In an otherwise exemplary catalogue of government errors in response to the pandemic, it is astonishing that Devi Sridhar omitted the most heinous of all: the absence of protection for care homes (Here are five ways the government could have avoided 100,000 Covid deaths, 27 January).
As a result of this catastrophic error, more than 26,000 people have died needlessly – a quarter of the total deaths and eight times the equivalent death rate in Germany. Moreover, two distinct waves of the virus have been allowed to sweep through care homes, with no sign of any lessons being learned from the first wave.
No account of the UK’s appalling death rate can ever be complete without addressing the question of why the government failed so abysmally to shield its frailest and most vulnerable citizens, all of whom could not protect themselves.
Professor of social policy, University of Sheffield
• Boris Johnson’s government must indeed take responsibility for its many errors in handling the Covid pandemic. A further disastrous misjudgment, which is now seldom referred to, took place even before the virus struck. In the summer of 2019, days after becoming prime minister, Boris Johnson scrapped the cabinet pandemic committee, more properly called the threats, hazards, resilience and contingency committee (THRCC). He did this on the advice of the cabinet secretary, Sir Mark Sedwill, so that civil servants and ministers could focus their energies on Brexit. A Home Office report in July 2018 had said that THRCC was at the heart of protecting the country from a pandemic. Clearly Johnson had other priorities.
• The UK’s Covid death toll can also be attributed to six pre-Covid factors, all down to government: underresourcing the NHS; neglect of training UK staff and reliance on foreign recruitment; failure to foster a healthier population so that our lifespan was already dropping; systemic inequality and widespread poverty; doctrinal preference against both local government and proper consultation and for short-termism and outsourcing; ignoring lessons from preparedness studies.
• The cause of the massive number of deaths is down to 10 years of unfettered Conservative ideology. We should blame Boris Johnson but not forget: 10 years of underinvestment in the NHS and the growth in privatisation to mask this fact; the end of bursaries for nurses; the total failure to put in place appropriate measures after operation Cygnus in 2016; and, most importantly, George Osborne’s austerity policy, without which many more families would now be better able to beat Covid.
• One of the things that sickens me most about Boris Johnson’s hypocrisy is his unfailing eye for a photo opportunity – sleeves rolled up ready for action (as in the picture illustrating Devi Sridhar’s article in Thursday’s paper), delivering vaccines and posing in hospital PPE. When will we see him digging graves?
• I was very moved by Sarah Dodd’s piece about the devastating effect Covid has had on her family (‘We’re expendable’: my father died with Covid after four-hour wait for ambulance, 27 January). Each time I am slightly inclined to cut Boris Johnson and his cabinet some slack, thinking they are in a difficult situation, I will return to her piece, which states so eloquently the failings of this terrible government, which has consistently put the economy and its own comfort before people’s lives, demonstrating a gross failure to learn from its mistakes.
The total failure of the outsourced test-and-trace system, imposing proper quarantine, etc, but worst of all the devastating consequences for families nationwide, will haunt us for generations to come.