Author Topic: Failures of State: The inside story of Britain's battle with coronavirus  (Read 530 times)

Fambo Number Mive

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Even though this is a book review, I've put it in this forum rather than Shelf Abuse as this book is all about Britain's response to coronavirus.

I've just finished reading the hardcover version of this book (it's £15 on Amazon currently, not sure how much elsewhere). It's by Jonathan Calvert and George Arbuthnot, editor and deputy editor of the Sunday Times insight team.

The book begins with looking at the origination of coronavirus in Wuhan and then moves on to looking at the failures of the Johnson government's response to coronavirus. Even though this is all very recent, it's shocking when reminded of how badly the government got it wrong in 2020.

From Johnson's blase early treatment of the virus, including missing COBRA meetings, the lack of testing of international passengers (at first testing only took place at Heathrow, not the other UK airports) and Johnson shaking hands with Philip Scofield on This Morning before telling viewers "I've been going round hospitals as you can imagine and I think you always shake hands", we move to the slow move towards the first lockdown, against a backdrop of other countries taking faster and more effective steps to control the pandemic - at all points this government was able to learn from others, it's not about "hindsight".

When Johnson finally announced a lockdown, shortly after telling people to avoid all non-essential travel, night-time venues were asked to close but it was not made compulsory until the next day, allowing one last evening of people spreading the virus in pubs. On page 218 of the book, there is a graph showing how high estimated infections were when various European countries locked down. The UK's are around 1,500,000, with Italy second at just under 1,200,000. Italy also locked down much earlier on the 7th March. France locked down at 890,000 and Germany (which locked down on the same day as Britain) as 270,000.

Then we move to looking at the events during the first lockdown, when several ministers including Johnson got COVID, NHS staff having to make their own PPE, how low testing was in the early days (2,000 tests a day in early March), how the NHS was trying to silence staff who raised concerns, hospitals having to ration intensive care treatments (as mentioned in the book, the NHS has far less ICU beds than many other European healthcare systems) and of course Cummings driving to Barnard Castle to "test his eyesight".

The authors mention that an article in the Sunday Times about Britain's disastrous response to the coronavirus resulted in ministers tweeting a link to a 2000 word government blog making "groundless" claims about the article, four days after another government blog post was written attacking a FT article about the government's failure to procure ventilators. The government had time during all this to try and smear their critics. One minister even tweeted an apparent threat.

Then we have the move out of lockdown (with one of the few mentions of the leaders of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, where they rightly thought Stay Alert was a rubbish slogan"), where the effectiveness of the measures of Australia, New Zealand and China are compared with the UK (which has Europe's highest death toll and deepest recession. The authors highlight how Britain opened non-essential shops when detected cases were 1,300, while other European countries waited until cases were in the hundreds. Of course, the tabloids where in the usual "cheer Boris" mode, no matter how many of their readers had died.

Then we move to the full re-opening, the A-Level fiasco and Eat Out to Help Out (which University of Warwick researchers found increased cases between 8 and 17 per cent). Between 22 August and 7th September, R was estimated to be 1.7. Still a second lockdown was delayed. A 10pm curfew on pubs and restaurants was announced, which just meant more people would be on public transports just after 10pm, making it easier to transmit the virus.

On p378 of the book, the authors mention an Imperial College study that found that between 6,70 and 13,400 people might not have died if stricter measures were introduced earlier. We finish with the delayed second lockdown and moving into January 2021.

There are some areas that I disagree with in the book. I think they underestimate the effectiveness of Corbyn and overestimate the effectiveness of Starmer, and they are positive about the weekly clap. They are also very positive about Michael Gove.

The book also rarely mentions how the devolved administrations of Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland coped, mainly focusing on England.

However, the book is well sourced and well written - it made me angry several times reading just how pisspoor a job the government did, and how much of the media just went along with it. I think it would be interesting to read a book reflecting on how the media failed to hold the government to account during the coronavirus pandemic and how people who tried to question the government's line in early 2020 and just before the second lockdown were smeared by the media.

I'd strongly recommend this book, although it is very bleak as can be expected - send a copy to anyone who thinks the current government has done a good job. I'd love to send a copy to Dan Hodges and ask if he still thinks there shouldn't be an inquiry.

Have you read this book?  If so, what did you think? Have you read any other books about the coronavirus?

I enjoyed the book for what it was, but thought it was ultimately a bit slight. Certainly near the end it just becomes ‘and then this happened...and then this happened.’

Felt very much like the first edition of something much broader in approach to the subject.

George Oscar Bluth II

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If you don't want to pay Murdoch or buy the book the Times' "Stories of our Times" podcast had them on talking about it and tbh it's all stuff that in a rational country would have people locked up. Same with Laura K's piece on the BBC website about the same stuff last week. No-one noticed, no-one cares, they'll all get away with it.

And the biggest culprit, Rishi Sunak, will be the next Prime Minister.

Chedney Honks

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Laura K can get fucked, the disingenuous ghoul. She was spokescunt number one for the first six months of fucksponential gravedown.


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The book also rarely mentions how the devolved administrations of Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland coped, mainly focusing on England.
I'm really grateful for you considering this in your write-up - I'd seen the book mentioned a few times elsewhere without any reflection on this, despite the subtitle.