Commentators have lined up to pan Prime Minister Boris Johnson and his government after a series of deadly gaffs ensured the U.K. had the second-highest death rate in the world.
Authors Dylan Howard and Dominic Utton offer a damning verdict on Johnson's handling of the crisis in their book COVID-19: The Greatest Cover-Up in History—From Wuhan to the White House. It is the first global investigation of the biggest public health emergency in living history.
They say: "The British government was endemically corrupt and led by shameless liars. It was also criminally inadequate to the task of steering the country safely through the crisis.
"The rest of the world looked on horrified at how the event was handled. It was almost as if the U.K. government assumed the country would be immune, even when other nations in Europe were brought to their knees. There is no excuse. The reputational damage to Britain could prove terminal."
It lists how the U.K. went into nationwide lockdown "catastrophically late" Prior to the first case being recorded in January, a team at Imperial College’s School of Public Health, led by Professor Neil Ferguson, warned that the only way to effectively control the virus’ spread would be to stop any contact between people with a lockdown. Despite the warnings, Health Secretary Matt Hancock told reporters the risk to the British public was "low."
The book reveals that scientists and ministers vacillated over how to respond while Johnson missed three COBRA meetings discussing the looming disaster.
As the virus raged through Italy, France and Spain and experts in Europe warned of the consequences of not taking decisive action, mass participation events in the U.K. proceeded. The Cheltenham Festival attracted 250,000 people, 54,000 football fans attended a game between Athletico Madrid and Liverpool, and 15,000 music fans watched The Stereophonics in Cardiff.
Meanwhile 190,000 people flew into the U.K. from Wuhan and other high-risk Chinese cities between January and March; and over 3 million passengers poured through Heathrow airport in March alone.
Dominic Cummings, chief advisor to Johnson, was said to have described the government’s strategy as: "Herd immunity, protect the economy, and if that means some pensioners die, too bad."
The world looked on in horror.
Dr. Richard Horton, editor in chief of The Lancet, described the government's handling of the crisis as: "the most serious science policy failure in a generation"; former Australian high commissioner to Britain Mike Rann said the official response was "handled negligently," with "a shambles of mixed messaging, poor organization and a complacent attitude"; while Italian commentator Roberto Buffagni noted that Downing Street's strategy had at its core "a cost-benefit calculation and conscious decision to sacrifice part of the population’."
Even press coverage, which ignored the rising death toll and focused on Professor Ferguson's flouting of social distancing regulations and the news that PM Johnson's partner Carrie Symonds had given birth to their first child together, was criticized.
One media commentator described it as: "State propaganda that would make North Korea blush"; another declared the coverage would "embarrass the editor of the official newspaper of a tinpot dictatorship."
The authors conclude: "The implication is horrific. The British government followed a pandemic strategy in which the lives of tens of thousands of its citizens were to be sacrificed. Why? In order to 'protect the economy.' Not even China had stooped so low."