THE Covid pandemic brought out the best in Britain – and the worst.
As the virus spread its devastation across the land the majority of the public showed remarkable stoicism and calm in the face of this unprecedented threat, just as NHS staff and key workers displayed heroic dedication.
But the advent of this unique crisis also caused our political system and state machine to plumb the depths of incompetence, bullying, secrecy and extravagance.
As our rulers became ever more authoritarian, they allowed their priorities to be warped by political self-interest.
At times, panic-stricken by the pressures they were under, they lost sight of humanity and even common sense.
They said they were “following the science” but in reality much of the science was unknown.
Arbitrary rules became ends in themselves. Policies veered between excessive caution and cruel recklessness.
Throwing money at any problem was a prime impulse, reflected in the staggering sums of taxpayers’ funds that were squandered, including £37billion on the flawed track-and-trace scheme and the £70billion on furlough support — much of which disappeared in fraud.
Blathering about betrayal
Altogether over £410billion was spent on the official response to Covid, a vast sum that unbalanced the economy and pushed the tax burden to its highest level since the 1940s.
Yet the waste did not stop the carnage, particularly among the elderly who were the most vulnerable to the virus. Perhaps the most painful statistic of the entire crisis is that 43,000 care home residents died from Covid despite the pledge of the increasingly discredited Health Secretary at the time, Matt Hancock, to “throw a ring around them”.
This week, Hancock’s performance has been put in the glare of the public spotlight by the release of more than 100,000 social media messages sent between him and his officials at the height of the pandemic.
Remarkably, these were handed over by Hancock himself to the journalist Isabel Oakeshott, who helped him write his recent account of the crisis. Now he is left blathering about her “betrayal”.
Published yesterday in The Daily Telegraph, the selection of messages shows, shamefully, that he rejected the advice of the Chief Medical Officer Chris Whitty in April 2020 that all people going into care homes should be tested.
Claiming that such guidance was “undeliverable”, he urged that testing be restricted to those coming from hospitals.
What really seems to have obsessed Hancock was the achievement of his target of carrying out 100,000 tests by the end of that month — even if it meant the inappropriate use of resources — so he could bask in the glow of favourable publicity.
Among other revelations from Ms Oakeshott’s tranche are claims that, at a time of national shortages, a testing kit was personally couriered to a child of Tory Minister Jacob Rees-Mogg, and that Hancock’s department refused to change restrictions on visitors to care homes despite the Health Minister Helen Whately calling such rules “inhumane”.
And last night it was revealed that schoolkids were only asked to wear face masks as Boris Johnson did not want an “argument” with Scottish leader Nicola Sturgeon, who was bringing them in.
Families who lost loved ones during the crisis will rightly feel disgusted and sickened by this material.
And the outrage will grow in the coming days as the Telegraph prints further incendiary information.
We will learn how the economy was “brought to its knees by lockdown that could have been lifted sooner”, how ministers deliberately stoked public fears in order to gain compliance and how education was sacrificed on the altar of Covid dogma, even though children were either immune or showed no symptoms.
There is certainly no shortage of evidence. Reportedly Ms Oakeshott’s treasure trove contains 2.3million words, four times more than in the Russian novel War And Peace.
For his part, Hancock has said the Telegraph’s reporting is partial and unfair.
There are two great problems with this furore.
First, none of this news really comes as a shock. Most of the ground has been well covered before, not least in Hancock’s own book, as well as a host of other journalistic investigations and Parliamentary reports.
That also explains why the expensive public inquiry which is soon to begin its proceedings under the chairmanship of Baroness Heather Hallett, will be a waste of time and money, just like most public inquiries.
It will rumble on for months, consuming vast amounts of public money, only to tell us nothing that we did not know already and come up with banal recommendations that will just increase the state’s bureaucratic powers.
Hallett’s committee will be a forum for professional axe-grinders and grievance mongers, but the biggest winners will be the lawyers.
Already 60 barristers have been hired, including 11 KCs estimated to be on £220 an hour. The cost will probably dwarf the £210million spent on Lord Saville’s Bloody Sunday inquiry.
Havoc across the world
The other big problem is that all this agitation is focused on the wrong target. Matt Hancock and the Prime Minister Boris Johnson may have made serious mistakes but they were not to blame for Covid 19.
It is now increasingly clear — as suggested by the American FBI this week — that the real responsibility lies with the Chinese government, which probably created the virus in the Wuhan Institute of Virology then somehow let it escape to wreak havoc across the world.
In order to cover up this disaster, Chinese officials invented the theory that the virus had originated with a mammal — perhaps a bat — in a Wuhan market.
Disgracefully, that attempt to cover up the truth was backed by Western governments and public health establishments, eager to appease the Chinese.
It was a reprehensible stance that promoted ignorance, hindered medical science and fuelled authoritarianism. Those who pointed the finger at Wuhan were attacked for disinformation and peddling conspiracy theories.
If, in the coming days, we are to learn from this leak that scientists in the UK also knew this and concealed it from the public here, or worse, went out and said the opposite, then that truly would be a scandal.