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The Covid-19 Catastrophe

3rd July 2020

The Covid-19 Catastrophe by Richard Horton, a saga of incompetence and worse.

The Covid-19 Catastrophe

The Covid-19 Catastrophe is not the sort of book that we would normally cover on TripFiction. But we were sent a copy by the publisher and asked if we would review it. It is an indictment of the approach to the Covid-19 pandemic by Western democracies – especially the UK and the US..

Richard Horton is not just anyone. He is Editor in Chief of The Lancet, one of the UK’s most prestigious medical journals. He knows what he is talking about. And our editorial team wanted to offer his book a broader platform as it is something relevant to every human being.

Many thousands of lives have been lost because of the actions taken, or not taken, by governments. Western governments were woefully unprepared for what eventually hit them. News was coming out of Wuhan in January that this disease was very different, but the warnings were ignored. Governments felt it was going to be a ‘flu like epidemic, but it was nothing like ‘flu. They were complacent and they dithered. Despite warnings over the years, and significantly because of austerity measures following the financial crash of 2008, we were unprepared. PPE was in extremely short supply, and procurement efforts in the early part of this year were slow and lacklustre. In the UK, at press conferences in April and May, we were told that everyone on the front line who needed PPE had it – those telling us this were either disingenuous or deliberately misleading us. We were told governments were following the science, but there were many different scientific opinions out there. In the UK (despite later government denials…) we started off following a policy of herd immunity. It was only when quite horrific death rate forecasts emerged, that this policy was dropped, We also now hear the importance of Track and Trace. But back in April, Jenny Harries (Deputy Chief Medical Officer for England) said that testing was not for the UK – despite the very clear evidence that it was keeping the pandemic much more under control in South Korea, Taiwan, and other Asian nations. The UK was extremely slow off the mark. Yes, the Asian countries had the experience of SARS to draw on but Western countries could also have learnt from their experience. Only really Germany in Europe seems to have got it right – there were disasters in Italy, France, and Spain… as well as in the UK.

The US also sadly provides a very clear lesson on what not to do. Trump gave very mixed, very confused and very confusing messages from Day 1. And he very clearly (and unfairly according to Richard) blamed China for not being open with the world. There was no national policy in the US. Lockdown regulations came in state by state. Democratic governors, such as Andrew Cuomo in New York, took a very hard line and took it early. Many of his Republican counterparts were much more relaxed in imposing lockdown, and many lifted restrictions much more quickly. The consequences of this are perhaps now (as I write) being seen quite clearly in states like Texas or Florida where cases are again rising. The argument between civil liberty and the common good is a fine one… and has not been helped by the fact that trust in government in many Western democracies has been very much weakened. People do not believe what they are told (and very often with good reasons)…The citizens of countries in Asia do much more ‘as they are told’ – and the consequence has been lower infection rates and faster recovery.

Finally to quote from the conclusions at the end of Richard’s book:

‘Covid-19 is not an event. Instead it has defined the beginning of a new epoch. It took a virus to connect us in life and in death. We understand now, I think, our extraordinary interdependence and unity as a species. Yet our world is organised and ordered by separation, by partition – countries and continents, languages and faiths, political systems and ideological allegiances.

We surely have to use this occasion to resist and challenge the past mood for estrangement and prejudice. We have to use this time for solidarity, for mutual respect and mutual concern. My health depends on your health. 

Richard says there will inevitably be further global pandemics. The big question is whether we will have learnt any lessons and whether we will be ready for them. The jury is out.

The Covid-19 Catastrophe is a very sobering read.

Tony for the TripFiction team

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