Counting the cost of the UK’s Covid failures | Letters

Jeremy Cushing on the tragic consequences of the pandemic response, Prof W Richard Bowen on the need for more scientifically educated politicians, Joseph Palley on England’s excess deaths, and Betty Cairns on how the dead are being remembered in Italy

I was left confused by Devi Sridhar’s article (The northern lockdown represents government failure. There is a better way, 31 July). She urged the adoption of “an objective with a timeline, forming a gameplan, appointing a high-level official to oversee things”, but none of these have any specific content. The content, far from reflecting the title, actually suggests a localised approach. Insofar as I detected any recommendations, they were to use “a robust testing and tracing system” and local expertise. These are ideas being widely shared, and show that our government has adopted almost the opposite approach, starving local authorities of information and resources in favour of corporations. The government has refrained from testing at the UK border, which other countries have made standard.

It brings us back to the basic nature of this government – distrust of the public sector, tight centralisation, poverty-stricken government agencies and overall incompetence, with leadership confined to those unquestioningly loyal to the prime minister. The similarities between our government and Donald Trump’s are many and the result the same – large numbers of people dying.
Jeremy Cushing
Exeter

• Sir Paul Nurse rightly laments the inept use of science by politicians (Secrecy has harmed UK government’s response to Covid-19 crisis, says top scientist, 2 August). There is a dearth of appropriate education and experience at the highest levels. Not one of the politicians purportedly leading the response has a degree-level qualification in medicine, science or engineering. Of the members of the UK, Welsh and Scottish cabinets, and the Northern Ireland executive (56 individuals in total), none have such a medical qualification and only three have qualifications in science or engineering. So it is unlikely that they will be able to critically assess expert advice.

The ineptitude of politicians in responding to scientific challenges is also seen in the handling of climate change, transport (HS2) and communications (5G). Given the central role that medicine, engineering and science have in key societal issues, it is surely time to launch an initiative to encourage such professionals to take an active role in politics.
Prof W Richard Bowen
Newton, Swansea

• Edward Morgan of the Office for National Statistics observes that “excess mortality was geographically widespread throughout the UK during the pandemic, whereas it was more geographically localised in most countries of western Europe” (Covid-19: England had highest excess death levels in Europe by end of May, 30 July). It’s striking, for example, that in Italy the first wave of Covid-19 did not spread in large numbers from the highly infected north to Rome and the south, and similarly in Spain. What did England do differently? A late lockdown, a refusal to close borders, no quarantine for international arrivals until June. None of the explanations – toying with herd immunity, prioritising the economy over public health – cast a positive light on Boris Johnson.
Joseph Palley
Richmond, London

• Nesrine Malik (A nation mourns its Covid-19 dead. But for Boris Johnson it’s a time for triumphalism, 3 August) rightly highlights the lack of acknowledgment of the thousands who have died. Contrast Italy. On 4 September, Verdi’s Requiem will be played in Milan’s Duomo cathedral in remembrance, and relayed to all churches and TV stations. There will be repeat performances in Brescia and Bergamo, where loss of life was heaviest. On 12 September, the La Scala opera house in Milan will stage a special performance of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony for health workers. Beats a one-minute silence dragged from a reluctant government.
Betty Cairns
London

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