UK needs another miracle out of COVID-19 mess
Published: May 13, 2020 07:49 PM

Passengers wearing masks are seen traveling on the Victoria Line in London on May 3. Patrick Vallance, the UK government's chief scientific adviser, said in broadcast interviews on May 1 that Britain could let about 60 percent of the population become infected with the COVID-19 for "herd immunity." Photo: AFP

British columnist Simon Tisdall wrote in The Guardian on Sunday that amid the COVID-19 pandemic, "Britain is the sick man of Europe," a reflection by the British themselves on their government's response to the crisis. 

Indeed, it is startling to see the UK, once on which the sun never set, acting poorly in this global fight against the deadly coronavirus. Tisdall believes that the chase after a US president who is the "greatest of all coronavirus failures," and a hasty "Brexit" decision also contributed to the UK's plight.

The UK wasted a few weeks' time when China fought hard against the virus, and when Italy began to see a surging number of confirmed cases of the disease on the European continent. Then, when almost every country was trying to curb the spread of the virus through the standard practice of public health - testing people and tracing contacts - and through restrictive measures such as instituting quarantine and social distancing, the UK government led by Boris Johnson just adopted an utterly different strategy - "herd immunity" - a policy tantamount to doing nothing.

Even after the Prince of Wales had tested positive for the virus and Johnson himself contracted the disease, some media questioned if the UK government had followed the science as it claimed. 

Before a "test, trace, isolate" system was put in place, Boris on Sunday revealed his plan to bring the UK lockdown to an end and get the country "back to work," apparently prioritizing concerns about economic damage over virus control. In the plan, people in England for the first time are being advised to wear masks in some enclosed spaces. 

It came out just hours before the White House decided to order its West Wing staffers to wear masks after two aides tested positive for the virus.

Scholarly analyses have all suggested that the UK government's response to the crisis was as flippant and ill-prepared as that of the US, although both had sufficient time, many scientific warnings and examples of other countries. The UK now has the second highest coronavirus death toll in the world, just behind the US.

The UK is not supposed to end up like this. After all, it is where the Industrial Revolution started. It has abundant capital and medical resources. To put it in Chinese proverbs, it didn't play well despite having good cards in hand.

As The Guardian article said, Britain needs another miracle, a fresh strategy. But a more critical question is how to make it happen.