Pandemic

Subject: The Caronavirus Pandemic
Original: April 2020
Revised:
Author: Mark Collins
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To date more than 20,000 people have died in the UK, hundreds of thousands affected and the economy has taken a staggering blow which, on top of Brexit and the 2008 financial crash, will leave a legacy we are unlikely to be able to recover from without a global initiative to reinvigorate and rebuild the economy.

Should we have seen this coming? Is it reasonable to expect that our political and administrative leaders would put in place plans, strategies and contingencies for just such an event?

The likelihood of a global pandemic was undoubtedly seen as very remote; a risk worth taking in today’s constrained times. However unlikely though, the consequences are massive and I think we as citizens of this country, have a right to expect the Government to have in place a proper plan for coping which could be put into action immediately the threat is identified. There is no doubt this has not happened. The Government has been caught out and has been forced to think on its feet on a day to day basis, reacting to the situation and battling to keep up with changing circumstances.

We should have had contingency plans in place. A proper, well developed strategy with very clear actions and objectives and in some cases at least, with supplies of vital resources available and stored. We should have made sure we were in a position to provide for ourselves the main things we would need and to do so quickly. Making sure the NHS and care homes had the PPE it would need, the drugs, ventilators etc that could be provided promptly and all the necessary initiatives we needed swung into action quickly.

In 2014 Barack Obama made an impassioned speech imploring the world to make preparations for a global pandemic after SARS, N1H1 and Ebola. He understood it was likely to happen and the consequences would be profoundly serious indeed. The measures he put in place in the US were largely dismantled by President Trump and because of this, the US will face a very heavy death toll and a huge impact to its economy.

Politics

Recently I have been shocked that even this Government has resorted to blatant politicking in these challenging times. Priti Patel declared that crime figures were down as if this was an achievement of the Government and not just a consequence of everyone being at home and all the shops being closed.

This brought into fast focus the fact that for our response to the pandemic the last thing we need is a politician. After all, politics is all they know and just at the moment that is the last thing we need. We need experts in epidemiology, logistics, communication, psychology, finance, business etc and we need them coordinated with one clear objective, to get us out of this with the minimum number of deaths and the smallest impact on the economy we can manage. Instead we have politicians reverting to type and furiously trying to avoid taking responsibility for the various problems and shortcomings, anticipating that this will all be followed up with a major public enquiry.

Coming out of lockdown

Pressure is rising to lift the lockdown. So many businesses are struggling and for many the provisions being made by the Chancellor are inadequate and their businesses will go bust. People are at the limit of their patience being confined to their homes and they are now questioning whether and why it is still necessary.

If we raise the limits too soon and to liberally, we will set back all the benefits and gains we have made as the virus is now getting under control. Cases and deaths are continuing to fall but they can so easily rise again as was seen in past pandemics such as the Spanish Flu. We do need to start lifting restrictions. Some suggestions as to what we should do:

  1. Determine with far greater accuracy exactly how people are contracting the virus today. What are the main points of vulnerability?
  2. Contact trace everyone who is confirmed to have the virus, even those not hospitalised. All around the world people are producing contact tracing apps which are highly effective. Why do we not have the same?
  3. Formulate a series of simple rules that we all must follow to define exactly what we can and cannot do, to limit contact and to isolate far more effectively those who are vulnerable, especially in care home.
  4. Wear face masks. The Government does not want to advise the public to wear face masks as they fear it will limit supply to the NHS, but there is no doubt it will be an essential part of reducing the infection rate.
  5. Provide very much better PPE for all front-line health workers in hospitals and care homes. Apart from anything, it is unacceptable to put such people at risk from doing their jobs. After all, if it was construction workers, we insist on hard hats, hi-vis jackets, hard toed boots, eye protection etc. Health professionals should have the same level of protection from the hazards and threats they face.
  6. Increase testing so those in contact with vulnerable people are better screened.
  7. Control people entering the country. I remain amazed that we have not closed all the airports and that 15,000 people or so are entering the country every day, without any sort of checks at all. They should be screened, checked for symptoms and quarantined for at least 14 days.

The Economy

The Chancellor has announced many initiatives to help sustain people and businesses financially. A huge undertaking when the economy is halted by the lockdown. Many companies will really struggle, some will get by and others will prosper.

The challenge here is to provide support to those that genuinely need it, in a way that will really prove helpful, while avoiding abuses where companies take advantage of what is on offer when they do not really need it. To continue paying dividends to shareholders and huge bonuses and salaries to senior executives does at time seem very selfish. Although we need to keep the economy afloat, there is no doubt that more could be done by many companies to reduce their costs in a way that does not require so much support from the Government.

Many also find they are not eligible. Not able to get grants, without fulfilling the criteria for the loans and even when they are eligible, finding it takes too long to gain access to the money. The criteria are often strange leading to business owners helping their staff get support while they themselves do not qualify. On the other hand, we see many self-employed and small businesses with no reserves, getting into financial difficulties almost immediately the lockdown started. Should they have bene better prepared themselves for decline in business.

Whatever the mechanism the Chancellor applies it is clearly going to be awfully expensive. Huge levels of debt to add to an already massive state debt burden. It is hard to see how we can expect to afford such levels of debt unless there is a huge global initiative to try to write off as much debt as possible, but it is not at all clear that can happen.

The Banks

In 2008 the country mortgaged itself to an absolute limit to bail out the banks form their own incompetence, greed and selfishness, which had led to the worst global economic slump since the Great Depression. This sentenced the British people to at least 12 years of austerity which reduced public spending on a massive scale, while the banks and their executives got off essentially scot free. Much of our unpreparedness for this pandemic has been as a result of the long-protracted of austerity.

Now, when we need their help and support and while the Government has chosen to conduct its financial support through the banks, we find they are being far from helpful. Refusing support and taking a long time to provide any they do agree to. In addition, the banks and other commercial organisations are refusing to give people refunds for their payments for services they will not receive, especially in the travel and leisure sectors.

The Government must be much stronger with the banks at this time and force them to support people promptly and in accordance with their directives and the law and not allow them and others to simply ignore their legal obligations at this time of human need.

Much the same can be said of the insurance companies, who as is so often the case, seek to wriggle out of their obligation to meet claims, who are refusing people claiming under business continuity policies, because they allege they do not have a contagion in their company; they are merely responding to Government directive.

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