Boris Johnson is facing heavy criticism. Once again we are in a position that we did not have to be in, if only the Government had listened to scientific advice. On 21st September, the scientific advisory body SAGE produced a paper with a simple message: ‘do something now or else lose control over the virus’. At that time, we had 4,696 Coronavirus infections throughout the UK. The Government only decided to take significant action when we had 14,000 per day. This action was too little and much too late.
The first piece of advice SAGE gave the Government was that a ‘circuit-breaker’ lockdown was needed across the UK. Think of it like a circuit breaker in an electrical circuit, which is installed to break the flow of electricity when there is a power surge, preventing damage. It is essentially the same with a lockdown. Lockdown breaks the spread of coronavirus when there is a surge in cases to prevent catastrophic damage. The circuit-breaker lockdown would be similar to the one we faced in March with pubs, restaurants, and entertainment venues being forced to close, household mixing banned across the UK and those that are able must work from home. It was proposed by SAGE that the circuit-breaker could last two to three weeks, coinciding with the October school break to prevent children having yet more time away from school.
However, the Government ignored the circuit-breaker lockdown advice which was defended by Johnson’s spokesman saying: "The government receives advice from a wide range of scientific experts, and also from economists. But it’s ultimately for ministers to make decisions." It seems that we have now reached a point where economists are the new advisors on what to do in a pandemic over the scientific and medical advisors. Medical advisors have the health of the public at the forefront of their recommendations. It seems ironic that the Government is frustrated that the public are not listening to the Government advice when they are not listening to their own scientific body’s advice.
The second piece of advice from SAGE confirmed that imposing a 10 pm curfew was "likely to have a marginal impact". Despite the ‘marginal impact’ the day after the SAGE paper was released, the 10 pm curfew was enforced. Possibly as this has a ‘marginal impact’ on the economy compared to the rest of the advice. However, pub crowds leaving at 10 pm creates a sudden rush of people outside which goes against the Government’s advice of no large gatherings. It seems when making new rules, the Tories are ignoring rules that are already in place.
Another recommendation from SAGE was the "closure of all bars, restaurants, cafes, indoor gyms, and hairdressers". SAGE stated that closing these hospitality venues could cut the R rate between 0.1 and 0.2. Closing gyms could reduce R by 0.1, whilst hairdressers and similar venues could only reduce the R by 0.05. Keeping with the common theme, this advice was also ignored. Only a small part was taken on board and applied to the new tier lockdown system the Government created. As a baseline, in the highest tier, pubs and bars will be closed unless they are serving meals. It seems the Government believes if you drink whilst eating, you will be safe from contracting the virus. Drinking without a meal, however, puts you in danger. Once again, the new rules have been manipulated from an economic perspective. They allow the majority of restaurants and pubs to remain open, as well as hairdressers, gyms, and leisure centres, unless the government and local authorities agree on additional measures.
The new tier system has caused yet another fiasco, perhaps the most controversial to date and has further divided the North and the South. The Prime Minister continues to ignore the advice from MPs attempting to protect their constituencies. Andy Burnham, Mayor of Greater Manchester, has passionately argued that the Government’s offer of a £60m support package is simply not enough to support his city as a “winter of real hardship” is approaching. Not forgetting Manchester has already battled with tighter Coronavirus restrictions since March, this has meant that businesses in the area have taken a real hit. Many low income families are already struggling from the loss of their jobs and hopes of new employment are diminishing. Burnham sought a £90m support package, meaning there would be £15m for Manchester each month until the end of the financial year. The Government stubbornly stuck to their original offer and the Manchester Mayor lowered his request to £75m and then to £65m. However, Johnson refused to back down and stuck to £60m, moving Manchester into tier three on the 23rd of October.
Sadly, the story does not end there. The Tories have yet again ignored further pleas from Marcus Rashford to ‘unite’ and put an end to children’s holiday hunger with an extension to free school meals during the holiday period until Easter 2021. A shocking 332 Conservatives voted against the request which will leave thousands of children hungry over Christmas. “I don’t have an education of a politician…but I have a social education having lived through this”, said Rashford. Having experienced this first-hand the Manchester United striker has empathy and is still actively helping and fighting for children around England. Ironically, the budget does extend to MP’s food expenses of £25 a day when they are working outside of their constituencies. It remains to be seen if the Government will make yet another U-turn like they did earlier this year when faced with the same dilemma highlighted by Rashford.
Throughout this pandemic Boris is steadily gaining a reputation for ignoring his scientific and medical advisors, whilst putting the health of the economy before the health of the nation.