UK Government vs. Covid- 19: An Overview of the response so far

The UK government’s response to the covid-19 pandemic has been criticized as ‘too little, too late.’ Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s initial approach to achieve ‘herd immunity’ was in contrast to the containment approach taken by much of Europe. The thought behind the ‘herd immunity’ approach was to ‘flatten the curve’ of the epidemic. This was contrary to WHO’s advice to ‘take urgent care and aggressive action.’

Following analysis from Imperial College London and London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, which found that up to 30% of those hospitalized due to coronavirus would need intensive care units, which would devastate the NHS, the government has changed tact. As announced on 20thMarch, bars and restaurants had to close. Further, GCSEs and A levels were also cancelled to limit face-to-face contact in large social gatherings, with predicted grades as replacements. Schools were also closed, to all except key-workers’ children.

On 23rdMarch, Johnson implemented a lockdown similar to France, Spain and Italy. The British public have been told to stop non-essential travel, limit outdoor exercise to once a day and to practice social distancing with promised daily briefings. Those who break the social distancing restrictions could be fined as part of the emergency bill just passedthrough the House of Commons, unique in its wide scope of power but supposedly only to be implemented when absolutely necessary.

PM Boris Johnson and Health Secretary Matt Hancock have tested positive for coronavirus and are self-isolating.

NHS staff on the frontlines have started to be tested this weekend, following fears that they could unknowingly be spreading the virus without the proper personal protective equipment (PPE). On Friday, the government said that the rate of infection has been doubling every 3 to 4 days and have opened new labs to increase testing.

The government came under fire for not joining the EU’s ventilator scheme earlier, claiming “communication problems”, but has since joined. In an effort to meet the estimated 30,000 ventilators needed, the government are working with various companies such as Dyson, and a collaborative effort called Ventilator Challenge UK. Until these ventilators are available, the UK will import the ventilators from the US and Israel.

Economically, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Rishi Sunak, has announced that the state will cover 80% of workers’ salaries with a limit of up to £2,500 a month. Further, a £1,000 rise in Universal Credit Payments and a deferral until June on business and VAT payment will accompany an extension of interest – free loans up to £5 million for small businesses and £1 billion to assist tenants on welfare.

20/03/2020. London, United Kingdom. Prime Minister Boris Johnson holds Covid-19 Press Conference with Chancellor Rishi Sunak and Deputy Chief Medical Officer Dr Jenny Harries in 10 Downing Street. Image by Pippa Fowles / No 10 Downing Street. Available flickr under Creative Commons 2.0 license.

The UK is currently testing 10,000 people daily, aiming to be testing 25,000 a day by mid-April. This acceleration is due to the concern that some NHS staff could be self-isolating unnecessarily. Public Health England is ordering millions of antibody tests to provide a clearer picture of how many people got the virus with or without symptoms.

New temporary hospitals are due to open at London’s Excel Centre with equivalents in Birmingham and Manchester.

Ministers have said all rough sleepers will have sheltered accommodation by this weekend. On Friday, Housing Minister Luke Hall wrote to councils with details of how to implement the government’s plans including setting up a “local coordination cell”and organise a response to coronavirus with local authorities and the NHS. Further, Hall advices to triage homeless people into three groups; those already symptomatic of Covid- 19, those high risk, and those without either as well as segregating those with “significant drug and alcohol needs”. The Government has pledged £3.2 million for this, but a spokesperson for the Ministry of Health Communities and Local Government (MHLCLG) has said this effort was “backed by £1.6 bn of additional funding for councils.”

Others at risk, such as domestic abuse victims, have been promised continued support by Home Secretary Priti Patel, who has said they can leave their houses to seek refuge. Further, Communities’Secretary Mr Jenrick has said that 50,000 food parcels will be delivered this week to the most vulnerable who have to isolate for 12 weeks, and those without local support can register on the government’s website for assistance.

Most recently, in Sunday’s daily briefing, Dr Harries has said the impacts of lockdown may not be felt until another two or three months, and normality may not resume for another six months. Meanwhile, Boris Johnson has sent a letter encapsulating the governments assessment and response to Covid-19 in a letter posted to 30 million UK households.

The UK’s response has been, and will continue to be, flexible to the rapidly changing nature of the virus as our government attempts to combat such an unprecedented global pandemic, so much so that this article may even be outdated upon its reception.


Featured image by Number 10. Available flickr under Creative Commons 2.0 license.

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