Minju Jung By: Minju Jung
Doctoral Researcher in Politics and International Relations
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20 Apr 2020 : Government’s Strange Framing of the NHS and itself

Whenever listening to the government’s daily coronavirus briefing, I have strange feelings. For me, there seems to be something not right in the government’s attitude in coping with the pandemic. I also feel that the briefings have not touched fundamental issues. Recently, I noticed what caused this uneasiness: the government’s framing that puts the NHS to the centre of the country’s coronavirus strategy, and itself to its periphery.

To urge people to stay inside, the government has used a now famous catchphrase - “Stay at Home, Protect the NHS, and Save Lives”. It was emphasized again in the briefing where they announced the extension of the lockdown.

On 16th April, amid mounting complaints of being stuck inside, the government announced that the measure will remain in place for at least the following three weeks. Dominic Rabb led the briefing. He justified the extension by saying that it may slow the spread of the virus, which will decrease the number of people who need hospital treatment. And that’s the way they can protect and help ‘the NHS’ increase its ability to cope. Adding to this, the foreign secretary said that the government is also concerned that any adjustments to the current measures would risk a second peak of infections, and this would, again, overwhelm the NHS. For this reason, the government decided to extend the lockdown measures.

However, for me, the government’s framing of the NHS seems to define the role of the NHS and the government in a strange way. It sounds like that the NHS should be a linchpin in responding to the virus, and the government supports the institution by providing them with resources. Also, it seems to emphasize that the public’s compliance with the lockdown rules is essential to help the NHS, whereas the government is taking a secondary role.

Even worse, this government’s framing seems to imply that the lockdown has been imposed for the NHS, by slowing the spread of the virus; It gives the NHS to increase their ability to cope with after-lockdown situations, where there is a chance for increase in infections. However, I do not agree.

We went into a lockdown because the government was unprepared to deal with the virus, and as a result they were overwhelmed by the increasing number of cases and deaths. We had to be in lockdown, because the government was so slow in starting to make the decisions and implementing measures from January, when there was an outbreak of COVID-19 in several countries (when the virus did not enter the UK yet). The government should have been prepared during the pivotal time (i.e. from the end of January to the beginning of March). That is why, when Matt Hancock was looking for ventilator manufacturers in the mid of March, many people were frustrated.

Their framing (i.e. ‘stay home to protect the NHS’) seems to be made to hide the fundamental reason for imposing the lockdown, which is their unpreparedness for the pandemic. However, let’s make it clear. This lockdown is not just to help protect the NHS and the vulnerable people. More importantly, this is to give time for the government to get prepared for situations that might rise after easing the measures. I think the government should make plans to minimise the spread of the infected cases, so that they needn’t depend more on the NHS and worry about crowded hospitals.

People agreed to the lockdown and are complying with it after careful considerations. We are aware of the facts: infection from the virus does not always immunize the infected patient against the virus; it is highly likely that the number of cases will increase once the lockdown is lifted and people begin to flock together; the lockdown cannot last until we have the vaccine because nobody knows when it will come.

For these reasons, the public and the NHS are giving the government a second chance. People are enduring this lockdown to help the government, despite growing concerns about increase in domestic violence, financial difficulties, etc. The NHS, by taking risks, is bearing this situation to support the government.

We hope the government prepares well during this lockdown period, and, as a result, cope well in case there is a rise in the confirmed cases after relaxing the measures. The government should understand this, and stop viewing the lockdown as a measure to help the NHS.

The government heroizes NHS healthcare workers, saying that every governmental sector is working hard to supply essential equipment to the NHS and urging the public to stay at home to help them. Indeed, the NHS is doing an excellent job and playing an important role in the pandemic. However, people in the UK lean more on the government than on the NHS.

The government should take full responsibility in responding to the pandemic, and earn the trust of the public. They need to set a task force to develop a strategy to relax the current measures, and inform the public about detailed lockdown lifting plans and scenarios, along with the scientific evidence to support their plans.

In the briefing, the government should report how competent they are for after-lockdown situations. They should explain how they are trying to gain control over the pandemic: not only by supporting the NHS(supplying and expanding the number of beds, key staff, and life-saving equipment) but also, more importantly, in controlling the spread of the virus(testing, tracing, isolating, etc.).

Also, in the briefing, the journalists should keenly check whether the government is getting ready for the after-lockdown situation. They have seemed to be more interested in when and how the lockdown will be relaxed. They ask questions like: ‘What is the government’s plan to ease the lockdown?’ and ‘What is the government’s plan if the positive cases would rise again?’.  After the briefing by Dominic Rabb, the first question from the journalists was ‘When the restrictions may be lifted?’. I was very disappointed with this.

They should include more important questions like: ‘What are the plans that the government is developing to prevent the cases from increasing, after relaxing the measures?’.

The UK government has been working hard since the virus hit the country. But I want them to be more competent, effective and confident, to avoid a second peak. I don’t want to see the government waste this second chance that we have given them by sacrificing our rights.

By the way, where is Boris Johnson...?

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