A mix of flawed strategy and dreadful vaccine nationalism — the libertarians are in charge of the country at the worst of time to our peril.
First published in February 2021.
Ben Jennings’ cartoon for the i newspaper last weekend of a PM Boris Johnson riding a giant syringe and racing a wall of moving coffins says it all. Boris Johnson and his team are in a hurry.
What the Prime Minister wants is for the British public to look not at the appalling number of deaths due to Covid-19 in the UK, but look yes at the formidable number of first-dose vaccines his government has so far managed to achieve — 9,646,715 (as of 1 February 2021, Public Health England).
And the bigger the figure, the louder the government supporters and cultist Brexiters.
Finally, something this Brexit government has achieved in 12 months of pandemic! And let’s be honest, it has only worked because of their controversial decision to focus on the first dose, and offer the second dose 12 weeks later! (against the manufacturer’s advice!!)
Boris Johnson certainly thought he was blessed with good luck when, last weekend, the European Union (EU) overplayed its hand in the AstraZeneca story and nearly ended up triggering the Northern Ireland Protocol by error. Indeed, it didn’t take long for the Brexiters to jump on the opportunity to exploit the error and heavily criticise the EU. They had not had such an opportunity since after their victory in the Brexit Referendum on 23 June 2016.
In Panic Mode
But imagine the situation when Boris Johnson and his team in Number 10 found out that the number of cases of the South African variant jumped from 2 cases on 23 December 2020 to over 100 now. Worse, 11 of those cases had no connection to international travel, meaning that Community infection had been established.
In panic mode, a door-to-door testing blitz was launched to urgently tests residents in eight areas in England (Hertfordshire, Surrey, Kent, Walsall, Sefton, and three London boroughs) in a bid to find new cases and stop the spread of the South African coronavirus variant.
But could this situation have been averted?
Yes, Steven Swinford writes in today’s Times. According to the journalist, the government scientists, SAGE, had “warned Number 10 over the mutant virus weeks ago”, but the prime minister himself “ignored [their] advice to close the borders.”
The Times, 2 February 2021.
The only way to stop the spread of the South African variant, the scientists said, was “to close the borders completely or introduce mandatory quarantine measures for everyone entering Britain.”
Will Boris Johnson’s decision come back to bite him?
Whilst this country was already battling its Covid-19 variant with a third national lockdown, letting passengers enter the country (because of a libertarian ideology) and thus letting the South African variant land and spread in the UK could have serious consequences on the NHS if new cases are not quickly isolated.
Also, whilst the government’s nationalist vaccination strategy may have sounded like a good idea at first (one dose now, the second dose 12 weeks later to show that Brexit Britain could do it better without the EU), it could well prove to have been flawed all along if the South African variant eventually spreads and takes over the country in the weeks or months to come, when people (especially the most vulnerable) would have needed to have received the maximum protection that provides two doses of vaccines.
Boris Johnson pretending to be a scientist. | Number 10
Let’s not forget that initial data from Israel suggest that 14 days after the Pfizer/BioNTech first vaccine dose patients only have a 33% reduced chance of infection to Covid-19 (not the variants), but receiving the second dose makes the vaccine 92% effective.
If people who have already received their first dose must wait three months to receive their second dose, what will their level of protection be if the South African variant becomes prevalent?
The Libertarians And Their Liberty
The problem is that some dangerous libertarians in government and in the House of Commons are making the decisions. We handed them that power five consecutive times in ten years, in 2010, 2015, 2016, 2017, and 2019. And supported by their favourite libertarian journalists and media, they feel entitled to make the decisions that fit them and their friends.
They worry about liberty more than people’s lives. ‘Their’ freedom comes first apparently, even before a dangerous virus variant from South Africa.
So, what happens next?
Let’s hope the authorities are successful to stop the spread of the South African variant soon.
If they don’t, let’s hope Boris Johnson stops pretending to be a scientist in front of the cameras and, instead, starts working seriously with his government on a plan B... and maybe a C, and a D too.
▫ J.N. PAQUET, Editor of PMP Magazine.
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