The UK government's woeful response to the coronavirus outbreak | Letters

Guardian readers lament Boris Johnson’s failure to grasp the scale of the crisis, which was foreshadowed by cuts to the NHS and public services

I could not agree more with Richard Horton (Scientists have been sounding the alarm on coronavirus for months. Why did Britain fail to act?, 18 March). Watching from 6,000 miles away and on the other side of the coronavirus curve, the British government’s actions over the last week have been almost impossible to take in.

Thousands, tens of thousands, or hundreds of thousands of deaths predicted in the UK? South Korea, China, Japan, and Taiwan have a combined population about 24 times the UK’s, had less warning, and have recorded fewer than 3,500 deaths between them (WHO situation report, 18 March).

Many months in a state of economically devastating shutdown? With extensive testing and contact tracing now in place, life is moving back towards normal here in China after less than two months. The other countries mentioned above never shut down to the same extent in the first place.

The British government has given every impression of not being aware by what means, nor how successfully, the coronavirus has to date been contained around us in east Asia, concerns in the press about Japan’s testing rate notwithstanding. It’s baffling. I wasn’t expecting to worry about my older relatives and friends back home in the UK.
Adrian Rowland
Shenzhen, China

• As the editor of a leading medical journal, Richard Horton has to pull his political punches, but it is probably as clear to him as to others that this is a government out of its depth, with little idea of social security or public health. Having dismantled both so effectively in the past decade, how could it have any respect for these assets?

Almost exactly 80 years ago, facing the threat of annihilation, the Tories and Labour joined forces to create a national government, which lasted until the end of the war. That is what should happen now, including representatives of all political parties.
Dr Sebastian Kraemer

• In the light of the articles by Aditya Chakrabortty (Opinion, 18 March; he writes that “Johnson’s team are masters of the three-word slogan”) and Richard Horton (suggesting that the science has not changed), perhaps the three-word slogan to describe the actions of the government so far is “let them die”. At least Marie Antoinette allowed cake to be consumed, showing perhaps greater intelligence and compassion than our ministers.

With three aged relatives under our care, as well as a vulnerable daughter, we have long since been following guidance from sources other than the government. We fail to see how any of the financial measures being introduced will help to support any of the smaller businesses and entrepreneurs, on whose existence people depend for employment. Let us hope that better minds and leaders will surface to help us out of this crisis.
David McLaughlin
Kingston-upon-Thames, Surrey

• As one headless chicken moment follows another, it is like a rerun of the utterly useless Chamberlain government of 1940, but without Churchill waiting in the wings.
Michael Grainger
St Albans, Hertfordshire

• Richard Horton has rightly excoriated Britain’s chief scientific advisers for their catastrophic mishandling of the coronavirus epidemic. I was a scientific expert once, and the one thing you know for sure is that you don’t know all the answers in complex situations. I could be in the hot seat during simulation exercises to decide what action to take when, for example, a massive leak had created a radioactive cloud moving towards an urban area.

Even in a simulation, it’s still terrifying when you have to make decisions that might, if wrong, result in thousands of avoidable deaths. You would never ignore all the accumulated knowledge for how best to deal with just such a situation and recommend a different response that had never been tried before. That just this has happened reveals a fundamental lack of good process at the top of government, where alternative views are either not sought or are rejected out of hand. The stables must be cleaned before the next emergency.
Dr Bruce Tofield

• The government has a goal of 25,000 coronavirus tests a day. This is not an effective use of resources. The attempt to contain the virus has failed. We need to stop chasing after the problem and get ahead of it instead. There is an urgent need for an antibody test that can tell if a person has had the virus and is immune to it. Such people, if well, can then go back to work and keep the country functioning. The current policy of isolation of positive testers merely leads to total shutdown.
Dr David Richardson
Retired GP, Sutton Coldfield, West Midlands

• On the day China announces there are no new cases of coronavirus, the UK government’s chief medical adviser still tells us that if social distancing measures are done “too early” there is “almost an immeasurable impact on the epidemic” (Politics live blog, 19 March). If China had acted just one week earlier it would have reduced its cases by 66%. Now is not the time to continue defending a bankrupt theory that the World Health Organization termed wrong and dangerous. The government needs to follow its advice on effective measures without delay.
Professor Greg Philo
Glasgow University

• David Edgerton’s article (When it comes to national emergencies, Britain has a tradition of cold calculation, 17 March) gives a chilling account of the British government’s “willingness to preside over catastrophic losses of life” during second world war bombing and nuclear tensions in the 1950s. It could also be described as a callous willingness to sacrifice ordinary people and avoid expense to the moneyed classes. Could this reflex account for the UK’s painfully slow and seemingly grudging steps in tackling Covid-19? Testing all suspected cases and closing businesses and schools are expensive measures. There was much less hesitation in bailing out financial institutions in 2008.
Scott Wilson
St Andrews, Fife

• It’s a bit rich having to read a Conservative government full-page advert (Guardian print edition, 17 March) which says “protect yourself, others and the NHS” after these very people have spent a decade in their ideological drive to cut and privatise our health and social care services.

It’s quite clear that Boris Johnson and his ministers now realise that our health service, which their party has decimated, will have a hard job coping with this crisis. That’s why we get the nonsense of “delaying and flattening the curve” and achieving “herd immunity” through a Darwinian selection of the fittest.

The answer is clear, and it’s testing, testing and more testing, as the World Health Organisation argues. But because of cuts we not only have just a third of the intensive care beds that Germany has, we now don’t have the testing kit or respirators needed, and we don’t produce them either. Meanwhile medical professionals go unprotected as they treat us.
Dave Green

The GuardianTramp

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