Let me take you back to 30 July 1966, 21 years after Churchill’s famous V sign as the Germans were defeated and exactly fifty before we gave the other one to the whole of Europe. It was the one and only day that England have won the football World Cup, ineffable joy and Wembley was packed to the rafters. One hundred thousand people from all quarters of the nation (and probably a few West Germans to boot) packed into the stadium antedating its downsizing. That’s a lot of people, that’s a lot of Covid deaths. Now we’re top of the World again but for the wrong reason when comparing Covid deaths per unit number of population. The National Archives record that just under 70,000 British civilians lost their lives in WW2 and that lasted six years. The Spanish flu of 1918-19 claimed 228,000 British lives – God forbid that we get anywhere near that. One interesting fact is that the 20-40 year olds had a much higher death rate than the over 75’s which is ascribed to their healthier immune system but still seems to be something of a mystery.
100K and rising needs some answers. There will be a national inquiry and I can see the logic in delaying until the country is a little less dystopic and housebound and NHS staff whose input would be crucial are not the blue-arsed flies that is currently the case. On the other hand a public inquiry needs to give all parties a voice, be transparent and honest and to be timely for if delayed too long it loses its value and personnel move on and responsibility gets diluted. Take the dreadful Grenfell Tower fire on 14 June 2017. Theresa May was gushing in praising the emergency services – “extraordinary men and women who put their lives on the line”, “the bravery of entering a burning building”, but it didn’t end there. “We have seen sterling work from people across the public sector including teachers, nursing staff…..” so at last politicians really do appreciate them. But not sufficiently to stop May, Johnson, Gove, Hancock, Sunak and I hardly need say it Rees-Mogg along with 317 others voting on 28 June, a mere fortnight later, to cap a public sector pay rise at 1% and actually cheering loudly when the motion passed (the little shits). To seek out the unsafe buildings up and down the land she promised “we can test more than 100 buildings a day and the results come back within hours” – numbers a bit different but a familiar ring except that she didn’t say it was world-beating. But it’s deeds not words that count and still many people live in unsafe buildings. And “we quickly decided there has to be an independent public inquiry … ” which still was ongoing when suspended due to Covid in March last year as the three year anniversary hove into sight. Could there not be a target date for reporting at perhaps two years after the setup date with clear and dated action points?
Announcing the dreadful statistic last week Boris Johnson offered an apology which felt somewhat pious to me based on his track record of disingenuity. The Government did everything they could he went on to tell us – surely he doesn’t really believe that? Or perhaps he’s sufficiently deluded and he does. His personal experience in intensive care may have been a Damascus moment and public service workers should be valued more tangibly than a public display of his joining the weekly clap . Maybe Michael Gove has vamped the mood music – “following the science” – enough to realise that experts should be listened to. We could list a litany of errors along the way and these were well covered by the panel and public participants on last week’s “Question Time”. With the exception of government minister Gillian Keegan who sidestepped and stonewalled and put it all down to learning lessons and easy in hindsight as opposed to errors. But I feel that denial such as her’s and Boris’ exacerbates public anger and they’d gain a modicum of sympathy and respect if they said that they were confronting an unprecedented situation which evolved and developed rapidly and acknowledge that they had made some errors on the way.
Coming back to the 100K, many will have passed on without the intervention of intensive care. But a piece in this week’s Observer gave me pause for thought. It was written by an anaesthetist describing the challenge and stress of passing a tube into the airway of two relatively young Covid patients – he said he’d never pursued the outcomes but I do wonder, surely you’d want to know.. But moving laterally it roused thoughts in me of the patients’ perspective – separated from family, possibly no last words and potentially a final experience on the planet of being anaesthetised for intubation and you never wake up…. save in the sweet bye and bye if indeed there is one. If that doesn’t reinforce staying at home and social distancing then nothing will.
But case rates are fortunately falling and there is an overoptimistic minority and, in the immortal words of Kenneth Wolstenholme “they think it’s all over, well it…..” certainly isn’t. But amidst the gloom and doom there shines one luminescent star, a statistic of staggering achievement and of which the government and many others can be rightly proud – 10.5million have now received their first dose of vaccine. Our gratitude is due to all of them, our condolences to the 100,000 and their relatives.