Richard North, 13/10/2020  

There is no doubt that the current response to Johnson's "tiers" is to a very great extent tempered by what is regarded as the lost summer. This was the period when the government should have been putting in place measures to control and contain the virus during the winter and, just as crucially, equip the NHS for the dual challenge of Covid and the general burden of ill-health in the community.

No greater measure of the government failure is the comment, retailed by The Times from Jonathan Van-Tam who tells us that the NHS "will struggle to provide treatment for cancer and other non-Covid conditions if the surge in coronavirus cases worsens".

Well, there is not really any "if" about it. It is a racing certainty that conditions are going to get worse. Van-Tam's prophesy is almost certainly going to be fulfilled - but only if we take "struggle to provide" as meaning no provision at all (or very little).

And it is not just the overall capability of the system to deal with non-Covid. It is a matter of confidence in the system as research indicates that that hospital admissions for heart failure have fallen by two thirds in the first five months of this year. Self-evidently, people are not seeking life-saving treatment during the pandemic.

Personally, I'm not at all surprised people are reluctant to go to hospital. Nosocomial infection is a reality and the current expectation is that up to 25 percent of Covid cases are hospital acquired.

But, to add insult to injury, NHS "chiefs" - now so concerned about their potential customers taking fright - have launched a campaign calling on people to visit their GP or hospitals when they need to. The NHS campaign is called Help Us to Help you and is designed to encourage patients to attend hospital.

At least it makes a change from the fatuous "Protect the NHS", slogan used during lockdown. That, seemingly had people either afraid or guilty about attending.

Nevertheless, the NHS is trying to make the best of it, claiming that almost a million people have been referred for cancer checks or have started treatment since the pandemic began. But that isn't the point. Much time was lost during the lockdown and the Trusts are about to perpetuate the same error by shutting down routine operations over the winter.

Nor is it just a case of hospital services winding down. As I've now found to my cost, expectations of post-operative care at home, via the district nurse service, are now nil. For most of its normal functions, the service has ceased to function. And, for many, a visit to a GP is a fond memory and dental treatment lies in the realm of science fiction.

The man at the centre of it all this, of course, is Johnson. In him we have a man whose competence level would be stretched tying his shoelaces, something picked up by John Crace who also remarks that, during his media briefing, he looked knackered before he even started. He adds:
His complexion even more pallid than usual and his eyes mere pinpricks. For a moment it looked as if the narcissist had been confronted with his own sense of futility. A situation that he couldn’t bend to his will, no matter how delusional the thought process. He is cornered by hubris: a man hating every second of his life but condemned to experience its unforgiving horror. Not even the health secretary could be bothered to attend to watch this latest meltdown.
Johnson asserts his administration has taken a "balanced approach", to which Crace responds:
As in he was too slow to react back in March with the result that the government has one of the world’s highest death tolls. As in he did next to nothing during the summer when we had a chance to prepare for autumn. As in he actively encouraged people to go back to work for weeks before switching to advise them against it. As in unlocking the north at the same time as the south, even though infection rates in the north remained higher. That kind of balanced.
There really is no way back from this. Gabriel Scally merely articulates what we all know to be true – that the "crude social and economic restrictions" instigated by Johnson "are only necessary because the government squandered precious time over the summer". He writes:
The government has completely failed to provide any form of strategic framework within which the tiered restrictions might have a role and, in particular, no explicit goal for where they want to get to in controlling the pandemic. It is a strong indication of public health failure when the only practical tool the government seems willing and able to use is crude social and economic restriction. In the absence of a strategy that commands confidence, how are people expected to maintain the hope that many jobs and businesses will have a future in the short or medium term?
In every way the prime minister comes over as a gormless twat. He tells us that the UK's increasing number of coronavirus cases is "flashing at us like dashboard warnings in a passenger jet", but for heaven's sake, who but a profound ignoramus talks about "dashboards" in an aircraft. The man just isn't of this world.

All he has to offer is a chance for us, the plebs, to obey his "new rules", crafted with limited scientific evidence and even less credibility, in the hope that it might affect Covid rates in a way that he has singularly failed to do.

Meanwhile, police report a rise in Covid rule breaches in northern cities – and that's only what their limited resources allow them to see. Where there is no police presence, people make their own choices.

How that develops will be interesting to see as Whitty is telling us that Johnson's new "tier" rules may not be enough to arrest the increase in cases. If the authorities already have difficulty securing compliance, then it is going to be a long, hard winter.

Needless to say, Johnson thinks the rules would be enough if they are implemented "very effectively", declaring: "We have to act now" – even if he fails to note that his own "now" was many months ago.

Whether the rules work or not, it is already very clear that the measures announced will not avoid serious economic harm in a country which has already suffered grievously – except for MPs, of course, who have been given a £3,300 p.a. pay rise. When it comes to deploying the tumbrels, these creatures will be first in line.

But the most significant thing of all is that, gradually, Covoid and Brexit are merging. Both are expressions of government incompetence, so we are getting to the stage where there is nothing new to write. We end up repeating the same old points, as Johnson blunders on, repeating all the same mistakes.

But as long as the incompetence never ends, the commentary will have to be the same. The only way it can now change is for Johnson to depart, and leave the job to someone who is capable of doing it.

Also published on Turbulent Times.

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