Dr Owain Williams By: Dr Owain Williams
Lecturer in IR and Human Security
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26 Apr 2020 : Opening Up and UK Politics

Boris Johnson is back to work tomorrow and apparently raring to go. The already notoriously workshy PM is set to up the ante it seems, and now planning a series of meetings with key Ministers and no doubt the SAGE advisory body, all to discuss easing the lockdown. The open up debate is playing out everywhere in the UK press, and even amongst friends and colleagues. On the government side, the Sunday Times reports that Johnson is under pressure from Tory grandees and donors to the Conservative Party to ease up and reopen. We are it seems seeing pressure for business and the economy to be prioritised over the public health response. The donor pressure is not surprising, as it will not be the owners and capitalist classes returning to work or travelling together, and The Atlantic article on the value we ascribe to workers that are happily thrown under the bus should be widely circulated.

The SAGE advisory committee, the secret advisory committee formed around Dominic Cummings is also very troubling and their credibility is pretty much minimal, and yet they are clearly very influential in government. There are obvious questions regarding the accountability of the group, the scrutiny of evidence informing decisions, and the quality control of measures being recommended. None of this is present and it is profoundly undemocratic and anti-scientific. So business interests and bad advice might lead to shocking outcomes down the track in the UK.

Phil Hammond is also publicly calling for easing off, and I am reminded that Whitty seriously intoning over a month ago that we would get away with 20,000 deaths. The UK recorded over 20,000 deaths only yesterday, or a ‘true’ figure of more like 43,000. Paul Hunter is down the line on the opposing case for opening soon, stressing that the UK is simply in no position to contact trace, test, or manage basic health worker protection. Also, he estimates that for opening up to be at all viable, we would need incidence down in the low hundreds per day. This will not happen for many months, and discussions of easing off or back to business should be limited to coherent planning for phased reopening of the economy when we get to that point. In all this, there is much talk of the Swedish model, and Josh Michaud publishes a balanced thread on the evidence. People are basically self-quarantining in Sweden anyway, there are negative effects on the economy already, and the curve is looking middling bad. Not as badly as Russia, but worse than many neighbours, so badly enough to raise questions as tot he approach. It is clear that Sweden, with different demographics to the UK, is not a viable model. If it gets as bad as projected by some in Sweden, it offers nothing at all to anyone.

The Telegraph, UK, carries a headline “Two weeks quarantine of travelling to the UK’. Frankly I am simply taken aback and had just assumed that this was already in place. So people are still entering the country and not being isolated, or even tested probably? How stupid. They are just instituting measures now.

In the UK the Conservatives are still leading the polls at 51% and it is simply incredible that they have not tanked after their abysmal handling of this crisis. Other polls are revealing something is shifting with regard to welfare nets and the unfettered impacts of markets on people. A YouGov poll has been quoted by many, with 74% of respondents favouring rent controls, 72% job guarantees, and 51% giving the thumbs up to a Universal Basic Income. How this translates into policy or political commitment is another matter, but this has all at least clearly made many think about the basic social contract. All this with 20,000 dead, another grim milestone passed yesterday.

In Wales one of the key points of the crisis has been what has unfolded in the aged residential care sector. Of the over 600 facilities, 81 have had outbreaks and there have been deaths. But again ONS statistics are pointing to a higher than average weekly death rate in the homes, and the figures ascribed to COVID mean it is likely there is under-reporting. In Wales the ‘industry’ body reports that ning up or easing off, and infections and active cases are just too high. Incidence in the low hundred is a minimal requirement, which could take many months.some 50% of homes could close. The question is why we should see in the Twenty First Centrury the elderly with no care apart from that can be provided by families, where it is available? Another case of the market failing in this crisis, raising further questions about how we fund and provide public goods in society, especially for the vulnerable. Meanwhile, the Queen is in lockdown with 24 staff, who have isolated themselves with her and are not seeing their families

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