BECAUSE the government waited so long before imposing a national lockdown on 31 October, large numbers of people will continue to die of coronavirus up into December.
Delay in lockdown in March, resulted in an estimated 20,000 lives lost in the first wave. Now the government has delayed again in the second wave – and created a colossal and unforgiveable catastrophe.
Seven official coronavirus press conferences have been held at random intervals from the start of September- on the 9, 21, 22 and 30 September, and the 12, 16, 20 October. At these, the Prime Minister (PM) or government officials drew attention to the rising numbers of coronavirus cases, climbing death rates and, latterly, climbing hospital admissions, yet the PM only recommended moderate mitigations.
At the same time, the government failed to organise a proper NHS Find, Test, Trace, Isolate and Support system.
Instead £12bn has been handed to private sector companies, whose ineffective, slow, centralised system, using ‘Lighthouse labs’ instead of NHS structures, has hugely contributed to the spread of the virus.
Government measures started with the ‘rule of six’; and progressed to advice to work from home, and more fines, Covid Marshalls and greater police presence with army back-up; then to putting different regions in tiers of rising alert levels requiring more restrictions.
We were told that a further national lockdown was an ‘economic disaster,’ and like a ‘nuclear deterrent’.
But on Saturday 31 October, at a hastily arranged press conference, there was a sudden U-turn.
The PM, Chief Medical Officer Prof Whitty, and Chief Scientific Adviser Sir Patrick Vallance gave evidence that infection rates were rising so much, that the health service would be overwhelmed by mid-December, because of far higher death rates than at the peak of the first wave.
There were over 1,000 deaths a day for 22 days in April.
A four-week national lockdown starting on Thursday 5 November, and ending on 2 December, was announced, following which Parliament would decide how to proceed.
Whitty said that Covid infection rates were rising all over the country, more quickly in the north, affecting all ages, and spreading across from the younger age groups to the older people.
Vallance quoted some projections from the experts on the SAGE (Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies) modelling subcommittees, which predicted that hospital admissions were rising at such a rate that the hospitals would be fuller of Covid patients than they were in March/April, and exceed the ‘surge capacity’ of NHS hospitals.
A slide from the Public Health England/Cambridge group showed that Covid deaths could reach 4,000 per day by mid-December.
Johnson made a moving speech.
He referred to ‘models, as you’ve just seen, now suggest that unless we act we could see deaths in this country running at several thousand a day – a peak of mortality, alas far bigger than the one we saw in April.
‘Even in the South West, where incidence was so low, and still is low, it is now clear that current projections mean they will run out of hospital capacity in a matter of weeks unless we act.
‘And let me explain why the overrunning of the NHS would be a moral and medical disaster beyond the raw loss of life.
‘Because the huge exponential growth in the number of patients – by no means all of them elderly by the way – would mean that doctors and nurses would be forced to choose which patients to treat – who would get oxygen and who wouldn’t; who would live and who would die.
‘And doctors and nurses would be forced to choose between saving Covid patients and non-Covid patients.
‘And the sheer weight of Covid demand would mean depriving tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of non- Covid patients of the care they need … And if we let the lines on those graphs grow in the way they could and in the way they’re projected to grow, then the risk is that for the first time in our lives, the NHS will not be there for us and for our families.’
These warnings are completely relevant. But he omitted to say that this scenario already happened.
In the first wave of the pandemic in the spring, the NHS was NOT there for us and our families.
Millions of people were precisely ‘deprived of the care they needed’.
So this was not ‘the first time in our lives’.
This would be the second time in our lives, as the NHS was overwhelmed in the first wave, and millions of people did not receive cancer treatments and screening and emergency care for heart attacks and strokes, and GP and hospital appointments.
His government is therefore responsible for the ‘moral and medical disaster beyond raw loss of life’, caused by the ‘overrunning of the NHS’ already, in the spring and again facing us this winter.
Not to mention the reckless cuts to NHS beds, and staff and reconfigurations and outsourcings, consequent on Tory policies since 2010.
On 31 October, daily new coronavirus cases in the UK increased by 21,915, deaths by 326, and new hospital admissions by 1,442, and Covid hospitalisations reached 10,918 patients.
The government at last decided to adopt the so- called ‘nuclear’ option of national lockdown after all.
MPs wanted to know the reason for this massive change in direction.
MPs were taken by surprise, as were many of the public.
They were extremely suspicious of the data presented on 31 October, prompting former PM, Theresa May to call it ‘dodgy data’.
They were even more concerned when Penny Mordaunt, paymaster general, told Parliament that cases would inevitably rise after restrictions were lifted, and that ‘some scientists expect a third or more waves of the virus to be managed with repeat lockdowns’.
Prof Whitty and others were called upon to convince the Commons Science and Technology Committee of the seriousness of the situation, ahead of the vote on Wednesday 4 November.
He said: ‘I think reaching a peak as was reached in April strikes me as an entirely a realistic situation.’ And he warned that 1,000 deaths a day would put pressure on the NHS.
The new lockdown measures were voted through in parliament by 516 votes to 38, the Labour Party voting with the government.
The reason for MPs’ ignorance lies with the Department of Health and Social care (DHSC), NHSEngland (NHSE)and Public Health England (PHE), which have adopted a policy of secrecy from the start.
They have not been making the latest Covid data easily accessible to the public. The minutes of the SAGE committee meetings are secret, till published weeks later.
Every winter, there is a struggle to find out how full the hospitals are and where there have been critical alerts, with hospitals overwhelmed by patient admissions, and with the DHSC reluctant to publish.
Even the National Statistics Authority criticised ministers over their use of data and predictions.
Those scientists who have been warning since early September that a full lockdown was urgent were ignored, and the polite calls for this by the Labour Party were rudely rebuffed.
On 5 November, as the lockdown commenced, the government grabbed the shadowy head of NHSE, Sir Simon Stevens in a joint Johnson/Stevens press conference to explain again why it was necessary.
Stevens said the second spike was ‘real and serious. This is not speculation, this is fact.’
He produced one chart which showed the crisis in visual terms – the daily inexorable increase in hospitalisations of Covid patients.
Hospitalisations of Covid patients rose from less than 500 in-patients at the start of September, to 2,000 at the start of October rising to 11,500 at the start of November.
This represented ‘22 hospitals-worth’ of coronavirus patients, and put huge pressure on the NHS, he said.
Rising infection rates automatically translate into higher hospital admissions and deaths within a few weeks.
The phrase ‘baked in’ is used to describe the inevitability of more Covid deaths in December, because of the swelling infection rates in October and early November.
Stevens pointed out that already hospitals in Liverpool, Nottingham, Yorkshire and Plymouth are cancelling elective surgery because of the need to admit rising numbers of Covid patients.
However, scores more hospitals are similarly affected, including in Birmingham and the Midlands, Lincolnshire, Greater Manchester and Staffordshire.
The new vaccine is a ‘great scientific development but cannot help with the second wave,’ said Prof Stephen Powis, Medical director of NHSE, at yet another press conference on 11 November.
On 12 November, the officially reported coronavirus death numbers in patients with a positive test in the UK reached over 50,000, one of the highest levels in Europe. Excess deaths, over and above normal levels, exceed 70,000.
As of 13 November, the number of Covid deaths is doubling every two weeks. The number of hospitalisations nationally is two thirds of the April peak.
On 13 November, the PM’s top adviser, Dominic Cummings, walked out of Number 10.
The inner tensions inside the top levels of government have led to an explosion. Not the least part of this has been caused by government’s reckless mismanagement of the coronavirus pandemic.
The drive for profit is prioritised over the health and wellbeing of the public. Honest scientists are ignored.
As the deaths continue to mount over the next weeks, the Covid earthquake will continue to rock this government. Workers faced with mass unemployment and poverty are not going to stand for this destruction of the NHS.
A workers government and socialist policies are urgently needed.