Published:  12:15 AM, 26 July 2020 Last Update: 12:24 AM, 26 July 2020

The politics behind the pandemic - III

The politics behind the pandemic - III
'Test, test, test', WHO Director General, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus's recommendations (WHO, Int., 16th March) were direct and prophetic. PCR testing invented by Kary Mullis, the LSD-loving American scientist and earned him the Nobel Prize (1993). It remains the single most effective detection tool for determining presence and, if carried out in large enough numbers, the spread of Covid. 

Four countries, South Korea, Italy, UK and USA started at similar positions with limited cases at end of Januaryand responded differently (Joe Hasell, 19th May) to testing. South Korea started testing early and in larger numbers, their peak passed by mid-March. All of the others other countries tested late and in lower numbers and suffered.

Though they wanted to 'flatten the curve', Covid flattened them rather than the other way around. Wishing to suppress the public visibility of inadequate resourcing and avoid social discontent, the UK stopped testing on 12th March until early April. By then, calls for increased testing had reached a crescendo and Hancock announced 100,000 (again, the big number not the requirement) people would be tested by end of April. Meanwhile patients presumed to be recovered from hospitals were being re-sent to care homes without testing (Metro, 9th May) where they infected others-the fuse had been lit.

A figure of 122,000 tests (different from 100,000 people as there were repeat tests) was reached though it was later revealed that over 40,000 of them were test kits which were simply posted, of which many were later lost. To cover for inadequate analytical facilities, samples were shipped to the USA (not Europe, never Europe). It was also too much too late, as the UK had passed the peak and the majority of the deaths had occurred. Testing targets have now been reset to 200,000 per day, though the country has struggled to achieve 100,000 on a consistent basis till mid-May.

While many countries enforced quarantine for travellers coming from abroad, the best and the brightest within the UK's scientific and political leadership never accepted it. Taiwan quarantined from 14th March, Greece from 16th March, Italy from 28th March, Germany from 10th April, France from 3rd May, etc (GW-World, May). 

Vietnam detected the first two Covid cases on 23rd January and from 30th January it closed its borders with strict quarantine rules in place. While there are countries that did not impose quarantine (notably South Korea), in general most countries that quarantined earlier have had lower death rates than the UK and been able to lift the lockdown earlier too.

On 22nd May the UK finally announced quarantine of foreign travellers to commence from 8th June (The Telegraph, 22nd May), 101 days after the first case was detected, though how effective will it be when quarantine facilities at airports have been removed? Another example of perpetual procrastination is the wearing of masks, and while many countries have laid down clear instructions (including fines for not wearing), the UK government's official note say, 'The public is advised to consider wearing face coverings in enclosed public spaces' (Gov.UK, 24th May). Is that a yes or a no to a prophylactic which would be helpful to wear? Sitting on the fence is elevated to an art form over here.

It's hard to understand what people are saying, why can't they keep it simple?

I agree.

The government's cautious approach to imposing restrictions was signalled earlier in March by Chris Whitty, the Chief Medical Officer. At the launch of the government's coronavirus action plan on March 3rd, Whitty told journalists that specific advice for care homes would be issued in future, 'but one of the things we are keen to avoid … is doing things too early.'He explained that premature action would bring no benefit 'but what you do get is a social cost'(Reuters, 15th May).

It is too early to reach final conclusions about the origin and effectiveness of these policies and who vacillated the most; was it the scientists (trying to be political) or the politicians (trying to be political too)?However, the government made crucial early mistakes: It hoped that like SARS/MERS this would be a China-only disease, then was led into thinking that public protection would be through the infamous 'herd immunity' theory.

It focused attention on protecting the country's National Health Service at the expense of the most vulnerable in society; among them the estimated 400,000 mostly elderly or infirm people who live in care homes across Britain.It also did not want the political barometer to swing towards a pandemic, taking the government's focus away from its primary goal-to get Brexit nailed. But when Covid bit Boris and Brexit was in danger of losing its poster boy, Covid became real and the unofficial slogans shifted to 'save Britain, save Boris, save Brexit'.

[She is on segment seven, cleaning it slowly]

Couldn't the UK act earlier? Wasn't this important?

It's complicated, the government was busy with other things too, including Brexit.

What is Brexit?

Oh, it's about leaving Europe. They say it's a better future for this country.

To unravel the Covid debacle in the UK, it's also important to understand the leader and the led. The UK currently has a government in default, one that is there to achieve one specific purpose and not to govern the many. Led by the Prime Minister Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson, the unlikely winner of the Vote Leave (exit Europe) campaign which started in 2015.

Boris has, to say the least, a chequered employment history. Leaving his first job as a consultant within one week (1987) of joining, he shuffled to The Times on the basis of family connections and was fired for lying (1987) by the newspaper's editor. Subsequently, he joined The Daily Telegraph where the respected Tory politician, Chris Patten (ex-Governor, Hong Kong) stated that he was 'one of the greatest exponents of fake journalism' (New Statesman, 4th March 17).His regular columns established his staunch support for a general Conservative agenda through a punchy mixture of pseudo economics and home-grown blue-collar rhetoric, colourfully pushing the nationalist buttons of anti-immigration and an 'independent UK free from the constrictive rules of the EU which were obstructing the UK to reach its glorious potential'. But he has precedents.

I had been waiting to read Hilary Mantel's latest book, 'The Mirror and The Light'as the lockdown seemed an appropriate time to dig deeper into Tudor crimes. It is the concluding novel of her spellbinding trilogy about Thomas Cromwell - the Chief Minister, and his rise, fall and death at the court, if not at the hands, of King Henry VIII.  While Henry has been acclaimed for making significant progress in building England's naval powers, legalizing the union of England and Wales and clearing the way for female monarchs, his memory is forever enshrined as a lustful king who broke away from Rome's reins to satisfy his need for a succession of revolving door queens.

In order to wed his second wife, Henry commenced on a series of machinations, from seeking annulment of his first marriage to stoking the fires of rebellion towards the Roman papacy, described as 'the whores of Babylon' by men who desired the break from an external overseer.

When his anointed negotiator Cardinal Wolsey failed to achieve his goals, Henry exerted the authority of the state to obtain his annulment. To settle 'the king's great matter' in his favour, he called a Reformation Parliament in 1529. It acted with record legislative speed, enacting 137 statutes in seven years, which ended with the desired regal aim of removing the English Church from the centuries-old control of Catholicism. It was a lengthy, bloody, highly politicized process carried out at the behest and for the benefit of one man. It resulted in Henry being proclaimed the Head of the Church 'as far as the laws of Christ allow' and incidentally resulted in the untimely death of two of his six wives and sixty-three noblemen who stood between him and his own brand of religion.

In the 16th century, the general masses had some dissatisfaction with papal authority. Stray rebellions had been voiced especially with regard to Bishops squeezing maximum revenue from the peasantry, but the majority of the people were surprised at how these feelings were institutionalized and moulded into a vehicle to drive through permanent changes that were geared to suiting the king's personal needs. The separation between the kingdom of a lesser man and that of a higher God had been abolished, principally to pave the path of England's supreme mortal, Henry VIII.

5) For whom the bell tolls

[Segment seven of the orange is finished]

What's the matter, you silent?

Sorry, just thinking.

What about?

Oh, what we will be cooking for supper today.

Four centuries, eight decades and six years later, Brexit is a ghostly reminder of England's departure from an established European order to suit the needs of the ruling class. Without going into the details of the slippery slope that led from David Cameron's ill-fated referendum (Brexit was not supported by the three main parties representing 87% of the popular vote) to Boris squinting over the podium outside No. 10 and roaring ' this …means Brexit is now the irrefutable, irresistible, unarguable decision…putting an end to all those miserable threats of a second referendum' (I News, 13th December 19).It was a remarkable political coup for a polemicist who had not been offered a seat by his own Conservative party at the start of his political career. The power of no-truth slogans, jokey racism and individual economic misfortune of the working class was targeted at the immigrant population and a distant set of restrictive European rules.

Dominic Cummings's bare-faced lies on bus sides(Save £ 350 million for the NHS) accomplished the goal of the 'ruling class' yet again. The present professional politicians and their merchant backers had for years shuddered to think that their hereditary grasp on the sceptre of power was slipping forever with the increasing alignment with EU rules. They feared that their chance of slipping into Henry VIII's golden hose and purple doublet was disappearing the longer the UK remained within the EU and intertwined itself to a pan-European future. After the election, there was no chance of that happening now-except that Covid emerged left of centre.

Mohammad Reza Pahlavi was the last Shah (Emperor) of Iran from 16 September 1941 until his overthrow by the Iranian Revolution on 11 February 1979.  He was largely considered a puppet of the West, which propped him for almost four decades, as their previously nationalized oil companies had full access to Iran's reserves. His internal tool to control dissent was SAVAK, a synonym for brutal torture and arrest of thousands of (mostly) communist dissidents, again with the wholehearted supported of his American masters.

While the Shah concentrated his repressive attention on them, he ignored the rise of the mullahs whom he considered to be conservative and not a significant threat to the monarchy. It is a lesson in being blindsided by an unexpected series of events which have been under-rated while gloating in the spell of an immediate success.

(To be continued…)

Saiful Islam is based in London

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