In Britain right now — and also for the next two years if current estimates are correct — the UK Government’s public inquiry into the Covid-19 pandemic is underway.
The mandate given to Lady Baroness Hallett and her team is to report on how Britain responded to the greatest challenge to the nation since the end of the Second World War, what went right and, critically, what went wrong — and to recommend fixes for any failures that occurred.
To put this in context, it’s important to remember that the UK had one of the highest deaths from coronavirus anywhere in the world. Looking back at those dark days, it’s important to remember that more than 175,000 people died from the virus by the time former Prime minister Boris Johnson left office.
And that sheer number of victims means that the actions of his cabinet and officials are being very carefully scrutinised by the families and friends of each of those victims.
A more modern nation
Simply put, there’s nowhere to hide. If you were watching the live feed of the latest module of the inquiry over the past week, where Johnson’s former top aide was explaining his take on how 10 Downing Street reacted to the intensifying crisis, you could not help to be appalled.
Dominic Cummings was the mastermind behind the successful election campaign to take the UK out of the European Union. On the basis of that success, Cummings became Johnson’s right hand man, the man who would shake up Downing Street and the British Government and get it in the frame of mind to negotiate with Brussels and build a more modern nation outside of the regulatory framework of the EU.
That was the theory at least.
Instead, no sooner had Britain cut its economic ties with its continental partners after 45 years than the first stirring of coronavirus began to emerge from Wuhan. Of course, no one knew back then what was to unfold, and governments the world over were forced to rethink and react as never before. Some did well. Sore rose to the challenge. We all learnt the mantra of hands, face and space, and altered our lives and behaviour as never before in the face of the challenges and dangers of the virus.
Pile of unfinished work
Sadly, to misquote Winston Churchill, never before in the field of human endeavour has so much been messed up by so few.
At one stage, Johnson reasoned that it might be a good thing if the coronavirus spread among the elderly. It’s a thinking that defies logic, and one that has further appalled already deeply appalled Covid relatives’ groups.
The crisis certainly seemed to be no period of great national unity. Instead, science and public health officials faced a government that acted like a weather vane, blowing where the wind of the day from Johnson and others blew at any given time.
Matt Hancock, the former Health Minister, was written off for being dishonest with the truth, and the government itself did simply not believe appeals from medial and administrative staff in the National Health Service that it was at breaking point.
So why did more than 175,000 die and why was that per capita rate so poor in Europe and among the G7 nations. Poorer people, living in lower-quality housing in greater numbers, were susceptible to the spread.
So too were areas that has suffered economic deprivation and had carried the great share of government cuts to public services from the austerity policies brought in by former Prime Minister David Cameron and his Chancellor, George Osborne beginning in 2010.
Now, 13 years on, those public services are still grossly underfunded — cities and towns face staggering levels of debt in keeping their underfunded policing, education and social services functioning — and the NHS remains critically underfunded.
The NHS still faces a huge backlog as a result of the pandemic, and because its doctors, nurses, ambulance drivers and support staff were so poorly treated over these past 13 years, the backlogs have only intensified because of their strikes for higher pay and better conditions.
During the pandemic, every Thursday at 8pm, Britons would stand on their door steps — yes Johnson too outside 10 Downing Street — to honour those NHS staff who did so much with so little for so many.
Knowing now what we do, it all seems so terribly insincere. Frankly, as new testimony enters the record on how the government behaved, I think a lot of Britons will be quietly surprised that the death toll never surpassed the 200,000 milestone. How we got so lucky I’ll never know.