John, a British friend of mine whom I met in Dubai some 30 years ago, retired to the UK where he rebuilt his life in South Wales. He has always lived alone and enjoys his own company while regularly socialising with friends and travelling around the world to catch-up with others.
John is probably the most well-balanced, upbeat and calm individual I know so I was upset to learn he has sunk into a state of severe loneliness and depression due to the harsh restrictions on movement imposed by the Welsh government.
In England, the rules seem to change as often as the country’s unpredictable weather because the Prime Minister, who is anxious to avoid a disastrous economic meltdown, regularly comes up with confusing and rarely enforced half-measures.
His mistakes have accrued since the virus first gripped the nation when he wasted precious time toying with the debunked herd immunity policy which only an effective vaccine can produce. Most Britons were gung go to comply with the first lockdown that did produce results but like so many others the British government opened-up far too early hurtling England back to square one.
Imposing social distancing
There are suspicions that Donald Trump, whose most trusted COVID-19 adviser neuroradiologist Scott Atlas has been pushing for the president to go the herd immunity route, has thrown up his hands and has implemented his advice. Given that the US currently announces 80,000 to 100,000 new cases each day with no federal policy In sight this assumption is highly probable. Trump was too focused on proving to his base that personal freedoms trumped the health of the nation to impose social distancing or the wearing of masks. His “It is what it is” reaction when confronted with hundreds of thousands of dead highlighted his lack of empathy.
Johnson by contrast asks people to take the virus seriously. Today there is great concern that the NHS is being overloaded to the extent hospitals may be forced to turn away sufferers, not only those with COVID-19 but also others with severe non-virus related ailments and it is this potential scenario that has driven Boris Johnson to authorise yet another crackdown on people’s personal liberties.
The problem is that most are no longer in the mood to be compliant. Given that there are many previous failed outcomes it is understandable that the British people are beginning to feel that their sacrifices have gone for nothing. Weak or non-existent enforcement is also not conducive to public cooperation whereas the French faced with on the spot fines issued by the police if they break the rules are suitably deterred.
The elderly are suffering the most particularly those in care homes where deaths have been disproportionate. I watched a video on social media in disbelief yesterday narrated by the granddaughter of a woman in her 90s whose daughter removed her from a care home against the objections of the home’s management. The police were called and the middle-aged caring daughter was actually arrested purely for wanting to look after her mother she hadn’t seen in nine months and whose health was fast deteriorating.
I am frankly amazed that the US and the UK obviously didn’t learn anything from countries that have reined-in the virus to a remarkable degree such as New Zealand, China and South Korea where cases have been reduced to double digits.
Returning to Britain’s woes both health-wise and with respect to the sinking economy, they are about to be compounded if there is no deal with the EU in less than two months and the promised trade deal with the US that Trump pledged to fast track is now looking like a mirage.
President-elect Joe Biden has made it crystal clear that he will not be negotiating trade deals in the foreseeable future and due to Britain’s exit from the EU there are hints from the Biden camp that the UK’s importance as a bridge between the US and Brussels has been diminished. The fact that Johnson has been characterised, rightly or wrongly, as Trump’s ideological brother is unlikely to endear the president-elect to Britain’s leader.
It comes to something when according to polls Britons prefer SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon over Johnson who approval ratings is at its lowest. At least one British newspaper reports that there is trouble brewing for him among his colleagues said to be having second thoughts. If Johnson shares his US buddy’s fate, it may be that the age of populism reliant on success is ebbing. If so, just as well.
Linda S. Heard is an award-winning British specialist writer on Middle East affairs. She welcomes feedback and can be contacted by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.