How the COVID 19 pandemic unfolded in the UK during 2020

The COVID 19 pandemic in England has been marked by an awful amount of piffle, waffle and dither by the Conservative government, headed by Boris Johnson. It has also not been helped by a devolved response to the virus either. Having three devolved national governments, basically glorified County Councils, and one UK government making policy, has been a recipe for confusion. It has also been cynically hijacked at times for scoring nationalist political points.

The UK government, calling the shots for England, has at every juncture been late in its response, and was incredibly foolhardy in allowing international air travel to continue from known COVID 19 hotspots in March 2020. Thousands of people were arriving from China, northern Italy and Spain. The British people were aghast at this rank stupidity, especially as those arriving in the UK were not even being tested for the virus. I am sure this would have been the same had the virus been the Zaire strain of Ebola instead of COVID 19, such was the chaotic official response. People were genuinely shocked, as they were being told this virus was deadly, yet at the same time, their government were acting as if it were nothing more than the common cold.

As COVID 19 took hold in the UK during February and March 2020, it took the government until the 23rd March to lock the country down. Many experts feel that such tardiness cost lives. Even then, the lockdown was a very British thing and nothing like the lockdowns that were occurring in Europe. In their favour, the government did introduce many financial support measures, the largest of which being the furlough scheme. Companies that were forced to close during the national lockdown could lay their staff off, and have the wages paid by the government, up to 80% of salary, to a maximum of £2,500 per month. It was a very generous scheme and kept the spectre of unemployment at bay. Of course, there will have to be a financial reckoning over the next few years, if not decades, but that is unavoidable.

Going into the summer, people were able to get out and about within the law, to parks and such like for exercise, or could enjoy their back gardens. Sadly, far too many people were ignoring the regulations and that lead to a massive resurgence in the virus later in the year and continuing into 2021. Many people on furlough or working from home were saving large sums on the costs of commuting, so were actually better off on 80% of their normal salary. Those people who could work from home did so and benefitted hugely from the money and time saved, and on the stress of the commute itself. Lockdown for many people was not such a bad thing in the round. Others of course suffered greatly, especially many of the self employed.

Essential workers bore the brunt of the pandemic, from bus drivers to medical staff. All were exposed to the virus and many suffered from the fact, and sadly, quite a few lost their lives giving service to others. COVID 19 certainly brought into stark focus just who were the real essential workers who keep society humming along. It wasn’t hedge fund managers and assorted City of London spivs, but those productive people with real jobs, who are in normal times often underappreciated and underpaid. Sadly, people have short memories, and when things return to normality, they will once again be taken for granted and forgotten and looked down upon, by those who were proved to be quite useless and surplus to requirements when the chips were down.

Throughout the entire COVID 19 crisis, the government were late to act and proved to be masters of the mixed message. In the third national lockdown, which was more faux than actual, and far less stringent than the first lockdown in March 2020, the mixed messaging went into overdrive. Schools were said to be safe and would be kept open, the next day they were closed. Essential worker status was extended so broadly, that many schools were half full anyway, with all fit and well teaching staff going in to work. Everybody was supposed to stay at home unless they were a ‘critical worker’, but that designation seemed to also include Barista’s at coffee shops and the staff at the local dry cleaners. All non-essential shops were to close, but the list of ‘essential’ shops was staggering. They included the aforesaid coffee shops, off-licences and estate agents. As a lockdown, it was a total nonsense.

People sensed this, and once again there was a mass flouting of the rules. The flouting would have been epic, had this third lockdown been called in warm, sunny weather. However, as it was called in the dark, wet and miserable days of January, most people were staying indoors anyway. As the pandemic has progressed, the battle between health and wealth has, it would seem, definitely shifted in the favour of wealth. Perhaps the large corporate donors to Tory Party funds had been applying pressure, as pressure was applied to their bank balances? It would certainly explain the tardy responses to the crisis by the government, who have always been late in enacting required measures, thus costing lives in the process.

The vaccine roll-out has been something of a success, and certainly a far more successful affair than the mass virus testing programme that never quite came to fruition. The vaccine roll-out continues to unfold in a timely manner. It has been a remarkable success, and the involvement of the military has doubtless helped in that regard. By the last week of February 2021, the UK had vaccinated more people than all the nations of the EU combined had done.

The mixed messaging by the government also allowed for all kinds of crackpot conspiracy theories on social media to emerge. Every half-mad Facebook expert was popping out of the woodwork and venting their spleens under a tinfoil hat. There was even the phenomenon of COVID 19 denial, strange people who refused to believe that the virus even existed. The mind truly boggles. As with all pandemics and emergencies, COVID 19 brought out the very best and the very worst in people.

The very worst could be seen back in March 2020 onwards, during the initial lockdown, as supermarket shelves were stripped of toilet rolls, pasta, rice, oatmeal and tinned foods. Old people were pushed aside as the young and greedy fought to overfill their trollies. The supermarkets stood aside and let it happen, as panic buying was extremely good for profits and shareholder value, and of course, executive bonuses. There was never a shortage of food in the UK, as a lot of stockpiling by companies had been taking place due to Brexit. Panic buying should have been clamped down on right from the start, even if that meant getting the army involved, but the government failed to act. It was a shameful dereliction of duty by the Johnson government. In years to come, the humble toilet roll will forever be the enduring symbol of 2020, if not the whole COVID 19 crisis itself.

The very best could be seen in how communities came together, especially in support of those who worked within the NHS. People came out of their dwellings every Thursday night at 8pm to clap for the National Health Service, it was a very uplifting gesture. People also volunteered in all kinds of ways to help others during the crisis.

One shocking aspect of the COVID 19 crisis was the total disregard for older people by many between the ages of 18 – 35, a disregard that bordered on callous indifference. That age demographic was the least affected by the virus, with many being asymptomatic or only suffering very mild symptoms. They took that as a license to blatantly ignore the government guidance and the law. How many older people were infected by such cavalier behaviour, and how many of them consequently died can only be guessed at. The generations that form the Millennials and Generation Z seem to have been imbued with an ugly sense of ‘me first’ self-entitlement. By no means are all in that age range selfish and uncaring, but something has gone badly wrong with the socialization of those generations, and their parents must take a large percentage of the blame. Sadly, society in the UK seems to be degenerating as we move into the second decade of the 21st century. Is it demographic, social or cultural change, or a toxic combination of all three? The jury is still out on that one.

As I write this piece, we are approaching the end of the third lockdown. In two weeks time, on the 8th March 2021, all schools in Engalnd will open once again and the children will return. Once again the arrangements are different in the other nations of the UK. The madness of devolved government during a pandemic strikes again. Later today, on the 22nd February, Boris will lay out for the British public, a route map out of lockdown and out of the COVID 19 pandemic. I will write more about that in another article.

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