How a poorly organised government has revealed a selfish and ableist nation while contributing to the UK’s 41,000 death toll.
Six months since the UK’s first Covid case, the country is still reeling from the impacts of lockdown. But with contradictory guidance, vague advice and hundreds of new cases daily, the UK has failed in their response to Covid, putting thousands at risk while prioritising profit.
For the first few weeks of Covid-fear in the UK little seemed to change. Pubs, schools and shops remained open and other than people stockpiling toilet paper, soap and pasta, people largely went about as normal. Meanwhile, both Italy and Spain – who at the time had the highest death rate in Europe – had enforced national lockdowns to prevent further Covid cases.
In February, Boris Johnson missed five emergency meetings which were called to help tackle the virus. Alongside this, the UK government ignored scientific advice, delaying lockdown by weeks which ultimately led to deaths which could have been avoided. The UK seem to have created their own rules and guidance which doesn’t acknowledge scientific or health advice, posing why they are so confident in making up their own approach to this pandemic.
Recently face coverings have become mandatory in all shops and on public transport in the UK. While other countries have been enforcing facemasks for months, the UK was once again delayed in bringing in this safety measure. However, there remains some confusion among the public as people believe that, if they are effective, why wait this long to bring them in?
Above the rules
In April, the government came under scrutiny after Dominic Cummings travelled 200 miles to stay with family during a period when the general public was urged to stay home. It was during this time that people felt the government should be punished for breaking regulations in the same way other people would have been.
The lack of apology or acknowledgement of any wrongdoing by Cummings, or indeed Johnson, angered the public who felt there was ‘one rule for ordinary people and another for influential people’. Many people were expected to make sacrifices and ‘do [their] bit’ whilst government officials continued their lives undisturbed. This event made a mockery of the government’s guidance and led to people rebelling against the official advice provided.
Despite numerous national papers suggesting BLM protests would result in a rise of Covid cases, this has since been proven to be untrue, meanwhile, Cummings’ actions have proven to have affected the public’s actions. This event caused a significant loss of public confidence in regards to the government’s response to the pandemic. In the following weeks, there was a decline in people’s willingness to adhere to guidelines. Hiding behind the word ‘guidelines’, the government did little to ensure people were actively following their advice. The guidance was never heavily enforced and those breaking lockdown regulations largely went unpunished, resulting in more people doing as they pleased.
Throughout the pandemic, the advice given by Johnson and his advisors has not been clear. More than once the government has announced an approach and then later retracted their method. This has been true with herd immunity, lockdown, testing and socialising. Initially told to ‘stay safe’, this message was later altered to ‘stay alert’. While ‘stay safe’ was clear and self-explanatory, ‘stay alert’ seemed ambiguous, with only 30% of people understanding the new slogan compared to the 91% who understood the previous one. The confusion surrounding this changed perhaps played a role in people’s altered attitude towards coronavirus, impacting their actions and behaviours.
As the world has started to reopen, it is clear the motivating factor is money above all else. Thousands are continuing to miss therapy, attend doctors’ appointments alone and cannot return to work, while pubs and restaurants are welcoming customers. On top of this, the government is actively encouraging people to dine out with the Eat Out to Help Out scheme, aiming to maximise profit for businesses to help the economy.
Numerous restaurants are taking part, including fast food restaurants despite the recently announced anti-obesity campaign, resulting in backlash as people felt the government were providing further mixed messages about their true intentions. However, whilst the government are focusing on boosting the economy, multiple cities in the UK have ended up in local lockdowns, showing the pandemic is still a threat. Encouraging people to go out during a period of increased Covid cases and deaths is not the wisest move, providing the main concern is people’s health – but perhaps this is not the priority.
When Johnson first addressed the pandemic, the UK government’s plan was to tackle coronavirus by focusing on herd immunity. The idea was to expose people to the disease to create immunity as most people would only suffer a ‘mild illness’ so would be largely unaffected.
Groups classed as vulnerable were advised to shield for at least 12 weeks beginning in March, though some of the most vulnerable people continued shielding up until two weeks ago. But while vulnerable people continued to shield, pubs and shops opened up again meaning while some people hadn’t left the house for five months, others were able to enjoy a pint at their local.
The widely shared idea that ‘most people recover, and fatalities are largely only among those with underlying health conditions’ aimed to reassure the public. However, it also reinforced ableist views that disabled people’s lives are less valued than others. People have grown complacent with rules and guidelines as they are not worried about catching the virus. But this encourages the problematic idea that we are only responsible for ourselves leading to selfish attitudes from the people who are healthy.
In many ways the government has failed disabled and vulnerable people, almost forgetting their existence while continuing to reopen the world. The lack of compassion and care about other people during this time has proven the selfish nature of society whilst proving how apparent ableism is in our daily lives.
With poorly communicated advice and guidance, it is perhaps understandable why people have started to produce their own rules and safety procedures to follow. The general public has lost faith in the inconsistent leaders who are no longer focused on safety.
The UK government have failed in their response to Covid and thousands have died because of this. Although they couldn’t have handled the situation much worse, they definitely could have done a lot better. And, not for the first time, our government has blood on their hands.