The coronavirus has claimed its first case in Scotland – although thankfully the individual concerned appears not to have serious symptoms – and new cases are appearing elsewhere in the UK and all across Europe. Yet today the British Government announced that it’s quitting the EU’s pandemic warning system. According to reports, the Department of Health in England wanted to remain a part of the EU’s Early Warning and Response System, but it was vetoed by Number 10. The EWRS is an online platform which allows health authorities across the EU to share information about serious cross-border health threats, but Number 10 has ruled that the UK won’t be a part of it because it’s fixated on a “clean break” from the EU. Given the behaviour of the British Government in Brexit negotiations so far, we can be certain that the health ministers in the devolved administrations were not even asked for their opinion.
Number 10 has barred any health minister in the UK from attending a special EU meeting to discuss measures to combat the disease, even though the UK still retains the right to. Boris Johnson also barred Sadiq Khan, the Mayor of London, from attending the UK Government’s Cobra meeting where the UK’s response to the epidemic was discussed. He would have preferred Nicola Sturgeon to attend via video-link so that he didn’t have to be in the same room as her. Boris Johnson is terribly afraid that being a sensible grown up may be contagious. The Prime Minister hasn’t exactly acquitted himself well during this, or any other crisis, to afflict the UK. Instead of being seen to lead, he prefers to hide away in a luxury mansion, go to expensive fundraising dinners, and play tennis with the wives of allies of Putin who have paid the Conservatives £90,000 for the dubious privilege. Which raises the question, if Boris Johnson were to self-isolate because of the coronavirus, would anyone notice the difference?
Politics before people. Dogma before doctors. Apparently cooperating with the EU on efforts to stem the spread of coronavirus would send the wrong signal about the UK’s desire for a free trade agreement. People dying of a disease because the UK isn’t coordinating its efforts with neighbouring countries, that’s the right signal. We can expect Michael Gove to pop up very soon to slime his way through an interview in which he assures us that it’s important to respect the will of the British people to die needlessly. We’ll have none of that Johnny Foreigner surviving an illness nonsense. And once the Conservatives manage to gut the NHS properly and sell off the remains to US health corporations, a lot more people in the UK will have the freedom to die needlessly from conditions that could have been prevented. Yay! Brexit! It’s what all those people in working class towns in the North and East of England voted for.
So the UK isn’t going to cooperate with the EU on controlling the spread of the disease because Brexit, sunlit uplands, blue passports. While some of us may not have the highest opinion of the liars in the Leave campaign who deluded voters into supporting Brexit, few of us thought that they’d also want the freedom to die from a new pandemic and insist on taking the rest of us with them. British diseases for British people, and all that.
Priti Patel probably thinks that the virus can be prevented from entering the UK by denying it the right to apply for a visa and threatening to deport all other micro-organisms unless they have documentary evidence that they’ve undergone cell mitosis in the UK. And yes, pedants, I know that a virus isn’t a microbe. Bet you half the Tory cabinet don’t though. Which is surprising, given that it largely consists of simple life forms without a central nervous system. Still, look on the bright side, after another 500 million years of evolution some of them might evolve a backbone.
Meanwhile the Conservative Health Secretary Matt Hancock, who’s probably one of those simple organisms who doesn’t grasp the distinction between a microbe and a virus, has told people that they can help to prevent the spread of the coronavirus by singing God Save the Queen as they wash their hands. And no, I am not making that up. It’s a perfectly sensible suggestion. God Save the Queen is a magic song with the power to wipe whole countries clean of unwanted life forms. It’s been sung along with ethnic cleansing, colonialism, and genocide since the 18th century.
In the USA, Vice-President Mike Pence was roundly mocked because his first response to being placed in charge of American attempts to stem the spread of the disease was to hold a prayer meeting, because nothing shows the public that you’re in charge and know what you’re doing than praying to God for help. Matt Hancock gazed upon the ridicule and said – hold my coat.
Anyway, don’t worry. The UK has it all under control. We have that on the word of a columnist from the right wing shock blog Guido Fox, who has transformed into an expert on epidemiology on Sky News, a news channel which is growing increasingly indistinguishable from Fox News. The UK is doing better than France or Germany, he told us without citing any evidence, because stopping the spread of coronavirus is apparently indistinguishable from a Brexit pissing contest. Who needs experts? Since when was the best person to speak to the public about the spread of a disease some right wing blogger whose knowledge of medical best practice begins and ends with eyebrow plucking? Answers on a postcard to Sky News. We can expect to see Jackson Carlaw to pop up any time now and condemn the SNP, and a special edition of Reporting Scotland bewailing the Scottish NHS. Because that’s the real issue here.
Disease is beyond politics. A virus doesn’t care who you voted for. It doesn’t care if you want Brexit or want to be a part of the EU. It doesn’t care if you want an independent Scotland or to remain under the governance of Boris Johnson. It doesn’t recognise international borders. The response to an epidemic needs to be coordinated between states and within states. It needs maturity and leadership, of the sort we saw from Nicola Sturgeon in response to the first confirmed Scottish case of the disease – although you wouldn’t have known that from a BBC which cut away from her so we could instead listen to a stammering and stuttering Boris Johnson, fnaugh fnaughing his way through a topic he neither understands nor cares about. What we’re seeing from the British Government is the subordination of efforts to contain the spread of the coronavirus to Boris Johnson’s political ambitions. That’s one of the many reasons why this government is a disgrace and the UK is unfit for purpose.
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