Richard North, 13/04/2020  

As far as I can see, nothing has changed since I wrote this piece on the 1st of this month. In it, I suggested that the government had neither hope nor intention of controlling this epidemic. The plan, I wrote, is to hold the fort long enough for the cavalry to come galloping over the hill, the "cavalry" in this case being a vaccine.

Certainly, the SARS-Cov-2 virus is not going to disappear of its own accord and, as this writer observes, the lockdown is only a method of managing the case-rate so that the saintly NHS is not overwhelmed.

We must feed the diseased and dying into the maw of this institution at a steady rate so that it can process them in an orderly fashion. But, until the fresh meat runs out or the vaccine arrives and is administered (whichever is sooner), the virus will continue to plough through this nation, with occasional peaks and troughs to keep the pundits entertained.

Meanwhile, we have to listen to secretary of state Hancock describe the advent of 10,000 deaths as a "sombre" landmark, even though that point was most certainly reached some time ago, and would have been recorded as such but for the minor detail that only hospital deaths are being recorded.

How many deaths are occurring outside the system we have no means of knowing on a day-by-day basis, but this work indicates that outbreaks in care homes account for between 42 and 57 percent of all deaths related to Covid-19.

If we split the difference and take the figure of 50 percent, then on these grounds alone we must double the current total. Thus Mr Hancock's "sombre" landmark may not be 10,000 but 20,000 deaths. Sundry media reports would tend to support the premise that something serious is going on in the care home sector.

We have The Times calling it "the hidden front" in "Britain's fight against Covid-19", although "fight" is not exactly the word I would have used in the context – that would seem to imply some form of resistance.

This is more the slaughter of the innocents and, even if you want to take the Delingpole view that this is just clearing out the useless mouths who would have died anyway, these homes are reservoirs of infection in the community, keeping the epidemic alive.

We may soon get some better idea of the scale of this slaughter as the Scottish government is set to publish data on the deaths of elderly care home residents, having disclosed that more than a third of Scotland's care homes have had Covid-19 cases.

Even then, we cannot know what the real death rate is. The general statistics are and continue to be a shambles, so much so that even the Guardian has noticed. We've also been treated to a learned article telling us that the revisions to the death counts "makes it difficult to judge whether the deaths are falling over time in the short term".

The media, say the authors, "should be wary of reporting daily deaths without understanding the limitations and variations in different sources", which almost qualifies for that "No shit Sherlock!" moment, except that they completely fail to understand the purpose of the statistics. The daily figures serve mainly to give the media headlines and a platform on which to base their comments – the tone of which will vary according to political disposition.

The Guardian, on the one hand, sees the 10,000-mark as a turning point, where criticism is now mounting over the government's handling of the epidemic.

To that effect, the paper enlists Nesrine Malik to tell us that the 10,000 deaths were "preventable" and that: "Stay-at-home mantras and war talk must not distract us from holding the government to account for the nation's grief".

The main concern seems to be that the government did not take advantage of "the explicit warnings from Italians spelling out the pitfalls to be avoided", with accusations that the government "dragged its feet" and "wasted precious time".

That, indeed it has, and there is a growing number of articles exploring this aspect of the epidemic management. Few, however, seem to have understood that the main failing was in successive governments failing to plan for the right disease, using an inappropriate influenza paradigm as the basis for the response.

But while the critics fumble about in the dark, the ever-faithful Telegraph lovingly gushes about the timely resurrection of The Dear Leader – by no means the only newspaper to do so.

It does, however, find space to remark on the chancellor's concern about "trying to find the right balance" between coronavirus control and the economy – effectively trying to chart a way between a "tolerable" death rate and the collapse of the economy.

This is something that is taxing Andrew Rawnsley in the Observer, who seems to empathise with ministers as they "face hideously difficult trade-offs between curbing the menace of the coronavirus and the severe damage being done to the economy".

In The Times, we see a slightly different stance, with the comment that the 10K death toll represents a "cruel test of strategy" – assuming there was one. It cites Sir Jeremy Farrar, director of the Wellcome Trust, who says that the UK could learn lessons from Germany, which introduced mass testing at an early stage.

I doubt whether Farrar – who is widely cited by the media, saying that UK could become the worst affected nation in Europe – is being deliberately offensive (or obtuse), but the "lessons" are hardly unique to Germany. The UK needs to adopt the basic principles of epidemic control, instead of "taking it on the chin" until the vaccine arrives (if it ever does).

Meanwhile, perhaps another complication looms over the horizon as the Mail and others warn that Britain's supply chain of food and medicine could grind to a halt.

The warning comes from the Road Haulage Association, which tells us that the UK industry is reaching crisis point with many transport firms on the brink of collapse. Some 46 percent of UK registered trucks have been taken off the road since the epidemic began, and many firms are in danger of going out of business permanently.

This, of course, is not the only sector under threat, and RTÉ has taken it upon itself to remind us that Covid-19 has caused a crisis in the media industry. Unsurprisingly, perhaps, this is not evoking much sympathy in the Twitter domain, and one is not exactly impressed with the response of young journalist Rebecca Laffan describing "the sense of shock and helplessness she felt when she lost her job at the Limerick Leader newspaper last month".

"I was sobbing hysterically. The rug had literally been pulled out from under my feet. I was falling and I didn't know where I was going to land. It’s a terrifying situation," she says. If that's the calibre of staff that the fourth estate is recruiting, then there is no great loss.

To this general air of emotion, though, we can add the words of Hancock who expanded on the deification of the NHS yesterday by telling us that "the NHS is there for us all, and can give its very best to every single person".

My somewhat sour response was that this seems only to apply as long as you have Covid-19. All those with other illnesses can go hang. For better or worse, we hardly have an NHS any more. We have a National Covid Service. But said the resurrected Johnson, before he dashed off to his second home: "It is unconquerable. It is powered by love". With that, what can possibly go wring?

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