Monday, 21 February 2022

Moments of pride


Apparently, Boris Johnson will tell the world today that lifting all Covid restrictions in England this week is a “moment of pride”, although scientists and health experts, to say nothing of opposition politicians, are using rather different descriptions, such as “reckless”, “dangerous”, and “premature”. It’s what happens when the political need to buy off his own backbenchers takes precedence over the need to protect the lives of citizens.

Part of the argument is that Covid is now no worse a disease than seasonal flu, in terms of the numbers of people becoming seriously ill or dying as a result of catching it – and we don’t take drastic measures to protect ourselves from seasonal flu, do we? Whilst true, as far as it goes, it is confusing the ordinary seasonal flu which comes around every year with the sort of pandemic seen much more rarely. A more accurate comparison would be with the actions which we would take if a pandemic such as that of 1918 were to hit, when it is highly likely that we would indeed take precautions to try and control the spread. In short, it’s not the death rate per million cases which determines whether action is required, but the sheer number of infections. On that measure, the pandemic is far from over, and Johnson’s proposals for ‘living with Covid’ amount to a proposal that between 1000 and 2000 people per week will die with Covid, and that the most vulnerable will bear the brunt. The idea that mask-wearing is a matter of personal choice and responsibility is all very well if the primary purpose of wearing a mask is to protect the wearer, but it isn’t; it’s about protecting those around the wearer. Allowing people that personal choice is tantamount to treating the infection of other people as some sort of human right.

Here in Wales, there is increasing pressure on the government to follow the UK’s lead, particularly from the Tories. They are actually right to argue that having a common set of rules makes life less complex (although having a common set of rules over a wider area, such as Europe, is apparently a very bad idea), but the result is that, for them, a ‘common set of rules’ amounts to ‘following England’, no matter how reckless decisions taken in London may be, and no matter how little London consults before announcing changes. Prioritising ‘all doing the same thing’ over thinking about what the ‘best’ approach might be is prioritising unionist ideology over public health. A more imaginative approach would be to treat the way in which the four administrations have varied their actions (even to the very limited extent to which that has been possible) as a means of examining which policies have the best outcomes. Devolved decision-making in the face of a novel threat could teach us all lessons for the future, when other pandemics appear, and be a positive advantage rather than a disadvantage. A 'moment of pride', even. The problem, though, lies in the word ‘imaginative’; it’s simply not a word which can be applied to the ‘Welsh’ Tories.

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