corroborates Pompeo’s claims and government policies across the world are beginning to reflect this. So why has Weihua’s tweet not been disputed?
Surely the continued use of Twitter to deny China’s horrendous behaviour facilitates the continued persecution of Uyghur Muslims, as the Chinese government engages in a monumental effort to cover up its atrocities?
What may be even more worrying is that Twitter’s actions cannot be viewed in isolation. Other platforms quickly followed suit; Google, Facebook – even Pornhub. That’s right, Pornhub, the adult-porn site implicated in the trafficking of women now also feels a renewed sense of social responsibility.
Facebook’s decision to ban Trump is surely the most dubious. Let’s not forget, this is the same platform that facilitated Cambridge Analytica’s use of targeted data to influence Brexit referendum and the 2016 US Presidential election.
And yet, despite the inconsistencies, the giants of Silicon Valley do not draw the line at political figures – their censorship is something I have experienced myself.
It was one fateful Tuesday night, when I decided to tweet: “Let’s not forget the Chinese government is to blame for this pandemic”.
I will resist the desire to indulge in the full reasoning behind my tweet but given reports of whistle-blowers being silenced at the start of the COVID-19 outbreak, it is an issue I believe needed discussion.
Twitter, however, disagreed. I was subsequently banned from tweeting for over 12 hours, due to ‘offensive tweets’. I reached out to Twitter for a response, yet did not receive one – must I assume it was due to my anti-Chinese-government message?
It is this type of selective silencing that we should all be worried about; it isn’t just affecting politicians, but ordinary citizens as well. In 10, 20, 30 years, what will Twitter deem worthy of their wrath?
Ultimately, Trump was wrong about voter fraud and his comments prior to the Capitol Hill riot may still be classified as incitement, but the move by Twitter and its tech-allies sets a worrying precedent for our freedom of speech on social media.
This age-old ideal is fundamental to the health of any functioning democracy and Twitter’s actions demonstrate that our freedom of speech hangs on a knife edge. Nineteenth-century philosopher John Stuart Mill explains its importance better than anybody could hope to:
“The peculiar evil of silencing the expression of an opinion is, that it is robbing the human race…if the opinion is right, they are deprived of the opportunity of exchanging error for truth: if wrong, they lose, what is almost as great a benefit – the livelier impression of truth”
Social media platforms must realise that in their attempts to protect the public, they threaten the very ideals that uphold our democratic society.