COVID-19: UK Government’s Controversial Response


As of March 12th, confirmed coronavirus cases in the UK have risen to 590. The true number of cases could be much higher. Moving from the “containing” phase to the “delaying” phase, the National Health Service system is on an emergency footing. Although 30 designated hospitals are still receiving patients, nurses working on the frontline also face mask shortages. Prime Minister Boris Johnson claims that “Many more families are going to lose loved ones.”

Preventative Measures

Compared to countries including France and Germany, the UK has maintained a subtle balance of benefits and harms. Recently, efforts have been made to ban mass gatherings and close down schools. To maximally utilize limited medical resources, patients with mild symptoms are asked to self-isolate for 7 days at home.  Schools have already canceled trips abroad. Besides, older people and those with pre-existing health conditions should avoid cruises.

Rationale For Public Health Responses

UK Scientific Chief Patrick Vallance gives a deeper explanation about those strategies: “We aim to reduce the peak. Broaden the peak, not suppress it completely. Because the vast majority of people get a mild illness, to build up some kind of herd immunity, so more people are immune to this disease. We reduce the transmission, and at the same time protect those who are most vulnerable to it.”

Fears And Concerns

However, continuous criticism from experts and politicians suggests the government should act more aggressively towards the national emergency. Former Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt said: “It is surprising and concerning that, we’re not doing any of it at all when we have just four weeks that we get to the stage that Italy is at.” Even with patients staying at home, the risk of infecting whole families is undeniable. This is also the reason for China has built temporary hospitals and quarantined mild patients. Without extreme responses to large-scale outbreaks, such as city lockdown and big gathering suspension, the crisis may become more severe.

The concept of herd immunity triggers public panic as well. Some are afraid the government prioritizes the economy over citizens’ health. Sacrificing the rights of the minority may result in the majority’s immunity, but such a “Social Darwinism” violates individuals’ equal rights. Richard Horton, Editor-in-Chief of The Lancet, states that “the government is playing roulette with the public, and this is a major error.”

The UK needs to take more effective actions from the macro-level. Since no country is immune to a pandemic, it’s significant to learn from others. There are spontaneous responses from institutions and individuals. With reference to China, institutions like the University College, London have already adopted to online teaching system. Meanwhile, shining humanity raises from ordinary people. For instance, a Muslim couple in Scotland prepared Coronavirus relief packages for the elderly and needy. “Together, we can save many lives.”

Yuexin Li
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