Written by Rean Rehman
Photo by Medakit Ltd on Unsplash

(The following article reflects the writer’s own personal experiences and opinions.)

The UK Government’s COVID-19 pandemic response has been a mess to say the least.

Inaction at the wrong times, a lack of sense of urgency, embarrassing U-turns and a lack of preparedness overall amongst other factors have become facets of Prime Minister Boris Johnson and his government’s response to the coronavirus pandemic. One which has resulted in one of the world’s highest death rates by many metrics, Europe’s highest death roll not to mention untold damage to businesses, the economy and society overall.

Though in all fairness, in hindsight, many people can agree that things could have been done differently. But how could the government have handled COVID-19 better? Many things could have been done differently, perhaps the most important thing being preparedness.

The UK, like many other countries globally, was unprepared for the pandemic and it was inevitable that COVID-19 was going to spread in this country and cause tragedy and shock to people. But it didn’t have to be on the scale as it is now.

First of all during January and early February 2020 when Wuhan (the origin of the virus) went into lockdown and the virus began spreading globally, the country should have started to develop plans regarding testing and disease control and should’ve started to build an adequate testing system. The procurement of masks, ventilators, PPE & other items required, should have also been a priority. At least, we wouldn’t have had to spend millions and fly in hundreds of thousands of PPE from Turkey which turned out to be unsuitable for example as occurred in May 2020, or NHS workers wouldn’t have to use bin bags or aprons as occurred in the first wave.

And most importantly in late February 2020 when COVID-19 cases began to spring up across Europe and beyond, UK borders should have been shut down to anyone except UK citizens and permanent residents or those transporting cargo or those with specific and authority-issued exemptions. A policy that has been in place in nations such as Australia & New Zealand, both lauded for their pandemic responses. Those returning to the UK should have also been placed in mandated hotel quarantine for a minimum of two weeks in order to prevent isolated cases morphing into community transmission.

At that time, a well-organised and resourced testing system should have also been put into place based on plans that should have been made in January or early February. And a national lockdown should have been imposed a week or two earlier before when it was actually enacted, having been enacted on the 23rd March, a week later on average than other European nations including France which locked down on the 16th March and Spain which did so on the 14th.

The lockdown should have also been tougher in that permission forms should have been required for anyone leaving the house and that no one should have been allowed to leave or enter the country without good reason. Travel bans should’ve also continued even after the lockdown was lifted as evidence now shows that many coronavirus strains present in the UK in autumn when the second wave began, originated from areas such as Spain and other nations. As such, a draconian Australian-style external travel ban would have prevented such strains from garnering momentum in the country.

While a tougher lockdown and tougher restrictions would’ve been hard to stomach, such measures would’ve successfully quashed COVID cases even further in the first wave and as such, could have been primarily lifted earlier long-term, something which would’ve saved businesses and the economy from further damage in the long run as has unfortunately occurred now.

In my opinion, such measures could’ve significantly quashed the outbreak further and as such, infection and transmission levels would be a fraction at most of what they are now. In addition, measures such as workers returning to their places of work or university and school students going back to and attending universities and schools in autumn wouldn’t have led to another wave of infections. Nor would we have required two further lockdowns. And nor, would the mixing of families at Christmas & New Year time led to so many catching COVID and dying or fighting for their lives in overburdened hospitals.

Indeed, Chief Scientific Advisor Patrick Vallance said in March 2020 that if the UK were to suffer 20,000 COVID-19 deaths or under, it would be a ‘‘good outcome’’ and at that time, many including myself thought that number was way too high and were astonished that it would be considered a good outcome.

But looking at the numbers now, it would’ve been a much better outcome.

In all fairness however, most countries weren’t really prepared for COVID-19 and many paid the price for their failings. Let’s hope that if a pandemic strikes again (which I hope one doesn’t), things will be done differently.

Because a viral pandemic isn’t just a film like ‘‘Contagion,’’ if anything it’s all too real for all the bad reasons.