Dr Owain Williams By: Dr Owain Williams
Lecturer in IR and Human Security
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11 Oct 2020 : The UK is in a Mess (again)

In the UK everything seems to be completely out of control. The government has so badly mishandled almost every facet of the response that local authorities across the country have defected from the omnishambles that is the test and trace ‘system’ and are taking these functions into their own hands. The reports last week of Serco’s use of a Excel spreadsheet to record data on positive cases perhaps best captures what would be farce, if it were not so serious. Billions handed over to private operators, with Public Health England and local authority capacities having long been cut, flowing from the coalition government’s 2012 savaging of the public system. Directors of Public Health, local authorities, mayors and almost all sub-state mechanisms of government are seething at the mess. 

The Guardian today (October 11th) reports on the North of England, with hospitals facing huge rises in hospitalisation. Public health test and trace at the national level is finding only 68% of close contacts. Local health protection teams are getting 97.1%. The disjuncture is startling. People infected are out in public and infecting others. 82 councils now have their own tracing schemes. There is pressure for test and trace to be rapidly devolved. Against this, there are predictions that hospitalisations in the North will be above the peak of April in 3 weeks time. What a disaster as we head into winter. Th epidemic is particularly acute among younger people, and they are driving the second wave and infecting others. The R number is estimated to be between 1.2-1.5, so cases will continue to rise. Further lockdown and the possibility of a major circuit breaking response are being resisted within the Conservative party and government. But measures are needed now.


In the HE sector we have also reached a crisis just 3 or 4 weeks into term. Over 100 universities have now reported outbreaks. Staff are also being infected. Lockdowns in halls are common, and the problems predicted here in terms of the logistics of servicing students are readily apparent. One student isolated in Edinburgh described the experience of being locked up in an “expensive prison’. Out of date food, no catering for religious dietary requirement, junk food filled parcels. The University of East Anglia is charging students for food parcels. Epic failure. And it seems clear students are now driving local infections. Again, as predicted by many. The UCU is deliberating strike action, but the sooner we close down campuses the better. The question is now, where will these students go and by what means?

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