Why wait a month between 500,000 deaths warning and lockdown?

On Sunday, Johnson highlighted the worst-case scenario warning...that he ignored.

On Sunday, Boris Johnson told the nation: “We prevented this country from being engulfed by what could have been a catastrophe in which the reasonable worst case scenario was half a million fatalities.”

By using the worst case scenario, he was giving himself a low bar to jump over. The UK currently has had over 32,000 deaths, the worst in Europe and the second worst in the world.

It’s also interesting that the government is now giving this 500,000 deaths warning credibility. Because they didn’t take it seriously when they were first given it in February.

The warning was given by the National Security Communications Team and was leaked to the Independent on 26 February. The government did not introduce lockdown measures until 24 March.

In the month between the warning and the lockdown, schools stayed open as did many workplaces. Mass gatherings continued. There were two rounds of Premier League games rugby at Twickenham and Murrayfield, several concerts and Cheltenham Festival.

There was also the Liverpool vs Atletico Madrid Champions League match with 45,000 Scousers and 5,000 visiting Spaniards. On the same day, Paris St Germain played Borussia Dortmund without fans present.

Flights continued, despite warnings, and the government actually stopped quaranting arrivals from covid hotspots as part of the move from a ‘contain’ to a ‘delay’ strategy.

Boris Johnson himself symbolised his government’s carlessness. On March 3, a week after being warned 500,000 could die and on the same day his scientific advisers said people should not shake hands, he boasted about shaking hands with coronavirus patients.

It takes on average about 11 days between catching coronavirus and being hospitalised and 22 days between catching it and death. Covid hospitalisation and deaths both peaked in mid-April.

So all the debate about the exact extent of the lockdown now is relatively irrelevant. The month between the warning and the lockdown is when our fate, to be the worst in Europe, was sealed.

Boris Johnson’s desire to set a low bar for himself is understandable. But if I was him, I would not draw attention to the warning I so catastrophically ignored.

Joe Lo is a co-editor of Left Foot Forward

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