We failed to learn from MERS: a damning report on the UK Government handling of Coronavirus

Naturally one of the best ways to prepare for a future pandemic is by looking at successful approaches to virus control. In recent years there have been outbreaks of various viral diseases such as MERS (2012), Sars (2002) and Ebola (2014). Sars proved to be the 3rd highly pathogenic coronavirus to emerge in the past two decades. In the wake of the increasing frequency of viral illnesses Dr Eskild Peterson outlined seven specific lessons from MERS that could be used to prevent further outbreaks. These included:

  • MERS was a major threat to global health security and had the potential to turn into a pandemic due to the method by which it is spread

  • MERs needed close monitoring and as many genomic studies as possible in order to understand it

  • Health care workers exposed to infected patients require close monitoring of health and require Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)

  • Testing was the most effective method of controlling the virus

If we look at the Government response to the pandemic it is seriously in doubt that any of these measures, specifically written to save lives, were considered at any point. The generous head start the UK Government had compared to other European nations not being effectively used cost lives. That being said it is not the first time a Conservative-led Government has been left with blood on its hands. With over half of Britons doctor agreeing that the Government was too slow to lock down and even Professor John Edmunds, scientific advisor for the Government wishing the UK went into lockdown sooners as the delay ‘cost a lot of lives’ it remains clear Mr Johnson would rather steer us off a cliff rather than through an established route as he holds out for his ‘Churchill moment’ than follow scientific evidence.

The need for close monitoring is exemplified in the failings in the very early stages of the pandemic to develop an effective track and trace system. These have been proven to limit outbreaks, best displayed in South Korea controlling an outbreak of MERS outbreak in 2015 to only 186 cases and 36 deaths. Despite the signs this would be the most effective method at controlling a future outbreak, Boris held out for his herd community whilst South Korea effectively deployed a tracing programme that has kept their infection rate low, with an average daily infection rate of 39 in April, compared to 4,302 in the United Kingdom. The attempts at launching the NHS track and trace were dismal, with the service not being fully operation until October and the app to support the tracing has been proven not safe enough in guaranteeing cyber security and clinical safety.

The beloved NHS, adored once again by the Conservatives, despite a decade of brutal austerity measures systematically stripping assets and selling out to private companies a cost of near 120,000 lives has finally been converted into a charity case by Tory Propaganda to cover up the same austerity which brought it to its knees. Health care workers remain at a high rate of post-traumatic stress disorder with many staff likely to require years of ‘active monitoring’ of their mental health, the likes of which are distinctly lacking in our NHS, with workers relying on voluntary schemes, such as Project 5 and Frontline-19, to provide therapy for NHS staff. Furthermore, there remains a distinct lack of Personal Protection Equipment (PPE) given to frontline workers, with a British Medical Association survey showing over half of doctors have purchased their own PPE as they do not feel fully protected by provided PPE. Operation Cygnus, a 2016 simulation to test whether the UK could withstand a pandemic identified deeply troubling shortfalls in NHS surge capacity with regard to PPE, ventilators and ICU beds. Alongside these cuts to investments in public health areas have contributed to entirely preventable chronic conditions, which are proving significant risk factors for Coronavirus. Advice was not followed and lives were lost.

Testing has been proven to be the most effective way of stopping the spread of viral infection. The Governments chief scientific advisor has suggested Public Health England did not increase testing for Covid-19 as quickly as needed to control the spread of the virus, conceding Germany had ‘got ahead’ in testing and the UK needed to learn from that. This begs the question as to why the UK was so lacklustre in its testing, with testing targets not being met and in cases where the government has claimed to be successful is by manipulating statistics. Surgical gloves made up more than half of one billion PPE items which the Government said it had delivered across the UK in April. However, within these statistics it was revealed each pair was counted as two individual pieces. This combined with pushing other narratives to prevent public pressure meant the Government convinced itself that its policies were working whilst unnecessary lives were lost. In the second week of March Germany was testing some 20,000 people per day whilst Britain was testing on average under 2000. Fast forward to the present day and the UK records ten times the amount of daily new cases compared to Germany- a solemn reminder that testing held the key to eventually controlling the virus and that the Government did not ‘take the right steps at the right time’ as it claimed to do.

Although we thought that Italy had the worst experience, our own ignorance brought us to the point we arrive at today and it is leading by example that we shall find our way out. We can no longer feign selective ignorance with our Government’s handling of this pandemic.

Eddy Burchett

24 Jun 2020

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We failed to learn from MERS: a damning report on the UK Government handling of Coronavirus