Why Britian’s First Wave Lockdown Failed At First

Why Britian’s First Wave Lockdown Failed At First, by Jonathon Freeman. Why did it take so long to effectively close the borders?

No one has yet explained one of the great mysteries of the British response to COVID-19: why during March, April and May the UK was the only country in the world to maintain a normal international airport regime, as if the crisis were not happening. Not only were there no restrictions on flights from China, Iran, Austria and other early hotspots, but no monitoring of any kind.

Britons returning on flights from northern Italy in March and April, some of whom had actually had COVID-19, told the newspapers how astonished they were that there were no officials taking down names and contact details to aid in tracing people who might be importing the illness. This was while countries like Singapore and Taiwan with experience of SARS were testing and staying in touch with all new arrivals.

According to one Westminster theory, there was a political reason for the UK’s failure to put in place even the most basic record-keeping measures at a time when they might have made an enormous difference to the medical authorities — and to Britain’s lamentable early efforts to control the epidemic.

If passengers arriving on flights from Italy and other hotspots were to be registered or interviewed, it would have required co-operation between the Ministry of Health, the Home Office (whose Border Force runs passport control and customs) and the Ministry of Transport. But Matthew Hancock, Priti Patel and Grant Shapps, the heads of their departments, and the civil servants beneath them, were incapable or unwilling to work together. Boris Johnson lacked the leadership or inclination to force them to do so.

So the kinds of monitoring regime found in every other developed country — and many developing countries — was never even attempted. Instead, in July, months after it would have made sense to do so, the Johnson government suddenly began imposing strict quarantine restrictions on international passengers, regardless of whether they had been recently tested or were flying in from countries with low infection rates.

Those who promote lockdowns are all too often those who aren’t hurt economically by them. Funny that.

Like many members of the legion of Guardian columnists and BBC broadcasters who fiercely condemn anyone who expresses worry about the economy as “putting profits before human lives”, [Boris Johnson] belongs to that small but influential part of the population for whom money has never been a real worry, or whose limited experience of life renders them unable to sympathise with the concerns of people who work for or own private businesses.

That so much of the London political and media elite feels something akin to aristocratic disdain for the fortunes of shopkeepers and their ilk is perhaps understandable. After all, you would be hard pressed to find institutions in the UK in which nepotism and hereditary opportunity are more common than in the BBC, the political parties, and even (or especially) the theatre with its actors’ dynasties.

Britain is finished as a serious country.

hat-tip Stephen Neil