Written by Eric Sun
The UK sits on 110,250 deaths due to Covid-19 as of writing, the fifth highest deaths per 1 million of the population in the world. Although not the only cause, the government is largely to blame.
For example, why were we led to believe that ‘masks don’t work’ in March and April 2020? Was it really because they ‘didn’t know’ at the time? Or were they actively lying to the people so that they could reserve enough face masks for those who most needed it? In that case, why did they need to lie? Was it because they were too incompetent to produce or import enough masks in time?
Questions need to be raised, the ‘we didn’t know’ excuse simply does not hold up. Look at China, whose pandemic was pretty much over by April, accumulating less than 10,000 cases since then. With first-hand evidence from my extended family, I was told that no one in spring and summer of last year would walk around the streets of Shanghai without a mask.
If Shanghai knew, then why didn’t we? Just because a city is ruled by a totalitarian regime, does it really mean that everything they do must be wrong? As a result of the deception practiced by our government, from my social network, I knew of secondary school friends in the UK who had lost grandparents due to Covid by April. Meanwhile, my parents’ social network, predominantly in East Asia, knew of nobody who even had mild symptoms, let alone death.
Even today, when everyone has acknowledged the benefits of mask wearing, our government still has no intentions of encouraging its greater usage, even though they really should. I have family in Singapore, and staying there in the summer of 2020 was a privilege, as it gave me a great comparison of what good handling of the Covid crisis looks like compared to its opposite. Coventry has a population density just over 3,100 per km2 compared to Singapore’s 7,810 per km2. Yet as of 29th January 2021, cumulative confirmed cases per 100,000 of Covid-19 within the borders of Coventry was 5,368, compared to Singapore’s roughly 1,000.
Why? A simple answer is the difference between the usage of masks in the two cities. Over the 2 months I stayed in Singapore, just like Shanghai, not a single person in public was maskless, except for people exercising or eating. This is a strong contrast to the UK, where everyone puts on their face coverings at the last second as they walk into Tesco, and take it off the first second they walk out. The government’s policy regarding masks, now that we do have a sufficient quantity of them, is unacceptable if they really care about stopping the virus. It’s no wonder that although still tragic, Singapore has only suffered 29 Covid deaths so far whilst our country’s death toll races past six figures.
But the government is not the only one responsible for our situation. Of course, their face coverings policy, along with others such as regional tier based restrictions, are questionable; however, they are made even more pointless by many of us ordinary citizens, who whilst endlessly disliking every new YouTube video of Boris’s Covid announcements, nonetheless would not go beyond his policies to prevent the spread of the pandemic.
We knew that the regional lockdowns were there for a reason, yet we broke the rules all the same. We knew that if Coventry was in Tier 2 in October and Leamington Spa Tier 1, going to The Old Library as an on campus fresher was probably not a great idea. But some of us still did it. We knew that it would be better if we kept our masks on at all times in public, but still we would not go one step beyond the very government policies we criticise, instead choosing to take off our masks immediately after walking out of the pub at 10 PM, often in close proximity with everyone else walking out when it closed at the same time. Do we really expect our country to deliver better outcomes like this?
How about quarantine procedures for international arrivals? Again, poor government capabilities are made worse by a populace with many members who just would not act with consideration for others. Singapore’s random hotel quarantine system was in full swing by the time I arrived from the UK in late June. You come off the plane, at customs they check which country you came from, and you’re assigned a random bus which takes you to a random hotel anywhere in the city (so as to prevent you from telling your family to meet you at a predetermined hotel), and your room is the only place you shall remain for 2 weeks straight except for testing. Even opening the window or balcony was a criminal offence. It was authoritarian, but it worked.
By September in the UK, my family was allowed in by a maskless immigration officer at Heathrow and booked a private taxi home, where we quarantined without any sign of the authorities acknowledging our status. Compared to the daily phone or video calls by the Ministry of Manpower and armed security outside the quarantine hotels in Singapore, our international arrivals quarantine policy was abysmal. One can only imagine how many people who believe that ‘Covid is a hoax anyways’ would break these nonexistent quarantine boundaries.
Overall our response to Covid-19, both on a governmental and an individual level has been a mess. It has been a vicious cycle, where the more we as individuals break the rules, the more the government becomes scared of implementing new rules, only leading to individuals becoming more willing to break existing rules even more. But I believe it’s not too late to change our attitude yet. It will just take some cooperation between the House of Commons and the common people to break the cycle; and the vaccine effort, along with a willing populace, will help us see the light of normality once more in the near future. As the American pharmaceutical company Pfizer puts it: Science. Will. Win.
Photo source - Flickr (Pippa Fowles/ No 10 Downing Street)