Boris Johnson is still making the same mistakes on Covid-19

Even after 100,000 UK deaths, the government still hasn’t learned from the disastrous failures of last year. 


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More than 100,000 people in the United Kingdom have died with coronavirus. The UK has the highest death toll in Europe and the one of the worst death rates in the developed world. 

Some of the UK’s failures – the delayed March lockdown; the discredited idea that the inhabitants of a European democracy would not adhere to lockdown with sufficient rigour to slow infection rates; the refusal to contemplate meaningful provisions to centrally isolate and quarantine new cases, without which no test and trace system can function effectively – are shared with our European neighbours. But some are distinctly our own. 

The Prime Minister’s inability to grasp that a public health crisis is a test of your ability to pursue a strategy of delayed gratification, and his doomed attempts to find a middle way between the conflicting approaches of his Chancellor and his Health Secretary have left the UK in the worst of all worlds. 

The question is, has the political class learned from either of those failures? That the government is contemplating a quarantine for international arrivals too short and too narrow to stem the entry of new infections, but too long and too broad to protect the aviation industry, suggests it hasn’t heeded the disaster of the middle-ground approach it took in the autumn. That both the Prime Minister’s media allies and his opponents compare the UK with the rest of Europe, rather than the antipodean and south-east Asian democracies, suggests that we haven’t learnt from the dangerous insularity and we-know-best approach of last spring. 

And in a way, that is the bitterest tragedy of all. 

[see also: An avoidable catastrophe]

Stephen Bush is political editor of the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics. He also co-hosts the New Statesman podcast.

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